Proverbs 19.4, 6-7
“Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend. Many seek the favor of a generous man, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts. All a poor man's brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but does not have them.”
In the fallen world, people are separated by their poverty or prosperity. Wealth separates. So does poverty. People in the fallen world choose friends based on social status. They gravitate toward those who are generous and give gifts, but dislike those who don’t have the means to give.
It is not this way (or at least shouldn’t be) in the Christian community. God does not see social status or poverty or prosperity. The Lord doesn’t look at outward appearance; he sees the heart. “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16.7)
There are numerous declarations of and appeals to unity in scripture. Indeed, unity is a distinguishing mark of authentic Christianity.
“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1.10)
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12.16-18)
Most famously, in his high priestly prayer in the Upper Room the night before his crucifixion, the Lord Jesus prayed for the unity of the Christian fellowship that was about to be born by means of his sacrificial death:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17.20-23)
My mentor, Francis Schaeffer, continually reminded that promoting community should be a priority of the church. In his book The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, he wrote, “I am convinced that in the twentieth century people all over the world will not listen if we have the right doctrine, the right polity, but are not exhibiting community.”
Schaeffer went on to add: “If we stress the love of God without the holiness of God, it turns out only to be compromise. But if we stress the holiness of God without the love of God, we practice something that is hard and lacks beauty.”
God calls his people to demonstrate observable love and observable unity. Together, these two spiritual disciplines provide the basis for the unbeliever to become interested in the Christian faith. Schaeffer called love and unity “the final apologetic.” He offered this challenge to the evangelical church: “Our love will not be perfect, but it must be substantial enough for the world to be able to observe or it does not fit into the structure or the verses in John 13 and John 17. And if the world does not observe this among true Christians, the world has a right to make two awful judgments which these verses indicate: that we are not Christians and that Christ was not sent by the Father.”
Community matters. When God calls us to himself, he also calls us into relationship with his people. And it to this supernatural community that the Lord has given the great commandment (to love), the great commission (to proclaim the gospel and make disciples), and the prime directive (to do our daily work as agent of his kingdom).
May we trust God and do the work of building true community before a watching world.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” (Psalm 133.1)