Say-So Unity or Real Togetherness
I knew someone in Bible college who was so overbearing in her friendliness that I felt uncomfortable because I could not return her attentions. If you have known people like that, maybe your reaction was similar to mine: keep a bit of a distance, keep conversations short, guard your involvement and keep out of situations where you have to relate on their terms. I had been somewhat successful at maintaining that distance when, one day, this individual walked up to me, planted herself firmly in front of me, looked me dead in the eye and declared, David, I love you in the Lord, but I don’t like you as a person.”
Having gotten that off her chest she walked away, and we never had occasion to speak again. My feelings were not terribly hurt, but I never did forget those parting words. From time to time I have wondered what it means to love someone in the Lord while disliking them as a person, and if such a distinction is possible. If we say we love, if we extol the virtues of unity and say it is good and pleasant, then we can’t say that we care on some invisible and intangible level while declaring our distaste to a person’s face. If we declare love, or if we profess unity, there ought to be some tangible proof, some evidence in our behavior that shows we really mean it. Don’t you think so?
In order for people to truly get along and live in unity, we need:
- A basis for peace
- A basis for participation in one another’s life
- A basis for promoting one another’s welfare
How often do we see that kind of unity or togetherness?
People talk about the “fragile peace” in the Middle East. But is there really such a thing? Peace means much more than merely an absence of conflict. To call something a fragile peace is really to identify it as a false peace. Likewise, if we talk about a fragile unity, we are really talking about a false and faltering unity. The question of unity isn’t just how the participants are toward each other (i.e. how they are behaving at the moment). The deeper question must be asked: How are the participants in a unity for each other (i.e. how do they care for one another’s welfare past a given situation?).
How’s this for an example of false unity: For years we referred to “the other super power” as the Soviet Union—but what kind of a union was it really? It was contrived. There was little unity and what unity there was had to be imposed upon its people by force. The Soviet Union is a historic example of the nature of human unity.
Or what about shake-ups in the Mafia family in New York? What kind of family goes around shooting each other? That’s no family! It is a picture of the bonds of a false unity based upon greed for money and power.
Politicians and the press marveled at the unity between nations who participated in Operation Desert Storm. Countries that had little or nothing to do with each other found themselves allies in what at the time appeared to be a noble cause. What a short-lived unity that was! Hindsight has shown that whatever unity there was in Desert Storm was about as stable as the shifting desert sands. It was a short-lived unity based upon a perceived threat and with questionable results. It was a false and faltering unity.
Likewise, as believers, if our unity appears fragile, it is more likely a false unity which is not based on any firm or lasting foundation. There are many foundations suitable for such false unities. Some seek unity in order to meet their own needs and desires. When they find themselves disappointed, unity is sacrificed on the altar of selfishness. That is how some people enter and exit a number of affiliations and relationships, including marriage.
Another transitory foundation is ambition. There is nothing more important than unity when you need to build a crowd. Those who want to gather support under whatever banner they choose to fly or whatever flag they wish to wave will call for unity. But if the flag that we fly is our own, and the crowd that we build is for our kingdom, we will have a faltering and a false unity.
Early warning signs of false unity are actions that contradict confession: people who say one thing and then do another—or else simply fail to do anything which would be consistent with what they confess or attest. What do you think of people who say, “I love the Lord, but I am too poor to give anything,” so they never ever contribute any money to the Lord’s work? I don’t mean they contribute a very small amount, I mean they contribute nothing to their local congregation or to any other congregation, for that matter. What do you think such people mean when they say “I love the Lord”? Can you imagine someone who is so impoverished that he can’t give anything at any time? This is a person whose actions contradict his confession.
Or what do you make of the person who claims to love the Lord and believes in the unity of the body but avoids associating with other believers? This person cannot commit to any local congregation because he just doesn’t feel comfortable enough anywhere. One congregation doesn’t have enough people his own age. Another congregation is too Gentile or too Jewish or has too many poor people or has too many rich people, and on and on and on. Such people believe in the unity of the body—they just don’t want to be part of it!
No one hesitates to promote unity and fellowship as long as it is just talk or as long as it is convenient. If unity becomes inconvenient, or fellowship gets in the way of other priorities, its importance seems to fade. A unity that exists for our own convenience or to meet our own needs is no unity at all. Nor is there such a thing as a “unity” that is declared but not practiced.
In Psalm 133 David likens unity to the oil that ran down on Aaron’s beard. Now this was special aromatic oil. It was olive oil mixed with cinnamon, myrrh, cane and cassia, and each one of those ingredients smelled good. Do you know what happens when oil gets in a beard? The individual hairs clump together. They become matted. Each hair takes on the texture and fragrance of the oil.
And that is a picture of what the unity of the Spirit of God does in the lives of believers. We come together when we submit ourselves to the Spirit of God. Rather than building unity on our own terms, we submit ourselves to the unifying effects of the Holy Spirit, allowing our lives to be combined with others who have the same Spirit poured over them.
A firm and foundational unity is not based on need or greed, but on the reconciling work of Messiah Jesus which makes it possible for us to have a Spirit-led life. God’s unity is supernatural. In Messiah there is no gender gap, no generation gap, no culture gap. Yeshua bridged all those gaps and made it possible for real unity to be achieved.
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit
Jewish tradition tells us that two drops of that holy anointing oil remained, forever hanging from Aaron’s beard like two pearls: atonement and peace. As believers in Jesus, we know that the reconciling atonement He made for us, the forgiveness of sin He offers, establishes peace between us and God. On that basis we also can have reconciliation and peace with one another.
In the world we are promised trouble, but as long as we know the Messiah we also have peace—enough to share—one with another. That peace is the foundation of unity, and our Messiah Yeshua, the Prince of Peace, is the cornerstone.
But a foundation, by definition, is only the beginning. It is the starting place upon which all else rests. Yes, Jesus is the cornerstone, but we have to do some work to raise the building. People don’t live in foundations. A foundation by itself is not functional—the rest of the building still has to be constructed. Likewise, as mishpochah we need to go beyond speaking about unity among Jewish believers. There is a great deal of discussion about loving one another and affirming one another as Jews who believe in Yeshua, but let me pose a question. How often do you get together with other Jewish believers to do something as Jews who love Jesus? There is a commandment in Scripture that was particularly addressed to Jewish believers.
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching
Some Jewish believers in the first century were falling into the habit of neglecting one another. Assembling is not merely getting together for worship at a stated time. It is also just being together, encouraging one another in the things of the Lord and sharing one another’s lives. The pattern established in Acts 2 shows us much more than a “Shabbos-go-to-meeting” kind of religion.
Now all who had believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need
Now, notice the particulars of their togetherness in verses 46 and 47:
- It was daily.
- They were of one mind.
- They ate together in one another’s homes.
- They were glad and sincere in their unity.
- They were praising God.
Are we committed to unity as an ideal or are we committed to making it real? What do we do because we believe that unity is good and pleasant? You can be sure that building unity can—and will—often be inconvenient. There are all kinds of occasions where we should seek each other out to be together, but somehow, unless it is made very easy, we often remain noncommittal. Many of us do not reach out to find ourselves in a position of spending time and energy interacting with other believers. This can have devastating results.
Susan Perlman prepared a paper for the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism entitled “Crisis in Faith: Return to the Synagogue.” She analyzed several brief case studies of Jewish people who once professed belief in Jesus but later turned away, to see if there was a common element. She discovered that those who had renounced the faith usually had for their closest friends those who did not believe in Jesus. I’m not suggesting that belief in Jesus means dropping every old association. But our closest friends, our confidants, those on whom we depend, ought to be others who share our faith and our eternal destiny.
We can learn some interesting things from our opposition. As we read about our movement in sundry secular and Jewish publications, we discover that if we have a particular evangelistic concern for any one people (even if it is our own), we are “targeting.” And if we extend to one another the same acceptance and concern that Yeshua extended to each of us, we are “love bombing.” Actually, love bombing is a phrase that was more popular in the ’70s and early ’80s. It was used of cults such as Hare Krishna and the Moonies, with Jews who believe in Jesus lumped in. Today “love bombing” is occasionally used but is usually rephrased as “appealing to emotional needs” or “attracting the alienated.”
Messianic “Jews” generally target people who are not very knowledgeable in their faith…as well as people who are basically lonely and in need of company, approval, acceptance.…The messianics specialize in attracting Jews who are alienated from Judaism…
The American Jewish World, 8/30/91, “This Is a Missionary Cult”
Or, as Rabbi Samuel A. Turk described his encounter with members of Congregation Shuva Yisroel in his column “Reflections,”
I was flabbergasted by this whole confrontation. I pictured how vulnerable an average Jewish layman would be to the spurious and sly methods utilized by such insidious a group of apostates. They were most amiable and soft spoken, articulate and well-read and could easily ensnare an unsuspecting Jew into their clutches
The Jewish Press, 7/12/91
We have no right to be amiable and soft-spoken, let alone articulate and well-read! So the rabbi neatly reverses the meaning of these qualities by sandwiching them between words like “insidious,” “apostates,” “ensnare” and “clutches.”
Still, I have to admit I am fascinated by the older and less sophisticated accusation of love bombing. Between the targeting and the bombing, it’s a wonder that Jewish believers made it past the ’70s without being disintegrated by such weaponry. Have you ever wondered what all this talk is about?
If you read the novel 1984, by George Orwell, maybe you’ll recall the term “double-speak.” In the book, double-speak was an effective means of propaganda whereby the government could condition peoples’ thinking. They simply described various institutions and practices with words which meant exactly the opposite. People were conditioned to accept war under the label of peace and torture under the banner of love.
Double-speak has been used in reverse for years in a propaganda campaign to dissuade Jewish people from reaching out to fellow Jews with the gospel. It has also been used in an attempt to drive a wedge between Jewish believers and the rest of the church. After all, what self-respecting Christian denomination would want to affiliate with people who are targeting and bombing and attracting the vulnerable and who knows what else?
In 1984 the government used double-speak to camouflage the unacceptable and make it acceptable to the undiscerning masses. Today’s spiritual double-speak is designed to make that which is acceptable, even desirable, appear odious. Some fear that Jewish people might want to believe in Jesus if such a faith commitment to Him was deemed acceptable. They take pains to depict what is brightest and best about our movement as being dark and detestable.
Why not take our cues from our loyal opposition? Whatever they want us to hide under a blanket of shame is exactly the lamp we should keep shining brightly. Maybe sometime we’ll do a forum on “targeting,” e.g., did the Good Shepherd seek out the lost of His flock so that He could shoot them (isn’t that what you do with a target?). But let’s leave the “targeting” for another time.…
Let’s concentrate for a moment on love bombing, which is double-speak for the concern Yeshua asked us to show for one another. Even the phrase “appealing to the needs of the vulnerable” is double-speak. It manages to take something which in a neutral setting is good—”meeting needs”—and give it a sinister spin. It implies that these vulnerable people are helpless and that somehow the purpose of meeting their needs is to trap them.
Of course, no one should take advantage of vulnerable people to get them to do what they shouldn’t or wouldn’t want to do! But shouldn’t we try to uphold those who are weak ? Shouldn’t we try to meet their needs? Shouldn’t we treat people as Yeshua did when He strengthened the weak and sought to uphold the outcasts?
Our opposition probably thinks we do much better at caring and meeting needs in other people than we do. We know there ought to be more love and unity within our movement, and certainly we know that the reason is not to lure or entrap unsuspecting victims but to be obedient to the Messiah, who said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
The fellowship and the love is not a trap we set to snare people. It is God’s commandment which brings very pleasant results. Hine ma tov umanayim shevet achim gam yachad. (Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.) We should enjoy it! Of course, we know that unity and love in the body of Christ are not only for our own edification—they are the emblem by which we can be recognized as Jesus’ disciples. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples.…”
Our opposition tries to twist and pervert that emblem because, sadly, they don’t understand it. They are afraid of the power of love, and so they say that only the outcasts and the weak will “be taken in” by it. They don’t realize that the only taking in is done by Jesus Himself, and if they knew where He was taking us, they would want to be taken in too!
But opposers don’t know, and so they rejoice when they see us disowning one another. They know it’s a sign of weakness that can only hurt our movement. Imagine statements like this which have actually been made to unbelievers: “I wouldn’t go to one of those Messianic congregations—they raise the middle wall of partition.”
How do I know such statements have been made, to unbelievers yet? One unbeliever asked Moishe Rosen what the “middle wall of partition” was. Moishe asked where he had heard that term, and…you guessed it. Or how about this one? “We believe in Yeshua, but we don’t use the [obnoxious] confrontational methods of Jews for Jesus.” Our own bickering is enough so that we don’t need opposition. Let us learn not only to accept one another but also to uphold one another.
But how do we accomplish that love that Jesus commanded, the love that allows others to see Him in us?
If we want to know what a person is like, where he is headed and what we can expect of him, we have only to notice how he spends himself. Not just his substance, but also how he spends his time and with whom. You can particularly tell a lot about people by their friends and the people with whom they associate.
Now the ideal is that we should show what or whom we love by planning our whole life around what is important to us. We should decide where we are going to live so we can be in proximity to the people and the place of worship we have chosen. We shouldn’t decide where we want to live based on economic and convenient comfort decisions, then look for places to worship and friends who happen to be in that locale. Our commitments should determine where we live as well as how we live. There are some individuals and groups who have actually done this, and you know who you are—God bless you. But not many believers have grown enough in the Lord to commit to building their whole lives around the Lord and the fellowship of believers. All too often we let our friends and associations happen to us without making a conscious effort to relate to others and build those relationships according to our faith and spiritual priorities.
If we want a firm unity and not a fragile one, we need to be asking ourselves some hard questions. What are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of unity? Where are we willing to go to experience unity? Whom are we willing to invest in to strengthen unity? What relationships will we make a priority in order to secure unity? In short, what are we willing to do to build unity?
Executive Director, Missionary
David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live. David’s daughter, Ilana is a recent graduate of Biola. His son, Isaac is on the missionary staff of Jews for Jesus. Isaac and his wife, Shaina, have one daughter, Nora, which makes David part of the grandparent club, a membership he is very proud of. See more here.