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"Love all, trust a few. Do wrong to none."
—William Shakespeare

05-Jan-18


The Pursuit of Unity

New and old, North and South, black and white, Republican and Democrat, left and right. The vast array of differences that make up our world are an ever-present reality. Advances in technology and communications have made them more prominent in our society. Our world is filled with all kinds of entertainments, sports, hobbies, politics, and personalities that we can rally behind or stand against. Even a recent publicity campaign for the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, petitioned fans to choose between the "Dark Side" and the "Light Side."

All the while, the world is pushing us to "take a stand," "support this," or "oppose that." Aware of this constant barrage, we are also acquainted with the resultant praise or disdain that inevitably comes from choosing a side. However, following the world's prodding leads to the dissolution of unities and encourages the formation of factions: Where once we recognized "new and old, North and South," it becomes "new or old, North or South" and inevitably, "us versus them." Innocent or not, calls to rally behind this or that are subtle beatings of war drums.

In this way, Satan is cleverly inviting us to participate in his free-for-all wargame known as "Survival of the Fittest." Since it is a ploy of our enemy, we need a strategy to fight against it. We find crucial instruction from Christ Himself in the hours before His crucifixion. Specifically, we will see how He used faith and humility to preserve the unity He shared with God.

The Bible is laden with images of unity. For instance, once God created man and woman, He immediately united them in marriage. Being initially separate, they were quickly bound to one another, becoming "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). From the beginning we see Satan's work being the polar opposite: destroying the unity that Adam and Eve shared with God at that time. They were so unified that they lived in His presence. Satan, however, took action to sever this closeness to the point of their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

The root of "unity" comes from the Latin word unus, meaning "one." This accords with the common definition of unity as "the state of being one; oneness; a whole or totality." Both the biblical account and the modern definitions express that the underlying idea of unity is oneness, not division. This kind of oneness is what Jesus wants us to share with the Father and Himself:

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:20-23)

Four times in these four verses, Christ in His prayer to the Father asks for our oneness with Him, the Father, and each other! He clearly desires us to work diligently toward this end.

It is interesting that immediately after this prayer, Jesus leads His disciples over the Brook Kidron and into a garden (John 18:1). Could this be hinting at the restoration of the unity that was present with God and man in the Garden of Eden? At the same time, Satan was already moving with his armed faction of disunity led by Judas. Were they anticipating a fight? Did they expect a battle to break out? Under Satan's system, it is natural that they would expect resistance, especially to an arrest that could be considered unjust.

In verse 10, Peter draws a sword, ready to fight back! To our carnal natures, this seems understandable, and many of us have wondered if we would have done the same thing. If someone we love is threatened, our instinct is to resist. Jesus however, shows a completely different attitude than Peter, healing the servant's ear that Peter had cut off (Luke 22:51).

Matthew's account adds that Jesus said He could pray to the Father to send thousands of angels to His aid (Matthew 26:53). Yet, in John 18:11, seeing through eyes of faith in God, Jesus answers, "Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?" In His answer, we begin to see how we can apply this to our lives.

Jesus was confronted with a difficult situation that, by all accounts, should have stirred up His pride to fight back, for He was God! He was innocent! He of all people did not deserve this treatment! Blameless, He would have been justified in God's sight to call down the armies of heaven to save Him from arrest and death, but He did not. Despite having all power at His disposal, He chose to work toward unity rather than destruction.

In harmony with the Father, Jesus exercised His faith by humbly submitting to the sovereign Father's will for Him. The oneness that Christ desires with us is not without tremendous cost. He chose to have faith in His Father to execute the next phase in His plan regardless of how hurt, humiliated, and lonely He would be. Rather than seeking His own desire to "let this cup pass from Me" (Matthew 26:39), He chose instead to stay unified with the Father's will, faithfully following through with each painful step (see Matthew 27:37-44).

It is difficult to imagine the amount of control and patience it took for Him to withhold His rightful power and endure everything thrown at Him. Despite being mocked, beaten, and nailed to a cross, He went to His death like a lamb to the slaughter, not even opening His mouth in objection (Isaiah 53:7).

Satan has always attacked God's people with words designed to harm, accuse, and mock so that pride is provoked, leading to anger, retaliation, and sin. Yet, Jesus did not live by Satan's words, but "by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). Here is a template for us to emulate every day.

We have been baptized into His name, and in type, we have drunk of His cup at Passover each year (Matthew 20:22-23; Psalm 16:5). While our struggles will not be of this magnitude, we can take steps to imitate our Savior's character when stung by a sharp word from a stranger, neighbor, friend, or brother. We cannot afford to permit our pride to rise up, to lash out in retaliation. Instead, we must take up that shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16)—the same that Christ wielded when He was mistreated—and pursue unity rather than division.

- Levi W. Graham


 


 
 

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