#41 UNITY IN THE CHURCH

Having applied the principle of submission in a range of contexts (2:13 – 3:6) Peter now tells us what submission will look like generally in the fellowship of believers – he now speaks to ‘all of you’ (3:8). The fact that he introduces his instructions here with the word ‘finally’ links it to what he has been saying before. He is talking about, and summing up, the same thing: submission. A submission that expresses the humility and selflessness demonstrated in the incarnation, life and death of Jesus Christ.

He says, first of all, ‘all of you, live in harmony with one another.’

The Greek word translated ‘live in harmony’ – homophron – means ‘of the same mind’. This does not mean that we are all to think the same or say the same so that we lose the individuality that God deliberately created in us. Rather, Peter is telling us that our minds are to be focused on the same thing. As a result, we will all value the same thing, we will all have a common interest, we will all have our minds set on the same objective: to know Christ and to glorify Christ.

This centrality and significance of Jesus Christ in our lives is the one thing that binds us together:

We know that we are all sinners, without any difference or distinction [Romans 3:22b,23].

We know that we are all justified freely by God’s grace through Christ’s death, without any difference or distinction [Romans 3:22b,24].

We know that in Christ we are all one, without any difference or distinction [Galatians 3:26-29].

We know that we are no longer to view each other on the basis of who we are in ourselves and what we ourselves have done, but to regard each other as God now regards us: always, ever and only ‘in Christ’ [2Corinthians 5:14-17].

There is no room in Christ, and there is no room in Christ’s church, for any kind of elitism, or for any kind of legalistic pride or self-justification. There is no place for divisions and distinctions based on human merit or human achievement. My personal spirituality or piety is nothing. The righteousness of Christ is everything.

For in Christ, as Paul has taught, ‘grace reigns’ [Romans 5:21]. Grace is the operating principle of Christ’s kingdom, a unifying truth that binds together all who comprise his church, effectively eliminating all of those personal differences and distinctions that are commonly seen as spiritual or religious merit.

Jesus, discarding and disempowering all divisions based on human merit, commands us ‘Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another’ [John 13:34]. And here we must ask ourselves ‘How and when did Jesus love us?’ John tells us that this love is demonstrated in Christ’s sin-bearing death [1John 4:9-11]. Paul tells us that this death of Christ for us occurred -

When we were powerless.

When we were ungodly.

When we were still sinners.

When we were his enemies [Romans 5:6-10].

Just as Christ shared our humanity and bore our sins, so we are commanded to identify with our fellow-believers:

To deny our supposed ‘rights’ for the well-being of our fellow believers [Romans 14; 1Corinthians 8:9-13].

To carry each other’s burdens [Galatians 6:1-3].

To bear with each other and forgive each other as we have been forgiven [Colossians 3:12-14].

This Christ-like, self-denying love expresses and cements the unity that we have in Christ.

It was for this unity that Christ prayed, and it is this unity, this love, that demonstrates the truth of the Gospel to the watching world:

‘I pray ... that all of them may be one ... I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 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’ [John 17:20-23].

© Rosemary Bardsley 2018