The Influence of Identity on Unity, Part One

BillGuest Blog (Part One)

Rev. Bill Berry served as the pastor for 31 years of a congregation in Marin County, California.    He transitioned to part-time staff at the same congregation and has served there for another 4 1/2 years assisting the church through the transition to a young pastor and positioning the congregation to reach the younger generations.  Over the past 16 years Bill has lead a group of pastors in Marin County to walk together seeking to foster a visible expression of the unity of the body of Christ.  In addition to this he has been to India each of the last ten years seeking to help foster the unity of the church in various cities.  Bill is married to Connie for 40 years.  They have three grown children, all married and eight grandchildren. Bill is also a vital part of the ACT3 Cohort group that meets in 2013-14.

 

There is something amazing and encouraging happening in our day. Throughout the world the Lord is drawing pastors and congregations together to form a visible expression of unity in His Church; this may be by city, county, district, state or even country. The Holy Spirit is initiating concrete answers as a fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer in John 17.  Three times in verses 20-24 Jesus prays for unity (oneness) and unveils that the purpose is that the world would believe that the Father sent the Son.  Jesus indicates here that unity among his followers is a catalytic component of the world coming to the understanding that Jesus is who he said he is and that God loves men and women.  Pastors embracing the call to unity is critical to the unfolding of this in their communities.   To more fully partner with the Holy Spirit in this work, pastors must take a fresh look at themselves and consider whether they are part of the answer to this prayer or standing in the way of its fulfillment.

In verses 22-23 of John 17, we find what may be a hindrance to the answer to Jesus’ prayer.  Jesus prays:

“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent me and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”

Jesus teaches that he has received glory from the Father.  He says he has given His followers (for our discussion here, pastors) the glory He has received from the Father. The purpose of this glory is an organic oneness that is so attractive it compels people to believe.  Clearly, most of the world has not come to know that the Father sent the Son and that He loves them.  Since the world does not yet believe, the question to consider is, “Why not?”  Scripture indicates that lack of unity might be one hindrance to belief.

The “glory” Jesus speaks of produces unity as it is given by Jesus to us, as his followers.  The Father has given the glory, and Jesus has received it.  And we can be assured that Jesus has imparted the glory to his followers. The question is, “Are we living in the glory that has been given?”  Jesus reveals that glory in the last portion of verse 23, “(You) loved them, even as You have loved Me.” Our glory is that we are loved by God. The root of not being able to live in relational, functional unity is our failure to truly live as the beloved sons and daughters of God. Pastors in particular must seriously consider their personal responsibility for this failure.

We are the beloved.  This is our true identity.

Very often pastors find themselves doing ministry in order to create an identity.  In order for there to be unity within any geographic region, pastors and congregations must live their lives out of their true identity, as the beloved sons and daughters of God.  Not doing so affects our ability as pastors and congregations to display the unity that Jesus has conferred on His followers.  This temptation to create an identity for ourselves is a great and very old temptation of Satan.  It is illustrated for us in Matthew 3 and 4.

At the end of Matthew, Chapter 3, Jesus comes to be baptized by John the Baptizer.

John is hesitant, recognizing that it is he who needs to be baptized by Jesus.  Jesus persuades John to baptize him so that God’s covenant plan can be fulfilled.  When Jesus comes up out of the water, the Spirit of God descends upon him, and the Father speaks, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”  These words are critical as Jesus is about to launch out into ministry that will lead to many trials and ultimately to the cross.  With these words the Father affirms Jesus’ true identity.  Jesus is His beloved Son.

Note that he is loved before he performs any ministry.  His identity is not based on his performance.  The Father wants Jesus to confidently live and minister out of his identity, rather than pursue his identity through the performance of His ministry.   This is a key point.  The Father says, “…in whom I am well pleased.”  Again, prior to ministry, the Father announces that he is pleased with Jesus just because of who he is, not because of what he does. Often these words are interpreted as being a public affirmation of Jesus, but they are, just as importantly, the declaration to Jesus that confirms Jesus’ identity, a truth out of which Jesus will live and minister.

As his chosen children, God wants pastors to live out of this same identity.  As sons or daughters of God, pastors are as loved by the Father as was Jesus. Let me repeat: You are as loved by the Father as Jesus.  And this love will never change; His love for you will not increase because you perform some great feat or diminish because you commit some great evil.  His love is constant and ministry is to flow out of this identity as the beloved.  Pastors do not minister to be loved more.

Here’s a problem I have observed: Many pastors are seeking to establish their identity through ministry rather than ministering out of the God-imparted strength of their true identity.  Looking at John 17 and Matthew 3 together, I suggest that many have not yet embraced the glory that Jesus has given to his followers. Rather than living in this glory, they seek to establish their own glory, or their own identity.  Only when one is personally secure as God’s beloved are they able to accept and affirm colleagues as equally loved, and be one with them in spirit.

Immediately following the declaration by the Father that Jesus is His Beloved Son, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by Satan.  Satan arrives at Jesus’ weakest moment and tries to chip away at Jesus dependence on His identity.  “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”  In Matthew 3 the Father declares, “This is my beloved Son.”  And in Matthew 4 Satan poses those words as a question, “If you are the Son of God…”  The devil attacks the Son of God at the place of his identity.  This is where Satan first tempts—the core of our very being.

Satan comes to Jesus and essentially says, “So you have been out here forty days without food.  Where is your Father?  No Father would let his son go forty days without food. You will probably die out here, alone.  He doesn’t really love you.  Obviously he doesn’t have your best interest at heart.  You better take matters into your own hands.  If you are the Son of God then turn these stones into bread.”  The devil tempts Jesus in the areas of security and provision, and entices Him to rely on his own ability to perform and provide.  This is Satan’s attack on the Fatherhood of God, implying that He is not a good Father, that He is withholding something good from His son.

We often experience a similar temptation to doubt.  My brother-in-law walked through a long season of constant, excruciating pain.  There was no relief.  He cried out, “If my son was outside in the cold and about to freeze, I would open the door and let him in.  What kind of a God would let me suffer so much pain without giving me some relief?”  When we do not feel secure or safe, the devil will tempt us to call into question God’s provision and challenge us to seek provision by our own means.  The temptation will be to look at securing what is needed outside of His provision. This can be true in the area of health, finances or relationships.  The devil tempts Jesus to take matters into his own hands, “Secure it yourself!”

When pastors are not secure in their positions as the beloved of the Father, they may be also tempted to seek identity in what they can provide by their own means, which in turn can hinder relating to other pastors.  For instance, the pastor of a small congregation may not want to connect with the pastor of a large congregation because he feels insecure, perhaps judged for not growing the size of his church, so he withdraws from the larger fellowship.  Another pastor may recognize that his salary comes from the congregation he serves and feel if he gives time to the larger ministry of the community his church may not grow and be able to pay him the salary he needs to feel secure.  Another pastor may need everyone to “believe” as he believes in order to feel secure; he withdraws in order to not be “contaminated”.  Instead of resting in being the beloved son, these pastors each seek their identity in the pursuit of security, “I am what I can do.”

Jesus cuts through this old lie of Satan with truth, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”

Life is not found in pursuing our own security and provision, but in believing God’s word.  He has said we are to live in His glory and the result of each of us living in the fullness of our identity (no jealousy, no shame, no insecurity) empowers us to authentically love one another, walk and work with each another, therefore demonstrating to the world that the Father sent the Son.  The people in our communities can only see this kind of unity when the church in an area gives visible expression of their oneness.

Part Two – Friday, November 29

 

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