‘The times, they are a-changing’, so goes the familiar melody by Bob Dylan, and when you look both at the world we live in today, and how it might change in the future, it would be hard to disagree with Mr Dylan wouldn’t it? To me, this change is particularly characterised in two ways. First, we seem to be in a state of increased disunity. The changes thrust upon us in recent times seem to have exposed divisions based on colour, religion, politics, income, I could go on. Second, we live in a world of uncertainty. Of course, change of whatever kind often brings uncertainty, and events like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump are no exception.
You may be pleased to read that I’m not going to spill any ink analysing policy, scrutinising decisions and their implications or studying the character and morality of figureheads. Plenty of this has been done already and will continue to permeate our screens in the days, months and years to come. Instead, in part 1, I want to argue that the disunified and uncertain times we live in should lead Christians to take heart, and perhaps surprisingly, rejoice. Part 2, focusing on the theme of uncertainty, will be published in due course.
I’ve just finished looking at the book of Ephesians with my Bible Study Small Group. One of the things we saw was how both Jew and Gentile believers have been united as one body. This wasn’t done on the basis of race, income, politics or any human means, but by the blood of Jesus Christ. As such, Paul is saying that if people groups as different (and as vehemently opposed to one another) as Jews and Gentiles have been brought together by the blood of Jesus, then so have we today in all our differences.
And so, because we are unified in one body, Paul prays that:
‘Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.’
This prayer shows us that the unity that has been achieved isn’t just any old unity, but an incredible, amazing unity so much better than anything the world can offer.
Paul goes onto say that if we have been unified in this way, we should act like it. Paul wants us to maintain this amazing unity we’ve been given, and one the ways we do that is by building up the body by speaking the truth (that is, the truth of the Bible) in love with another:
‘Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.’
Now, it goes without saying that we’re still sinners, and this unity won’t be fully realised in all its glory until Jesus comes again and ushers in the new creation. In addition, we as a body, in our own families, congregations and churches will sometimes find it hard to maintain this unity, and we won’t always feel that unified. It is true however to say that in Paul’s eyes, we are undoubtedly unified now. Further, as well-being able to know this factually, we’re also able experience something of the joy of this unity today.
In an increasingly disunified world, these realities should provide great comfort to us as a body today.
It isn’t just about us though. My hope and prayer is that as the church displays this unity, outsiders would see be attracted to it, particularly in today’s increasingly fraught environment.
Maybe they’ll notice the way which we actively seek to speak the truth in love with those who have different views about Brexit or Donald Trump, instead of segregating and sowing discord. Or perhaps they’ll be struck by the way we refrain from calling people who are different to us nasty names, instead affirming them as part of a closely-knit body. Alternatively, they might see the way we don’t merely tolerate those different to us, but cherish them as if we dearly need them in our Christian walk.
Needless to say of course that there’s more we as a body can be doing to pursue biblical unity, but the fact remains that to my mind, these things even only slightly demonstrated show the Church to be a more united institution than any man-made equivalent.
To sum up, making efforts to pursue and maintain unity is worth it for at least three reasons. First, it’s a biblical command. Second, it’ll do us individually and corporately as a body the world of good. Thirdly, this unity puts the majesty and glory of God’s church on display to both the ‘rulers and authorities in the heavenly places’, and to the world at large. With all this in mind, let’s keep going in pursuing unity, in good times and in bad and whether it seems easy or hard.