Unity. What is it? How is it maintained? Why is it important? Unity is a word that is hard to define, but easy to identify in its absence. We know how to recognize it, but subjective qualities and states of being are very hard to define objectively. Because we can sense unity/integrity, and because we are disturbed in the absence of it, let’s investigate how to maintain it and why it is so important.
Hebrews 12:11-15 lays the foundation for unity/integrity: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Discipline, painful, trained, implying repetition, hard work, momentary pain and a lack of total autonomy — after all, discipline and training are imposed on the disciple by some outside source. The disciple submits himself to the authority of the trainer. Old habits are traded in for new, developed through repetition, correction and pain. This process is recognizable in an athlete, or a soldier, or a musician.
For Christmas this year, Ellison (my daughter) received a guitar and guitar lessons, and she got really excited. Excitement was replaced by discipline and pain, and at times frustration. This is because there was little unity when Ellison first played the guitar. The music said one thing, and Ellison agreed to play a “C.” But her fingers were not yet unified with her mind, and she painfully tried to move from the previous note to the “C” and to do it “on time.” Ironically, the first piece of music that Ellison labored to perfect was “Ode to Joy!” In the beginning, the only joy was in the song title, as discipline and training produced a barely recognizable tune. But with practice and practice and more correction and practice, the melody has been achieved more fluidly, more quickly and with fewer errors.
What if Ellison did not try to strengthen her fingers for correct placement on the frets? What if she decided to play on any string at any time? What if she did not strive to get better? What if her instructor did not care if she did things correctly? What if she just got mad at the difficulty of the whole process and gave up? Who wants to feel inadequate at something when you could just listen to Taylor Swift, or Amy Grant, or someone else who did not give up on the discipline of learning to play the guitar?
Hebrews 12:11-15 calls for Christians not to get frustrated and give in to old habits when the discipline and training of living out our calling gets painful. Why do the admonitions of verses 12-15 (lift, strengthen, make straight, strive, see to it) sound so aggressive? Because living with integrity in the Christian life, and producing true unity in a family or in a church is much harder than playing a guitar. And because it is more difficult, the training will at times be more painful. But the fruit of an integrated/unified life or family or church is much sweeter. You should see the smile on Ellison’s face when “Ode to Joy” sounds like “Ode to Joy!”
So, let’s lift our tired hands and strengthen our weakened knees, and set our feet into a straight path with endurance for the purpose of healing. Let’s strive with our all to live in peace and holiness (without it no one will see the Lord). And then let’s see to it that our lives reflect God’s grace, evaluating and reapplying all the discipline necessary to get it right, God’s way. Imagine the smile on the face of God, and on the face of his children, when the disciplined grace of our lives looks like the grace of our Father.