“How good and pleasant it is when brethren live together in unity!” (Ps 133:1, KJV)
There are two instances in my life when I felt like I had caught a glimpse of heaven. It was not a near-death experience or supernatural vision, but they nonetheless left a lasting impression on me.
The first was at a national missions conference, where believers from different denominations and churches came together with one voice, heart and soul, and with one purpose – to reach the world for Christ. I remember feeling like God must have been smiling.
The second was when I served on the Doulos, a ship crewed by Christians from many countries and backgrounds. I saw God’s people from different nations and languages coming together, serving alongside one another, worshipping God, at times with different expressions of worship, yet united in spirit.
It was like that description of heaven in Rev 7:9, “… there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
It is a beautiful scene to look forward to. A beautiful picture of unity, and of God’s salvation plan for the world. And it is something that the church and the community of believers is meant to show to the world even here and now.
This kind of unity is what Jesus prayed for in Jn 17:20-23 (NLT) “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”
Such unity among Christians is a powerful witness to a world that is used to divisions based on class, race, nationality or even personality. Christian unity, in spite of such differences, will reveal to a cynical world God’s heart for all people.
Yet we know it won’t be easy. Even as we come together as a church or in our small groups, there is diversity. As we serve alongside one another, we may have our differences. How will we deal with them?
Reading through the New Testament, one cannot help but notice that the Christian community often faced challenges to their unity. There were many differences, at times even divisions. Even Jesus’ twelve disciples (the first ‘small group’) were such a diverse group that they did not get along easily. Only Jesus could keep them together, loving them, admonishing them, forgiving them and thus demonstrating how they should treat one another.
Henri Nouwen describes how forgiveness is essential to Christian community: “What is forgiveness? Forgiveness is to allow the other person not to be God. Forgiveness says, “I know you love me, but you don’t have to love me unconditionally, because no human being can do that.” If we want other people to give us something that only God can give, we become a demon. We say, “Love me!” and before you know it we become violent and demanding and manipulative.
It’s so important that we keep forgiving one another – not once in a while, but every moment of life. To forgive other people for being able to give you only a little love – that’s a hard discipline. To keep asking others for forgiveness because you can give only a little love – that’s a hard discipline, too. It hurts to say to your children, to your wife or your husband, to your friends, that you cannot give them all that you would like to give. Still, that is where community starts to be created, when we come together in a forgiving and undemanding way.”
It starts with knowing God’s love for us. When we know God’s heart for us, it will change our hearts. It will change how we live our lives, and how we live with one another.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col 3:12-14)
By Jan Choo, Assistant Pastor (YCKC Bulletin 7&8 March 2015)