Promoting True Unity
“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21).
Evhen Dovhan, Ukraine
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We do not see unity among the world of professed believers today. But was Jesus really praying for unity among all who call themselves Christians? No, Jesus’ prayer was for the true Church — those who together were following in his footsteps. Their unity is to be twofold: unity of love and unity of purpose, based upon God’s supreme sacrifice. “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Jesus’ love for his Father resulted in his wholehearted submission to God’s will by providing the ransom for Adam and the atonement for the entire world of mankind. This was Jesus’ ultimate expression of love. “This is my commandment, That ye love one another as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).
The Apostle Paul says of our Lord, “Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God” (Hebrews 10:5-7).
The Law given to Moses ordered its followers to “love your neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus added, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34). Our Lord loved us to such a degree that he gave his life for us. He desires that we would imitate Him. He gave this new commandment before he was crucified, as his time on earth was drawing to a close. He had spent 3½ years laying down his life, healing the sick and preaching about the Kingdom of God. Can we achieve this two-fold unity Jesus commands this side of the vail?
In Unity with God and Christ
Let us consider the first part of unity: unity of purpose. Paul writes, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:10-14). Here Paul identifies the common goal of every footstep follower: running for the prize of the high calling in Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Paul writes, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I, therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (literally, “should become disapproved,” RVIC).
Those who accept Christ are to be united by a single purpose: becoming Christlike regardless of all physical, social, and philosophical differences amongst us. “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).
Unity of the Body
“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). Paul writes that we are baptized into one body: Christ’s body. Do we feel unity with all of our brethren, no matter their education, national origin, or social status? The body is spiritual: a group of new creatures in Christ Jesus. “Henceforth know we no man after the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:16). There should be no earthly divisions drawn within the true body. “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Romans 12:5).
Paul gives the same thought in Ephesians 4:3, “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” Are we trying to keep the unity of purpose among true believers? There are great divisions amongst religious groups today because of the lack of understanding true doctrines of scripture. There is much disunity of mind and spirit. We are living at the time of the end. These difficult times are truly understood only by those united in purpose. It is a time when confusion reigns amongst the churches because it is the Gospel Age harvest, when there is a separation of the wheat (true Christians) from the tares (false Christians). See Matthew 13:30.
This does not mean that those who properly understand the teaching of Jesus are guaranteed a place in the Church. Paul says, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Psalms 25:9 adds, “The meek will he guide in judgment; and the meek will he teach his way.”
Love for the Brethren
Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 ends with these words: “that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”
The Lord can direct us only if we are humble. What does the word “humble” mean? According to Strong’s concordance (G5012), one of the definitions of the word for humility is a “lowliness (of mind).” Paul defines this lowliness of mind in Philippians 2:3, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”
Bro. Russell comments on this scripture in Reprint 3284, also recorded in the May 27 Manna comment: “Paul exhorts that all shall cultivate the grace of humility, and that in every affair each shall take heed that ‘nothing be done through strife or vainglory,’ that self-laudation and strivings for preeminence be thoroughly put away as the greatest enemies to the spirit of the Lord and the blessing of the church. On the contrary, each should have that lowliness of mind which can see the good qualities of fellow members and appreciate some of these qualities at least as superior to his own. All the talents, and all the abilities need never be expected in any one person in any congregation. So, then, everyone may, if he be of lowly mind, see in others certain good qualities or graces superior to his own, and should delight to recognize these and to esteem their possessor accordingly.”
Our Heavenly Father and our Savior are in complete agreement with each other, and as a result, are in complete unity. Unity without agreement is impossible, be it at home, in the family, or in the congregation of the Lord’s people. This does not mean that we must have the same thoughts on every aspect of Truth.
However, we are to be in agreement with the fundamental teachings and the spirit of the Truth, which cannot be changed. As Pastor Russell wrote, “Such as meet these conditions are to be accepted as brethren in the highest sense of the term … Our advice to the Lord’s dear people everywhere is that they put no yoke upon each other, beyond the fundamentals … that otherwise they stand free, and leave each other free, and fellowship and agree as much as they can with each other” (Reprint 5284).
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head that ran down upon the beard even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133:1-3). This beautiful Psalm talks about our Lord, the Church and the unity between the Head and the Body. Agreement must be based on the Holy Scriptures, the leading of the holy Spirit, and seeking together the will of God.
When we are injured, our hand stretches so quickly to comfort the injured part of our body that it seems impossible to conceive of the message first going to our head to direct the action. “So it should be with the members of the body of Christ; those who are in full touch and sympathy with the Head, the Lord, are to so large an extent be of ‘one spirit’ with him, so anxious to do his will, and so well informed in respect to what his will is, that they sometimes seem to act almost automatically in respect to rendering help by word, or deed, or otherwise to those with whom they are in contact” (R2986).
Fellowship: A Test of Unity
“But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). The same word is translated “communion” in 1 Corinthians 10:16. It is what cleanses us from every sin.
We learn through fellowship. Through discussion, discourses, testimonies, and other opportunities to learn of the experiences of others, we understand our own shortcomings, the need to ask for forgiveness, and the assurance that the blood of Christ cleanses us from our sin.
Likewise, fellowship enables us to reach out to others to help them in their walk. Although we cannot achieve complete unity now by walking together in the footsteps of Jesus, we must be committed to developing this secondary part of unity — love for the brethren — by making every attempt to help them along the narrow way. If we discover disunity, we must learn to be peacemakers.
“As we come to consider this beautiful expression of the Lord’s sentiments with reference to the church (John 17:11), we catch a glimpse of the glory of the blessed oneness of the divine family. It is a oneness of purpose, a oneness of confidence, a oneness of sympathy, a oneness of love, a oneness of honor and a oneness of mutual possession. This oneness our Lord described as already existing between Himself and the Father, but so far as His disciples are concerned it was and still is prospective; and its full accomplishment is the ideal goal toward which we are taught to aspire” (Reprint 5339).
The Purpose of Unity
There is a purpose for our unity: to work together in the blessing of the whole family of man. The work of Christ and his Church was laid out from before the foundation of the world: the at-one-ment of the creation with the Creator. Just as our Lord, the High Priest, went through various experiences in order to have compassion for our weaknesses, so also the under-priests go through similar experiences to be able to empathize with those they will help to attain perfection in Christ’s kingdom (Hebrews 4:4, 15).
Eventually, all men will come into harmony with God and with each other. This unity of creation is the goal of the Divine plan. “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Ephesians 1:9, 10).
In the Great Pyramid, all lines converge in one cornerstone. When man is in harmony with his Creator, the words of the angels’ hymn sung at Jesus’ birth will be fulfilled, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). At that time the prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” will be accomplished.
We have an insight today into this wonderful plan of God through which there will be no more death, no more wars, and no more anarchy. Eternal life will then begin. Let us be grateful to the Lord God, for calling us in Christ, for giving us atonement in Christ, for revealing to us the mysteries of His will, for pointing us to the way of life, and for giving us the promise of becoming partakers of the divine nature. Let us echo the psalmist’s words in Psalm 116:12-14, “What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people.”
Categories: 2017 Issues, 2017-March/April