Unity, Apart from the Gospel, is Self-Exaltation

God loves unity.

In John 17, Jesus’ high priestly prayer just before His death, He could have prayed many things for His followers, and He did. But one of the recurring themes in that passage of Scripture is unity:

  • “…protect them by Your name that You have given Me, so that they may be one as We are one” (v. 11).
  • “May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You” (v. 21).
  • “May they also be one in us, so the world may believe You sent Me” (v. 21).

But unity is not an end in itself. In fact unity, apart from the gospel, is self-exaltation.

There was another group of people, years and years earlier, who were unified, but they were unified around the wrong things:

“At one time the whole earth had the same language and vocabulary. As people migrated from the east, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:1-4).

These people had all the ingredients any marketing consultant might tell you are essential for a group to accomplish great things together. They spoke the same language, they had a big goal, and they were motivated to take action. The problem was they were unified around the wrong thing, and when you unify around something other than the gospel the end result is always going to be self-exaltation.

This is a good caution for us. It’s good for us to remember that just because we all agree doesn’t mean we are right. That’s why our unity cannot be based on ourselves – our opinions, our preferences, our ideas. There must be something outside of us – something more reliable than us – that is driving our unity. We must, in that sense, come to unity by way of self-denial.

This is the way of following Jesus. It’s that we deny ourselves and our preferences, our aspirations and our dreams, and instead we adopt the posture of a grateful servant. This is where true unity is found. It’s found in the humility of those who are truly committed to doing the will of God, and committed to seeking it out together. If we don’t have that posture, then our unity is likely going to do more harm than good. So while it might be effective and pragmatic to simply find something – anything – to unify around, if that “thing” is not driven and founded in the gospel, then we will end up worshiping the goal itself:

“So from there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth, and they stopped building the city…” (Genesis 11:8).

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