Unity and Brotherly Love
Though I’ve technically been off work all summer, I have unintentionally acquired a part-time job as a referee. It’s unpaid and the only competitors are my two young daughters. Since they’ve been spending all day every day together since school let out, conflicts have been popping up between them like weeds. I am always jumping in to mediate. Once everyone calms down, I like to remind them of a few things about being sisters: 1) sisters don’t hurt each other, they protect each other and 2) you are going to be connected for life, so you’d better learn to like each other.
Scripture refers to the church as the body of Christ and the family of God. The image of the church as a body has us all connected as valuable parts working together with Jesus as the head (Ephesians 4:1-6, 1 Corinthians 12). The church as the family of God attests to each one of us being adopted by God, grafted into his family, with Jesus as our older brother (Romans 8:15-17). After breaking bread with the disciples for the last time, right before his body was broken, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).”
Here’s the deal, Church: We are a family, part of the same body, which means 1) believers don’t hurt each other, we protect each other and 2) we’re going to be connected for eternity, so we’d better learn to like each other.
I’m not naive enough to think that just because we’re all believers or attend the same church or are even in the same Well Group that we all get along and like each other all the time. We are human! We are selfish! Though the indwelling Holy Spirit does bind us together in a uniquely powerful way that transcends gender, race, class, and background, we do not achieve brotherly love and unity magically. Like any fruit, it takes a willingness to submit to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and the obedience to follow through. We can’t just sit around and hope that we’ll love our fellow believers. Thankfully, there are a few practical things we can do to grow in brotherly love and unity.
Fight against our own selfishness. The foundation of every single fight between my girls is that they each think they are the most important person in the world. Is this not true for all of us? When we face conflict, it’s generally because we prioritize our needs as most vital. When our hearts are left unchecked, we automatically position ourselves at the center of the universe, believing that our needs, our thoughts, our opinions, and our desires are the only ones that matter.
In Ephesians 4:2, Paul gives instructions on how to walk in unity in the body, calling us to walk in “humility and gentleness.” The first thing we must do if we are to live in unity and grow in brotherly love in the family of God is to remember who we are: “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).” Without Jesus, we have nothing. Without Jesus, we are dead. Without Jesus, our personality, money, career, skills, and background get us nowhere. We are so deeply in need of Jesus. We have no room for bragging or entitlement; we are nothing without Christ, and as such, we should be the most humble, the most gentle, knowing that we were once lost, floundering in sin and death until Jesus intervened. We have no room for pride or harshness; our Savior humbled himself, emptied himself for us. We must fight against our selfishness and pride for the sake of the body. We must allow the Holy Spirit to replace our pride with humility, our entitlement with gentleness. Our Savior came to serve, not to be served, to lay his own life down for others (Matthew 20:28). He calls us to “count others more significant than yourselves” and to “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).” We’ve got to believe that we aren’t the center of the universe, Jesus is.
Spend time together. Acts 2:42-47 paints a picture of the early church spending time together. They ate together, went to the temple together, prayed together. Luke tells us that “all who believed were together and had all things in common.” Members of the early church weren’t perfect, selfless disciples, nor were they robots with no feelings. However, as they spent time together, they grew in patience for one another. It is much easier to be patient with someone when you love them and understand their perspective. We aren’t going to grow in love and unity from a distance; we must spend time with each other! The more time we spend together, the better we get to know each other. The better we know each other, the more we understand each other. The more we understand each other, the more we love each other. Simply spending time together will help us grow in love for each other.
How can we make this happen? Go to Well Group. Show up on Sunday mornings. Join a serve team. Invite someone out to coffee or over for dinner. Host a game night or start a book club. Go golfing, fishing, or shopping together. Go to the park or zoo so the kids can play while you chat. Will this require opening up your schedule, your home, and your heart? Yes. Is it worth it to pursue unity and brotherly love? Absolutely.
Pray for each other. When I was in high school, there was a kid in my class who drove me crazy, and not in a good way. I did not love him, had no patience for him, and definitely did not show him gentleness. A friend of mine suggested I pray for him, asking God to help me like him more. This seemed strange to me, asking God to help me like someone who really got on my nerves. What God ended up showing me was that this guy had value as a person, that God had gifted him to serve the body. We didn’t ever become bffs, but I did grow to love him and even like being around him.
Realistically, every single person we know will eventually do something that bothers us, hurts our feelings, or makes us angry. In our flesh, we don’t love each other perfectly. In Paul’s instructions on unity and brotherly love, he calls us to “bear with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2).” One of the most loving things we can do for someone is to pray for them. Consistent prayer for someone, especially someone who annoys us or who has hurt us, has a way of softening us toward that person. The Holy Spirit uses our prayers to teach us to act with self-control and tolerance as the he continues sanctifying us and our brothers and sisters.
It is easy to make everything about us, but the Church isn’t about us; it’s about Jesus. Yes, we benefit from being a part of the body, but ultimately the Church exists for Christ’s glory. God has graciously given us the Holy Spirit, his son Jesus, and his bride, the Church. We must fight for unity and brotherly love in the body. Believers must protect each other, not hurt each other. We’re going to be together for eternity, so we’d better learn to like each other. Let’s be challenged and encouraged to pursue unity and brotherly love in the body of Christ, the family of God.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope that belongs to your call - one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:1-6).”