Why Can’t We Just Get Along?
I love my husband and family, but over the past week, I’ve had the rare treat of having the house all to myself. (Well, I’ve been sharing it with the cat. Or he’s been sharing it with me. Depends on which one of us you ask.) Several evenings, I’ve watched episodes of “The Chosen” over dinner. It’s at least my third time through season 2, but there are always favorite lines to enjoy again and new bits to discover that I missed before.
One of my favorite parts, because it’s so true and so timely, is in the final episode of the season when Jesus and Matthew are looking over the camp where the other disciples have been squabbling. Matthew says, “I hope they can find a way to work together … They can’t seem to agree on a single thing lately. Myself included sometimes.” Jesus responds, “Oh, I’ve noticed. In some ways, it’s to be expected. … It’s what’s bound to happen when you start something that’s open to all, truly all people. Zealots. Even tax collectors. People who have been through tough times. People both hesitant and skeptical, as well as bold and confident. People hungry to learn, as well as those learned and knowledgeable.”
Jesus didn’t pick a group of disciples who all came from the same backgrounds, had the same interests, or saw things the same way. He handpicked people, who must have clashed often, to form his inner circle. And he opened his invitation to follow him to all humans, not just select groups. Accepting that invitation requires obedience to Jesus as Lord of every part of our lives, but doesn’t iron out all the differences between us.
Jesus knew how challenging that would make things, but also that those same challenges set the stage for the world to see his power in reconciliation. What blows me away is that, over 2000 years ago, Jesus prayed not only for the disciples we read about in the Bible, but every single one of his followers over the millennia to come. For you. For me. And Jesus prayed, knowing about all the differences we’d have and the difficulties we’d face on account of them.
John records Jesus’ prayer in the upper room on the night before he was arrested and crucified: “My prayer is not for them [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
As somebody who doesn’t like conflict, I’ve tended to think about unity in pretty superficial terms – agreement, whether over small details or big issues; absence of conflict; “one big happy”. (If I’m to be honest, I tend to think about unity as everybody else seeing things my way. Because, really, who – Christians or otherwise – pictures unity as themselves going over to the other side on any issue?) But I don’t believe that’s exactly what Jesus was praying for. Paul acknowledges that there are disputable matters in Romans 14 and 15, and talks about unity that can and should exist among us even when differences on those disputable matters persist.
I’m learning that true unity is more about the foundations – mindsets, choices, actions. Here’s a grab bag of a few of the things that are part of unity:
Basically, humility is getting yourself out of the way of unity. Jesus himself demonstrated humility best, as Paul describes in Philippians 2:6-8. Jesus gave up his privileges and became a servant for our sakes. Likewise, says Paul in verses 3-5, we’re to have that same mindset. We’re to let go of self-focus and value others above ourselves, advancing their interests. (If you want a very readable, funny and memorable read on humility, I’d highly recommend Brant Hanson’s book, The Truth About Us: The very good news about how very bad we are.)
Making space for one another’s faults and quirks, dealing with our own irritation quickly, and being forgiving
These all go hand in hand:
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col 3:13)
“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Heb 12:15)
“ ‘In your anger do not sin.’ Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Eph 4:26-67)
I recently listened to an interview with Philip Yancey, who talks about setting a course while hiking. A two-degree deviation off course may seem pretty minor, but the further you travel along that line, the greater your deviation from your intended course becomes. In his Word, God tells us to deal with things that throw unity off course, like bitterness and anger, early on while only a small course correction is needed.
Recognizing our shared identity
Regardless of our differences, as followers of Jesus, we all have a new identity in Jesus. We are all redeemed sinners saved by grace through faith in Jesus. We are all brothers and sisters in a new family. We are all members of one body, with Jesus as its head.
Recognizing our shared goal
Regardless of whether or not we agree on the best ways of doing so, we all share the goal of glorifying God and pointing others to him.
Fixing our eyes on Jesus
I’ll turn for this last thought to somebody far more eloquent than I am. A few days ago I finished reading A. W. Tozer’s book, The Pursuit of God. The way Tozer describes the way to unity is by fixing our eyes on the One who is the Way:
“One hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other. They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become ‘unity’ conscious to turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”
When Jesus prayed for unity among his followers, he was praying for you. For me. For all those other followers of Jesus who drive you nuts sometimes. (Like I said, for me.) We can all drive each other around the bend sometimes. Jesus prayed for unity, not necessarily for an end to all our differences of opinion. As we tune ourselves more and more to Jesus as the standard, some of those differences will diminish. But we might just find that others become the actual ground in which unity will grow.