Tuesday
Sep082009

No Schism in the Body

Jesus famously fought and prayed for unity among his followers. 

When the apostles squabbled over preeminence or other personal issues, Jesus intervened and reminded them of their equality. James and John sought promotion from “sons of thunder” to masters of the kingdom, causing the other ten apostles to become indignant. Jesus warned the brothers that they didn’t even know what they were asking, telling the twelve as a group, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).

When certain disciples approached and begged the Lord to take their side, he instead tried to expose to them the selfishness and pride that were causing the division. 

When two other brothers presented their inheritance dispute to Jesus, our Lord declined their request to arbitrate such a carnal dispute, instead showing how materialism and greed were dividing the family. “And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’” (Luke 12:15).

When Jesus visited the home of his close friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, he was challenged in much the same way to take hard-working Martha’s side against Mary, “who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching” (Luke 10:39). Disgusted, Martha told Jesus, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me’” (Luke 10:40). Jesus saw the schism in this family he loved, but he didn’t fault Mary for studying, but Martha for worrying. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42). 

As his ministry drew to its climactic close, he looked back at what he had accomplished and pondered the prospects for its ultimate success. The Son of God was about to die for his cause and then leave it in the hands of mere men who lacked education and maturity in so many ways – men more concerned with where they would sit than whom they would serve.

He scheduled a final supper with these twelve men and gathered them in an upper room. The custom of the day demanded that the host provide water to be available to his guests that they might wash their feet before eating. Palestine’s roads were dirty and dusty and travelers wore only sandals upon their feet. Washing others’ feet, however, was a task usually reserved for Gentile slaves, and one accomplished prior to the meal. 

This room, though, was rented. There was no host. No one stepped forward to volunteer his services as foot-washer. Anyone could have. No one did. 

No one, until Jesus himself pushed away from the table, “poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:5). He washed twenty-four dirty feet that evening, including two that were about to carry their owner away to betray the washer. Judas’s feet were clean when he kissed Jesus.

The unity of believers is not only predicated upon doctrinal agreement, but also upon personal harmony, forbearance and selflessness. We endeavor to speak the same things in matters of the faith (see First Corinthians 1:10), but to be longsuffering and open-minded when it comes to matters of personality, opinion and liberty (see Colossians 3:12-14). It is love, after all, that is the bond of perfection.

Jesus stopped to pray in between supper and his appointment with Pilate,  saying to his Father: “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” (John 17:20-21). 

Unity rests upon a sanctifying standard of truth and an attitude of mutual forbearance when personal differences arise (First Corinthians 6:6). 

The apostles were divided because two of them sought preeminence. The same attitude replicated in Diotrephes who bent an entire congregation to his will because he yearned to lord himself over the flock and silence any threat to his authority (see Third John 9-11, First Peter 5:1-5).

The quarreling brothers would have sundered their family in the name of riches drawn from inheritance. The same happens all the time today as siblings and cousins argue over baubles, bequeathals and bonds left behind by the dearly departed. 

The tension between Mary and Martha is even reproduced when fellow believers cannot agree upon what matters most – where the energy and funding and attention should be trained. 

And there is Jesus, praying in the Garden as his ordeal is about to begin, that his followers might enjoy what Paul called “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Unity in doctrinal conformity and in spite of personal disparity.

Paul taught the squabbling church in Corinth a valuable lesson in unity, both doctrinal and personal, by comparing the church to a human body. “But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (First Corinthians 12:24-26, NKJV).

Personal unity depends on spirituality, selflessness and a willingness to serve and sacrifice. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:14-15).