Sunday, July 6, 2014

Following Directions: Living in Harmony

by Timothy Howe

One of my greatest joys has been working with new believers in Africa. Where we worked, there are many cultural divisions. No one language is spoken universally in the country and there is much animosity between different language or tribal groups. The church served as one of the only places where these tensions were erased. Believers from various backgrounds came together to worship and celebrate their faith. Outsiders were often struck by the fact that people who would normally not socialize together would dine, laugh, sing and pray together. This harmony provided a great witness to the message of Christ. 

In John 17:20-21, John records:

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.

These words make up part of a prayer that Jesus prayed over His disciples. Jesus prayed these words during His last moments with them, only hours before the crucifixion. He was fully aware of the nearness of his departure and this last prayer captured some thoughts found in His key teachings. These verses show that Jesus was concerned in part about how His followers would get along with each other.

Two observations stand out regarding Jesus' thoughts on harmony.

Our harmony draws a picture of God.
In Jesus' prayer, he requests that His followers may all be one. He wants us to be unified. The reason He gives for this is astounding. Our unity demonstrates God's unity. The Son and the Father are two parts of of the Trinity, an eternal co-existing Triune God. The relationship between the different Persons of the Trinity is complex and difficult for us to understand as we try to make sense of how each Person is separate and yet all three Persons are one. Interestingly, Jesus explains that our unity forms a picture of the Holy Trinity. The act of living in harmony with other Christians is itself a living form of theology. 

If our harmony draws a picture of God, what does disharmony among His believers demonstrate? Far too often, churches are characterized by divisions, factions, dissension, anger and bitterness. These divisions certainly do not draw a picture of God. Instead, they portray the lack of God's presence as churches depend on human instincts and talents, not the work or presence of God.

Our harmony points to God.
In addition, to serving a theological purpose, our harmony with other believers serves to give evidence to the message of Christ. One of the greatest proofs of the Christ's work and word is a life that has been changed by Him. Our ability to live in unity with other believers shows the life-changing and community-chaning power of the Holy Spirit. It gives testimony to Jesus' message. 

The harmony of the African church mentioned above points others to God as people from different cultures set aside their differences to worship together. They lived out a faithful unity with people who were different and thereby offered a good testimony of Christ. 

If our harmony points to God, disharmony among His believers weakens their witness. How differently would we treat each other if we recognize that church fights not only cause people to turn away from church, but they can cause some people to turn away from God. 

So, let's live in Harmony
Jesus taught His disciples that the world would recognize Christ through the ability of His followers to live in harmony with each other (John 17:20-21). He explained that our ability to remain in unity would demonstrate to the world the unity of the Father and the Son. His followers should be characterized by operating in harmony with each other.

This may not be easy, we are all still people. We can all be opinionated, obstinate, lazy, grumpy, frustrating or frustrated. Yet, Jesus' teaching remains. The world will know that we are His followers, it will recognize God at work and some may believe on account of our unity. May we take seriously this teaching of Jesus.