When Jesus knew His time on Earth was about to come to an end, He decided to have dinner with His friends. He washed their feet. Ate yummy food. And then He prayed over them.
As He prayed for them, He knew these were some of the last words He would ever speak to them, which helps us realize their importance. In general, people choose their last words wisely because those words are what they want people to remember.
If Jesus’s last words reveal what was important to Him . . . then they also reveal what should be important to us as followers of Jesus.
So, what were Jesus’s last words to the disciples? What did He pray over them in their final moments together?
He prayed that they would be one with Jesus and the Father. AND one with each other.
He prayed for unity.
What Did Jesus Say About Unity?
Let’s take a closer look at this last word prayer in John 17:20-23.
Jesus starts out in John 17:20 by saying:
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.”-John 17:20 NLT
This shows us that this prayer message wasn’t just for the disciples. It was also for everyone who would ever believe in Jesus because of their message – that means every Christian who came after the disciples – which means this message is for us.
This message about unity. It’s for you and me.
And then Jesus went on to say:
“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”-John 17:21-23 NLT
From this passage we can see that:
- Unity is important to Jesus.
- As believers, we are unified in Jesus.
- Because we are unified in Jesus, we are unified with each other.
- By experiencing perfect unity with each other, we show the world the love of Jesus.
What does unity mean in the church?
Unity in the church means that while we may be quite different from one another . . . we are all united in one purpose.
To do the Father’s work while we are here on earth. And to tell others about Jesus.
Unity vs. uniformity in the church.
God knows we aren’t all alike. After all, He made us and all our differences. So, he doesn’t expect uniformity in the church . . . but He does call us to unity.
And there is a difference.
Uniformity means “the quality or fact of being the same, or of not changing or being different in any way.”
Unity means “the state of being joined together or in agreement”.
We are different people. With different personalities. And different skill sets.
But because of Jesus, we are united by the same purpose. The same goals.
And the same love for Jesus.
Causes of disunity in the church.
Disunity is caused by distrust and disagreements. It can also be caused by a lack of communication, direction, expectations, or a lack of focus on God and His truth.
When we start caring more about the things that are important to us . . . rather than the things that are important to God (like unity in the church) that is when we find ourselves causing disunity in the church.
And that breaks God’s heart.
Effects of disunity in the church.
So, what happens if there is no unity in the church?
Disunity in the church damages our relationships with each other. And it even affects those outside the church.
Because no one feels welcome in a place where no one gets along.
Why is unity important in a church?
Why should we all be working to maintain a sense of unity in our churches? There are a few very important reasons.
Unity isn’t just a nice Christian word. It is something to fight for.
Because there are some important benefits to unity. And these benefits don’t just help the church . . . they also help the world.
To boil it down, unity in the church is so important because:
1) Unity in the church enriches our lives.
We are weak on our own. But together we are stronger.
This is why unity in the church enriches our lives. When we’re living in unity with one another we can be there for each other. Bear each other’s burdens.
We can learn and grow with each other. And enjoy the kind of community God designed us for.
“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”-Acts 2:46-47 NIV
2) Unity in the church brings God glory.
When we’re living in unity in the church, we bring glory to God.
The church is literally a gathering of people who are friends with God. And of course, God wants His friends to get along. To love each other and do what they can to help each other.
And as we get along with each other, we show the world the love of Jesus by making our church a loving, welcoming community.
Something that makes others think, “Wow, I’d love to be a part of that!”
3) Unity in the church helps our witness.
The truth is when we disagree and fight with each other, we cause others to doubt Christianity. But when we do all we can to get along, when we strive to live in unity – we convince the world of the truth behind the gospel we preach.
Our relationships in the church aren’t just good for us. They are also good for the world.
Because the world notices when Christians love each other and work together as one . . . and it causes them to want to get to know us and hear more about our Jesus.
How to Maintain Unity in the Church
Of course, we aren’t going to agree on everything. And that is a good thing. Unity isn’t about uniformity. It’s about coming together for something bigger. It’s about realizing we are stronger together.
It’s about hard work.
Ephesians 4:3 makes this clear when it commands us to “[m]ake every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
But the Holy Spirit is here to help us.
And by implementing some key strategies we can learn how to better live in loving unity in the church so we can form a welcoming community. And do what we can to prevent disunity.
1. Remember we all have a common identity.
While we may disagree on a plethora of different things, we all have a common identity as Christians. We have all sinned. We have all ran back to Jesus. And we have all been saved by Him.
What we need to remember is we’re all on the same team. We’re all a part of the same spiritual family. And families should stick together.
No matter what.
They should work together. Suffer together. And love each other – even in the moments where they struggle to like each other.
In Philippians, Paul calls us to complete his joy by “being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”
And in Galatians, he reminds us that:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”-Galatians 3:28 ESV
We may not all think alike.
But we all share a common identity in Jesus Christ.
2. Admit your need for community.
I am an introvert. And a very independent person. So, I didn’t really think much about it when we were told to stay in our homes during the lockdowns of 2020. I figured I would be fine.
I was wrong.
That season helped me realize that even as an introvert and independent person, I still need other people to thrive. And many other people realized this during that time as well.
God created us for community. Each and every one of us.
We need other Christians to be with us in the hard times. We need them to rejoice with us when life is good. We need other Christians to help us see the blind spots in our lives. Or to call us out when they see us wandering away.
As we recognize our need for community, it helps fuel our desire to live in unity.
3. Always be humble and kind.
The Bible talks a lot about humility. Because God knows when we are aware of our own weaknesses and vulnerabilities, we are less likely to look down on others or be judgmental of them.
When we are humble, we are more willing to offer grace to others. Because we realize we need that same grace . . . every, single day.
Paul said in Ephesians 4:2 NIV,
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
And in Philippians 2:3-4 he says, rather than being conceited, we should “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Keep in mind that Jesus rode on a donkey . . . not a high horse. And we should, too.
4. Keep in mind our differences make us stronger.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul compares the church to a human body. While a body has many different parts to it, they are all a part of the same body, working together for the same things.
And if any of those parts are missing, the body is weakened.
After all, it’s hard to row a boat with only one arm.
Yes, we are all very different from each other. But in Jesus, these differences can be a good thing. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses.
If you look at a hand there are strengths (the fingers) and there are weak areas (the gaps between the fingers). Together we can fill each other’s gaps.
If we were all the same, we would end up missing out.
Our differences make us stronger.
5. Strive to believe the best about each other.
Don’t look for reasons to be offended.
We have a tendency to assume the worst about each other.
Maybe a friend walks by and they didn’t even say, “Hi.” So, we assume the worst about them and think they hate us. Or we start analyzing all the previous conversations we had with them trying to figure out what we did to offend them.
And then we decide that we don’t need them anyway and proceed to ignore them.
But what if the truth was they were just having a really bad day?
Maybe they were in a rush and didn’t even notice you. Maybe they had just had a fight with their teenager and their mind was consumed with worry and fear.
What if instead of assuming the worst about people . . . we chose to believe the best about them? What if we chose to give them the benefit of the doubt?
After all, we all have great qualities and not-so-great qualities.
We all have good days and bad days. And we all have days when we need some extra grace.
6. Choose to do the hard work of working through conflict.
Life with other human beings tends to get messy. We all have a dark side. And if someone hangs out with us long enough, they’re going to see it.
It’s simply a matter of time.
In those moments of conflict, we have a choice.
- Will we pull away? Or will we lean in?
- Will we give up? Or will we fight for the relationship?
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul encourages them to “strive for full restoration” in their relationships.
As we strive for unity in our churches, we are going to have conflicts. But instead of letting those disagreements drive a wedge between us, we can choose to fight for the relationship. To work towards reconciliation. To do whatever we can to promote restoration.
Because when one part of the church is wounded, the whole body suffers.
Let’s not be too proud to admit we were wrong. To ask for forgiveness. Or to offer forgiveness.
Instead, let’s do what we can to promote healing.
7. Ask yourself, “What’s my motivation?”
When conflicts and disagreements come up, as they surely will, we need to check our motives.
Our motives should not be to:
- Win the argument.
- Prove our point.
- Change someone’s mind.
- Make someone feel guilty, ashamed, or look bad.
Instead, our ultimate goal should always be to restore the relationship. And to keep pointing both our own hearts and the hearts of the other person to Jesus.
Yes, there are times when we’re called to correct another person. But it should always be done in love. For their own good. Remembering we are sinners, too.
And we are ALL in desperate need of God’s grace . . . every, single day.
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.”-Genesis 6:1 NIV
8. Refuse to gossip.
As women, it is easy to gossip. We all want to hear the latest scoop about so and so. And we may be eager to talk about it, too.
We may try to make it seem like we mean well. Saying things like, “Pray for so-and-so because I heard . . .”
But the truth is, if we are saying it behind someone’s back . . . it is most likely gossip.
And gossip is an excellent way to create disunity.
No matter how tempted you may be to talk about another person, commit to building others up . . . rather than talking about them behind their backs. And when you hear someone else starting to gossip, stop them in their tracks.
Say something like, “Well, so-and-so isn’t here. And I’m sure there is more to the story than we know. So, let’s talk about something else.”
A Prayer for Unity in the Church
We come before you today to ask for your guidance and strength. We ask that you bring us together in unity, so that we may build a strong and loving community.
Help us to see beyond our differences and to recognize the common humanity that binds us together. Help us to be tolerant and understanding of one another, so that we may live in harmony and peace. And help us to forgive each other when we inevitably hurt one another.
Help us to be generous and kind to one another, so that we may be a source of comfort and joy to each other. Help us to be humble and respectful of one another, so that we may build bridges of understanding and trust.
Help us to live in unity so that the whole world will see a loving community of Christ followers. And it would make them want to believe in You.
We pray all these things in the precious name of Jesus, who died to save us and bring us all together in unity.
A Call for Unity in the Church
Working through conflict and learning to live in unity may sometimes hurt. But that doesn’t mean our efforts don’t have great worth.
Because as we work to build up friendships with those around us, we end up building a loving community that inevitably strengthens the church.
By working together, we can help our churches to become inviting, welcoming places.
Places where people feel safe enough to share what’s really going on in their lives. Places where we can help each other through the hard times. Places where we can do life together.
Even when life gets messy. As it most certainly will . . . because the church is full of sinners. Like you and me.
But with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can learn to live in unity . . . no matter how messy we are.
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