Three congregations stand firmly on the solid rock of God’s Word. The first is the Spit And Be Healed Congregation.” Yeshua healed a blind man by spitting on his eyes, so they base their congregational life on that practice. The second is the “Touch And Be Healed Congregation.” Yeshua often healed people by touching them, so that’s the central practice for that flock. Finally, there’s the “Speak And Be Healed Congregation.” This group notes that Yeshua healed by His words, and they therefore emphasize speaking as the true way of healing.
Each congregation is so wrapped up in its own emphasis that none are on speaking terms with the other two “Be Healed” congregations. All three are for the Bible and all three are for healing, yet sadly, all three are against one another.
As absurd as that fictitious scenario may seem, followers of Messiah have had similar problems for the past 2000 years. Think about the divisions that exist among Jewish believers today. Some of us are like the fictitious congregations who all understood God’s methods so well that they refused to talk with each other.
What Is Unity?
Sometimes we see our differences as dividing lines between right and wrong, especially in the messianic community. Sometimes we forget that, without differences, unity would be a moot point. Unity does not mean that all people are the same. Unity occurs when people come together for a particular purpose.
Unity is not a matter of obliterating all distinctions or differences. People can be different from one another, yet still be godly, according to the purpose God has for those differences.
In Matthew 9:14 we read: “Then John’s disciples came and asked him [Yeshua], ‘How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?'”
Jesus does not say it is right to rejoice and wrong to fast, or that His disciples are good while the others are bad. He points out that there is a reason for His disciples to behave differently than John’s, without suggesting that the other disciples must stop their fasting.
Yeshua never said that all God’s people should be alike. But He did pray for unity before leaving the earth.
“…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me”
Yeshua stated the purpose of unity. It is evidence by which the world (non-believers) will see whether the Father has sent the Son. Francis Schaeffer has called this point the “final apologetic.” That’s pretty sobering.
How Do We Measure Up?
When the world looks at us today, what does it see?
A friend reported on a conference in Jerusalem where unbelievers discussed the state of the missionary movement in Israel and abroad. It’s encouraging to know that the counter-missionaries in Israel feel the need for such a conference. That’s a sure sign that the gospel is advancing.
What is not encouraging was the lecturer’s conclusion. He stated that the messianic movement and its Christian supporters are fragmented and hostile to one another, and that there is a great deal of infighting. In other words, the lecturer sought to encourage the anti-missionaries by pointing out our lack of unity.
I don’t normally put stock in what counter-missionaries say, but can we deny the hostility and infighting to which he alluded? Where does this infighting come from?
Disunity is only natural when we are more concerned with being right than we are with being obedient.
Sometimes you would think that Yeshua commanded us to “be better and smarter than one another,” or to “make sure everyone knows you are right,” or even to “show as many people as possible how you have been wronged,” when His commands were nothing of the sort. He told us to “love one another” (John 13:34), “forgive” one another (Luke 6:37), and “be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50). There’s no need to tell people to do what comes naturally, so all of these commands indicate that love and forgiveness and peace do not come naturally. Unity does not come naturally, and that is why it is evidence of God’s working.
If there is disunity among us, it simply means that we are doing what comes naturally. Jesus desires that we do what comes supernaturally.
What Can We Do?
If disunity occurs when we are consumed with showing how right we are, unity occurs when we have a common understanding of how wrong we all are and how right God alone is. When we are concerned with God’s glory, not our own, things have a way of falling into place.
Unity doesn’t mean we look at things we believe others have done wrong and call them right. It means we look upon ourselves, as well as others, as being wrong, knowing that only Jesus is fully right. And we don’t hold things against one another that Yeshua came to forgive.
My concern with showing how right I am will never unify me with my brothers and sisters, who by nature are just as concerned with showing how right they are. When we are both more concerned with how right God is, we can come together.
Concerning ourselves with God’s righteousness, His desires and His glory does not mean we won’t have conflicts. Yeshua recognized this and made two statements to help us deal properly with conflict.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins”
In the first statement the focus is on me as the offender. If, while worshiping, I remember that someone has something against me, this implies that I have wittingly or unwittingly offended that person. Yeshua says I should go seek reconciliation with that person.
Yeshua’s second statement is equal, but converse. If, while I am praying, I become aware that I have something against someone, because someone has offended me, what is the solution? Same thing! I should go make it right with that person.
These verses tell me that whether I am the offender or the offended, I should make the first move toward resolution and reconciliation. Whether I am right or wrong, the responsibility for reconciling the relationship is always mine. Welcome to another uncomfortable truth from our Messiah!
Unity in the messianic movement depends upon each one of us making the first move. Unity takes initiative: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
Look at what is at stake if we don’t make that effort. We stand to lose important personal relationships with one another, and we stand to lose credibility in the eyes of the unbelieving world. If we don’t choose to love one another and strive for unity, if we emphasize our own rightness rather than Yeshua’s, we are placing huge obstacles in the way of those who don’t yet know Him. People will be saved in spite of us, rather than with help from us. What a loss for us all.
The Price of Unity
Psalm 133:1 contains the lyrics to one of our most beloved folk songs. We all enjoy singing, “Hinei ma tov umanayim, shevet achim gam yachad” (Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity). The Psalm goes on to describe that unity. It is …”like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes” (v. 2).
We read more about that anointing in Exodus, chapter 30. It was a mixture of five fragrant spices: myrrh, cinnamon, sweet cane, cassia and olive oil. While we can imagine that it must have smelled great, we should also take a minute to think about the perfumer’s process. Those spices had to be crushed and mixed and crushed some more before they would yield their aroma as a cohesive mixture.
And that’s what our unity is like—this mixture of various spices that have been crushed together. The only way we’ll achieve unity is to allow ourselves to be crushed a little bit, and blended by the “Master Perfumer.”
When we are crushed, what kind of scent do we release? (Skunks also become more “fragrant” when they are crushed!) And if the crushing releases a pleasing fragrance, are we willing to have it blended with the different fragrances contributed by our brothers and sisters? If we insist on maintaining the “purity” of our own fragrance, we will miss out on the wonderful blend that pleases God and attracts those who are seeking Him. The price of unity for us as individuals is that crushing and blending.
The psalmist goes on to say that our unity …”is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133:3). He tells us that our unity is like cool droplets of water that bring life and refreshment, coming down from above. Mt. Hermon is Israel’s highest peak, so this verse symbolizes how true unity is bestowed from above as we seek God for it. Such unity will bring “blessing, even life forevermore” to those who watch.
Scripture uses both oil and water to symbolize the Holy Spirit. Unity comes from God. It comes from Yeshua, who Himself was crushed for us. He paid the ultimate price that enables us to be one with Him and with one another. He is our example, and He is also the source of our strength. The Son desired our unity enough to pray for it, and the Father will be faithful to answer those prayers—through the Spirit—if we truly yearn for that unity. Only Yeshua’s Spirit can achieve unity for us, as we respond to His prompting. As the watching world sees us unite, we will see the world, in turn, believe that the Father has sent Yeshua.
What will it take to drive us to unity? Will it take more tragedies like the World Trade Center for us to drop the judgmental and self-righteous thoughts and words that divide us? Or will we seek unity because we are truly grateful and truly aware that the same God who has forgiven us has also forgiven the brothers and sisters who have offended and perhaps even hurt us? Are we willing to be crushed, and to have some of our uniqueness blended with others? Will we set aside some of our own desires to fulfill His desire that we be one in Him? Will others see and know by our unity with one another that the Father has sent the Son?