Unless anyone desires to protest or prove otherwise, I am assuming we all agree that the Church is divided. The embarrassing walls between us are many: racial classifications, generational preferences, denominational traditions, liturgies, creeds, pet-doctrines, music preferences, music preferences, music preferences and, not to mention, music preferences. Frankly, if I cared to squander the time, I believe I could mention another fifty walls of separation to the list of what fragments the Church. As I have been studying afresh chapter seventeen in John’s Gospel, I believe I have found a way to accurately communicate not only how we are divided, but the core reason of why we are divided.
Why does the Church remain divided? Because we too easily live for our own lesser glory instead of the exclusive glory of Jesus.
Most of us recognize John 17 as the unity or oneness chapter in John’s Gospel. Yet, in the twenty-six verses of John 17, Jesus also mentions the concept of glory no fewer than eight times. He speaks of the Father’s glory, His own glory, and the glory He has imparted to believers. It might be wise for us to say that John 17 is the unity through shared glory chapter. Shortly before He was to go back home to the Father, Jesus offered the words of John 17 as a prayer to the Father. He declares that He is already gone in verse eleven, in the sense of ‘My bags are packed and I am out the door.’ He does not even try to veil His joy at going back to the Father to enter into that fullness of glory which He set aside when He came to earth as a baby, thirty-three years earlier. Jesus, the Son of Man, is rejoicing at the nearness of that moment of entering back into full glory with the Father as the Son of God. I lack the space in this post to stress how essential it is that we remember that the ultimate aim of all that God does on earth is to reveal His glory. Yes, it is ALL about Him in the end. Jesus lived for the glory of the Father on earth (John 17:1-4). He revealed before His death that the time had come for the Father to glorify the Son (John 17:1,5). He was soon to leave planet earth, and ascend back to His throne. John chapter seventeen is Jesus’ prayer to the Father to empower all of Jesus’ followers to also live for the revealing of God’s glory. Ponder this verse: “The glory that You have given me I have given to them, so that they may be one even as we are on. (John 17:22).” In this singular verse, Jesus reveals that the key to Christians’ oneness with each other is the receiving of God’s glory as the driving motivation in our lives. Jesus has given us the glory of God in some sense of impartation and, as Jesus lived to reveal that glory, we are to live to do the same. It is only in this shared revelation and commitment to live for the glory of God that Christians are able to solidify in practical living what we have been given in Kingdom position.
The reason the Church is divided is because the clear majority of believers are still seeking to establish some glory that is different (and inferior!) to God’s glory. It is extremely painful to acknowledge, but we are glory hogs until we have made it our life’s aim to live only unto the glory of God. To achieve this, we have to proactively exterminate all the other lesser glories which scream for our allegiance.
If our identity is rooted in our race or nationality, then we will live for the promotion (glory) of our particular race or nationality. When we prioritize the generation into which we were born, then our glory will be in those generational norms, and we will fight to protect (glorify) them at the expense of honoring other generations. When we believe ourselves to be correct about certain doctrines, and consequently believe all who disagree with us are incorrect, we may divide from those true believers and take glory in our theological positions. Many Christians and churches glory in their preferred music styles, and consequently mock, criticize or disparage those with differing views on music; these people will split off from their brothers and sisters in order to protect their stylistic glory in their own preferred flavor of worship for a total of about 2 hours a week when the church gathers. Sadly, I see today the recurring practice of separating within the Church on the platform of our political views – we glorify our political allegiance with what we communicate while, in the midst of doing so, we ignore or diminish the glory of Christ who is Lord over our lives. Frankly, that’s the most foolish reason I know of for us sacrificing the oneness in the Church. Do you see how all of this works against the prayer of the Savior who desired that our glorying be aimed like a love-laser at the only One who is worthy of it? Jesus’ words in John 17 are crystal clear: the non-negotiable element for our oneness with each other is that we are all relentlessly, intentionally, enduringly and unwaveringly living with the spiritual compulsion of bringing glory to the Father through Jesus Christ.
When we embrace this pursuit of Christ’s glory as the driving force in our lives, we will find ourselves unwilling to add any more bricks in those walls which divide us. These bricks are primarily laid, not with our hands, but by our tongues. We divide by what we communicate. We Christians often accentuate the places wherein we differ, and then blatantly ignore the reality that we both pray to the same Savior when we go to bed that night. We make the temporal the foremost, while allowing the eternal to be reduced to background noise. We build walls – tall and thick – with what we communicate. Yet, Jesus’ name, in the end, will be foremost, not ours. When we carry our cross, deny ourselves and follow Him, His fame will become our greatest thirst, and we will forgo our presumed rights in order that He remains central in our words, thoughts and actions. We will actually become compelled to tear down those dividing walls which protect these lesser glories. We will not be casual about what divides us any more – we will be incensed against it. We will turn the corner personally on the issue of laying down our lives, taking up our crosses, denying ourselves and following Jesus. I hope that doesn’t sound too radical for you, because Jesus actually made it a requirement for anyone who desires to follow Him (Luke 14:33; Matthew 10:38; Matthew 16:24).
I have run out of room to write any more. Let me offer you this helpful diagnostic: search out that thing that you fight for the most often and most intensely. You might be right, and everyone else be wrong in this area. Consider, as you fight for this thing, if it centralized in glorifying Jesus… or if it might be attached to something lesser. It might not even be your own glory, just a lesser glory. A temporary glory. A fading glory. An unworthy glory for you – one who has been rescued from yourself, and brought unto the One whose glory is the punctuated theme of the endless ages.