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Bible Church International

Build The Unity of Relationships

Relationship Builders: (Part II)

BUILD THE UNITY OF RELATIONSHIPS

John 17:20-23 (NIV)
20 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,
21 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.
22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:
23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

            Relationships matter to us. Since our creation, God has plainly stated, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Evidently, we were never created to live in isolation. We have been made for relationships and communities. So whether we are young or old, single or married, we will always seek to establish healthy relationships. For all of us, the bottom line is – to have healthy relationships mean great blessing; to have unhealthy relationship mean great burden.

            For this reason, the theme of relationship runs throughout the Bible. In fact, if you examine the Bible, it is safe to say that God’s greatest gifts to us come through relationships. First, God gave us the potential of establishing an intimate relationship with Him through surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ as our personal savior. The Bible clearly tells us that our sins have separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2), but because of Christ’s work on the cross, we can be reconciled to God (Colossians 1:21-22). Without Jesus Christ, there’s really no possibility of any healthy relationship with God.

            Now, once this vertical relationship is settled, the horizontal relationships with other people can come to place. Do you believe that it is less stressful to establish a healthy relationship with other people once you have a healthy relationship with God? I believe Matthew 22:36-40 can help confirm this truth.

37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'
38 This is the first and greatest commandment.
39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'

            After Jesus was asked by one of the Pharisees regarding the greatest commandment, Jesus responded by giving a summary of all the Old Testament laws by emphasizing relationships. First, you supremely love God, and then you love your neighbors as yourself. The truth of the matter is – if you truly love God, loving other people will be easier because God will provide you with all the grace you need to be able to do that. Without putting that in place, our human relationships will suffer a lot of complications.

            This is very much the foundational theology of our theme for this month, Relational Builders. Last Sunday, Pastor Ed started out by talking about building with intentionality. This morning, in our celebration of International Friendship Sunday, I felt it would be appropriate to emphasize unity on the day we are celebrating our vision of building a church where different ethnicities gather together to worship the great God of the universe.  

            Think about it, our personal relationships could be the source of our greatest joys. But if we are not intentional in working hard in building healthy ones, it could also be the source of our greatest pains and heartaches. For the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, the relationship of God’s people within the church could also bring either great advantage or great damage to their testimony before the world. We cannot afford to be neglectful about it.

            One area in church relationships that we need to always talk about is unity. When you read our main text, it is quite obvious that this is very much in the heart of Jesus Christ even before He built the church. I personally feel that our failure to understand the significance of it will not only result in breaking the heart of Jesus Christ, but also in destroying the vitality of the church. So as we examine our text, allow me to share three fundamental truths about unity.

I           THE PRAYER FOR UNITY:

            How many of you have tried eavesdropping on somebody praying? I remember while I was teaching in the seminary in the Philippines, I had the opportunity to interview a pastor’s kid who was hoping to get into our Theology program. During the interview, one standard question was, “What made you decide to come and enroll in the Seminary.” His response intrigued me because he said, “I’m here because of my father’s prayer.” When I asked him to explain, he told the story that during his senior year in high school, he started drifting away from the Lord. But then one night while he was sleeping he was awakened by the sound of his father crying to the Lord in prayer. When he tried to listen in to his prayers, he heard him saying repeatedly, “Lord change the heart of my son and bring him back to you.” Hearing those words, the Holy Spirit brought so much conviction in his heart that he went back to his room crying to God, begging for his forgiveness. That prayer really changed him.

            When you read John’s narration of the prayer of Jesus in John 17, you need to know the background in order to recognize how significant this prayer was. This took place after Jesus had His last supper with the disciples the night before He would be crucified. You can possibly imagine Jesus face down to the ground or kneeling before the Father praying while Peter, James, and John were positioned in a distance where they would have the privilege of eavesdropping on His prayers. On this very significant night, what would Jesus pray about? What would fill His mind and heart knowing He was about to suffer severely in order to accomplish the work of salvation? Listen, of all the prayers He could have made that evening, He chose to verbalize His highest desire to see His church in unity.

            Reading this, I wonder how many of us, as God’s people, are doing our best to intentionally contribute in answering this prayer request. It is unfortunate to see that, rather than unity, what we see in the church of Jesus Christ is a lot of division. It seems that disunity is the trend instead of unity. Christians often allow themselves to be caught up in minor issues rather than the major ones. Now, I hope you will hear me clearly on this – there are certain doctrines we cannot compromise and should always be willing to guard. For example:

  • The Bible being the Word of God
  • The deity of Jesus Christ
  • The Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ
  • The resurrection of Jesus Christ
  • The salvation of Humanity by grace through faith in Christ Jesus alone

            All these five doctrines are significant because they are directly related in acquiring salvation in Jesus Christ; they all affect the efficiency of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul had clearly emphasized this truth to the Galatians.

Galatians 1:6-7 (NIV)
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--
7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

            Aside from this Gospel, all other doctrines or preferences are not worthy bases to divide the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. But how easily have we fractured the church today over the following:

  • Denominations (Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Presbyterians)
  • Bible Version (KJV, NASV, NIV, The Message)
  • Worship Forms (Hymns, Praise and Worship)
  • Ethnicities (White, Black, Brown, Red)

            If we have the tendency to carelessly divide the church over these things, I hope you will listen again to the prayer of Jesus - "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.”

            Did Christ make an impossible prayer request? Absolutely not! He can make this request because He Himself will make a way to forge this unity.

Ephesians 2:13-14 (NIV)
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,

            When Paul wrote this passage to the Ephesians, the gap between the Jews and the Gentiles was terrible. The Jews had always looked down on the Gentiles and the Gentiles responded to the Jews almost on the same level. But this passage very much says what Jesus had done to remove this hostility between the Jews and Gentiles. Don’t miss the phrase - For he himself is our peace. Any time you undermine the peace and build barriers within the church of Jesus Christ, you are going against the person of Jesus Christ. This is definitely a serious offense against the Head of the Church.

II         THE PICTURE OF UNITY:

            Secondly, we need to examine the kind of unity that Jesus Christ was praying for. If you read verse 21, it says, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. . .”

            Clearly, the picture of unity that we must build within the church is likened to the unity that exists in the Holy Trinity. I remember teaching about the Trinity last April and if you can still remember, the explanation of the Trinity was literally Three in One. We believe that our God is one God, one in essence and indivisible, with three distinct personalities, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three are co-eternal, co-existent, and co-equal.

            In other words, there is unity in relationships – the unity in love and cooperation. Yes, three distinct personalities with the same essence and power, but you can never divide because of the relationship that bonds them together. They will always be in cooperation in all things. They don’t play the same roles. They have different functions in our lives, but the end goal will always be the same. You will never find the three persons doing the following:

  • Competing against each other
  • Criticizing each other
  • Condemning each other

            The bond of love and relationship that exists within the Trinity compels them to cooperate together. In the church of Jesus Christ, we have the same Holy Spirit binding us together. Again Paul talked about this when he wrote the Ephesians.

Ephesians 4:1-3 (NIV)
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

            Notice verse 3, it is the Holy Spirit that unites the church of Jesus Christ. Folks, earlier we said that every time we divide the church of Jesus Christ, we are going against He who died for the church. Let me add by saying – we are also going against the Holy Spirit who is actively working to unite the church. This is doubly serious.

            Do you want your life to be aligned with God? One of the best ways to do this is by cooperating with God in building the unity of relationships within His church. I know it is not always easy. Unlike the Trinity, we are not perfect personalities. And when you have more than a hundred of them in a single church, expect some challenges. Nevertheless, we should still make every effort; we have to do our best to build this unity. Now, let me say this before going to the third point. You know the biggest barrier for unity is false spirituality, meaning people who feel that they love God more, are more spiritual, and that they are much better than others. Here is a good word for false spirituality:

1 John 4:20-21 (NIV)
20 If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

            John is so practical in his teachings. He reminded Christians who love to say they love God so much. John is reminding them, you cannot say you love God whom you do not see and be always gossiping or criticizing a brother or a sister whom you see regularly. It doesn’t add up. God knows the contents of the heart and he will surely judge us accordingly. The fact is that if we love God, we must learn to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Yes, I say that we have to learn. It is never automatic, but it is not impossible. We can grow in loving one another.

III        THE PURPOSE OF UNITY:

            As we go back to the prayer of Jesus Christ, He also mentioned why this unity is necessary in the church.

  • May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (v.21)
  • May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

            From these words, Jesus has emphatically said that our unity is vital for the sake of the world that is lost.

            Earlier I mentioned that our relationships are important to us because they can bring so much joy in our lives. That’s so true, right! But I want us to emphasize that there is a much greater reason why we need to work on our relationships – because it is God’s ordained way for us to penetrate the darkness in the world.                    I hope and pray that we will always put before us the very purpose of why the Lord has saved us. We were saved not so we can just go to heaven. We were saved so we can serve the Lord in bringing lost people to Him. This is such a great mission that we need to unite our hearts and resources together as God’s people. The reality is that the world will never be reached by a divided church.

            This reminds me of another verse that Jesus said to his disciples regarding loving one another.

John 13:35 (NIV)
35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

            The great missionary Henry Martyn said, “The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to Him the more intensely missionary we must become.”

            It is not our facility, our programs, or our ministries that will convince the world that we belong to Jesus Christ. It is how we relate to one another. If we fail to relate in love, if we continue to put down one another and attack each other, we will never reach the world for Jesus Christ.

            You know, sometimes we get frustrated and want to give up on working to build the unity in the church because it seems like there’s too much hassle and not enough benefits. Let me encourage you to fix your eyes on the end goal which is reaching the world for Jesus Christ. More than the benefit of great fellowships, the highest advantage of having unity is greater efficiency in winning lost people to Jesus Christ. This is the heart of God.

            Imagine, what if the world began to see a Christian church being united despite all the different personalities, cultures, ethnicities, etc?  It would surely be a tremendous witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s stop living for ourselves and start giving greater glory to God by becoming an instrument to reach the world!         

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