Summer continues, the pandemic is at bay, and fall is just around the corner…. Many if not most of us have become ambitious with thoughts and plans of places to go and people to see. And for believers, there is a sense of renewed opportunity for ministry and engagement with an increasingly divided, dark and unbelieving world. It can be easy to feel confused and overwhelmed. What can we as individuals and as a small church do to proclaim the kingdom?
Fortunately, redemption is the Lord’s work. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict unbelievers and draw them to the Father through the Son. We get to come along for the ride. Our role is simple yet confoundingly complex and challenging: we are to love, in unity. As believers love one another and worship and serve as one, we become witnesses of Love Himself and reflect the intimate unity within the Trinity.
When we embrace our role as witnesses to the ends of the earth, we become God’s hands, feet, and skin. As difficult as it may be to believe at time, our Lord delights to include us in His redemptive work. But make no mistake: even as the Lord uses us to extend His kingdom, He uses the process itself to do His redemptive work in us, both individually and corporately. Sin, selfishness, and stubbornness are exposed, and we must confront those stumbling blocks to love and unity if we genuinely want to fulfill the Lord’s purposes for us.
Scripture is extremely clear on this point. In His last words to the disciples in the upper room before His death, Jesus talks repeatedly about the love and unity among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the expansion of that love and unity to and among the disciples, that they would know the joy and peace of God and proclaim Him to the world. We, as spiritual descendants of those disciples in the upper room with Jesus, are also called to love and unity, to put our flesh into action in ways that express the love of Christ and the unity of the Godhead in the here and now.
But the church is not and has never been immune to division and a lack of love, and that is more evident now than ever before. How can we bear witness to the love and unity of our Triune God when we exhibit neither love nor unity? But does bearing witness mean that we sacrifice our convictions held in faith to an amorphous “higher good” of mushy, tolerant love? Again, I would like to consider our spiritual ancestors, the original disciples. The geopolitical environment was as hostile to Christianity then as it is now; and there was plenty of opportunity for strife in those times: we read in Scripture times of sharp discord in the early church. But early believers still managed to build the church by growing in love and unity and manifesting those distinctive characteristics to the unbelieving world; the church grew exponentially.
What might this look like for believers in local bodies? There is no prescription, no script. But I believe that there are a couple of Biblical truths that can help us to negotiate this difficult path. The first is that we are all sinners: we all fall short of the glory of God. This means that we have reason to cultivate humility in our own hearts and minds and to regard others as valuable—with valuable perceptions and convictions—even as they sin. A second truth to consider is that the human heart is deceitful, and only God knows its depths. Our motives may not be as pure as we would like to think, and we might easily misinterpret or misjudge the motives of others. We need not make it our mission to convince others that we are right. It is much wiser and more profitable to make it our mission to find commonalities in our respective positions within the context of a shared faith.
Again, I do not believe that the Lord would have us trade in our convictions for a diluted faith that is untethered from truth. But please consider that it is indeed possible to hold our convictions and to also pursue love and unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can seek to be fertile ground for the Holy Spirit to bear His fruit in us, that we would treat others with patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control even as we hold our convictions. And again, we can remember that God is God and we are not. He is the One doing the redemptive work; we get to participate, but we have not been invited to supervise or superintend. The more relevant issue here is that we may very well need to trade in our prideful desire to be right in order to build a body characterized by love and unity.
We are living in a time of unprecedented opportunity to leverage the power of love and unity in a divided and hate-filled world. May the Lord work within us so that He can work through us…!