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Unity is important whenever any group of people get together and want to accomplish something.  Takee pluribus unum the United states of America for instance.  Over the head of the eagle on the one dollar bill and the quarter are the words e pluribus Unum. It is Latin for “out of many, one”.  When the founding fathers got together to decide on a seal to represent their new country, they must have looked around and noticed that there were people from many different countries, religious beliefs and political philosophies, and they realized that if this fledgling nation was going to make something of itself, they would have to somehow become one.  Unity means “one” in Latin.  They founded “one nation under God” and called it the United States of America.

Unity is not only important for making strong nations or businesses, but is also important in making a strong Church Universal, and strong communities of Faith.

I have been studying Ephesians lately, and Paul writes a lot about unity, especially in chapters three and four.  In chapter three he focuses on the unity of the Jews and gentiles that was accomplished by Christ’s work on the cross.  In chapter four he fleshes out what it means for the church at large and for individual communities of Faith to live in unity.  I found ten important keys to unity in chapter four.  In this first part of my study I will list five, and in the second part I will list five more.

Walk Worthy

1.  In order for there to be Christian unity, each individual must walk worthy of the calling that they have received.  That calling is, to quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  To accomplish that, we must strive to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength; and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Be Humble

2.  Paul also writes that we are to completely humble (NIV) .  What does it mean to be completely humble?  I think that there are three ways to look at that.  One is to take to heart what Paul wrote elsewhere – “esteem others better than yourself”(Philippians 2).  We naturally want to think that we are better than everyone else and find fault with others in order to make ourselves seem better than we really are.  That is not being completely humble. Two, Paul also tells Timothy that he, Paul, is the worst of sinners.  To be completely humble we must see ourselves as the worst of sinners, for whom Christ died.  The third, and perhaps best way to be completely humble is to do what C.S. Lewis says, and that is to think of ourselves less.  Put the focus on God and others.

Put  Up  With Each Other

3.  Paul next admonishes the Christians to be patient, bearing with one another.  These two items are so closely related to each other that they can be taken as one item; one coin (or tortilla as my wife likes to say) with two sides.  A translation that I prefer for the idea of “bearing with one another” is “to put up with one another.”  We all know brothers or sisters in Christ who do things that really bother us.  Things they do that we don’t agree with, yet these things that they do (or don’t do) are not specifically mentioned in  scripture.  So what should we do about it?  Put up with it!

This is especially wise advise for those of us who live in community, like those of us who live and work together at FFHM’ s Home For Needy Children in Mexico.  The staff members at the children’s homes typically come from the U.S., Canada and Mexico.  We have different cultures, upbringing and spiritual traditions.  We all do things differently from one another.  Our initial reaction upon encountering others who “do it differently” is to think that they do it wrong and that I do it right. That is exactly what Satan wants us to think in order to foster dissension and division.  To brake up unity and weaken the Body of Christ.  Paul tells us to put up with the people who do it differently.   To do that we need to be patient.  With patience, over time,one of three things will happen-1. God will change the other person, 2. God will change me, 3. God will use our differences, our diversity, to make the community of faith stronger than it would be without the differences.

Make Every Effort

4.  Paul goes on to tell the believers to “make every effort to keep the bond of unity.”  He is telling us that unity is work!  Unity must be intentional.  Unity doesn’t happen naturally.  In fact is usually goes against our sin tainted nature’s.  Almost every action we take or word we speak either strengthens that bond of unity or weakens it.  Everyday we should wake up and ask God what we can do to build up Christian unity, and ask him to reveal attitudes we have that can diminish that unity, and then act on what the Holy Spirit reveals to our hearts.  That is making every effort.

Love

5.  Next Paul talks about One Body, One Spirit, to which you were called in One Hope.  All believers are one body, the body of Christ.  It is the one Spirit that makes the body alive, that gives the body strength and that guides the body.  We were called by the Father to live in and look forward to one hope.   We have the many in this phrase of Paul’s; the body of Christ, the Spirit, and the Father who called us.  It’s the trinity, the ultimate example of true unity, of true and perfect unity to which we were called.  As I mentioned earlier we are ultimately called to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  How do we glorify Him and enjoy Him?  Remember the two greatest commandments, Love God with all our being and love our neighbors as ourselves.  In many places where Paul talks about unity, he includes the Word love.  There can be no unity without love.

When most people hear the word “love”, they think about emotion.  That is fine and dandy if we are talking about “Eros” or romantic love, or if the topic under consideration is “phileo ” or brotherly love.  But talking about the great commandments, we are talking about “agape” love, and the foundation for that kind of love is not emotion but devotion.  Devotion to God and doing His will.  Devotion to one another despite our differences, perspectives on life, and world views.  Agape love puts the “other person” first and results in strong chains that build up the body of Christ, glorifies the Spirit, and produces an enduring hope.

To be continued…

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cs lewis humility

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The staff at Cristo Por Su Mundo (Christ for the World), a home for needy children here in Oaxaca, Mexico, which is part of FoundationFor His Ministry, recently began a five day study of what it means for Christians to live in community.  I felt like this was an important topic for us to delve into, since we are a faith community with almost two dozen staff members and sixty children, and we had never had an in-depth study of what the Bible or Christian leaders have to say about this important topic.

A book that has heavily influenced my perspective on Christian community, is called Life Together,  by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I took the first devotional/teaching session to present Bonhoeffer’s ideas of what living in community is all about.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian, professor and pastor when Hitler was in power.  He was ultimately executed by Hitler for his anti Hitler activities.  He was head of a Christian community in Germany for awhile and wrote his little book Life Together to help other Christians who lived in community or who were considering the idea.
In our first devotional study time I handed out two pages of quotes from Life Together.  Here are some of my favorites:

The goal of Christian community – Meeting one another as bringers of the message of salvation.

Be thankful – Enter into common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients.

Jesus Christ alone is our unity – Through him alone do we have access to one another, joy in one another, and fellowship with one another.

Priorities – It is more important for us to know what God did to Israel, to his son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today.

Learning – Only in fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship; both begin with the call of Christ.

Meditation – The period of personal meditation is to be devoted to the scriptures, private prayer, and intercession.  If you seek God alone, you will gain happiness.

Meekness – He who would learn to serve must first learn to think little of himself.

Helpfulness – We must allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.  God will be constantly canceling our plans by sending us people with needs that we can meet.

Jill, the assistant administrator of the children’s home also spoke about living in community.  She looked at community from a theological point of view.  She used the book called Community 101 as her guiding light.  This book talked about how community began with God, the Trinity, three in one, the first community.  Then God created Adam, and God declared that it was not good that man was alone.  Man was created to live in community, and God created Eve, from one of Adams ribs.  Thus the first human community.

Satan hates all things that God creates as good and beautiful, and seeks to destroy them, especially community.  His first attack was against community.  An essential element of community between God and man, and mankind living in community, is trust.  Satan attacks community by attacking trust.  He convinced Eve that God could not be trusted, and thus destroyed the perfect community that man had with God, and in the process, the community Adam and Eve had.  Satan continues to try and destroy Christian community, and those living in community must be ever vigilant regarding their thoughts, words and actions, lest the Evil One drive a wedge between its members.

Below are some quotes from Community 101:

Primacy of oneness – God is  eternally one.  When he created us in his image, he created oneness.

God’s gift of oneness – God’s supreme achievement was not the creation of solitary man, but the creation of human community.

Centrality of oneness – The quality of human communities depends on our willingness to be dependent on God.

Commitment to community – For a church to develop and maintain oneness is not a take-it-or-leave-it option.  It is a priority and a mandate.  We need to be constantly reminded of our true identity as a community of oneness.

God calls us to have a “personal relationship” with Him.  But that is not the end all and be all of what it means to  be a Christian.  God brings us into right relationship with Him, so that we can be part of the “called out ones”; the church; the community of faith; the  body of Christ.  God created community because He loves us and wants us to be happy.  I know that is true for me.  Although I have gone to church most of my life, and been a member of different churches, and done church for most of 50 years, I have not experienced such joy and happiness and fulfillment since I became part of this Christian community in Mexico called Cristo Por Su Mundo.  Instead of “doing” church, we are “being” the church that God called His followers to be.

Thinking on this, I am reminded of the breakfast illustration of ham and eggs.  In the making of this breakfast the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed.  Most Christians are involved in a Christian community, living at the fringes of what God truly intends for His disciples.  I think God wants all His children to take the plunge, and commit to living in community.  That is the way He wired us in order to truly glorify Him by enjoying Him.

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There are many things which a person can do alone, but being a Christian is not one of them. As the Christian life is, above all things, a state of union with Christ, and of union of his followers with one another, love of the brethren is inseparable from love of God. Resentment toward any human being cannot exist in the same heart with love to God. The personal relationship to Christ can only be realized when one has “come to himself” as a member of His Body, the Christian fellowship.

William T. Ham

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