After my freshman year of college, I transferred schools and moved in with my best friend. It just so happened that the church he attended was directly across the street from the house we were living in, so being new to the area and not really knowing anyone else yet, I naturally started going to this church. It seemed like a great church – the youth pastor, whom my friend interned under, was a great guy and very dynamic. The pastor was a great speaker and teacher, and I believe that the church was very blessed to have him there. After a while, I started noticing that his sermons all tended to point to a central theme – that the church must be unified and that there could be no division among its people. It seemed odd to me that he would continually speak on this message, so I asked my friend about it. He told me that, as I already knew, most of the church was composed of older adults who had been going there for years and years. Several years back, some issue came up in the church in which there was division among the members as to how to deal with it. He said that ever since then, the church had suffered extreme division among its members, to the point that half sat on one side of the church, and the other half sat on the other side, and the two halves refused to even look at each other, much less shake hands or be civil. And it had been this way for many, many years. Being relatively new to the church, I hadn’t even seen the division, but after that it was as obvious as could be. During the service, when we were supposed to get up to greet our neighbors, the middle aisle of the sanctuary was completely empty. No one was crossing the aisle, because the aisle was the dividing line.
My lesson today from The Ever Loving Truth talked about how persecution strengthens community. The teaching passage was Acts 4:32-35:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
Shortly after Peter and John had been threatened by the Sanhedrin to stop preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus, and after they had shared this news with their fellow believers and had prayed together to be given boldness to speak the truth, this development of a unified community occurred. What we learn from this is that
- Unity is a direct result of being persecuted. When people lose everything they have, they tend to reach out for whatever help they can get. Voddie Baucham points out that these early Christians were threatened with their lives, were looked down upon in the Jewish community now, had likely been shunned by their families, and probably had to relocate for these reasons and for the purpose of getting closer to the apostles, where God was pouring out the Holy Spirit and they could be discipled themselves. With these kinds of persecution and loss, it is no wonder this group reached out and shared with one another. And it’s no wonder that we see such little unity in our churches today, since here in America we see so little persecution. But Baucham points out that in many places in the world, where persecution is a daily factor in believers’ lives, you do see this kind of community growing up among them.
- Unity promotes the goals of the church. Beyond the ministry the church provides to its congregation (which one can easily see how unity facilitates this), one of the greatest goals of the church is the proclamation of the gospel. The grace they were showing to one another was a powerful example of the grace God shows to us in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the apostles were able to testify to this with even greater power because of the believers’ commitment to treating each other in this way.
At the end of my lesson today, it asked “what do you think you could do to build unity in your church or in the body of Christ in America?” My first response was that maybe I should persecute it! Of course I was kidding… But after giving it serious thought, I’m not sure what I could do, beyond prayer for and service to others inside the church. So I pose this question to you today:
What do you think you could do to build unity in your church or in the body of Christ in America? Or your country (if you’re not in America)? Or the world?