[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church entitled "Jesus: Deranged, Demonic, or Deliverer". Click on the title to find the message online.]
As I think back over Mark 3:20-30, and all that was said about it in the message from yesterday, I want to take a few moments and focus on the point of the first parable Jesus tells. Jesus said, "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end" (v. 24-26).
The general idea here is that divided entities cannot withstand time...they lose power, they lose influence, and they fall apart. One brief application mentioned was the need for the local church to remain unified. The church must remain unified under God, His Word, His gospel, His priorities, His authority, and the fellowship in which He has placed us. Apart from this, the local church can lose power, influence, and it can fall apart (and many have).
Now, let me ask an honest question...have you heard pastors or leaders talk about the need to be unified in the past? I have...I've been one of those pastors. Even yesterday, though the thrust of the text was not about the unity of the church, it seemed a reasonable application of the principle laid out in Jesus' parable. What I want to do today is help "put flesh on" what it means to remain unified. What types of things can I be doing, as a church member, to dwell with the brothers in the bonds of unity (Ps. 133:1)? What can I do so that the joy laid out in this psalm will be our congregation's experience? Well, let me give you a few suggestions...
1) Stay committed to hearing and doing the Word of God. This is paramount. Everything else that may be listed here is simply an outworking of this one principle. In the Word, God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pt. 1:3). In other words, the Bible is our sufficient authority and guide for all of faith and life...including the life of the local church. Please note...this is not just a call to learn but also to implement what is learned. For, in the eyes of the Scripture, nothing is fully learned until it is applied.
2) Stay committed to being with the people of God. It is difficult to maintain unity of mind, heart, and purpose with a congregation you never see. On the flip side of that same coin, it is seemingly easy to become critical, disjointed, and divided from those with whom you never spend time. In small groups, in homes, in corporate worship, and in life itself, we must stay committed with those to whom God has called us.
3) Stay committed to praying for the people of God. Jesus has told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Mt. 5:43-44). Part of what is being said here is that love and prayer go hand in hand. In Jesus' teaching, we have a synonymous parallelism (i.e.- a pair of similarly structured sayings to strengthen or emphasize the point). So, "love your enemies" and "pray for those who persecute you." In other words, to love our enemies must at least begin with praying for them. Now, we are not enemies in the church...we are family. However, family conflict does happen, and tensions can rise. Praying for one another is a way to diffuse these things. Let me give an example. If I find myself in friction with Joe (not a real person, by the way), I can intentionally pray and specifically thank God for Joe's redemption, His spiritual gifts, His service to the body of Christ, and anything else that may come to mind. Praying for others (especially in thanksgiving for them) helps us keep proper perspective as we work through conflict. That person is not the enemy...he is my brother.
4) Stay committed to giving to and with the people of God. Now, there are two things meant by this. First, stay committed to giving to the people of God. By this, I mean remain active in service to others. Consider others as more important than yourselves (Phil. 2:3), and work hard as a good soldier of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:3-4). Simply "doing something" or "having a job at church" is not what is meant, but we must genuinely put others ahead of ourselves and serve their needs. Action is necessary; however, the attitude, rather than the mere action, is to be emphasized.
Also, stay committed to giving with the people of God. Yes, we're talking about money here. Laying up treasure in heaven through investing in the gospel-advancing mission of the church does something to your heart (Mt. 6:19-21). Giving cheerfully, willingly, and generously to God through the local church aligns one's heart with God's plan for that church. Just as in serving, the attitude of the heart is paramount. The placing of a check in an offering plate does not promote unity. However, that same action changes with the prayer like this one, "God, we give our resources together, as Your people, to accomplish Your work, to promote Your gospel, and to support Your servants here and around the world."
5) Stay committed to repentance, confession, forgiveness, and restoration among the people of God. The principle of repentance, confession, and forgiveness in personal relationships obviously plays a big part in promoting unity. While it is true that refusing to repent, confess, and forgive is grounds for church discipline (Mt. 18:15-20), it is also true that maintaining the habit of repenting, confessing, and forgiving one another is to be a mark of the love we have for one another (Luke 6:37-38; Luke 17:1-4; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12-14). The end goal, even in the most heinous of sins, is restoration; for an example, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 is followed by Paul's instructions in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11.
Even the smallest words can intentionally or unintentionally hurt others. When we see that our words or actions have hurt another, we must be quick to repent and confess our sin against them. When we have been hurt by another, we must stand ready to forgive at any time that he/she repents and confesses their sin.
I think those five are a good starting place, don't you? Did you notice the two common themes that ran through all five applications? First, it takes commitment to maintain unity in the body of Christ. Unity that just simply happens is not real unity...it is something that must be worked at through good times and bad. The presence of sin in this world and our own personal battles with sin ensure that difficulties in relationships will come. So, remember that each of these takes hard spiritual work. Second, the emphasis is on me and not on others. It is tempting to think that if "so-and-so" would just change, we could be more unified. We who see the speck in the other person's eye must remember the log in our own (Mt. 7:2-5). So, let us be committed to the hard work of unity in our local congregations, and let us begin with ourselves.
Why? "...if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand" (Mk. 3:25).