In November of last year, many of the men from GPBC joined one another at a Men’s Retreat in Turner, Oregon. It was a rich time of fellowship and fun. To have had the opportunity to spend time studying and thinking of things that God had to say to us was a blessing for all. As I have thought about that time of relaxing and simply hanging out, I was struck by the unity displayed among this group of men and some of the experiences many shared with me and I know with one another.
The undergirding theme of the weekend was “love” and more specifically “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (I Timothy 1:5, ESV). The unity manifest in this relatively small group does not happen naturally. It takes sacrifice and commitment, both of which run contrary to our human nature. Now if you are anything like me you’d probably agree that it is so much easier to love “me” than to love “you.” I had to confess to myself that I am afflicted with the terminal disease I call “I-I’tis”. (I hope none of you suffer the same thing!) In retrospect, I now think about what things or behaviors I manifest that impact that unity. And of course I have had to admit that at the heart of it is my “I-I’tis”.
Just a few days ago, while reading John 17, I saw something that had not stuck me as it did that day. This chapter in John is Jesus’s prayer for those that belong to Him and are submitting to Him (vs. 6). Jesus’ prayer was, in part, that we be “one.” He repeats it three times; verses 11, 21 and 22. Then in verse 23 I was really stricken by these words: “I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” This prompted me to think about His command from earlier in the book where Jesus said “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 men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Of course it made me ask myself; how do I love those who attend GPBC?
As I looked more carefully at John 17:21, it became pretty clear to me that it has to be by His indwelling life. This of course led to the question of how does His life manifest itself in me when I am so stricken by my “I-I’tis”. I was reminded again that it is a work that I am utterly inadequate to perform, but He is. So how then does His life and His love work its way through my disease. Not as simple as it may seem. If it is His work then what is my job? I was again reminded that I must turn to Him (II Corinthians 3:16), and He will deal with my disease. It is His work that brings about the change.
What is so remarkable about this is that when we turn to Him we are taking to heart His prayer for us. So, when we help one another turn to Him, we are in practice loving one another, and, as Jesus says, the world will notice. They will see something that cannot be explained in any other way than by Jesus. It is God at work. It is His Spirit that enables unity. We are called to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). My hope and prayer for this body of believers is that we strive to safeguard the unity we have in Him.