In the first of three devotionals on strengthening unity in my communities (marriages, families, churches and workplaces), we reflected on the unifying power of approaching others in the same attitude in which God comes to us. We reminded ourselves that what others experience in their relationship with me, reflects my experience of God in my own relationship with Him! If I want to experience closer communion with others, it begins by strengthening my vertical fellowship with God, allowing Him to change my character to better reflect the beauty of His holiness.
Our second principle that helps grow close connections with others is to focus on our responsibilities and not our rights.
In every relationship we have both rights and responsibilities. Which one we choose to emphasise will greatly affect the quality of the bond of fellowship we build with others.
Back in 1997 The Corrs’ song “What Can I Do To Make You Love Me?” lamented the feeling of helplessness whenever love is unreturned. Have you ever tried to make someone love or respect you? Perhaps in frustration, you tried pointing out it was their duty and they owed you? We all know, in more rational moments, that never goes well!
Experience tells us that when we put more emphasis on rights above responsibilities, loving, close relationships – the very thing we desire – is the very thing we harm.
In a Christian marriage, for example, it’s true that the Bible tells wives to submit to their husbands, and a husband might claim that as his right. But he is also given a corresponding responsibility: to ‘nourish and cherish’ his wife as his own body to the same degree that Christ loves His own Body, the Church (Eph 5:29). Which response will build stronger bonds of unity; emphasising his right or his responsibility?
A wife may think she has a right to expect her husband to be the spiritual head of the household. It’s true that he has been given that calling by God. She on the other hand has been given a responsibility to love and respect her husband as her worship response to Christ. What happens to unity if she focuses on what her husband is failing to do, rather than taking responsibility for what she is failing to do? (Matthew 7:3-5)
What about parents? Should they focus on their right to expect their children to be obedient? Or on their responsibility, to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord, and lovingly discipline them when they are disobedient?
Does being in leadership give us the right to expect everyone agrees with, respects and honours us, or at least honours our leadership position? Or does it give us a responsibility to humbly serve others with the same love and acceptance Jesus shows us? This same love made Him willing to die for you while you were still a sinner! (Romans 5:8)
When we stand before Jesus at the end of our earthly lives, will He want to know if we got everything we were entitled to, or how well we loved those He put in my care?
True Biblical unity is a sign that the power of the Gospel is at work in a Kingdom community, for only those who have had their selfish hearts melted by Christ’s undeserved grace are transformed to seek the goal of unity in their communities.
In our final devotion, we will consider how we can maintain unity even while we address some tough relational dilemmas that inevitably arise when we live in close connection with others.
Father God, where would I be if You had demanded Your right to be worshipped perfectly, without also taking the responsibility on Your own shoulders to make that righteous demand possible, so that this broken, sinful creature could be recreated in Christ, the Perfect One? Lord I confess Your command for unity exposes my sinful desire to be the centre and to be served. I humbly ask for more grace to change my heart. With St Augustine I pray, “command what You will and grant what You command!” Amen.