As we discovered in our last post Jesus, right before He crossed the Kidron Valley and headed into the Garden of Gethsemane and onward towards the cross, offered one last prayer for His disciples. He prayed for those who stood with Him in the Upper Room, those who would be lost, confused and scattered in just a few short hours. He prayed for Peter and James and John and the others. And what was His prayer for them? That they be protected and “kept from the evil one” (John 17:15).
But Jesus wasn’t finished praying. He also prayed for “those who believe in Me through their word” (John 17:20). That’s you and me, the church. In His last hours with His beloved disciples, Jesus prayed for you and me.
And what was the focus of His prayer for each of us? That “they (you and I, the church) all may be one, (to what extent) as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, (why) that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20). Jesus prayed for unity, for oneness, and for loving harmony for those He called His own.
In other words, Jesus prayed for the one thing that seems like such a foreign concept to His church today. He prayed for unity, for the church to live as a family, brothers and sisters each loving each other.
Why is that ideal so elusive? Why is it so hard? Why can’t we, as the church, realize “how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity”? (Ps. 133:1)
Time to Put the Gloves Down
For one thing, we like to fight. And boy, we seem to fight all the time. We can duke it out, toe to toe, mano a mano, with the best of them. We’re scrappers, battling warriors, like Rocky and Apollo, Ali and Frazier, or Leonard and Hagler. Oh yes, the church can fight. No doubt about it. Just look at our history. But can the church get along with each other? Can the church, you and I, live in unity, in oneness, and in love of each other? Can it, or we, be forgiving and accepting of each other? Can the church live in peace with itself? That’s the question that so desperately needs to be answered and is the essence of the final prayer of Jesus. But sadly and unfortunately, the answer seems to be, “No.”
Did you ever wonder why?
Most church fights and our shameful lack of love and unity with each other is based in the simple sin of selfishness. That’s right. We’re selfish, self-centered, and more concerned about our wants and needs and comfort than about God and His glory— or God’s people, for that matter. The writers of the New Testament were keenly aware of this tendency we all have. Listen to their warnings and admonitions to the church.
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition (or, self-interest, rivalry) or conceit (or, empty pride, haughtiness), but in lowliness of mind (or, humility, meekness) let each esteem (or, value, consider, honor, treasure) others better (or, over and above) than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests (or, for himself), but also for the interests of others (Phil. 2:3-4).
In other words, don’t do anything out of self-interest or jealousy or rivalry, but in all humility consider and honor others over and above your own self- interest. In fact, put their interest first, before your interests, as a fiduciary, like an older brother. Sounds like we may have found an antidote to church fights, doesn’t it? But there’s more.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people (or, those empowered by the Holy Spirit and living in Him, our goal) but as to carnal (or, fleshly, base, with a natural affinity for sin), as to babes (or, an infant, newborn) in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal (or, fleshly, base). For where there are envy (or, jealousy), strife (or, contention, wrangling, verbal disputes), and divisions (or, dissensions, factions, separations, discord, to tear apart) among you, are you not carnal (or, fleshly, base) and behaving like mere men? (1 Cor. 3:1-3).
Yikes. Since the church is fighting and quarreling with each other and breaking up into factions, they are unable to be fed mature, adult spiritual food for their growth but still have to be breast or bottle fed. And that’s more than sad. For an adult to be bottle fed is a heartbreaking, pitiful sight. It means something is terribly wrong, something is broken, stunted, retarded, deficient, defective, flawed, damaged and is in dire need of healing or repair.
That’s the condition of the church today. It’s no wonder we have yet to see the winds of revival blow across our land.
The phrase one accord means “having the same mind and the same temperament.” It means to have “unanimous consent, to be all together in vision, mission and purpose.” Not exactly how we would describe the church today, is it?
But it wasn’t that way in the beginning. In fact, one of the key requirements missing for revival is the coming together of the body of Christ as He intended. We’re all interconnected as a family, and we’re created and designed to function as one body, one man, one voice, one mind, in one accord with each other and with the Holy Spirit. Anything short of this is sheer chaos.
Do you want to see what happens when a group of ordinary men and women from all different walks in life, filled like we are with the Holy Spirit, commit themselves to live according to the new life given to them no matter what? Do you want to see how that plays out in real life? Good. Just look what happens when the church is unified and in one accord.
In the Upper Room After the Ascension
Just after Jesus’ ascension into heaven and the promise of His someday return (Acts 1:9-11), the 120 “returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet” and entered into a large upper room (Acts 1:12-13). Everybody probably stared at each other wondering what the plan was and who was in charge. Jesus was gone and all they had left was each other. The natural tendency would have been for several of the men, those natural, gifted leaders, to gather around themselves a coalition of like-minded followers and break from the large group and form their own sub-group, their own gang or clan or tribe. “Hey, come join us. We know what’s going on and what needs to be done. There’s a place for you with us. Come join, you can be somebody important in our group. The others don’t care about you but we do. We need you.”
Maybe there would be several of these coalitions, these ad-hoc splinter groups, all centered around a different charismatic personality that would then try to get others to follow their leadership and vision for the future. Promises would be made, under-the-table deals cuts, errors in the thinking, planning and character of the other leaders would be pointed out to the crowd. You’ve been there, you know how things like this play out. And they never end good, do they?
Questions, in the form of accusations, would be publically hurled at the inner circle of the pre-ascension leadership. Now, with Jesus gone, the 109 who were not the elite, who were not the handpicked, chosen disciples in the room could exert their own authority to create the church the way they wanted to. They could band together against the current leadership and make their own demands and decisions and choose for themselves, like the Jews in the wilderness wanderings, who they would follow and who would lead them home. No longer would they remain disenfranchised, under-represented, second-class citizens. No longer would they ride the bench as a second-string player hoping for a chance to start. It was now their time, their day in the sun. Today things were going to change, things were going to be different. They had a destiny to fulfill and the future was now firmly in their own hands. The coup, the revolution had begun. All that was necessary was to fire the first shot.
“Hey Peter, what’s your plan?” they would ask with mocking sarcasm. “How are we going to do what Jesus commanded us to do by sitting in this stuffy room all day, huh? And what about our jobs and our mortgages? What are we suppose to do about them? Hey Peter, I’m getting hungry. We’re all getting hungry. What’s your plan to feed all these people, Peter? Have you even thought about that, Peter? Come on, I’m getting bored, Peter. How long do we have to sit around here doing nothing, Peter? When are we going to do something, Peter? I’m tired of wasting my time, Peter. Hey, what’s your grand plan for all these people, Peter? What do you have to say for yourself, big guy?”
When one faction’s demands are not met by the twelve they soon force a vote of confidence to see if the majority will continue to follow the current leadership. And, when that vote is finally taken, say 60% yea and 40% nea, those on the short end of the vote storm out in disgust vowing to all who remain that “they will build the church the way it was supposed to be built, the way Jesus wanted it built,” and “anyone who wants to be part of something new and hip and exciting and cool and relevant should go with them.” I know, we’ve all seen it before. Yawn.
Something like this would have most certainly happened in the church today. We’ve all been through it and have the scars to show. But that’s not what happened back then. Not by a long shot.
Living in One Accord (and not in the car)
The Scriptures say, “these all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication” (Acts 1:14) in the upper room waiting for the Holy Spirit to come upon them as Jesus had promised (Acts 1:8). And they waited, with no end in sight, for ten full days. They ministered to each other, they prayed together, they worshipped together and shared stories with each other— basically they just hung out with people they may have not known as well before the ascension. They made new friends and forged new life-long relationships. There was no indication anyone left the group, or broke off into a separate splinter faction, or griped and complained about anything. The faithful 120 who entered the upper room after the ascension were the same 120 that experienced the glorious birth of the church ten days later. It was, and still is, an amazing picture of church unity and acceptance and of the church functioning as one body with one Head— Christ.
And all those who remained together, in one accord, received the greatest blessing imaginable: God, Himself, came to live within each of them, forever. They experienced the birth of the church, the blessing of Pentecost. In fact, this group remained and prayed for ten days in unity and in one accord until the blessing came. But they had no idea when they started that the Holy Spirit would fall on Pentecost. It could’ve been ten weeks, or ten months, or ten years. Didn’t matter. And if any of them would have left before the promise of Acts 2 and retreated back to their homes or jobs or old way of life… well, they would’ve missed the bus. It was those who stayed, who endured and persevered, in unity and fellowship and one accord that had their lives changed forever.
Which group would you have been in? Which group are you in now? There is so much more for us to learn from these guys.
And by the way, this group of faithful believers lived in unity with each other before they received the promised Holy Spirit. That alone says volumes about their character and commitment to each other, doesn’t it? It also raises the question: What’s our excuse?
Next we will look at the birth of the church and try to discover what they knew and practiced that we don’t. How could they grow from a small, family congregation into a megachurch in one afternoon and still remain united.