In a crazy year of chaos culminating with the most divisive elections of our generation, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all get along? Why is there so much tension and turmoil? Perhaps it stems from confusion on what actually makes unity possible. Here are some popular beliefs…
We would get along if we were all the same.
We could be unified if we looked past our differences.
We would experience unity if we spent more time together.
These are well-meaning ideas, about how we could feel more unified. But they never achieve lasting unity. Unity isn’t a feeling. It isn’t attained by finding the ways we look, act or think the same, or even by tolerating differences.
Unity is the act of becoming one.
Jesus felt strongly about this. So much so, that he prayed into this vision of unity in an urgent and earnest prayer, his longest prayer in the final hours before his arrest and being sent to the cross.
I love the colorful detail in John 13 through 17, four chapters I refer to as, “the great commencement speech of Jesus.” It was his final meal with his besties, twelve disciples he spent almost every minute of every day walking alongside for three years. They watched him introduce a new kingdom, heal the sick, confront prideful religious leaders, raise the dead to life, and sneak away from the crowds for quiet retreats.
At the close of their final meal, Jesus begins to pray for these kindred friends but he doesn’t stop there. Jesus immediately expands his prayerful vision for all future Christians, the Church going forward. Yep. Jesus prayed that night for you and me and what we would face right now in 2020. What was the key ingredients Jesus was asking for?
“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,21 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. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Unity requires a shared vision, truth and purpose.
Jesus shared something critical for us to understand, tucked into His prayer for the future church. Our unity was to be a replica of what Jesus, himself, had with the Father. Their unity centered around a shared vision, grounded in truth, united in purpose.
First, unity is established through a shared vision.
Jesus knew the point of his ministry, death and resurrection was to take the punishment for sin, once and for all. That’s why he said, “I have glorified you on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4) This was his shared vision with the Father. Up until that point, the priests had to bring an annual sin offering for the sins of the people, but NO MORE. God would write a new covenant on their hearts (and ours as well) that God would never from that day forward “remember their sins or lawless acts”. Hebrews 10:17 Christ’s death was the only thing that could free humanity from the bondage of sin, forever. We can still try a million ways to be free from our bondage, addiction, depression, anxiety and more, but Jesus is still our only way to be truly FREE, today.
Second, unity is grounded in a singular source of truth.
Our culture is constantly talking about “my truth” and “your truth.” But the only way the church can have unity is through Jesus who is truth. In fact, Jesus declares this when he answers, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ (John 14:6) There isn’t truth apart from Jesus. Unity cannot exist if we don’t operate from the same truth beyond ourselves. That’s why the armor of God begins with the belt of truth, because God’s word is truth. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth, your word is truth.” John 17:17 If we cannot discern truth from a lie in a culture of deception, we are dead in the water. Truth cannot have unity with lies.
Third, unity in propelled by a shared purpose.
What is God’s purpose for the Church, the future Christians Jesus prayed for? That we would be a group of people unified (Ephesians 4:1-3) in submission to Christ, who represent and reflect Him to the world (1 Corinthians 12:12-17). Plain and simple. Why was it so important to Jesus for our purpose to be a people of unity? So the world would know God’s love for them. “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:23 You cannot have unity with people who don’t have a shared theology of this.
While we all enjoy a variety of people, especially with those we share common interests or hobbies, the deepest unity can only be found when we share the same foundational beliefs. For example, when we find ourselves in deep conversations with friends who operate from a different set of beliefs about God, truth and the meaning of life, we shouldn’t be surprised that finding “oneness” is a challenge. That doesn’t mean we don’t pursue, love, befriend and persuade, but it explains why our deepest solidarity will always be found with fellow believers. Our shared beliefs as Christians around the biggest questions every human being asks bonds us.
Where did we come from? Creator God
What is wrong in the world? Sin and evil.
How do we make it right? Jesus death and resurrection.
Where do we find purpose in life? Ministry of reconciliation.
We may look at this election year with discouragement at the polarizing perspectives, but nothing has happened in 2020 that hasn’t already been sifted through God‘s hand. One of my favorite quotes of 2020 is found in a book of liturgies, Every Moment Holy, by Douglas McKelvey, “You apprehend a wider sweep with wiser eyes than mine.” We don’t understand this year, or where our culture is going, but more importantly, do we trust in the One who does? Do we believe he holds all things together beyond this election?
In the end, the Christian life cannot have true unity with a perspective that denies Jesus as God. But don’t be dismayed, Jesus said, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” John 15:18 He also said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33. What a promise! Jesus took death so that we could have life.
Let’s be bold. Let’s be kind. God is on the move. Victory is already won!
Rebekah Lyons is a national speaker and bestselling author. An old soul with a contemporary, honest voice, Rebekah reveals her own battles to overcome anxiety and depression—and invites others to discover and boldly pursue their God-given purpose. Alongside her husband, Gabe, Rebekah finds joy in raising four children, two of whom have Down syndrome. She wears her heart on her sleeve, a benefit to friends and readers alike. Her work has been featured on the TODAY show, Good Morning America, CNN, Huffington Post, The Tennessean, Publisher’s Weekly, and more.