“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Romans 16:17-20
Oneness in the body of Christ is difficult to attain, but it is the command from the Lord for every one of us. In John 17, the number one prayer request of Jesus to his Father is that his disciples and all his followers may be ONE, that they be united in mind and spirit, with him and with one another. The unity of believers was a primary purpose of Jesus, that they may be one in the same manner he is one with his Father and the Holy Spirit. Yet oneness seems very far removed from us. Why?
Dissension is one of the most un-Christ-like attributes in the body of Christ. When Paul writes in Philippians 2 that we are to imitate the mind of Christ, he means we are to acquire his humility. Do nothing, he says, from rivalry or conceit, but consider others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of the other person. I dare say, if we were more obedient to the Lord the dissensions and irritations among us would fall dramatically; we might even achieve real unity in the Spirit.
Paul goes on to write, “Do all things without grumbling or complaining, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.” Too often believers joined together in ministries are not pulling together in one heart and purpose; they are not joyful in their work, and the cares and vicissitudes of this life burden them down, resulting in disintegration of the common purpose for which they are supposed to be laboring. Labor for the Lord will indeed be labor, but it is to be joyful labor.
Colossians adds to the description of believers and compatriots in ministry this instruction: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful!” These are not just a string of adjectives strung together in mindless repetition, and certainly not “expected to be attained in reality, are they? Yes, they are. They truly are a quality of personality and character desired by the Lord to be descriptive of you, his disciple, in the midst of this pilgrimage of life with others, some of whom you erroneously see not up to your speed or intellect. Your estimate of yourself and your estimate of others is far off the mark of Christ. There is a great need of repentance and radical change of perspective to move forward with the unity Christ envisions, yea, commands.
The fact that unity demands discernment is clear from our text, that is, to be wise as to what is good, and innocent as to what is evil. A follower of Christ will discern in advance what is most likely to spark division, to offend a fellow, to create sadness in the labor and not joy. Is it that we refrain from rebuke if rebuke is needed? No, but the rebuke is handled with compassion and kindness, not anger and demonstration, as though the one you are kindly rebuking is a loved brother or sister in Christ and not an enemy. A disciple of the Lord will discern both the best course of action to sustain peace, and the wisest course to avoid evil. Remaining innocent as to what is evil is to understand evil, by adhering to the Word of Life, and avoiding evil entirely. One who keeps close to the Spirit of God will have a wise concept of evil and never choose it as a course of behavior in dealing with brothers and sisters. There is always a better, righteous path to resolve differences than to use evil behavior to get to the solution, even if it is the right or best solution. Using holy discernment will always find the right path to a solution because it chooses the wise path to get there, one that does not trample on your brother.
If we are to enjoy the pleasures of unity we must use discernment constantly and consistently. We must put on the clothes of Christ’s personality and character, chiefly humility and love, wisely choosing to pursue his course. Discern what words and behavior are most imitative of how Jesus would pursue engagement with others. Unity, oneness, with fellow believers is paramount in the eyes of God, and there is always a right path to discern how to get there and sustain it. You ought to choose to follow such a path of relationship, even if others around are not. Who knows, your example may influence the whole!
“How beautiful the sight of brethren who agree in friendship to unite, and bonds of charity; ’tis like the precious ointment, shed o’er all his robes, from Aaron’s head.”
(From Psalm 133, James Montgomery, 1771-1854)
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