Friday, December 9, 2011

By Henry Dering, U.S.A.

As the end of the world draws near, Satan’s temptations are becoming more powerful, and his attacks against the people of God more bitter and determined. If we are to withstand the enemy’s fierce attacks and be successful in our Christian witness to the world, it is of the highest importance that we cultivate love and unity. And the history of Christianity proves conclusively that in union only is there strength, for this unity binds men to God by the golden cords of love.

“Our only hope of reaching heaven is to be one with Christ, and then, in and through Christ, we shall be one with one another. No one is called to walk alone. In Christ life and immortality are brought to light. He has opened the way to the kingdom of heaven to those who believe in Him, but He assigns to no one a path different to that which all must travel. He calls for unity, and
unity we must have.” –Our Father Cares, p. 264; The Upward Look, p. 141.

One of the apostle Paul’s noblest utterances concerning the faith that alone could restore to man peace and unity is found in his epistle to the Ephesians. In it he urges upon all the highest character and conduct for the purpose of unity, not only in doctrine and organization, but in Christ the head, and in the church, the mystical body of Christ. Paul is writing to a church consisting of Jews and Gentiles, Asians and Europeans, slaves and freemen–all symbols of a disrupted world that was to be restored to unity in Christ. The letter is most relevant to the church of today, because in it Paul answers the question, What does Christianity have to say regarding the relations of the individual to the family, of the family to the nation, of the nation to the race, and of all to the church and to God?

In Ephesians 4:1-6 we read:
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with ongsuffering, forbearing one another in
love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

Let us now analyze these seven essential components of Christian unity that we must attain so that the world might know that God indeed sent His Son into the world to save sinners.

1. One body

To the Jews, the concept of the church as the body of Christ was startling. The amazing mystery of the church is that “through the Gospel the Gentiles are joint heirs with the Jews, part of the same body, sharers together in the promise made in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 3:6 NEB. This was a mystery completely hidden from the sons of men in past generations. Ephesians 3:5, 9. The Israelites who were true followers of God always believed they alone were God’s chosen people. (Deuteronomy 7:6).

Accepting Gentiles on an equal status was extremely difficult for them and caused many disputes among Jewish believers and Gentile converts.
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.” “That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” 1 Corinthians 12:12, 25-27.

When the love of God is ours through faith in His Son, a connection with Christ will mean everything to us. We are to be one with Him as He is with the Father and will be beloved by God as members of the body of Christ. Christ is the glorified Head, and His love is communicated to those who are united to Him, inspiring the soul with gratitude and freeing it from pride, vanity, and selfishness. Unity of God’s church–the body of Christ–will fulfill His prayer recorded in John 17:21.

“All differences, all fault-finding must be put away through the grace of Christ which you receive through faith. All envy, all jealousy, all evil surmising, is of the enemy. All evil-speaking, all bitterness, all impatience, all malice, must be purged from the soul temple, and kindness, compassion, forbearance, meekness, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, hope, love, must be cherished every day in order that you may fulfill the prayer of Christ to His Father that His disciples might be one as He is one with the Father.” –Testimonies to Southern Africa, p. 30.

God’s great desire is for His people to maintain unity both within the family and the church. This is an ongoing process. “If we have unity in the church, we must first have it in the home; for it is from the home that the church is formed, and the tempers and dispositions displayed in the family circle are the tempers and dispositions found in the church.” –The Review and Herald, July 2, 1889.

A story is told about a startling exhibit in Del Mar, California. A man took a glass beaker which had a small neck but was enlarged to about seven inches in diameter below the neck. The beaker would hold about a quart. The man used the glass beaker as a hammer to drive a spike into a wooden plank. The glass was so well tempered that the beaker did not break.

The man then took a small steel marble or bearing the size of a pea and holding it at the neck of the beaker, dropped it inside. When it struck the bottom, the glass was shattered and the beaker was broken from within. The church–the family of God–when perfectly united and tempered together with love, can resist the heaviest of blows from the outside. But just a small force on the inside can destroy this unity and harmony. As we grasp this truth that the church is the body of Christ, we are encouraged and inspired, and we lift our hearts in praise and thanks to Him who died for us that we may be one!

2. One Spirit

“And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” John 14:16, 17.

A false or counterfeit spirit brings division, unrest, and a multitude of lethal problems; but when the Holy Spirit dwells in every believer’s heart, there will be interconnectedness among us. And it is the gift of the Holy Spirit that produces Christian unity. It is our duty and privilege to submit ourselves to the working of the Holy Spirit to obtain and preserve the unity which God so graciously gives us.

“The Spirit of God alone can bring about this oneness. He who sanctified Himself can sanctify His disciples. United with Him, they will be united with one another in the most holy faith. “When we strive for this unity as God desires us to strive for it, it will come to us.” –Counsels for the Church, p. 45; Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, p. 243.

Standing near the end of time, we need to ask in faith for the promised blessing of the latter rain. Let us put away all dissension and give ourselves to God for the saving of the lost, because unity must precede the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

3. One hope

“One of the most solemn and yet most glorious truths revealed in the Bible is that of Christ’s second coming to complete the great work of redemption. To God’s pilgrim people, so long left to sojourn in ‘the region and shadow of death,’ a precious, joy-inspiring hope is given in the promise of His appearing, who is ‘the resurrection and the life,’ to ‘bring home again His banished.’

The doctrine of the second advent is the very keynote of the Sacred Scriptures. From the day when the first pair turned their sorrowing steps from Eden, the children of faith have waited the
coming of the Promised One to break the destroyer’s power and bring them again to the lost Paradise. Holy men of old looked forward to the advent of the Messiah in glory, as the consummation of their hope.” –The Great Controversy, p. 299.

Before His departure, Christ promised His disciples that He would return to this earth. Here are His thrilling words of assurance spoken to His disciples and echoing down the ages to us today.
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” John 14:1-3. As this promise gave them courage for the present and hope for the future, it does the same for us. And this wonderful hope will also be a means of drawing together God’s family on earth. As we look forward to Jesus’ glorious appearing to put an end to all suffering, pain, sorrow, and death, the wondrous restoration of all that sin has despoiled (Revelation 21:4, 5), and being touched by God’s fathomless love and grace, we will not live to please ourselves–“for even Christ pleased not Himself”–but to be a blessing to our neighbor, “to strengthen him and build him up spiritually.” “No w may the God Who gives the power of
patient endurance (steadfastness) and who supplies encouragement, grant you to live in such mutual harmony and such full sympathy with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus.” Romans 15:2, 3, 5 (Amplified version).

The hope for the future is very real. It comforts our hearts and gives us joy to believe and claim by faith the promises of God. Because of the blessed hope, positive changes in attitudes, thinking, and habits begin to transform our lives. First the individual, then the family, and then the church becomes more loving and lovable. Praying and harmonious families transfer their healthy atmosphere into the church.

It is the hope in Christ that makes the difference. “Sanctification, unity, peace–all are to be ours through the truth. The belief of the truth does not make men gloomy and uncomfortable. If you have peace in Christ, His precious blood is speaking pardon and hope to your soul. Yes, more, you have joy in the Holy Spirit, through accepting the precious promises.” –Our High Calling,
p. 329; Review and Herald, April 12, 1892 par. 20.

I believe the grandest hope of all is to meet Jesus face to face. Restored men and women in a restored earth, with all traces of sin gone–this is the certain hope of the born-again child of God. Dear brothers and sisters around the world, Jesus offers you hope that no one else can offer. His promises are sure and trustworthy.

4. One Lord

There is one God, and He alone has the right to rule over all humanity. He created all things, and by virtue of this act He has power and authority over everything on the earth. His subjects owe
the Lord their loyalty, and those who give their complete allegiance to the same Lord are not at enmity with one another. He is their Lord and Master by creation and redemption, and all authority rests with Him. He requires their total surrender, and to the Christian, that is a source of great joy. “We do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” 1 John 2:3.

5. One faith

“Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” Revelation 14:12.

A father had a family of sons who were perpetually quarreling among themselves. When he failed to heal their disputes by his exhortations, he determined to give them a practical illustration of the evils of disunion; and for this purpose he one day told them to bring him a bundle of sticks. When they had done so, he placed the bundle into the hands of each of them in succession, and ordered them to break it in pieces. They tried with all their strength and were not able to do it. He next opened the bundle, took the sticks separately, one by one, and again put them into his sons’ hands, upon which they broke them easily.

He then addressed them in these words: “My sons, if you are of one mind, and unite to assist each other, you will be as this bundle, uninjured by all the attempts of your enemies; but if you are divided among yourselves, you will be broken as easily as these sticks.” “… A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12.

The wise Solomon here expresses the truth that in union there is strength. The apostle Paul entreated the followers of Jesus to come into “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:13. He then encouraged the believers to look forward to the time when Christ would “present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing;… holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:27. May we never lose sight of this goal–the glorious vision of a holy church!

6. One baptism

“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. ” 1 Corinthians 12:13.

“Baptism by water aptly symbolizes death and resurrection. Also, it signifies cleansing and separation, and is a public announcement of union with the body of Christ. Those thus initiated into
the visible church grow together into the likeness of Christ’s death and resurrection.” –Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1022.

2011 will soon end, and I would like to take this opportunity to make an earnest and solemn appeal to all to repent and be truly converted, sealing publicly your surrender to Christ in baptism. And as the believer is buried with Christ in baptism and raised in the likeness of His resurrection, he lives a new life, one bound up with the life of Christ; and he becomes part of God’s family on earth. And the glorious truth is that “the family of heaven and the family of earth are one.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 835.

7. One God and Father

The great and almighty God, the Ruler of the universe, is also our loving heavenly Father! Our Creator and Redeemer died for the human race, that men might be made one with Him and with each other. “As members of the human family we are individual parts of one mighty whole. No soul can be made independent of the rest. There is to be no party strife in the family of God; for the well-being of each is the happiness of the whole. No partition walls are to be built up between man and man. Christ as the great center must unite all in one.” –Fundamentals of Christian
Education, p. 479.

Speaking with fervent, earnest eloquence to the scholars and sages of Athens gathered on Mars’ Hill (Acts 17), the apostle Paul poured out the burden of his soul. He drew the attention of his
hearers to the attributes of the true God– His creative power and the existence of His overruling providence. “In that age of caste, when the rights of men were often unrecognized, Paul set forth the great truth of human brotherhood, declaring that God ‘hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.’

In the sight of God all are on an equality, and to the Creator every human being owes supreme allegiance. Then the apostle showed how, through all God’s dealings with man, His purpose of grace and mercy runs like a thread of gold.” –The Acts of the Apostles, p. 238.

The pen of inspiration further elucidates this concept of one great family with Christ as the great center: “There is no person, no nation, that is perfect in every habit and thought. One must learn of another. Therefore God wants the different nationalities to mingle together, to be one in judgment, one in purpose. Then the union that there is in Christ will be exemplified….

“Look to Jesus, brethren; copy His manners and spirit, and you will have no trouble in reaching these different classes. We have not six patterns to follow, nor five; we have only one, and that is Christ Jesus. If the Italian brethren, the French brethren, and the German brethren try to be like Him, they will plant their feet upon the same foundation of truth; the same spirit that dwells in one will dwell in the other–Christ in them, the hope of glory. I warn you, brethren and sisters, not to build up a wall of partition between different nationalities. On the contrary, seek to break it down wherever it exists. We should endeavor to bring all into the harmony that there is in Jesus, laboring for the one object, the salvation of our fellow men.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, pp. 180, 181.

The infinite God is a Father, whose children we are, for “In Him we live, and move, and have our being.” Acts 17:28. Let our love for one another testify to the world that we are His disciples!
Some years ago at the Special Olympics in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A., nine handicapped runners lined up at the starting line for the 100-meter run. At the sound of the gun, all the runners
eagerly started out except for one boy who stumbled. He tumbled over a couple of times and began to cry. The other eight runners heard the boy cry and slowly turned around and paused. One girl with Down’s syndrome bent down and kissed the boy and said that would make it better. Then a couple of other athletes linked arms with the fallen boy and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood and the cheering went on for several minutes.

That race paints a picture of what God’s family is like. We are all wounded and broken. We are all challenged in one way or another. But God, in His infinite mercy and grace, makes us part of His family through faith in Christ. And it’s with our spiritual family that we journey through life, helping each other along the way. God gave everything He could to fallen humanity; His Son was a living proof of His love when He walked on this earth and gave His life for us sinners. Thus God’s love was not just written about in the Holy Scriptures but was also carried out in action.

“Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” 2 Corinthians 9:15. This gift was the only begotten Son of the Father. Let us worship and be united to our heavenly Father, who gave His only
begotten Son to save us. With help from above, let us also supremely love and obey Him who died for us. He is waiting to accept us and to unite us to His earthly and heavenly family. Amen.