In our faith stories, unity is praised and valued. Psalm 133 begins with these words, “How good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” Paul begs the church at Ephesus “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3) Paul then goes on to say in verse 13 that our unity in faith and in Jesus helps us as a people to reach our full potential and maturity in Christ.
“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” (Matthew 12:25) These words of Jesus certainly must have most shaped the thinking of the Apostle Paul.
The early church meeting in Corinth became divided as members of that gathering identified with the various leaders who had been instrumental in planting the congregation. People were saying, “I belong to Paul.” “I belong to Cephas.” “I belong to Apollos.” Paul responded with a question, “Has Christ been divided?” For Paul, there was only one message – the love of God seen and known in Christ. People of faith belong to Christ. In Christ, we are one. Christ is our new identity.
Paul had to deal with divisions due to some wanting to make the Jewish practise of circumcision a requirement in the new found community of faith. In that specific spat, Paul said that Christ is our peace and has broken down the dividing wall (Ephesians 2:14).
Given the perplexities, pain and suffering, uncertainties and ambiguities of our time, unity is our strength. The love that we experience, that is taught and proclaimed and lived in our faith tradition is a love for the other – the Other who is God and the other who is our neighbour. Love binds us together in community. In love, we are one.
To love our practises, arrangements, doctrines, wealth, and to argue and quarrel over leaders is a fallen love. It divides and diminishes our effectiveness and is counterproductive to an inclusive love. Divisiveness tarnishes our witness. Our one witness is to God, and “God is Love” (1 John 4:8).
I have always revelled in the closing lines to the hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” The words describe a time being of “lost in wonder, love, and praise.”
My sincere hope is that we will be lost in a time of love that overcomes all differences and strengthens us all and makes us one – the body of Christ.