“What is Christian Unity” from John Piper (Across Boundaries, Loving One Another, The Holy SPirit, In Christ)

What Is Christian Unity?

by John Piper

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Unity among two or more people gets its virtue entirely from something else. Unity itself is neutral until it is given goodness or badness by something else. So if Herod and Pilate are unified by their common scorn for Jesus (Luke 23:12), this is not a good unity. But if Paul and Silas sing together in prison for Christ’s sake (Acts 16:25), this is a good unity.

Therefore, it is never enough to call Christians to have unity. That may be good or bad. The unified vote fifty years ago in my home church in South Carolina to forbid blacks from attending services was not a good unity. The unified vote of a mainline Protestant denomination to bless forbidden sexual acts is not a good unity.

What Makes Unity Christian?

Christian unity in the New Testament gets its goodness from a combination of its source, its views, its affections, and its aims.

Source

Paul tells us to “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). I take that to mean that the Holy Spirit is the great giver of unity. “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Views

Paul says that pastors and teachers are to equip the saints “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13). In other words, the unity we pursue is unity in the truth. Of course, Christian unity is more than shared truth, but not less. Paul piles up the words for common-mindedness in Philippians 2:2, “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (see also Philippians 4:2). Everything is to “accord with Christ.” “May God . . . grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus” (Romans 15:5).

Affections

To be sure, unifying love in the body of Christ includes a rugged commitment to do good for the family of God whether you feel like it or not (Galatians 6:10). But, as difficult as it is for diverse people, the experience of Christian unity is more than that. It includes affectionate love, not just sacrifice for those you don’t like. It is a feeling of endearment. We are to have affection for those who are our family in Christ. “Love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10). “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22). “All of you, have . . . sympathybrotherly lovea tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).

Aims

Spirit-rooted, Christ-manifesting, truth-cherishing, humbly-loving unity is designed by God to have at least two aims: a witness to the world, and an acclamation of the glory of God. The apostle John makes the first of these most clear. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).

“Christian unity includes affectionate love, not just sacrifice for those you don’t like.”

Jesus’s famous statements in John 17 are rooted in the profound spiritual unity between the Father and the Son, and with those whom God has chosen out of the world (John 17:6). “I ask 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” (John 17:21). Note the witness to the world is that the disciples are in the Father and the Son so that the world might believe. This is vastly more — deeply more — than being related through a common organization.

The oneness that shines with self-authenticating glory for the world to see is union with the Father and the Son so that the glory of the Father and the Son is part of our lives. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:22). That glory is owing to this: “I in them and you [Father] in me” (John 17:23). From this union with God, and the glory it gives, shines something the world may see, if God gives them eyes to see. God’s aim for this vertically-rooted, horizontal, glory-displaying unity is that he might “gather into one the children of God scattered abroad” (John 11:52).

The ultimate aim of such Christian unity is the glory of God. Hence Paul prays, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:5–7).

What Implications Follow for Us?

1. Seek the fullness of the unity-creating Holy Spirit.

“Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Seek to be led by the Spirit and to bear the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:1822–23) for these are the cogs in the wheels of love. If you are a stranger to the Holy Spirit, you will care little for the unity he builds.

2. Strive to know and spread true views of Christ and his ways.

Seek to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13). “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Share, by every means you can, what you see of Christ. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16).

3. Love Christians across boundaries.

Cultivate affection across differences for those who are truly your brothers and sisters in Christ. Hate serious blunders, not sincere brothers. Humans have never been good at this. And the philosophical and emotional climate today makes it even harder — since truth claims are only seen as a cloak for power-grabbing. But consider what Spurgeon says and seek to become like him. Notice the intensity of hate and love.

Where the Spirit of God is there must be love, and if I have once known and recognized any man to be my brother in Christ Jesus, the love of Christ constraineth me no more to think of him as a stranger or foreigner, but a fellow citizen with the saints. Now I hate High Churchism as my soul hates Satan; but I love George Herbert, although George Herbert is a desperately High Churchman. I hate his High Churchism, but I love George Herbert from my very soul, and I have a warm corner in my heart for every man who is like him. Let me find a man who loves my Lord Jesus Christ as George Herbert did and I do not ask myself whether I shall love him or not; there is no room for question, for I cannot help myself; unless I can leave off loving Jesus Christ, I cannot cease loving those who love him. (The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. XII, 6)

4. Serve Christians across boundaries.

For the sake of a witness to the world, seek out ways to show love for brothers and sisters across boundaries — both the kind of boundaries that should be removed, and the kind of boundaries which commitment to the truth (and unity in the truth) forbids you to remove. Do this for the glory of God. Let Francis Schaeffer be your guide.

Spurgeon: “Unless I can leave off loving Jesus Christ, I cannot cease loving those who love him.”

It is in the midst of a difference that we have our golden opportunity. When everything is going well and we are all standing around in a nice little circle, there is not much to be seen by the world. But when we come to the place where there is a real difference, and we exhibit uncompromised principles but at the same time observable love, then there is something that the world can see, something they can use to judge that these really are Christians, and that Jesus has indeed been sent by the Father.

When all is said and done, ambiguities remain. What kinds of boundaries should define local churches, schools, denominations, conferences, para-church ministries, city-wide prayer gathering, evangelistic efforts?

Nevertheless we are not without anchors. We are not without rudder and sails. We have the stars above and our trusty sextant. In reliance on the word and the Spirit, in humility we will arrive home — together.

John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is the author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship and most recently Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.

“Called, like a Song”, a worship poem from L.Willows (God’s Glory, See Jesus, Holy Spirit)

Why, how- can such music begin to play sweet;
as a lullaby that enters in a dance from far street.
Then comes a season, like a time from ago.
Windswept horizons come forward – they know.

Notes play alone, they enter from afar.
Then sounds a caller, like a bird from a star.
Float-Cloud upon all the listeners there,
swept from heavens above, in God’s rarefied air.

Hush, hear the music, such notes playing sweet;
a lullaby enters like a dance from far street.
Heart, be soft- like the mist in God’s Day.
Called, like a song in the Ancient One’s way.

© 2020 Linda Willows

Daniel 7:13 -“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.”

“The Belief, Vision and Joy of a Quiet Heart”, from Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones (God’s Peace, Sovereignty of God, a new Heaven and Earth)

“Let Your Heart Not be Troubled” by Martyn Lloyd-Jones ​(1899 – 1981)

The greatest need of men and women in this world, is the need for a “quiet heart” – peace of mind, peace of heart, tranquility.  We are all restless and disturbed… there is unhappiness in us, and it is produced by many different issues – illness, accident, disappointment, financial loss, business trouble, illness of a child or loved one, death of someone close to us, war, political chaos economic collapse, etc.  Just when we think everything is going well, something suddenly happens, and our whole world begins to shake and crumble.  The supreme problem is that of trying to face these things and to achieve a “quiet heart” – that is the purpose for the gospel.

–Some say people should just “refuse to think” about their problems, in hopes that they will somehow just go away – “if you’re foolish enough to think in this world, then it is not surprising that you are unhappy.”

–Others say be like the animals and “go back to nature” and all will be well.

–Others believe in “escapism” – we should fill up our lives with as much as we can – entertainments, etc.

–Others espouse the philosophy of “optimism” – things will eventually evolve into a better life; though there are temporary setbacks, ultimately, things will get better (many try this approach).

–Then there are those who embrace a philosophy of “fatalism” – what will be will be; all the thinking and worrying isn’t going to affect it in the least; the trouble with people is that they persist in thinking.

–Next is the “psychological method” – it attempts a kind of positive thinking approach to problem-solving – peace of mind is the objective, not necessarily a change in circumstances; we just need to think of beautiful and pleasant thoughts.

–Then there is the attitude of “stoicism” – they say the one thing we must watch is our “feelings;” our trouble is that we all tend to be controlled by our feelings; therefore, we must become scientific, be objective, and control our emotions.

–Yet another is “mysticism” – this is espoused by the cults and religions like Christian Science, Buddhism and Hinduism – they advocate going into the heart of the universe, losing themselves in the spirit that is at the back of everything.

In the final analysis, all of the foregoing attempts to deal with painful reality are “pessimistic and hopeless” – the actual truth about them is that they are so afraid of life that they dare not think about it; and that is the most profound pessimism I know.  So all these views, at best, are devised just to help the individual get through – they simply help us postpone our problems; they do not resolve them, and none of these approaches give us real joy or satisfaction.  The greatest criticism is that they all leave the problem up to the individual. 

Only the gospel can meet and satisfy our deepest need – Read the stories of the apostles, the martyrs and the first confessors.  It worked for them, and it continues to work today. What seems to be so entirely different about the gospel, is that it always faces facts, it is always realistic, it never conceals anything.  Other teachings and philosophies try to hide the worst from us.  The gospel commends itself to me because of its “truth.”  It says, “in the world we shall have tribulation… there will be wars and rumors of wars” (Jn 16:33; Mt 24:6). 

My problem is not my physical flesh, it’s in my spirit.  I want an explanation of why it is in the position that it is.  There has been one in this world who said to us, “Let not your heart be troubled… believe in Me,” which means, “Come to Me, tell Me your troubles, tell Me all about your difficulty about God, the difficulty of prayer, the difficulty about your weak will and failure.”  Whatever it is that makes you restless – go to God about it.  He is the one who loves you so much, He went to the cross for you.  Said Jesus, “Come unto Me and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).

Believe in the Son of God, who has removed every barrier between you and God and who can give you rest and peace here and now.

Believe in God

– that is the first thing we must do when we are really in a difficult situation. The trouble with us is that we always tend to aim at the “problem” directly, and we always look for some immediate consolation and resolution.

Illustration:  when a man becomes “ill” he generally is not inter-ested in his “disease” as such; what he is really interested in is the “suffering” that he has to endure because of the illness, which is perfectly natural.   A man who sins suffers remorse; he has agony of mind, and the one thing he wants is to get rid of the agony.  But what he really needs is much more than immediate comfort.  Anything that merely gives us RELIEF from the “unpleasant symptoms” of our disease or from our agony of mind is not enough – what we should always be interested in, in every realm, is HEALTH.

It is at this point that we come across the great differentiating characteristic of the Bible – All other methods are simply concerned with giving us “immediate relief” from pain; they are all drugs in some shape or form; they just have one interest – to relieve us.  Many people come to God in that way, expecting to have some “temporary relief of pain;” something that can make them “happy.”

But the Bible teaches us that happiness and joy and peace and the absence of pain and trouble are always “by-products” – the result of something else.  Notice what Jesus did “not” say: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after happiness!”  NO!  He said, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Mt 5:6).  

In other words, if you make happiness your one aim and object in life, it is certain you will never find it; but if you make righteousness as your main aim, Jesus says, you will be filled with happiness!  It will follow.

We must always begin with “Believing in God.”  But what does that really mean? 

To have a troubled heart means that you are “not believing in God aright.”  There is something wrong in your belief. 

The questions to ask are these: 

–“Is your heart at rest as you look at yourself and contemplate the state of the world?” 

–“Is there peace in your soul as you look to the future?”  

When we read Hebrews 11 and take a walk through that gallery of heroes of the faith, we see men and women who lived in this world exactly as we do.  Yet, they triumphed.

They had a joy, a peace and a happiness that all the things they had to endure could not disturb. 

Why were they able to do this?  What was their secret? 

Hebrews gives us the key – “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb 11:6).  First, we must “BELIEVE IN THE EXISTENCE OF GOD.”  

People who do not “believe in God” try to produce a kind of peace by not thinking at all.  Obviously, that is not the solution.  Refusing to think just evades the problem.  And a “quiet heart” is unattainable.  “There is no peace, says God, to the wicked” (Is 57:21) – the wicked are “those who do not truly believe in God.”

God controls everything – He is the only Sovereign.  Nothing happens apart from Him.  We must believe that He is able to do everything, that nothing is too hard for Him.  Abraham believed that God was able to raise Isaac up from the dead, if need be (Heb 11:19).  Mary believed “nothing was impossible  for God.”  Obviously our hearts cannot be quiet until our minds are satisfied – so the Bible answers our minds by telling us things about God to satisfy us intellectually.

You might be experiencing a “peace” right now as you read these biblical comments I have written – even though your heart was troubled a few moments ago – God is instructing your heart with the “truth” and is ushering in His peace.  God created this world, and at the fall of man sin entered into the human family, and that is the origin and explanation and source of all our ills and troubles.  Ultimately, that is a critical part of our belief in God.

Scripture goes on to tell us that God is still in His world;

He has not turned His back upon it; He is not allowing it to sin itself into utter hopelessness.  He tells us that if we “live His way of life” we will be blessed; if we don’t, we will be cursed (Deut 11:27-29).  God loves humanity so much, He entered into our sinful world in the person of Jesus Christ to reconcile sinful man to Himself.  This meant he went to the cross to die  for our sins, and pay the penalty for our sin.  He was buried, and rose again on the third day, and now sits at the right hand of God the Father ever making intercession for us.

By placing our “faith” in His atoning work on the cross, we experience His forgiveness, become His children, and receive eternal life. God in His sovereignty continues to direct and superintend the course of events throughout the universe. . . He allows even cataclysmic things to happen, yet nothing is outside His control.  In the fullness of time God will draw the curtain on human history.

He will allow things to go on until a certain fixed point, but a day is coming when He will bring it all to a close.  There will be an end of time… He will judge the whole world and all its people… then He will destroy all evil… and then He will make “a new heaven and a new earth” wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet 3:13).

God will have fulfilled His old promise of restoring order out of chaos, giving universal blessing to those who belong to Him.  

The vital question for each of us is this:  Do we believe that?  This is part of what it means to “believe in God.”  To believe in God means that we must believe implicitly in the “promises of God” – believing God means obeying God. 

If you really “believe in God,” anything that may happen to you, ultimately, will drive you nearer  to God, and anything that drives you nearer to Him is a “good thing” for you.  When something goes “wrong” it drives us to our knees – “It is good for me that I have been afflicted,” said the psalmist; “before  I was afflicted I went astray”  (Ps 119:67, 71).  God sometimes has to chasten us in order to draw us a little nearer to Himself.  Whatever happens to you, whatever may be your experience, He has promised “He  will never leave or forsake you” (Heb 13:5).  Thus, “believing God” means we are ready to commit our-selves and our affairs into His almighty, loving arms. 

The men and women of Hebrews chapter 11 risked everything upon that belief.  Moses forsook the courts of Egypt and all his privileged position.  Why?  He believed God and had implicit faith and trust in Him.  To believe God means an utter, implicit confidence in what He has said about Himself, and in what He has said about what He will do.  It means casting yourself entirely upon that promise (Prv 3:5-6).  “Let not your heart be troubled” in effect is this: “You find it hard and difficult to believe in Me?  Believe in Me. Trust Me.”

The great need and the quest of all mankind is for a “quiet heart” – “peace.”  Many people camouflage their troubled souls by appearing to be supremely happy and carefree.  How is “true peace” obtained?  The biblical method is that we turn our focus from our “troubles” and start with “God.”  “Let not your heart be troubled” – Why?  “Believe in God.”  Our problem is we are too immersed in the world; too preoccupied with it. What the Bible does for us is drag our attention away from the immediate scene to God – this is not escapism.   This is radically different from the numerous psychotherapeutic methods that focus on psychoanalyzing your past (sometimes for years!); the Bible simply recognizes that man’s fundamental need is GOD.  When you have got a problem, you take it to the “Author of problem-solving” – GOD.

Jesus is absolutely essential for obtaining a quiet heart

– if He has “resurrection power,” He has enough power to quiet the little storm in your life.  Furthermore, He has placed “His Spirit” in you to do the work –

He has been placed in you to comfort you, to help you, and instruct you; so, going elsewhere for help is senseless; it’s like using a “band-aid” for heart surgery.  It should also be encouraging for us to go to God for help, because He abounds in loving kindness, and is mindful of our weaknesses and our frailties – “God gives us grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).  Jesus said, “He that comes to Me I will in no wise cast out” (Jn 6:37).  “Believe in God, believe also in Me.” 

When you encounter troubles in life, you must learn to take your eyes off the problem and turn to God. 

The problem with us is that with our limited perspective, we let our problems and life overwhelm us – we need to step back from our “piecemeal view of life” and see the bigger picture; having a “whole view of life” is critically important.

Start with Paul’s argument in Romans 8:32 – “He that spared not His  own Son, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”  Do not rush at your problem – step back and get God’s perspective.  Just as in science you go from the “known” to the “unknown,” in life   you start further back with “certain postulates.”  Scripture gives us three main propositions for dealing with life’s problems:

1.   Life in this world can only be viewed truly in the light of “the next world –

“Let not your heart be troubled… in My Father’s house are many mansions.”  Once more, this is a question of “perspective.”  Here we are in this difficult, troubled world of ours, wondering what is going to happen – stop and look at the bigger picture!  Life in this world is temporary and transitory.  Life is nothing but a great journey;  we are simply “sojourners” in this life, pilgrims and strangers, travelers (Heb 13:14).  Further-more, life is also full of uncertainty, accidents, trials and tribulations – life is a kind of existence in which you never know what is going to happen next.

No security can be obtained (nor is it promised) in this life – therefore, to live for this life only, and to rely upon it or anything in it, deliberately court disappointment; that (is why the twentieth century was such an unhappy one  “Here we have no continuing city” (Heb 13:14).  The Bible tells us “why” this is the case – it is all because of “sin” – sin makes us try to be independent of God; we think we can get along without Him.  It is as if we are saying, “if only we could abolish death (and science is trying hard to do so), then we could make a perfect world!”

2.   The most important thing for us to concentrate on is “the life of the soul –

We live in a world that is passing away, but we don’t know when it will end.  The Bible tells us there is something in us that is bigger than life in this world – it is imperishable – and it is called “the soul.”  The soul is what matters – not the external life, but the “inner life.”  Jesus said, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul” (Mt 10:28).  Therefore, concentrate on the life of the soul.  Remember the story of the rich, young ruler – God said to Him, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee” (Lk 12:19-20).  It is the soul that matters.

3.   The main function and purpose of life in this world is to prepare us for “the next life” 

That does not mean that we turn our back on this world, or that we despise life here, or that you resign yourself to life in a monastery – no, we are to live life to the maximum, but never forgetting that the main object of life in this world is to prepare us for “the next life.”  That is the whole philosophy of the Bible.  We are “looking for a city whose builder and maker is God” – we are “strangers and pilgrims in this life” (Heb 11:10, 13).  Look at how our Lord lived His life – “Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Heb 12:2).  His focus was upon eternity.  The same can be said for the Apostle Paul – “For me to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21).

Jesus said, “I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, you may be also.”  “Believe in Me.” “Your soul” is the one thing that matters – that is the secret of a quiet heart.  Jesus said, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”    (Mt 16:26).  Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you,  so be certain of your eternal inheritance (Jn 14:2).  Remember Paul’s words, “Nothing can separate you from the love of God that is found in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:38-39).

A day is coming when we will “leave this world” and everything else behind,

-so it is only my soul, my eternal destiny, my relationship to God that matters.  The gospel is not about reforming people or making this world a better place, it is about giving people a “new birth,” a new life, a new beginning.  The effect of the gospel is to enable us to see the nature of life in this world, and to bring us to see that what really matters for us is our soul. 

There is a kingdom of darkness and a kingdom of light, and these two king-doms are here together in this world – ultimately these two kingdoms will meet, and then there will be an end (at the Second Coming).  Everything that is evil and belongs to Satan and his kingdom will be destroyed, and God will make a “new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet 3:13).

If you want rest and peace and a quiet heart in the midst of the darkness, confusion and uncertainty of this world, you will not find it by trusting in ideas on the reformation of this world, for all these things are being falsified before your eyes – you will only find peace in the assurance that “nothing” will ever separate you from the love of God or His presence in your life.  The Christian message is not about international relations or world peace – it is about “knowing God and enjoying Him for all eternity!” 

Again, this does not mean that we are indifferent to the world –

as Christians we should be concerned about the world – but rather than fixing our attention upon the world and this life, we need to focus on knowing Christ and those things that are eternal (Col 3:1-4).  The Lord Jesus said, “Believe in Me;” that is, “believe  in what I am going to do; take the right view of life as a pilgrimage to eternity; believe that I am coming back to receive you to Myself; believe this, and whatever may happen, know that your eternity is safe!”  

And till He returns, “continue to carry out the work He has called us to do.”

When “Hudson Taylor” died, they found in his Bible a piece of paper he used as a kind of bookmark. As he read his Bible, he moved this piece of paper every day.  On it was written this prayer –

Lord Jesus make Thyself to me, A living bright reality, More present to faith’s vision keen Than any outward object seen; More near, more intimately nigh Than e’en the sweetest earthly tie.

~ Martin LLoyd Jones preached these sermons in 1951 at “Westminster Chapel” in London – These were difficult times for Britain… WWII was not long over… people were still anxious and fearful.  These sermons were intended to comfort, strengthen and build-up Christians in their faith.  Jesus said, “Let not your heart  be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me” (Jn 14:1) – the disciples became troubled when they heard Jesus would be leaving them; they had never met anybody like Him before, and now He would be going away – they were filled with alarm and concern, and their hearts were deeply troubled.

From: the Book: “LET NOT YOUR HEART BE TROUBLED” by Martyn Lloyd-Jones
​(1899 – 1981)