There were two hunters on the plains of Africa. One was a lioness. The other was a tiger who had just moved in. The tiger bragged about what a great about what a great huntress she had been back in India, how there was no prey she could not bring down. The lioness proposed the tigress be given a chance to prove herself. "Look out near the trees." said the lioness. "Do you see the large elephant, bigger than all the others?"
"I see it." said the tiger.
"I know that I could take that elephant if I used all my strength. Can you say the same?"
Determined to prove herself the best, the tiger stalked out towards the trees. She leapt upon the elephant and in a moment, was tossed aside. She returned minutes later, badly injured and completely demoralized. "I used all my strength and was defeated." admitted the tiger. "I'd like to see you back up your claim."
The lioness left, but not in the direction of the elephant. She returned in a few moments with the rest of her pride. The group of them worked together to bring down the elephant.
The tiger was livid. "You cheated!" she shouted. "You used your family!"
"No one ever said I couldn't use my family." replied the lioness. "On the contrary, I said I would use all of my strength. My family is my strength."

This is only one illustration of the power and importance of unity. I could easily give you a dozen. The bible is full of pleas for unity. Jesus' biggest concern for His disciples was for their unity. Paul in his epistles begs for unity between Christians and between churches.

It is obvious that it is important to be unified. But why is it important?

The first reason that comes to mind, though far from the biggest, is because it is pleasant. As we read earlier...

Psalm 133:1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
At Deer Valley Baptist, the church I attended in high school, we liked to sing this verse in Hebrew. Sadly, this church split not long after I left. It's one thing to sing about unity and another to practice it.

But when unity is there, it is a great comfort and pleasure. I can tell you that it is a pleasure to be in the presence of God's people. I know that I need fear nothing. I can talk with any one of you about whatever's on my heart. While I have become cynical in my relationships with non-Christians, I know I can trust you and I feel at ease with you.

And of course, I can't complain about the carry-ins and church picnics.

Unity allows us to share our strength. As we saw in the opening illustration, it multiplies our strength by multiplying the number of people setting their paws to any given task. But there is more than that. Each of us has a very specific set of gifts and talents. None of us has all of them. By uniting with one another, we complete one anothers' abilities.

1 Corinthians 12:7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
14 For the body is not one member, but many.
This passage says many many things about unity. It tells us how we make up for one another's weaknesses. How if one member suffers, we all suffer. How if one member is honored, we are all honored.

None of us are excluded from the body because we we aren't like another. If you can't speak in tongues, you're still part of the body of Christ. If you don't see spirits like I can, that doesn't mean you're any less a child of God than I am. If your gifts never extend into the supernatural at all, does that mean you are not part of God's family? By no means.

1 Corinthians 12:29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
I have known a number of people who became jealous of others because they had less spectacular gifts than others. But Paul tells us we should covet the best gifts. Does that mean we should be jealous for the flashy ones? Not at all. "best" does not mean showy. In 28, Paul mentions teaching first and miracles after that. This is not a coincidence. Paul is telling us that teaching, a seemingly mundane gift, is a better one than miracles. Does this mean that miracles is a bad gift? Of course not. No more than your pinky is bad for being less important than your heart. They aren't in competition. They are meant to work together.

Look at the gifts we have represented here. I'll just name a few of them. Helps. Hospitality. Exorcism. Encouragement. Raveling. Forethought. Contageous joy. Teaching. Preaching. These are just a few of the gifts in our little church family. But how often have we needed an exorcism is here? Raveling, the ability to see how gifts work together, hasn't proven necessary until this very moment.

But gifts are not what is truly important.

1 Corinthians 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
The most important aspect of unity is that we love one another. What does this mean? Look at 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. If we have love for another, we are patient, we are kind to each other. We do not envy, we do not boast, we don't behave proudly, placing ourselves above our comrades. We are not rude. We don't seek our own interests over others. We are slow to anger and when we forgive, we make a conscious effort to forget the offenses done to us. We protect one another. We trust one another. We hope together and we persevere for one another. And most importantly, we never fail each other.

Our gifts are temporal. prophecies, tongues, special knowledge... they will all pass away. Love is what will remain.

And love is what marks us as special. Love is how you spot God's REAL family.

John 13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
What does the world see when they look at us? I don't mean a casual glance. I mean a real HARD look. This is what they should be seeing:

People who enjoy one another's company, but not in a superficial way. They are so open and trusting of one another that as their defenses come down, their spirits seem to flow together, like the cells of a fungus, maintaining individuality yet exchanging vital nourishment, each replennishing and reviving the others. They act unselfishly, honoring one another without seeking their own agrandizement. They do not seek to control one another, but trust each other to do what is right and good, accepting whatever they get. If it is good, they rejoice together. If it is bad, they gently correct the root of the problem together. If it is unintentional harm, they shrug it off and say "no offense exists where none is taken." At any time, each individual is willing to give up everything he has and subjugate his own desires for the good of any other member of the group.

This is the ideal to which od has called us. If we are living a lifestyle of love, there will be a difference which the world can see plainly. Look at the first century church. They practiced communism and they made it WORK! They were able to do this because they did not have the selfish attitudes which invariably creep in and poison communist systems today. I like to tell people that I am a communist. I think the ideal is great. It just doesn't work because it depends on an absence of selfishness, something secular human societies will never be free from. But if we are living like the children of God we are, we can rise above those flaws that plague the rest of the world.

Others try to mimic this. occults will often bandy about words like "family" and "unity". But their true colors quickly show through. They offer a sense of family and community, but nearly always at the expense of the individuals other relationships. We don't do that. In fact, in taking on one another's burdens, we often become involved in each other's outside lives, helping one another strengthen those bonds of biological family, marriage, friendship, and even work relationships.

Of course, we're not perfect, and we won't be until we are renewed in Heaven. But we are constantly approaching perfection. One of the greatest reasons God ordained the church is so that we could build one another up. We help each other to grow by encouragement, teaching, preaching, directing one another toward God and offering one another opportunities to do good.

And of course, the purpose of the body when it is apart is to spread the gospel, thus bringing others into it.

My challenge to the unsaved is the same as it always is. We invite you to be part of this family.

To the saved, I encourage you to encourage each other, as I know you shall. To grow together with each other and love each other. But also to understand that you have a valuable and important lace in the body of Christ, no matter what your calling is. Do you remember back several months ago, when I asked you to make a list of things which give you joy? I'd like you to add this knowledge- the knowledge that each of you has a special and unique calling, whatever it may be- to your joy list.

God bless you all.

Pastor Oren Otter
March 11, 2006

Today's Reading: Psalm 133:1-3

1 A Song of degrees of David. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
2 It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
3 As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.