Unity (…let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.) Phil. 2: 3-4
Went to a wedding this weekend. Cindy’s son got married. Cindy’s not a family member although she’s family. We attended the ceremony because of a friendship that’s developed over the years. Cindy’s a single mom. She’s raised three children (created a terrific environment to do that in) under the typical stress of being single and having three kids to care for and help guide them toward a day just like Saturday, the day of her oldest son’s marriage.
I can’t give you a list of the things that Cindy and I agree on concerning the specifics of what we believe about the Gospel. After a 19-year friendship, we still haven’t sat down and talked in detail about each and every thing we can agree on or have different opinions about. Jane and I have known Cindy for 19 years now. She has sold T-shirts and CD’s at WBVN concerts for all those years. We didn’t know her before she started helping at the concerts. For years, I’ve teased her that she’s one of my heroes. Well, I never tell her that with a serious face. I always say it kind of tongue in cheek. Really she is. Truth is, Cindy’s done something that I’m not sure I would have had the patience and trust to do. She’s maintained a great attitude in the middle of the stress of raising the kids and all the pressures the culture and the world can provide, stresses that the economic condition can bring, things that I probably would have been crushed by. I’ve watched her and she’s been an encouragement to both Jane and me, been an inspiration because of her tenacity for life, life with a smile on it. I’m not saying all that to score points with Cindy. Anyone that knows Cindy knows you don’t score points with Cindy. Heaven knows, I don’t want her to hear about any of this. She might get the ‘big head’ and actually think that I consider her a terrific friend. That of course would give her the upper hand in all the teasing we do with one another. Let’s just keep this little discussion between us. I’m saying all these things because I was sitting at that wedding watching all the folks do what folks do at weddings. Jane and I saw friends from 25 years ago. We don’t get to see them very often. Some of them have played significant roles in our lives, but you know you just move on to other places and other things in life. Somehow, people get separated from one another. People you used to spend a lot of time with, you don’t spend any time with anymore. Even though we don’t see them very often, Jane and I still care about and have a compassion for those people.
In this 19-year journey sharing WBVN with thousands of people, I’m still amazed by the care our listeners and we have for one another. It’s a caring we’ve all found in celebrating what we have in common rather than concentrating on our differences. Scripture tells us that the world would know us (believers) because of the love that we’d expressed toward one another. The world might not recognize right from wrong but the way believers relate to other believers is almost a ‘fail-safe barometer’ of the Love of God in their lives. There will always be differences in the way we express or share the Gospel. We shouldn’t leave or diminish those things we find so dear in our own hearts in our profession of our Faith. It’s necessary for us to hold onto and guard what has become precious in each of us. But, I don’t think we will all agree to believe one thing about the Gospel. However, we can still recognize and appreciate that we’re a family of God with differences. I don’t think we’ll ever see ‘unity’ come to the body of Christ because we finally get together and believe the same things, say the same things or act the same way. However, I think we can find unity in celebrating the things we all have in common. We all seem to be able to enjoy getting together for a concert or agree to praise God through a single song we’ve heard on the radio no matter what denomination we belong to. We can hope the best for one another. Believing in Christ is a common denominator between all of us. How powerful could it be to celebrate that common belief rather than concentrating on the things on which we might disagree?
Paul teaches that the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. He follows that list with this bit of advice: ‘let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.’ Those are the characteristics of the Spirit. Those are the things we should be seeing in the Church. There can be a full expression of the Body of Christ. Hands and feet working together, hearts and arms functioning to a common purpose, even when they individually might be doing different things at the same time. I’m convinced that we can cheer each other on without having to agree or join in on the specifics of our different beliefs. We can encourage one another without obligating others to follow lock step in one expression. We can celebrate each other’s faith in Christ without doing the same things about that faith. I’m not sure how Cindy feels about Matthew Chapters 24 and 25, not sure of her take on Revelation, haven’t got a clue on her perspective on 1 Corinthians Chapters 12, 13 and 14, but Jane and I respect and care for her with a love provided by the author of Love. We do know that Cindy will be our neighbor forever (imagine the thought!) because we all believe in Christ and who He was and is.
In Cindy’s case, we’ve found so much that unites us, we’ve ‘forgotten’ to check out the things that might divide us. I watched at the wedding as she smiled and kidded about so many things and at the same time, for 19 years I’ve watched her make serious decision after important decision about raising those three children. By watching her, she’s taught me how to be a better friend to my friends. Oh sure, I’ve watched tender-heartedness masqueraded as a Marine sergeant, but that’s just Cindy. I’ve seen her sacrifice for her children daily. She has made a way for them, provided every opportunity for them to come to this moment. Each decision has been based on her faith and her love. To be able to cheer her on doesn’t obligate me to take a microscopic look at what Cindy believes. It only takes the knowledge of how much she believes and how much she lives out of her heart, trusting God to provide a way. It just looks like with the choices this country seems to be making, that in the future, believers are going to need one another more and more. We can start practicing that now if we want.
Scripture says: ‘wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits…. (James 3:17) That’s a pretty good way to live with one another. Now, Who would have come up with that!