As we are praying this month for the unity of believers, I keep coming back to Jesus’s prayer for unity in John 17, in particular the verses ‘My prayer is not for them 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 TNIV)
The fundamental foundation for unity is the nature of God. God is Three in One, so there is unity within the Godhead. Confidence, submission, trust and respect are actually seen in the relationship between Father, Son and Spirit and this becomes our model for unity. It’s not a question of ‘adding on’ the desire for unity to our list of ‘things we’d like to see’ in church life; rather, this is a fundamental part of who God is and therefore needs to be absolutely fundamental and foundational to how our churches think and act. Charlie Cleverly says that this unity is something to aspire to: ‘a unity between a town’s churches where competition or rivalry is unheard of, where each one is complementing the other’s work, just as in the Trinity. If Jesus prayed for this, we should believe it is possible.’ (Charlie Cleverly, ‘Epiphanies of the Ordinary’, P 178)
This is not always easy, largely because of the fact that churches are made up of sinful people who are being transformed over a lifetime into the image of Christ. We are imperfect and our sinful tendencies – to selfishness, to pride, to arrogance, to unrighteous ambition – often get in the way of unity. Churches are likened to a family, and in families, all too often, we see sibling rivalries! We only have to read about Cain and Abel, Joseph and his brothers, David and his brothers, David’s sons or even Jesus’s human brothers to see that! Yet often the Bible shows us stories of reconciliation and hope (the story of Joseph is surely one of the most powerful we have as we see the jealousy, competition and misguided enthusiasm of these brothers and see how disunity rips the family apart but ultimately how God works things out so that there is reconciliation and forgiveness.)
Charlie Cleverly goes on to say ‘I believe there is a prophetic mantle on those looking for unity.’ (ibid.) As we pray for, work towards and strive to keep the bond of peace through the unity of the Spirit, always looking to God as our example for unity, wholeness and integration, let’s understand that in doing so, we are definitely living withing God’s good, perfect and pleasing will.