by Gloria Stella
Division. If there’s a singular word that could accurately sum up the state of our world, it’s this word - and , the church has not been immune. Just like our current political and social landscape, the body of Christ has experienced a new level of disunity as well - within families, businesses and churches. But as followers of Christ, we are called to take the lead in building unity with other believers and pursuing peace with all men.
Unity is the key to our power as witnesses for Christ. In John 17, Jesus offered up his final prayer for His followers before going to the cross. He prayed for our protection from the evil one, for our sanctification in truth, and three times: He prayed for unity.
“My prayer is not for them [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
Did you catch that? We have access to the glory of God FOR THE PURPOSE of being unified in Christ BECAUSE that is what will be the greatest witness to an unbelieving world.
When we allow division in our relationships, it’s not just us who suffer - but every lost soul that God desired us to influence that may never come to believe in Jesus because we couldn’t find a way to be united in Christ. The cost of our division is our witness to the world.
Unity is not just a hopelessly idealistic dream. In practice, it is built as we, as believers, relate to each other on a daily basis.
We are unique individuals with different opinions and viewpoints. If we’re not intentional, division will slide its way in undetected. But if we actively look for the places where division can exist in our lives, we can be intentional about building unity one opportunity at a time. Here are five practical opportunities that can help us follow Jesus’ call to unity:
1. Choose to be Proactive: Some circumstances provide a breeding ground for division. Instead of letting things brew and end in disunity – check your heart and if needed, be proactive in having peace-pursuing discussions early on. It’s easier to eliminate division in seed form than have to work through reconciliation afterwards.
2. Choose to be Wrong: In those situations when division occurs over proving who was right and who was wrong, consider allowing someone to believe that you are wrong. Whatever pride we may have to surrender in that moment won’t matter much compared to the overall influence we could have in someone’s life.
3. Choose to Find Common Ground: Even when we strongly disagree with someone on a specific issue,we can still acknowledge the heart behind their viewpoints. For example, if we profoundly disagree with someone’s opinion on political policies, we can still celebrate their heart for children, or justice, or truth - which are all things in the heart of God as well.
4. Choose to Agree to Disagree: When a peaceful discussion becomes a heated argument - even if you effectively prove your point, pride will rarely ever allow you to actually win someone over to your side. If you sense a discussion becoming divisive, lovingly agree to disagree and end the conversation by affirming the value of the relationship.
5. Choose to Forgive: When someone has truly done you wrong (even if they won’t admit it) God has still called us to forgive and pursue peace. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to position yourself to be wronged again; but many times – if approached with humility and grace – peace and unity in Christ can be restored even if the relationship looks different.
Ultimately, all of these suggestions are centered on one thing: our ability to trust God. We must ask ourselves if we truly trust God to direct us, avenge us, reveal truth, and be just – or if we are trying to do these things ourselves and as a result, sacrificing unity. We simply cannot fathom the impact that our God-given relationships and the fruit of those relationships will have on the world for God’s glory. It is the light of our unity as believers set against the backdrop of a dark world of division that sets us apart and draws people towards God.
Gloria Stella is a film producer, author, pastor’s wife and mom of three young children. She recently produced and co-directed the faith-based dramedy “Tulsa” and co-authored the books, “I Can’t Help the Way I Feel?” and “CounterCulture Marriage” alongside her husband, Robert Stella, who serves as the Free Chapel Midtown Campus Pastor in Atlanta. Connect with Gloria on social media at @thegloriastella.