The Power of Unity
The Power of Unity
In Buchenwald concentration camp, 56,000 people were put to death by a totalitarian regime that saw the Christian faith as a threat to its ideology. One block of cells in the camp was reserved for prisoners who were deemed especially dangerous or notable. Paul Schneider, a Lutheran pastor who was called ‘the preacher of Buchenwald’, was placed in this special block because even from the small window in his cell he loudly proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ – in defiance of the orders of the Gestapo guards.
Otto Neururer, a Catholic priest whose work on behalf of the Jews and other so called ‘undesirables’ had made him a threat to the Nazi warlords, was also put in this block. He too ministered in Jesus’ name to his fellow inmates in the concentration camp until he was crucified upside down.
In unity, these two men, one a Catholic and the other a Protestant, bore witness together to their common Lord – Jesus Christ. Unity is so powerful.
The people and the landPsalm 68:7-14
David reflects on the exodus, Mount Sinai and the conquest of Canaan. These were some of the high points of the history of the people of God when they were genuinely united.
This passage is all about recognising where that blessing and unity ultimately came from – God. It is a psalm of thanksgiving and praise to God for all the things he has done. It celebrates his leadership (v.7), his power and provision (vv.8–9), his generosity, his justice (v.10) and his victories (vv.11–14).
God had led the people to the promised land. Yet today, in this very same area, the challenge of unity is great. The search for peace in the Middle East remains one of the greatest challenges facing our world.
Lord, thank you for your love for everyone. I pray for peace and unity in the war-torn countries of the Middle East. Thank you that you are the source and foundation of unity.
The church and the worldJohn 17:6-26
In the Gospels, we frequently read about the prayer life of Jesus. But only on rare occasions are we informed at any length of what he prayed for. In this great prayer of Jesus, before he goes out to face the cross, we see his priorities.
Jesus prays not only for his disciples, but also for those who will believe in the future – that is to say, he prays for the entire church – which includes you and me (v.20).
This prayer is dominated by the theme of unity. Jesus prays not only for unity among his disciples (v.11), but also for the church (v.20). He prays for a unity like that which unites the Trinity: ‘that they may be one, as we are one’ (v.11, AMP).
1. The motive for unity is the great commission of Jesus
Jesus prayed for complete unity so that the world may believe (v.23) and know unity with God (vv.21,24). One of the greatest barriers to belief is disunity in the church. In politics, the moment a political party becomes disunited, it loses popularity. It happens in the secular world and even more so in the church. Jesus says that he protected his disciples and kept them safe ‘so that they may be one’ (v.12). Now he prays, ‘protect them from the evil one’ (v.15) who will seek to divide them.
When churches fight each other, people lose interest. Conversely, when churches do unite it is so attractive. It is the source of joy. The followers of Jesus are not supposed to be miserable. Jesus prays ‘that they may have the full measure of my joy within them’ (v.13). Joy comes from unity. Disunity is a joy-stealer. Unity is powerful.
2. The means of unity is the Holy Spirit of Jesus
Jesus prays for your holiness. Jesus prays, ‘Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth’ (v.17). Holiness comes from the truth. The truth is found in God’s word. That is why it is so important to soak yourself in God’s word.
Holiness comes as you welcome the Holy One, the Spirit of Truth, who comes to dwell within you.
Jesus prays, ‘that I myself may be in them’ (v.26). This is the most extraordinary truth of the New Testament – that Jesus comes to live in you by the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit lives in all Christians of whatever church or denomination. The Holy Spirit unites us.
3. The mark of unity is the love of Jesus
Jesus prays, ‘that the love you have for me may be in them’ (v.26). What higher love can you have than the love that God the Father has for Jesus his Son? Jesus’ prayer for you is that you should have the same love that God the Father has for Jesus in your heart for other Christians, for other parts of the body of Christ.
4. The measure of unity is the visibility of Jesus
Sometimes people speak about ‘invisible unity’. But Jesus didn’t pray for invisible unity. Nor did he pray that we might be ‘almost united’. He prayed that they may ‘be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me’ (v.23). He wants the church to be completely and visibly united.
One day it will be (see Ephesians 1:9–11). In the meantime, as we build bridges, work together and come together with other Christians from different parts of the church, as hearts and minds are bonded together in communion with Jesus, we can see, as in Buchenwald, visible signs of our invisible unity.
Lord, thank you for the way the Holy Spirit is drawing us together. May we see increasing signs of visible unity so that the world will believe.
The friends and rivals1 Samuel 19:1-20:42
In politics, business or even in church life, two people who are great friends can at the same time end up competing for the same job. How should we handle the tension between our ambitions and our friendships?
The friendship between David and Jonathan was remarkable. They were rivals for the throne. They had every reason to be envious of each other and to hate each other. Yet Jonathan loved David ‘as he loved himself’ (20:17). This type of love, which Jesus commanded, is the highest love one person can have for another (Matthew 22:39).
On the other hand, Saul was filled with jealousy. Jealousy starts with comparing ourselves to others – comparing our achievements with those around us. Jealousy has the power to deprive someone temporarily of their senses. When Jonathan points out to his father, Saul, that David has not wronged him and has benefitted him greatly and it would be quite wrong to kill an innocent man, Saul says, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death’ (1 Samuel 19:6).
Logic and reasonable argument may convince a person who is filled with jealousy at the time. However, jealousy is so powerful that once it gets a grip of a person, as it did with Saul, there is no stopping it. As Shakespeare put it in Othello, ‘It is the green-ey’d monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.’
David and Jonathan loved each other. Jonathan ‘was very fond of David’ (v.1) and he ‘spoke well of David’ (v.4). Jonathan even said to David, ‘Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you’ (20:4). What a great commitment to make to a friend! Their commitment to each other took the form of a ‘covenant’ (v.16), which included even their descendants (v.42). And Jonathan ‘made David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself’ (vv.16–17).
As a result of his jealousy ‘Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan’ (v.30). Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David (v.33) and he ‘got up from the table in fierce anger’ (v.34).
The difference between Saul’s anger and Jonathan’s anger was that Saul’s was unfounded and produced by jealousy. Jonathan’s anger was righteous anger; ‘He was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David’ (v.34). Anger is not always wrong – but examine your motives carefully.
David and Jonathan were not ashamed of showing their affection for each other: ‘… they kissed each other and wept together’ (v.41). Crying can be seen by some as showing weakness, but they had no shame. In crying openly and showing their love for each other. This is a powerful model of friendship, love and unity. Marriage is one of God’s answers to loneliness. Close friendship is another.
It was this love and friendship that enabled Jonathan to be totally loyal, supportive and protective in spite of the fact that he was a rival candidate to the throne.
Lord, help us to be willing and able to love our friends and neighbours as ourselves. May people find the answer to loneliness in the love, affection and unity of church community.
1 Samuel 19:1–2
‘Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan was very fond of David and warned him…’ (1 Samuel 19:1).
David was having a tough time as many of us have experienced over the last few months. He had been faithfully serving God and Saul his king. Yet whatever he did he couldn’t please his boss (Saul). The only thing David could do was to keep on doing what was right. He didn’t seek revenge or justice. Eventually, God did vindicate him and he will vindicate us.
Verse of the Day
‘Your word is truth.’ (John 17:17)
William Shakespeare, Othello, Act III, Scene iii.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)