The Christian and Unity
Tensions are high, divisions are sharp. Black, white, republican, democrat. We can seem hopelessly lost in problems that seem too big and complex for any real change. But, a lot of people doing the little things make a big difference. I believe the power of simple godliness lived out in the everyday lives of Christians can have a profound impact on a community. As one of your pastors, I want to share five simple, underwhelming personal practices for fostering unity that, if embraced by the people of Veritas, would send forth cultural ripples.
1. More Bible Than News
You might be pushing back against this one already, thinking it isn’t realistic. We can consume national and global news at such a fast rate each and every day. We are news gluttons. And, let’s be honest, eating that much news, whether through a news station or social media, is not like eating a lot of health food. Every article, show, or post has an angle, agenda, and a worldview behind what it’s saying and how it’s saying it. We are foolish if we think that this high level of consumption will not have an effect on our emotions, our attitudes, and our souls.
Paul tells us in Philippians 4, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” This list doesn’t bring news or social media to mind. Paul is commanding that we be more intentional with our thoughts.
Now, please hear me, I think it is good to be informed. I think we should be up on the news and what is happening in our world. To me, the greater concern is the amount of consumption, and particularly the amount of that consumption compared to our Bible diet. That is what leads to people who are not only consuming that much news and social media, but who are doing so unable to filter it all through an informed, biblical worldview. I am not saying, don’t watch the news or don’t have social media. I am simply saying that we should be more influenced by God’s word than anything else.
2. Stop Generalizing
Generalizations can be a way of perpetuating lies. It is not helpful to generalize a group of people as if they are all the same. Cops, white people, black people, Christians, liberals, conservatives; painting with too broad of a brush just makes a mess. I am a Southern Baptist preacher, but there are groups of Southern Baptist preachers I would not like to be lumped together with. In our conversations, let’s be more careful with our words, valuing truth more than forcing a perspective.
3. Be Relational
Unity is not theoretical. Unity isn’t going to be lived out through speeches, books, or social media posts. Unity is lived out in relationships. Make friends. Make friends with people who are different than you. Have people over to your house. This seems to be a lost art, but Christians should be different. Paul commands hospitality in many areas of scripture, including Romans 12:13. When we hear the word hospitality, we tend to think of having people over to our home, which isn’t far off. But the meaning of the word might shed some light on who we have over to our home. The word hospitality literally means “lover of strangers.” Hospitality is not about always having the people you’re most comfortable with over. It is sharing a meal with people who don’t look like you, don’t vote like you, don’t make the same amount of money as you. Let’s be lovers of strangers, lovers of people that may seem strange to us.
4. Embrace Simple, Private Acts
Through social media, it seems like everyone is living their lives in front of everyone else. We want people to know we worked out or that we cooked something healthy today. We want others to know what we stand for and what we are against. There is a lot of social media shouting, but loud does not equal effective. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus advocated for a greater privacy to our righteousness. When you pray, go to your room instead of the street corner. When you give, do it in secret. When you fast, don’t make it obvious. Maybe no one will ever know you spent an hour having coffee with a minority who was really hurting in order to learn and encourage them. No one else will notice the note you sent to someone who was struggling. You are not going to get a ton of likes for praying against injustice alone in your room. But, God sees what is done in secret and rewards those who are living for his approval over that of man. Embrace the simple, private acts. Good deeds still matter, even if no one sees them.
5. Abide in Christ
If we are serious about working towards unity, then the greatest thing we can do is to work on our own spiritual maturity. In John 15, when Jesus was talking about the path to a fruitful life, he called his followers to abide in him, to be connected and close to him, and to be in an active relationship with him. Then, he doubled down on the importance of abiding, saying that, apart from him, we can do nothing. This includes reconciling with others. The best work towards unity with others is the work God does in us.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” (Psalm 127) We can work as hard as we can toward unity, but in the end, it has to be the work of God. Therefore, I will say it again, the best work toward unity is the work God does in us by his Spirit producing in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5). All of these traits are essential for fostering unity and building good relationships.
The problems in our world are big and can seem overwhelming. Some people want to change the world all at once from the top down, while others get overwhelmed and don’t even try. I would ask you not to underestimate the power of simple godliness lived out in the everyday lives of Christians. A lot of people doing the little things make a big difference. Especially when those people are connected to God.
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