Monthly Archives: January 2017

Finding Unity

A congregation is never stronger than when it’s united and never weaker than when it’s divided.

Jesus talks about this principle in Matthew 12:25, not in the context of an individual congregation, but it’s certainly true of congregations. “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.”  A divided congregation is a damaged and weak congregation. There are signs of division in a congregation – fighting, arguments, but also more subtle issues like gossip and backbiting.

Division makes us weak, but unity makes us strong.  Unity in the faith is closely connected to strength in the faith. Ephesians 4:13-15:

till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ…

Unity in the faith, in Christ, offers a degree of protection. It makes us stronger against the intrusions of false doctrine.  Division makes us vulnerable; unity makes us durable. A united congregation can take some blows; it can handle adversity; it won’t crumble under pressure. Unity makes a congregation stronger because it makes people stronger.

Our aim is to be one. Within a congregation of God’s people there are many people – with many personalities, many talents, many strengths, and many weaknesses – and yet there is only one body. Romans 12:5: “…so we, being many, are one body in Christ…”  1 Corinthians 10:17: “For we, though many, are one bread and one body…”  1 Corinthians 12:12: “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.”

What does this unity look like, and where will we find it?

The Nature of Unity

A union is not the same as unity.  Every marriage is a union, but not every marriage has unity. Every employee is in a union with their employer, but that doesn’t imply there is unity. Every congregation is a union of believers, but not every church has unity.

A congregation must be united in thought, in speech, and in deed. This is the theme throughout the New Testament.

                               Romans 15:5-7: “Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.”

                               Philippians 1:27: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel…”

                                           Philippians 2:1-2: “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy,  fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”

Unity must also be based in truth. A church can be united and apparently strong and still completely wrong.  The goal is to be united with each other by being united in God and Jesus. This was Christ’s prayer in John 17:20-21:

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.

The Pursuit of Unity

Unity in the body is an effect of effort, and it’s not easily achieved. In the Apostle Paul’s pleas for unity he describes all of the necessarily attitudes and actions required in the pursuit of unity. Ephesians 4:1-4:

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body…”

Similarly in Colossians 3:12-14:

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.  But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.”

Perfect unity does not require perfect people. If we wait for people to fix all their faults before we’ll accept them in Christian unity, we’ll never have unity. If we must wait for people to be just like us before we can join them in Christian unity, we’ll never have unity.  If we are not willing to forgive and be forgiven, we will never have unity.

~ Thaddeus Morris

Anger

The third question we encounter in the Bible comes from the lips of God: “Why are you angry?” (Genesis 4:6).  It was addressed to Cain, and it concerned his response to God’s rejection of his offering.  God had rejected it, and Cain should have repented of it.  But he didn’t.  Instead he got angry.

Anger fills the pages of Scripture.  Some form of it (anger, indignation, wrath, rage, fury) is explicitly mentioned in at least 550 verses of the Bible, and that’s not including the places where it seems to be clearly implied (e.g. 1 Samuel 25:13, 33).  And though both genders experience anger, it is noteworthy that the Bible never cites a specific woman being angry.  God is angry with the wicked every day (Psalm 7:11)—and is therefore the one angered more than any other in the Bible—and thirty-plus men are recorded as being angry, but never once does the Bible explicitly state that a particular woman is angry.  God speaks once of a type of woman who is angry (Proverbs 21:19), but this stands as an isolated case.  And this accords with our own experience.  Men seem to be more inclined towards anger than women.

The New Testament writers use three distinct nouns when discussing “anger” or “wrath.”  Noting the differences in these words can be helpful in understanding the proper exercise of anger.  The two most common were thumos and orge.

Thumos is the more intense of the two, sometimes referring to rage, and is nearly always rendered “wrath” by the King James translators.  It is used of people (Luke 4:28), God (Romans 2:8), even Satan (Revelation 12:12).  It is more passionate and sudden than orge, but also more temporary.  It is the word behind “outbursts of wrath” in 2 Corinthians 12:20 and Galatians 5:20 (NKJV).  It is never used positively concerning people (though God can rightly exercise it, see Romans 2:8), is the word used to describe mob anger (Luke 4:28; Acts 19:28), and is listed among the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:20).  Orge, on the other hand, though it also usually appears as “wrath” in the KJV, speaks to a less intense form of anger.  It is less sudden, has a more enduring quality, and can occasionally be righteously experienced by us, as it is by Jesus (Mark 3:5), though this must be done with care: “Be angry and do not sin…” (Ephesians 4:26).

The third word rendered “wrath” in the New Testament appears only once.  It is used by Paul when he enjoins the Ephesians to “not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26).  The word is parorgismos, and speaks to a state of being intensely provoked, irritated, exasperated.  Paul, then, was not saying that anger (assuming the cause is righteous) must always be abandoned before the day is over, but rather that we must take care not to nurse anger.  If the cause is justifiable, the strong displeasure (the orge) may have occasion to remain for a time, but the intense provocation we felt when initially angered must go, and soon.  Anger can be right, but a provoked, angry mood is not.

So what is a righteous cause for anger?  When is it right to have orge?  Jesus, of course, is our example.  Though His two cleansings of the temple are often cited as occasions on which He was angry, the Bible never says so.  Instead, it says the driving force behind His first cleansing was “zeal” (John 2:17), and concerning the second makes no comment.  Jesus may have been angry, it is true, but we cannot say so with certainty.  The only occasion on which we can be certain that Jesus got angry is recorded in Mark 3:1-5.  On that occasion, Jesus was angered by the attitudes and actions of hard-hearted men who cared nothing for the truth, but who instead were looking only for something of which to falsely accuse Him.  When asked a simple but important question, they refused to answer, not because they didn’t know the answer, but because giving it would have justified Jesus.  And they didn’t want Jesus to be justified.  This kind of willful sin made Jesus angry…as well as sad:  “And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts…” (Mark 3:5).

It is right to be angry at sin.  Not all the time, nor even frequently, necessarily, but the time does come.  Probably, our first response to sin should be grief.  This is the Spirit’s response (Ephesians 4:30), and note how grief and anger are mentioned together in Scripture:  Genesis 34:7, Genesis 45:5, and Mark 3:5.  But situations can arise when anger is the proper response.  When Saul was informed of the monstrous evil that Nahash, the king of Ammon, was planning to perpetrate, out of pure spite, against the innocents of Jabesh Gilead, the Scripture says:  “[t]hen the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard this news, and his anger was greatly aroused” (1 Samuel 11:6).  Anger was rightly aroused in Saul, even accompanied by the Spirit’s presence.  Saul would either have had to be spineless, or wholly without moral conviction not to have been angry.  Furthermore, anger, the strongest of our emotions, served to prompt him to take the necessary steps to right the wrong (1 Samuel 11:7).  Anger is empowering, and once in a great while that power can serve a good purpose.

But here’s the catch.  Though anger can be right at times, and its empowering qualities a help, neither generally turns out to be the case; hence, James’ injunction to be “slow to wrath (orge), for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19, 20).  Some of us engage in internalization, some of us ventilation.  Some of us clam up, some of us blow up.  Some of us are pressure-cookers, others of us volcanoes.  Some of us hurt ourselves, others of us hurt others.  And therein lays one of the evils of anger.  Anger is intended for destroying problems, but too often it becomes the tool for destroying people.  And this is so wrong.  “Let all things be done for edification (building up)” (1 Corinthians 14:26), not tearing down.  And so Paul says to put it off (Colossians 3:8) and put it away (Ephesians 4:31), rare exceptions being understood (Ephesians 4:26).

~ John Morris