– Seeking a Christian Response to Division in America –
In this time of great political division and clamor, how can we as Christians help our country to fulfill its calling to be an example to the world of unity, peace, freedom, equality and brotherhood? How can we best fulfill our individual callings from God to represent Him in this crucial time in history?
(I) We have all been given a very important mission from God.
In Ephesians 4:1a (NIV), Paul says: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” In Philippians 3:14 (KJV) he adds: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” This challenging assignment was given to us by God at creation when He designed us specifically to be spiritual beings capable of knowing Him and becoming living expressions of His divine essence and image.
Jesus described this as a two-part calling when he said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… This is the great (most important, principal) and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as… yourself” (John 13:37-39 Amplified Bible).
(II) God wants us to become (a) close to Him; and (b) like Him.
Since God’s divine nature (as I John 4:8 tells us) “is love,” the central objective of His plan is to make us into loving beings as much like Himself as He can. These two “greatest” commandments (Matthew 22:36 NIV) are closely related because it is only through a personal and life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ that we can be equipped with the supernatural love of God which allows us to fulfill our calling to love others.
Regardless of how much anger, bitterness and strife there may be in the world around us, our job as Christians is to express and share the divine love of God. That love transcends our many human differences, and we must spread it as far and wide as we can.
(III) Natural human love is not enough to fulfill this mission.
In John 13:34 (NASB), Jesus—somewhat surprisingly—tells His disciples that His commandment to love our neighbors is a new commandment: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” The commandment to love others is not new, but the way in which He equips us to fulfill it is.
Two Greek words are key to understanding this verse. (1) The word “as” (Greek: “kathos”) means “in the same manner and to the same extent” as Jesus has loved us. (2) The word for “love” (Greek: “agape”) refers to the divine, unconditional and self-sacrificial love of Jesus Christ.
The God-kind-of-love that the Holy Spirit imparts to us as Christians empowers us to love others with the same love which Jesus Christ has for them and allows us to live in a God-kind-of unity and peace wherever possible. If more people experienced this love and shared it with others, many of the world’s problems would be solved. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said during the trying days of the Civil Rights Movement: “We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization.” That same opportunity stands before us today.
(IV) The divine institution which God has
ordained to help people experience this kind
of love and share it with others is the Church.
When a church is functioning properly in unity and in the love of God, it gives us a taste of heaven—the place where God’s redeemed people will live in perfect love for all eternity. Where there is bitterness and division within a church, it is severely handicapped in fulfilling its mission and can even damage the crucial task of building the kingdom of God.
For this reason, Ephesians 4:3 tells us to strive earnestly to maintain the special bond which we have in Christ, “being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This commandment is vital to preserving the spiritual health of the Church, the Body of Christ, which is God’s primary instrument for doing His work and bringing His love into the world.
The Greek word for church (“ekklesia”) means “called out.” It refers to people who are called out of the world to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. From these chosen and called people (Christians), God is building an eternal family called “the whole family in heaven and earth” (Ephesians 3:15 KJV) and an “everlasting kingdom” (Daniel 7:27 KJV).
(V) Jesus came to the Earth with one all-important purpose in mind, saying, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not
overpower it” (Matthew 16:18b NASB).
Other translations of Matthew 16:18b say that “the powers of the unseen world” and “the powers of the infernal region” will not conquer or prevail against the Church.
As this verse indicates, there is constant spiritual warfare being launched against God’s family and kingdom by Satan’s “kingdom of darkness” (Colossians 1:13 NLT). Ephesians 6:12 (KJV) calls these demonic forces “the rulers of the darkness of this world” and “spiritual wickedness in high places.” Christians must learn how to protect ourselves against their attacks.
Since division is one of Satan’s tactics often used to cripple the Church, Paul teaches strongly against it, saying: “[There] should be no division in the body, but that its members should have mutual concern for one another” (I Corinthians 12:25 Berean Study Bible).
(VI) Colossians 3:12-15 (Christian Standard Bible) provides us explicit instructions for maintaining the unity of the Body of Christ:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts.”
Colossians 3:15 tells us that the strongest bond which can produce and keep unity and peace between people is love. The Good News Translation reads: “And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity.”
The urgency of maintaining the spiritual unity of the Body of Christ is so important that Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that settling one’s differences with another believer is priority number one: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24 ESV).
We should always remember that reconciliation is God’s answer to conflict and division and that (as II Corinthians 5:18 says) “[all] this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
(VII) Although many of God’s instructions about healing division and maintaining unity are
directed specifically toward the body of Christ, they teach general principles which can apply equally to any body of people.
They tell us how a healthy body (whether a church body, a family, a political body, a business, a sports team, a social organization or a community) ought to operate to avoid harmful division.
(A) To illustrate the importance of unity, Paul uses the word “body” to refer to the Church 35 times in his epistles and compares the functioning of the Church to a human body. A healthy body, he tells us—using almost the same words as the motto on U.S. currency (“e pluribus unum”)—consists of many different parts functioning together in unity. Here are some examples:
(1) “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so, we, being many are one body in Christ…having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us.” Romans 12:4-5a, 6a (KJV).
(2) “Indeed, the body is not one part but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,’ it is not for that reason any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,’ it is not for that reason any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God has arranged each one of the parts in the body just as he wanted. And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body” I Corinthians 12:14-20 (Christian Standard Bible).
(3) “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” Ephesians 4:16 (NLT).
(VIII) Healthy bodies function in harmony, while division within a body causes disease.
The amazing way in which the parts of a healthy human body work together is a model for how other bodies can and ought to function. When each part makes its special contribution to the whole without contention or unhealthy rivalry, there is a wonderful harmony. Psalm 133:1 (ESV) describes this kind of unity beautifully when it says: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”
At the same time, when there is division and discord within a physical, social or spiritual body, there is dysfunctionality. An illustration of this regarding our human bodies is the terrible affliction brought about by autoimmune diseases. These are diseases in which someone’s immune system identifies certain healthy parts of their body as “enemies” and attacks them. Autoimmune diseases include crippling syndromes such as neuropathy, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, fibromyalgia and others. The point is that members of the same body attacking each other is a very unhealthy thing which ought to be rectified as soon as possible.
(IX) Division is ugly.
Whether it is a husband and wife who can’t get along; members of a church, a business or a sports team that cannot work together; people from different ethnic groups being at odds with each other; or politicians fighting amongst themselves, division is ugly.
For this reason, Proverbs 6:16, 19 (Amplified Bible) lists “a person who sows discord in a family” (NLT) or who “spreads strife among brothers” (NASB) as “an abomination” that “the Lord hates.” A wise Christian will always try to become a peacemaker (Matthew 5:9) whenever strife and division threaten to disrupt the unity and healthy functioning of a group of people.
(X) Ephesians 4 gives us an important list of principles by which healthy bodies should operate.
Ephesians 4 proposes a solution based upon love which works better than anything else to produce unity. This passage provides instructions which we should also apply to all areas of our lives in which we relate to other people, including the way in which we handle politics and government service. Let’s see what we can learn about this from a verse-by-verse study of this important Chapter of the Bible. As we do this, we will also examine the ways in which these principles, if practiced in our society at large, could help the United States to truly become “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” and live up to the noble goal of our motto (“e pluribus unum”) by becoming what we ought to be: A diverse group of people from many different backgrounds living together in peace.
Let’s look at the Unity Chapter of the Bible
Let’s consider how God’s Biblical instructions—if practiced—could apply to Christian unity, marital unity, organizational unity, racial unity and political unity.
QUESTIONS: (A) How can practicing the love of God improve the life of the Church (and of local churches) in America? (B) How can it help to bring about racial harmony and unity in the midst of diversity? (C) How can it improve the political atmosphere in America and heal divisions?