“…eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3)
I noticed something recently in the tower of Babel story. God said there wasn’t anything these rebels couldn’t do when they were unified in purpose. “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”
And it struck me, if this is the case with mere men in defiance of God, setting out to make a name only for themselves, what would be the possibilities for us as believers? If we were so united in purpose with Christ as our Head--think of the possibilities? The Babel-ites set out to make a name for themselves. What is our mission as God’s ‘chosen ones’? Is it not to make His Name look good?
Jesus’ prayed before His crucifixion: “…that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me…that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”(Jn.17:22ff) There’s power in unity! The world will sit up and take note when we are filled with that kind of love for each other. Such unity is a wonder of no small proportion.
But it won’t happen without the Spirit moving in each of us—to replace our natural conceit and envy with compassion, our judgmental fault-finding with humility, our irritable complaints with forgiveness, our self-exalting, self-promoting, self-centered natures with His love.
Where does it start? I like the way Romans 5 puts it: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” That’s the ticket. His love poured in so we have something to pour out! We’re destined to love just like Jesus. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…” (Rom.8:29) In the meantime there’s the practicum—right here where we live loving the spiritual ‘kin’ that surround us. Together we’re being shaped to resemble Christ.
In his book, Becoming a True Spiritual Community, Larry Crabb envisions such an environment for growth: “Members of a spiritual community look at each other with the conviction that God has placed something terrific in every member. It may be well hidden, but spiritual energy can see it, call it forth, and enjoy it.” (97)
This kind of interaction may mean we have to adjust our focus when we look at each other—looking not at what’s wrong but at what’s right! What evidence can we find of the Spirit at work in each of us? It means learning to talk (and listen) with the Spirit’s energy, not from my old nasty nature, which gives me that smug self-righteous feeling (‘rejoicing at wrongdoing’). The Spirit’s energy in my new nature will generate a response based on love and leave us both encouraged and ‘knit together’-- in a way that brings God great pleasure. He’s out to make us look like Jesus and He delights in us ‘as is’ and calls us ‘saints’. Can we do less for each other?
What drives my communication?
From what I read in Scripture the purpose is ‘building up’ and ‘giving grace’ to the hearer (Eph.4:29)—not necessarily airing my every complaint, opinion and latest ‘news’ tidbits…Not that these are always out of place, but what is the ‘aftertaste’ of our conversation? Does it leave us mutually encouraged? Reminded of the goodness of God, viewing life in all its myriad details with a confidence that God is at work in and through us?
Does the way I speak make God look good, or absent?! “Speaking the truth in love” is our rule of thumb, for the purpose of growing up together in Christ. What would that look like?
“In spiritual community people participate in dialogue: They share without manipulation, they listen without prejudice, they decide without self-interest. The absence of dialogue is sure evidence that we don’t really believe others are speaking from a place worth hearing, and it is even stronger proof that we ourselves, whatever we may think are not in fact speaking from that place. Our words are so often unwholesome, not the edifying words we’re told to speak” (Crabb, 95)
We sometimes substitute puffing ourselves up for building others up. This happens when I think more of myself and my experiences than I ought to think. (Col.2:18) Love isn’t like that. It ‘vaunteth not itself’ (I Cor.13). That’s a wonderful old-fashioned word that means to display oneself or ‘employ rhetorical embellishments in extolling one's self excessively.’ Hmm… (ouch).
I was looking at that passage in Eph.4 about building up and giving grace to the hearer and do you know what it says next? “…and do not grieve the Holy Spirit, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Is there a connection? Could it be that we literally cause the Spirit within us great sadness when we speak in ways that puff us up and tear another down?
Considering His role in our lives, it makes sense. The Spirit is the One at work in us all to bring us to “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect (“finished”) man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13) This is not just about me, it’s a project necessitating our joint co-operation, and joint allegiance to the Head: “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph.4:15,16)
We’re in this thing together. Our conversations matter. We need each other.
Paul echoes the significance of this unity in his letter to the Philippians: “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility…”(2:2-3)
And again to the Colossians: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony,” (Col.3:14) This is literally a picture of ligaments binding together the body. Love keeps us from being out of joint!
Paul says he struggles greatly on their behalf “…that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col2:2)
From prison he urges the Ephesians to walk worthy of their calling “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3)
So much emphasis on unity! Must be we need to take note. Must be unity is worth the work of preserving. Being a devoted loner much of my life I can’t speak with great experience here but this past year I’ve been part of a wee gathering of saints committed to grappling with some key issues in the Word and coming to a consensus as much as possible. It’s been a stretch and a precarious unity at times. But unmistakably we have grown and been enriched by each other. Our disparate little group is learning to love beyond disagreement and to hang onto each other through differences. The Spirit is clearly at work. And we are the recipients of His joy!
What I’ve tasted of such ‘community’ whets my appetite for more. Imagine a place where it would be ‘safe’ to ‘confess your sins one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed’? Might this healing be just what the Body in our day is lacking?
Crabb comments: “I know of little else so powerful as confessing wretched failure and having a friend look on you with great delight.”(99) This is what God does; He delights in our confession and gladly grants forgiveness. Can we fully celebrate God’s forgiveness together if we have never admitted we are sinners? “The safety necessary to own my badness comes when someone believes that I am in Christ and that He is in me. Then anything can be faced without fear of being discarded.” “The more I see sin in the presence of a spiritual community, the more I see Christ and celebrate Him and long to know Him and be like Him.”(99)
So, though I’ve had but a taste of such community, such unity of purpose, such love-- I’m increasingly convinced that my life in Christ is meant to be lived in context of other ‘joints’ and will only realize it’s full purpose in that context. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say here.
It’s not about me and you and our separate ways and means. It’s about me being there for you to cheer you on, to be glad with you, be sad with you, to share my own failures and the lessons I’m learning. And maybe it’s about me looking at you and seeing the good things God is doing and reflecting that back to you. And maybe we are meant to get together and admit the places where we can’t see Him working at all and ask Him together about it. It’s about our being ‘knit together in love’, not for the comfy-cozy of it but for the strength it gives the Body.
So let’s be EAGER BEAVERS ‘to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of love’ as “we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord.”( II Cor 3:18)... and who can tell what God will do in and through us?!