Thursday, September 13, 2012

John 17:20-23 Part 2

Knowing the emphasis on unity in this prayer of Jesus, I turned this morning to see if Jon Courson might shed more light on the subject in his Application Commentary: New Testament. Well, he actually devoted several pages to these verses, so I thought I’d share some of what he has to say.
He writes about two reasons why the unity of believers is so important to God. First, it gives Him pleasure to see His children united, in the same way a mother is pleased when her children are playing together, sharing toys, and saying kind things to each other. Doesn’t that just warm your heart when that happens? Second, power is found in unity. A group united behind a purpose is so much more powerful than an individual.

Then Courson deals with the issues that he believes lead to division, and I’m going to summarize here, because I think many of them are so closely related. He mentions competition, favoritism, and jealousy separately, but I believe they are inextricably entwined. There are several examples from the Old Testament that Courson mentions: Cain and Able, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. Favoritism, or perceived favoritism leads to competition and jealousy. When a parent favors one child over the others, or even gives more negative attention to one child to the point of almost ignoring the others, division in the home follows.

Whether Dad favors his jock, who is the football all-star, or Mom’s attention is focused on the rebel who is creating chaos due to his drug use, or even if the parents, by necessity, have to focus on the child who is chronically ill, there is a breeding ground for jealousy. Satan just looks for those kinds of footholds! How carefully we have to consciously balance our time, attention, and affection among our children!

In the church we see competition emerge as the local small churches compete with the megachurches and their flashy programs. It’s easy to get caught up in the counting of heads, or assume God’s greater blessing on the church that pulls in millions of dollars in tithes and owns a TV station, etc. The good thing about having a variety of churches is that there is something for every personality. We need to be careful that we don’t fall into “church envy!”

The other things which Courson mentions are related to gossip and legalism, which I think are also closely related. He points to Genesis 9:20-22, when Noah gets drunk and lays naked in his tent. His son, Ham, sees him lying naked and runs to tell his brothers. Oh, don’t we love to expose the sin of others! Often we do it under the pretense of asking for prayer for someone: “Pray for Betsy. She’s having an affair!” Instead, how much more merciful would we be to follow the example of Noah’s other two sons, Shem and Japheth. When Ham ran to them with the story, they took a blanket, walked in to their father’s tent backwards so as not to glimpse his nakedness, and they covered his nakedness. What a better response! It’s what Christ has done for our nakedness!

Courson points to the cure for division in the church, but I believe it also applies at work or in the home He writes about how some people prefer the high liturgical churches, with “...the swishing of robes, the chanting of choirs... the burning of incense ...the flickering candles.” Others prefer the “low liturgical order” with complete informality, where “...there’s prophecy, tongues, an interpretation, some healings, and some spontaneous sharing...”

Other churches, which Courson characterizes as the left-leaning, social activist churches, don’t care so much about the liturgy, but focus completely on “...caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless.” The other extreme would be the churches of fundamentalists, “who tend to congregate on the right side of the spectrum...” grounding their “...people in the Word, in the importance of doctrine.”

While these seem to naturally point to division, Courson sees the making of unity: “Put all these flavors together - the height, the depth, the left, the right - and they form a cross. And that’s where fellowship is found. Not in doctrine, not in activism, not in causes, not in crusades. True fellowship is found when we finally say, “The Lord is bigger than I thought.” You see, gang, the Lord looks at those high liturgical churches as a reflection of His holiness; at those who worship sans liturgy as a reflection of His power; at “left wing” activists as a reflection of His compassion; at “right-wing” fundamentalists as a reflection of His righteousness.” (Courson, P.577-581)

Finally, Courson reminds us that we are ALL sinners saved by grace! We can live in unity if we remember that “live in the shadow of Calvary.” Amen!  

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