If there was one thing that the Lord wanted the church to be known for, it is the love that we show one another. Jesus said in John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” One of the evidences of our love for each other is our willingness and ability to work together. When church members work together, great things happen. When church members don’t work together, the church is weaker.
This has been the pattern for a long time. Clear back in 1747, not far from where we’re sitting, there arose differences and disunity among the Moravian brethren, a group of local churches whose influence and missionary effort were widespread. Count Zinzendorf, with representative elders, arranged to hold a Conference at which the differing views on the subject of their controversy might be aired and discussed amicably among themselves. The leaders came—some from long distances to the place at which the Conference was to be held, arriving on the appointed day, each prepared to argue for the view he supported and confident that it would receive the acceptance of the majority. They arrived about the middle of a week.
In his wisdom Count Zinzendorf proposed that they should spend some time over the Word and in prayer, and suggested a Bible Reading. The book chosen was the first Epistle of John, and they spent the remaining days till the end of the week becoming familiar with the teachings of that letter, and learning that one of its main lessons was ‘love for all the brethren’. They agreed that on the first day of the week, like the disciples in the early Church, they should come together to break bread, and in so doing were reminded that they, being many, were ‘one Body!’ The reading and study of God’s Word and the fellowship at the Lord’s Supper had a beneficial effect on all, and the result was that when, on Monday morning, they commenced to examine the matters on which they differed, their differences and disputes were quickly settled, each bowing to the Word of God and thus helping to ‘keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’.
What if you were at that conference? What if I would’ve been there? Would I have been willing to sacrifice my wants and plans and rights, to see the body of Christ work together? How am I doing with Jesus’ commandment? Am I a unifier? Can people tell of my love for them?
This morning, I would like us to look at the idea of being a unifying member. Many Scriptures that paint church relationships are meant to be like a family. Psalm 133:1 states: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity!” We have to ask ourselves, What comes in the way of unity? One of those things which destroys it is gossip. The Bible calls this “idle talk.”
According to James 3:6, it is the tongue. Our speech can be wedge to drive people away from the Lord and one another. Or our words can be the glue that holds things together. “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.”It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” 1 Peter 3:10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.”
By default, we are prone to tearing each other down. Take for instance, when we resort to name calling. It might make you feel better, but it does nothing to help the situation. It only hurts. Even if it is accurate, it does not mean that it is helpful. One wrong turn doesn’t necessarily deserve another. But it was not her place to call names. Such behavior did nothing to help the situation.
Rainer states: “You have a responsibility as a church member. You are to be a source of unity. You are never to be a divisive force. You are to love your fellow church members unconditionally. And while that doesn’t mean you agree with everyone all the time, it does mean you are willing to sacrifice your own preferences to keep unity in your church.
When Aaron Burr at the end of his long life, during which he had tasted the cup of honor and distinction and also drained the dregs of bitterness and humiliation, lay dying in a boarding house at Port Richmond, Staten Island, a friend who was waiting upon him in reporting to him some rumor commenced by saying, “They say.” At that Burr interrupted her and said, “My dear, never use that word. It has broken more hearts than any other.” Christian author Nicky Gumbel states: “The words of the tongue should have three gatekeepers: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” Rotary International has a 4-Way test that they recite every week: Is it the TRUTH? Is it FAIR to all concerned? Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIEND-SHIPS? Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
Another is selfish ambition or independence. When I attempt to advance my plan, my wants and my desires, regardless of the feelings and thoughts of others, then I hurt others and limit what can and should be done for Jesus. Think about the following comments:
• “This is my church, so you have to play the music just the way I want it.”
• “Look pastor, you need to remember who pays your salary.”
• “If you don’t do this program, I’ll withhold my check to the church.”
• “I have been a member of this church for over thirty years, so I have a right to get what I want.”
• I don’t pay good money to this church to listen to sermons that long.”
Later today, there will be two football games occurring. In one of those games, two of the greatest quarterbacks will play against each other. Between the two of them they’ve been in seven Super Bowls. Between the two of them, they have four rings. But they could never have accomplished their stellar careers without ten other men on the field. It’s not about the person. It’s about the team.
Think about those things which facilitate unity: Forgiveness, Love, Sharing/Cooperation, and Patience. I love the words of Paul in Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Rainer states: “Church membership is more than getting your name on a roll. It’s different from the perks and privileges you have when you are in a social club. To the contrary, church membership is about sacrificing, giving, and forgiving.”
If there was one thing that the Lord wanted the church to be known for, it is the love that we show one another. What are some ways that Jesus loved His disciples? For one, He was patient with them. Within the body of Christ, it is so easy to learn of each other’s faults and idiosyncrasies. Are we willing to bear with each other? Do we have it to overlook things that annoy us or get on each other’s nerves? Are we willing to come together for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom?
The second pledge in Rainer’s book addresses unity. “I will seek to be a source of unity in my church. I know there are no perfect pastors, staff, or other church members. But neither am I. I will not be a source of gossip or dissension. One of the greatest contributions I can make is to do all I can in God’s power to help keep the church in unity for the sake of the gospel.” Can you commit to that?
God’s acre is a small Moravian cemetery in Bethlehem. It is a bit different than other cemeteries. From the Lehigh Valley website: “The unusual appearance of God’s Acre is created by the sameness of the small, white marble grave markers. Each marker, about 18 by 24 inches, has been inscribed with minimal information; name, age and birthplace of the deceased. The markers lie flush to the ground in neat rows. The location of a burial was determined by the next open space, with no indication of the importance of the individual. This reflected the Moravian belief that everyone was equal.”