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Sunday 21 Feb - Strength from Unity

posted 26 Feb 2016, 19:37 by Simon Morgan
Thanks so much Br Tim for your words on Sunday - unity is a wonderful theme and a challenge for us all to embrace when so often we want to justify our own perspectives. Thanks also for providing a copy which is included below...


Strength from Unity
Mt Colah (first given at Canterbury Bible Class August 1992)/Memorial Meeting
21st February, 2016
(Reading:  1 Corinthians 12)

A few ideas came together to “create” this exhort – most from Denis Gilletts book (The Genius of Discipleship – one of my all time favourites!), and some from something Ken Pooley said at the recent Sydney Conference.  I remember talking to my father some time ago, and we were speaking about themes related to this idea of Strength from Unity and he mentioned that he seemed to remember a similar type of phrase from an advertising campaign of a company many years ago.  He couldn’t remember the name of the company – but it seemed to me to be the type of advertising slogan that a company like a Bank would use to give the impression of strength or solidarity.

This conversation made me think about the first part of verse 1 of Eccl 7 “A good name is better than fine perfume…” – or if I quote the Message Bible “A good reputation is better than a fat bank account.”  In todays terms we would probably say “A good reputation is a valuable thing, and we’ve heard that, or similar words, used often haven’t we?  If we say that a company has a good reputation, we might say it has ‘a good name’ or ‘a good record’ – the company would be perceived by us to be a reputable organisation, and was strong and secure and it would appear to gain strength from the unity of purpose it showed – the clear vision of it’s aims and values and the delivery of those to its customers.

So I would like to look at this concept this morning - of deriving strength from unity of purpose, and to look at how we “advertise” to those around us, our inner strength in the way we carry on our lives.

Denis Gillett identifies two types or classes of unity.  The first he calls absolute unity, by this he means that every part of the whole is identical in every respect, like the grains of sand in a bucket – so uniform, in fact, that they loose their individual identity.  Gillett describes this as “a monotony of sameness, and a merging of dullness”, this is more about uniformity than unity.  This type of unity has no real benefit to a follower of Christ.

The second type of unity that Denis Gillett identifies is a unity of singularity – by this he means the joining together of things which are at first dissimilar or different, a harmonizing of contrary forces into something that has singular purpose.  Like the choirs that my son Zac sings in… different voices harmonizing together in the same song.  Maybe a better description is “Unity of Harmony”.

Let’s consider for a moment the church.  As we know, it is often described in the bible as a body with Christ depicted as the head of this body – Paul uses this analogy in 1 Cor 12.  Just as a body has a variety of different “bits” that have different functions to perform, so too the church has different personalities each of which contribute to the church.  Each part of the human body is not identical, as each had a unique role to play, but they function in unity or in harmony.  Each member of the church is not, and should not, be expected to show absolute uniformity or sameness as this would not allow for the functions of the individuals to be catered for.  As Paul says, just as the hand or the foot has a different role to play, so you and I have a different role to play in the church.

The unity of the church is found in the fact that it is the harmonization of the different individuals brought together for a common purpose, and that working together to those common goals is what gives that church (and its members) strength.

When you stop and consider it, it is highly unlikely that most of the individuals in this room would normally be associated with each other – and the same can be said with the group that attended the Sydney Conference.  It is only, and I use the word “only” very loosely, through the common bond of the saving name of Jesus that we have this unity.  So let’s use it to the best advantage by giving each other strength.  Paul stresses this in 1 Cor 1212-30.  There he outlines how each member of the church can work for the good of the whole body, and each contribute their different skills; but the strength lies in the unity created by the harmony of these individuals.

This concept of providing each other with strength through our unity is what I would call practical unity.  We can each gain strength in this practical way.

When thinking of unity, it is important to note that Paul exhorts the Ephesians (and us) that we KEEP unity, not create it.  Unity among believers of similar faith, or “in the truth” or at Mt Colah or however we want to describe it, is already created by those members belief in the teachings of our Lord.  Unity cannot be made by making certain arrangements, or by building some organization, or by creatiung certain rules.  The arrangements or organisations or rules we put in place are important only as a means for disciples to make their devotion and confess their agreement – but the unity is not created by the organization, it is created by the revelation of the truth.  This is the way that there is unity of spirit among members.

Paul, in the letter to the Ephesians (43-4) writes; “Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bonds of peace.  There is one body and one spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called.”  In what way can the church be unified in spirit?  Here I think that Paul is referring to the unity that comes from the submission and obedience to Gods will.  Whenever anyone accepts the teaching of the scriptures without reservation they are made one in faith and practice.  One in faith because they believe in the saving name of Jesus, and one in practice by the act of baptism, that they have dedicated their life to Christ.

I think that all to frequently when Christadelphians talk about unity (or unfortunately disunity), they concentrate their comments on the organisational structures of the Christadelphian system.  Pauls words show us that the true unity that we should be seeking has more to do with a relationship with God and our savior and then as a consequence with our brothers and sisters in the church.  Jesus also confirms this when he prays for his disciples in John 1711 “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one.”, and also when he is praying for those that would hear the message of the disciples (us); (John 1721) “…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 the world may believe that you have sent me.”  

It is obvious isn’t it, that the Father and his son were united at the highest level, that is to say that they had the same will and purpose.  The efforts of God and Christ were directed at the same ultimate objective, and in this there was perfect unity.  They were two unique identities, but were one in purpose, direction and destination.  They were in harmony.

As members of the same church, we too should be of the same mind as Christ.  We should seek to follow his example, not as exact replicas of each other, but each in his or her own way so there is a harmony of thought.  In a lot of ways this concept of unity comes back to some fundamental ideas concerning fellowship that I heard Bro Peter Islip speak of at a Canterbury Bible Class many years ago (and it has stuck with me).  That is, we must have unity of mind and purpose with our heavenly Father first, and then unity with our brothers and sisters will follow.

It seems to me that the further on in life I go, the more evident it is that all aspects of our visible service to God emanate from the heart, or from the way we think – if our heart is right with God, then our visible actions and worship will be seen to be right.  So too, if our mind is in unity/harmony with Gods, then we will be in unity/harmony with all believers.

If we have this unity of will with God on an individual level we will have unity with each other.  As we are all members of the church body, we should all be “of the same mind” as Paul says in Romans 1216 or as the NIV says “live in harmony with each other” – that idea of different voices in a choir making a beautiful sound – or as 1 Cor 110 states “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”  All of these quotes are expressions of, and pleadings for, the unity that should exist among members of the church of God.  But as we can also see from these passages, this unity among the members of the church can only truly be found in reference to our union with God.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul takes to task those in the meeting who were creating factions, noting that they were not keeping unity - although they were initially in unity when they took on the name of Jesus Christ – they had created a division.  As we have said, Paul uses the symbol of the church as a human body, made up of many parts (and I am sure you know the passage well) to show that Christ is not divided and neither should the church be.

Those who have not accepted Christ or his message of salvation, and have not become part of that unity, will frequently be looking for a sign of division to justify their decision not to accept the message of salvation.  We should not give them any chance to use our actions as an excuse for their inaction – we must not by our disunity give them a reason to reject the calling of God.  We must use the strength we gain from being a united body to preach, by our unity, to those around us.

True unity in the church, comes from a “unity of singularity” – or put another way a harmony of the different contributors.  There is strength in this, as we are able to benefit from the different and unique talents of each of the individuals.  For me the recent Sydney Conference was a telling example of what this true unity should be like.  It was one of those times when Christadelphia felt less like a “club” and more like “acceptance/tolerance”…. Unity…. Harmony!  Ken Pooley said as much in his closing words at the conference - and it rang true to me.

We have also been exhorted by Paul to keep unity, not to create it.  There is strength in this, as we are told that we START from a position of unity!  This unity among the church has two stages – first, the unity between the individual and God; and second, the visible application of this unity among the members of the church family.  There is strength in this, as we can take confidence in the unity of will and purpose with our Father and his son, and strength in the confidence that the members of our spiritual family will be working in harmony with us to build us up, in unity, to follow the example of Christ.

As we remember this morning, the sacrifice of Jesus in the bread and wine, let’s gain strength from remembering his example of unity with his Father, and strength from remembering the prayers that he prayed for us – so that we might be unified in will and purpose and thought with him and our Father.
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