My high school voice teacher once chose a particularly challenging piece for me to sing in competition. Bernstein’s I Hate Music is a series of five songs sung from the perspective of a child who hates music but loves to sing.
The piece is discordant with harsh sounding phrasing sung in dissonance with the accompaniment. It’s abrupt, unpredictable and awkward to sing – let alone listen to. But while musically off-putting, the dissonance is precisely what makes it memorable and I can still sing most of the songs verbatim.
I’m actually a harmony kind of girl. I love seamlessly layered chords, complex madrigals, and classically blended choir music. I enjoy listening to everything from barbershop quartets to gospel choirs. And I love singing back-up on our church worship team because it means I get to harmonize with the lead.
Harmony in music is meant to be pleasing to the ear and enjoyable. Dissonance is the exact opposite. It creates tension as the ear identifies that something is not right.
And so it is within the body of Christ.
Scripture is clear that we are created to exist in harmony, but dissonance within the body of Christ has plagued us from the very beginning.
Paul speaks to this issue in Ephesians:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. – Ephesians 2:14-18
It is understandable that there would be tension and clashes between the Jews and the Gentiles within the early church. The Jewish people held fast to ceremony, formality and legalism. As God’s people, they felt morally superior and were appalled by the pagan practices that defined Ephesian culture. The Gentiles were former Artemetis worshipers – they were once heavily into the occult and witchcraft. They had bad manners and bad habits that offended most Jews of the day.
These two groups didn’t get each other – at all.
Yet Paul emphasizes that Christ destroyed the hostility between the two groups. Both groups were made and loved by God. He reminds the Gentiles that they are now fellow citizens with God’s holy people. The two are now one family under one God with the Holy Spirit unifying them for one purpose – to become the very dwelling of Christ.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22
Culture clashes today might look different than those between Jews and Gentiles. But even now there is no shortage of opportunity for division and even hostility among believers.
Pick your poison: POLITICS – JEALOUSY – MONEY – JOCKEYING FOR ATTENTION – THEOLOGY – CRITICISM – UNFORGIVENES – JUDGMENT – HOSTILITY – PERSONALITY DIFFERENCES – PRIORITY CLASHES – OPINIONS – GOSSIP
I am going to confess that I’ve let relationships be affected by everything on that list at one point or another. And I would wager that most Christians I know could say the same thing.
But Scripture is clear that we are to lay down our differences for the sake of unity. Christ poured out his blood and brought peace not only for eternity but for here and now. He destroyed the wall of hostility between the Jews and Gentiles and also between all of us.
God’s desire for the church is that we are strong and unified.
We are told to act like it:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. -Ephesians 4:1-3
We are instructed to be patient and bear with one another in love. The word love used here is agape love. This is an active love. A choice to love. A love that is not circumstantial or earned. It is the same love God has for us and for his son.
This love … this agape love … this is how we are to love fellow believers.
It seems almost impossible to love like that in a world rife with pride, jockeying for position, impatience and intolerance. Our flesh cries out to be seen, heard, and right. So how are we supposed to love like this? Pursue unity like this? Obey this command to lay down our very selves not only for Christ but for each-other?
Look closely at the last sentence in verse 4:3: make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Jesus, when we believe in Him, gives us the Spirit of God to unify us.
Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. John 7:37-39a
For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 1 Corinthians 12:13
The Spirit is described as living water flowing within. Rivers of water refresh, revive, give life and allow growth. The Spirit of God – our holy, perfect, peace-loving and life-giving God – flows within believers and enables us to be joined together as one.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:4-6
But Scripture doesn’t indicate this is a passive process. We are to come to the water and drink. We are told to be humble, be patient, bear with one another, make every effort to pursue this unity.
All of this is active – requiring us to not only choose unity but to fight for it.
Disharmony, on the other hand, is the result of passively caving to the will of the flesh. It might seem bold and strong to assert your opinions or feed tensions within the church, but often all you are doing is acquiescing to selfish behavior and pride.
This behavior tears the church apart and leaves the world remembering us for our dissonance – not the beautiful harmonies of lives worthy of our calling.
The world is crying out for a harmony so perfect and mystifying that it bears the mark of God.
Why would we want to be remembered for our disharmony? Why would we want to look like a bunch of kids who hate music but love to hear ourselves sing?
Lets all renew our commitment individually to harmony within the church.
Lets rise above the fray and take our place the standard bearers of unity as we are commanded and equipped by the Spirit to do.
It starts with me and it starts with you. It means sacrificially and intentionally laying down our pride over and over and over again and saying, “I choose unity.”
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11