the blessedness of unity and the kind of unity that is blessed

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore.

Psalm 133

God seems to put a priority on unity. In Jesus’s high priestly prayer of John 17, that is front and center in his petition for all believers, that God’s people would be one and be perfectly united, even as he and the Father are.

This begs the question just what kind of unity we’re talking about, the answer being self evident already, and especially so when we consider our Lord’s prayer in John 17, along with the context of Psalm 133. Unity is not merely for unity’s sake, as good as that may be. That can definitely be dangerous as well, in a world in which deception and following the crowd, or simply keeping in step with custom is either sacrosanct, or else expected, or at the very least what helps a person fit in and not stand out like a sore thumb.

There is a unity that God brings his people into through Christ, and which God blesses, and is indeed delighted in, and in which we should delight. But it’s not a unity of this world, let’s say some political unity, whether Democratic or Republican, or whatever it might be. Probably many of us are united in things like that, maybe not. But that’s not the unity referred to here. In fact many of the unions of this world are broken down, and shown to be suspect, I think now of such things as reactions to evil which may not be good, and may even end up evil themselves. We have to beware of the human tendency to unite in a way that ends up being in opposition to God, not in harmony with the unity of God, and what God is bringing about in and through Christ.

Only through the gospel, the good news in Jesus, can we enter into this blessed unity of God. This is a Jesus thing. But just because we have entered into it, doesn’t mean that it’s automatic, and we can coast from there. Ephesians 4 makes it clear that our oneness is evident and rooted in a number of ways: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. But we’re told in that exact same passage to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We are one body already. We’re to live out what we already are in Christ. And scripture makes it clear that this is an important and even vital part of our witness to the world.

We are already one in Christ. We’re to live that out, through all the complexitites and different circumstances and perspectives we find ourselves in. We each have our part in this in working toward a harmonious whole, which is both a witness to the world of the truth of the gospel, but is also central to who we are and what God is making us to be in and through Jesus.

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pleasing people versus faithfulness to Christ

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10

Like most everything in life, this subject is complicated. Paul, quoted above also said in another place that he sought to please everyone in every way in not offending them over disputable, secondary matters, and in becoming what they were so as to win as many as possible to Christ through the gospel (1 Corinthians 9).

My point with this post this morning is that I really prefer to be liked by everyone, but since I realize it’s a given that I’m not, it seems like I have nothing to lose by making a controversial statement or two. Instead I would prefer to find common ground, and dwell there, and say nothing controversial at all. And if I do challenge anything, simply to ask questions rather than make assertions, so as to keep the door open with the other person, and actually learn from them, since no one’s perspective or knowledege is complete.

But when it comes to the gospel, even though we know in part, that is where we live by faith. And there’s no compromise with reference to the gospel and the truth as it is in Jesus. So that we gently, lovingly, and prayerfully should be witnesses not to how we’ve got everything together, or even how our lives have been changed, but witnesses to the truth of the gospel itself. Yes, in sharing the difference that good news has made in our lives, but first and foremost talking to others about Jesus, who is the good news along with all the truth about him, and that surrounds him.

Paul, in the passage above (click to see context) was taking a strong stand, willing to offend at that moment, because the very gospel was at stake. The faith of believers, of a church was being undermined, in danger of becoming null and void. And so Paul was pulling the fire alarm, pulling out the stops, but doing so wisely, in that great book, Galatians.

Where he does seek to please everyone in every way in 1 Corinthians is a different context altogether, as he’s beginning to defend his apostleship, and more fundamentally the gospel he was set apart for and sent to proclaim. Both are about the gospel.

May I suggest that we as Christians ought to tread more lightly on other things, and take our stand for the gospel, the good news in Jesus. Anything that is tied to God’s will in scripture is important or worthy in the proper place, time, and way to take a stand for. But the one thing we should live and if need be die for is the good news, the gospel of God in and through Jesus. With the goal of winning others to Jesus through this good news, and helping them become established so as to grow in their faith in that.

God delighting in us, his children

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.

The other day I was slowly working through this part of scripture, and wanted to go on, but decided I ought to camp on the last line a bit. “…as a father the son he delights in.” This is rather a difficult line for me. Would the Father ever delight in me? These are words which I find hard to take in. I believe somehow intellectually that without any question this can be the case. And some would argue, invariably is the case if we are God’s children through Christ. And I can give some explanation theologically, based on scripture why I believe especially the former thought is true. Of course it is in and through Christ. And this provision is something God did in pursuit of us.

And so I dwelt on that for a time, probably wrestling a bit with it. And the thought came to me something like, “What more would I like to be true of myself than to be a delight to the Father.” I thought of how I want my life to be pleasing to the Father. And then I thought how children want so much to please their parents, especially early on. And hopefully later as well, often after rebellious times have passed.

It was good to dwell on that part alone, and to continue to do so. But to properly read scripture and take it in as it is, we must read in context. And of course here what precedes it is how this is all about God’s discipline of us, his children. I don’t think I gave that a whole lot of thought that day. But something happened soon afterward which ended up, over the course of a few hours and perhaps beyond of being something of the Lord’s discipline in my own life. In terms of life change over what might seem small, but was a hinge which could result in change beyond what I can tell. Hebrews 12, which quotes this passage (from the Septuagint translation of it) goes on to say that this brings a harvest of righteousness and peace to those who have been trained by this loving discipline.

So I spent some time especially on the thought of being a son in whom God could delight in. And how much I want this to be the case. After a time it began to occur to me that for this to be so, I must press on in the text and keep reading. We need all of God’s revelation in scripture to inform and form us. And so I began to work through the rest of that chapter.

But the thought stays with me. The wonderful possibility of us pleasing, even delighting God. How that is set into motion for us. And how I want to go on in that trajectory and direction with all of life the rest of my life. In and through Jesus. Along with others.

an attitude check

I am thankful for God’s grace and forgiveness. Yesterday was a comedy of problems which in the end still did not work out exactly right with reference to what actually ought to be a rather minor house repair, so that I’m only done for now. I was frustrated to the nth degree, and was not what I should have been. No matter what, I want to stay the course in the way of the Lord. An attitude check, indeed.

Instead of practically speaking, calling down curses on a situation, I need to take problems immediately to the Lord and commit my way to him. Yes, in all my weakness, and at times even sin. Not that we can imagine we can be sinless in this life. We need to be aware more than anything else of our need of God’s grace. That grace both forgives, restores, and actually is our only hope of living in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.

And so hopefully, I’ll learn from this if nothing more, my need to seek to continue to draw near and walk closely with the Lord, no matter what the situation.  It is easy to become despondent and lose heart. But it is God in his faithfulness to us in Jesus who keeps us keeping on. Together with others in Jesus for the world.