So what has love got to do with unity? Everything!
When God revealed to me a whole new understanding of Christian unity in Christ’s mission – what I call missional-ecumenism – I began to share this message as widely as possible. Over time I came to realize two things.
First, if I teach and practice our Lord’s will for unity in Christ’s mission then I need to love more deeply than I have ever known. This love would have to be both relational and inclusive. My church was genuinely too small. I had limited the borders of my church to those who embraced my theology, my culture and my preferences. I soon realized that I did not need to change my understanding of the church so much as I needed to have a vision of the church that was much bigger than anything I had ever understood. This journey began in the early 1990s and continues today. The mountains and valleys that I passed over and through in the subsequent years have revealed to me that my deeper problem is not a unity problem so much as it is a love problem. This is how I came to understand that “our love is too small.”
Second, the obvious point of our Lord’s prayer for unity is that we share in his heart. Jesus’ heart is filled with love for the Father and the Father deeply loves the Son. Remember, the “glory” that he speaks of throughout this prayer is revealed in his showing his Father’s “deeper, hidden nature” of love. God is love and Jesus is the ultimate revelation of divine love. If we would begin to understand God’s love, then we must learn to gaze more intently at Jesus. Whatever else we see in other portions of the Scripture, especially in the darker portions of the Old Testament (as we shall see), we must realize that God is love. John expressed this very clearly in his first chapter of his Gospel.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known (John 1:14-18, NRSV).
Clearly God loved Israel. He gave them his law for guidance and protection. The law was good. But “grace and truth” came through Jesus who is “God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart . . . [who] has made him known”
If we are to learn how much we are loved then we must know Jesus better. Why? Because he is the one who singularly reveals the Father’s heart to the whole world. And if we learn how much he loves us we can truly love God, and then others, with a love that is not too small.