This was new ground for them ... and for us ... we hadn't expected to care so much. Yet even now, months later, my heart fills with emotion and my eyes fill with tears as I think of them. I try to stay in contact from 12 time zones away. I want them part of my forever family. I ache to see them know Jesus! Evangelism isn't a theory or a task; it is the cord to our forever relationship.
My heart stopped when one of my students, a young businessman, asked me to explain why there are differences between people he had come to know as Christians. This division among those who claim Jesus as Lord was confusing to him. This confusion threatened his newborn interest as he stood in the doorway of faith.
Unity in Christ isn't a theory. It is far more than a theological issue or a doctrinal question. Jesus says it this way in his prayer on the eve of his crucifixion:
"As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. ... Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:19-23 TNIV).
Notice two crucial points of Jesus' prayer - there are others, but let's focus on these two:
- Jesus is praying for us - "those who will believe in me through their message"!
- Unity is important to the world knowing that the Father sent Jesus to bring salvation!
In other words, our disunity, our mean-spiritedness toward each other, and our fussin' and fightin' with each other, gets in the way of God's love-based purpose in sending Jesus (John 3:16-17).
A friend recently put it this way to me:
In the greater Christian community, we agree on 80% of what the Bible teaches, we recognize that 15% doesn't matter, and yet we have spiritual bloodlettings over the remaining 5%. Meanwhile, the world goes to hell in a hand basket without knowing Jesus.
When Paul wrote what we call the fourth chapter of Ephesians, he emphasized that there were some essentials to our unity:
- Essential attitudes (Ephesians 4:1-3).
- Essential beliefs (Ephesians 4:4-6).
- Essential ministry (Ephesians 4:7-12).
Go read those passages and you will have a pretty good idea of what Paul is talking about and I bet you can easily recognize why each of these areas are important — see the response section below for some questions to step you through this process. But, the biggest issue for Paul in all of this is clear: unity is needed so that we can be the bodily presence of Jesus to the world around us (Ephesians 4:13-16).
Paul's point is simply another way of emphasizing what Jesus had prayed for shortly before he gave his life for our sins, and the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2). The world needs to see Jesus, to experience Jesus, and to hear the story of Jesus. But, if we don't work together, in harmony and unity, then how will the world hear of God's love and experience Jesus' grace?
We were baptized in one Spirit and given this same Holy Spirit as we were made part of Christ's Body, the church. Each part of Jesus' Body must work together to bring Jesus back to life in the world (1 Corinthians 12:13-14). So it is crucial that we preserve what Jesus created when he poured the Spirit out on us at conversion (Ephesians 4:3; Titus 3:3-7). This isn't theory or theology, but the crucial truth if we are to be Incarnation 2.0, the coming of Jesus to our lost world.
What are the spiritual qualities, the character attributes necessary for unity (Ephesians 4:1-3)?
What are the seven areas of belief we must share in common (Ephesians 4:4-6)? Write a sentence summary about what you believe about each of those seven areas.
What is the necessary focus of ministry for Jesus' followers (Ephesians 4:7-12)?
What is the goal of this unity, harmony, and ministry (Ephesians 4:13-16? Compare this goal with the following passages - Matthew 28:20; Luke 6:40; Romans 8:28-29; 1 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 4:19; Colossians 1:28-29).