On Sunday, we talked about the need to shift our thinking about unity. Following Ephesians 6:10-20, we saw that our picture of unity should be less like a family reunion and more like a company of soldiers on the battlefield. For them, unity is not a nice experience—it’s a matter of life or death.
We can carry this idea a step further into even more uncomfortable territory. Yes, we need unity because of the battle. But we should be aware of the ways in which unity itself might invite the battle by drawing the fire of the enemy.
Think about the words of Jesus in John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Doesn’t that sound so great? As we sing the song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” don’t we picture people flocking to Jesus because they’ve seen our love for one another?
But what did Jesus Himself say about being His disciples just two chapters after this comment? “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15:20).
If we love each other, the world will know we are Christ’s disciples, and some of them will hate us for that. They will treat us like they treated Jesus. Unity is the uniform that will draw their fire.
We see this principle written all over this passage from Hebrews 10:
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.(Hebrews 10:32-34)
Notice the connection between “having compassion on those in prison” and “joyfully accepting the plundering of your property”? I’ve heard it suggested that they went together, hand-in-glove. You’d go visit your Christian brothers and sisters in prison, and that would mark you out as “one of them,” and you’d come home to find your place ransacked.
Unity can be dangerous. And perhaps this is why the author of Hebrews had to tell them, just a few verses earlier, to not neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). Maybe their reasons for not meeting together weren’t North American reasons like sports and fishing and sleeping in. Maybe they were neglecting to meet together because they were scared about having their homes ransacked and being thrown in prison.
And yet not meeting together was not an option. The more the enemy fires on us, the more we need each other. Because what’s the alternative? Being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and watching our faith shrivel up, alone?
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.(Hebrews 3:12–14)
Unity might be dangerous, but not near as dangerous as trying to do life by ourselves. Let’s commit ourselves to walking in a manner worthy of the gospel—a path of dangerous, missional, joy-filled and ultimately victorious unity.