I’ve been seeing and hearing the word “unity” tossed around a lot lately.
In this volatile cultural and political climate, it seems like many of us want the arguing and tension to go away. I totally get it. I tend to avoid conflict like the plague, and while sometimes this leads me to making mature and unselfish decisions, more often it leads to a place where I am making my decisions based on fear.
And that’s not a good thing, but that’s a post for another day.
Today, I want to talk about unity. And I don’t think I can avoid the tension here any longer without addressing it.
Do you know what story I thought of first when I was thinking about unity?
It’s a Bible story, where people banded together with a common purpose and accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. And it’s not the story of Nehemiah I’ve seen shared on Facebook recently. The story I thought of portrays unity, but not in a positive light. I’m talking about the story of the tower of Babel. Genesis 11 describes it this way:
“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the earth” (Genesis 11:4).
I’ve heard lots of reasons this was the wrong move for the early residents of what would one day be called Babylon.
I’ve heard they were literally trying to reach heaven, like the ladder Jacob dreamed up seventeen chapters later.
I’ve heard that with the flood such a recent memory, they were trying to secure their own safety against God’s righteous judgment.
I’ve heard they were wrong because of the simple pride of their boasting.
I’ve heard they were disobeying God’s command to spread out throughout the earth by gathering in a city.
I don’t know which of these was the real problem, but for one reason or another, God disapproved of their tower. He says “If as one people speaking one language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6) So God disrupted their unity by scattering their languages.
There’s a lesson to learn here friends, and it’s not that unity in and of itself is a bad thing. But we can see clearly from this story that unity is not the most important thing.
There are times and places where unity is important, even essential, because of the goal that unified group is trying to achieve. Having unity in my marriage gives my kids security, makes my family strong, and brings me a lot of joy. Having unity in my church allows us to glorify God, demonstrate Christ-like love to the world, and testify to his coming kingdom.
When our hearts cry out for unity with our culture, however, we have been deceived. Unity within the church is possible because of Jesus. Unity in the world, as we see in Genesis 11, is possible because of sin. Unity between the two is impossible.
This reminds me of another passage of Scripture, one we usually just use to talk about romantic relationships, but I think it is especially relevant here:
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said, ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ ‘Therefore, come out from them and be separate,’ says the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17).
It is not God’s will for us to be unified with those outside the church. We don’t hate them. But if we really love them them, we cannot try to yoke ourselves together with them. If you try to bring light and darkness together, they cannot both continue to coexist.
Either the light will illuminate the darkness or the darkness will snuff out the light.