“That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me.”
John 17: 21
King James Version
“Unity Not Uniformity”
“If we focus on differences, our focus is on each other. If we focus with unity, our focus is on God.”
What does the word “unity” mean to me in my relationships with others?
“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
After St. Augustine
“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”
Psalm 133: 1
King James Version
When I was in high school, a discussion was brought to the faculty about the possibility of uniforms being adopted as the attire. What was to be a civil conversation, turned into a verbal war as parents and students began to make their very pointed opinions known. Of all the reasons thrown about that demeaned the idea of all the students dressing alike, this one was heard the most: “You’re taking away my child’s individuality.” The idea everyone might be wearing the same outfit was totally unacceptable to some parents – especially those who had the financial means to dress their children well. Preservation of our own unique identity is a gift from our Heavenly Creator who made a world as diverse as one could ever imagine. Developing into that special person God designed us to be is not easy in a world which so often lumps us into groups or classes. As Lydia Child wrote: “The boughs of us two trees ever have the same arrangement. Nature always produces ‘individuals’. She never produces ‘classes’.”
Yet, as we strive to define ourselves as individuals, as Marguerite Young so astutely observed, “Every heart is the other heart. Every soul is the other soul. Every face is the other face.”
As special as God made each of us, He also longs for His children to learn to embrace one another as He knows full-well that through our diversity, when united in Him, we bring strength, not only into our own lives, but into the lives of others.
In Mark 3: 25, Jesus said, “and if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Rancorous divisions can be like unseen cracks in what was to be a beautiful piece of pottery. When stressed, the cracks cause the piece to break into a thousand pieces.
This is the problem we see with the children of Israel. On the banks of the Jordan River, as they were preparing to enter a land they had been promised, unseen cracks began to appear in full light.
Discontent. Murmuring. Negativity. And outright rebellion. These infectious problems invaded the children of Israel and rather than being a unified group under the leadership of the God of heaven, they became a fractured group of individuals looking out for their tribe or their family or themselves. God knew this splintered group of grumps, who were thinking only of themselves or their little group, could never “inherit” and “possess” the land they were promised.
Unfortunately, we haven’t learned much down through the years, as our desire for individual expression has often overtaken any Heavenly call for us to be one in Christ.
I am specifically addressing this statement to those of us who call ourselves Christians and should find it easy to have harmony under the loving rulership of the Son of God – Jesus Christ. I want to repeat the words of John Chrysostom, “We fight one another, and envy arms against one another; if everyone strives to unsettle the body of Christ, where shall we end up? We are engaged in making Christ’s body a corpse; we declare ourselves members of one and the same organism, yet we devour one another like beasts.”
God understood if His children, on the verge of entering Canaan, were fighting and feuding, there was no way they could succeed in His plans for them in their promised home.
God wants for His children to have harmony and unity, not because He is a God of uniformity who wants His children walking like soldiers, lockstep with no variation in thought or opinion, but because, in Heavenly unity, our variety and differences make the whole stronger. As Jesus told His disciples in John 17, when the world sees the harmonious and loving interaction of God’s children, they will believe.
Thomas Brooks wrote, “Discord and division become no Christian. For wolves to worry the lambs is no wonder, but for one lamb to worry another, this is unnatural and monstrous.”
Many years ago, when I was in a class taught by a scholarly theologian he related a very interesting incident. He had a dear friend who was also a Biblical scholar. There was a rather complicated and highly debated theological issue on which they did not agree. As he described the situation, through the years, even after lengthy discussions trying to persuade one another of the correctness of each other’s belief, they finally, for the sake of friendship, agreed to disagree.
One of the gentlemen became very ill and his dear friend came to see him for a last visit and the topic about which they disagreed came up again. The gentleman who was very sick said to his dear friend, “I bet when I get to heaven, God’s going to say, good try boys, but both of you were wrong.” They both had a big laugh!
From our viewpoint on earth, we so often entrench ourselves in beliefs and creeds to the point where we separate ourselves from others whose love for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and whose belief in the Bible, God’s Word, is of such depth and strength that their lives would only inspire us.
May it never be said that we, like God’s children on the banks of the Jordan, ready to enter a land of milk and honey, missed the blessing because we could not live in harmony with God’s children. When, as Christina Rossetti penned, we are, “into one harmony with God,” we will be in unity with each other. Not a uniformity that denies us our individuality, but a unity that blends our individual gifts.
“From amidst diversified and often warring creeds: over a vast span of history: in the language of many a tribe and many a nation: out of the mouths of the learned and simple, the lowly and great: despite oceans of bloodshed, and torturing inhumanities, and persecutions unspeakable – the single voice of a greater humanity rises confidently to heaven, saying “We adore Thee, who are One and who art Love: and it is in unity and love that we would live together, doing Thy will.”
“We thank God for our unity in diversity:
There are different kinds of gifts;
but the same Spirit.
There are different kinds of service:
but the same Lord.
There are different kinds of working:
but the same God.
Praise to God almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
who works in us
in all these ways.
Dorothy Valcarcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus