LOVE AND UNITY are distinctive marks of Christianity, distinguishing it from any other religion in the world. Without them Christianity would only be a system of moral and ethical standards, having no substance to sustain its claim that “God is One, and He is love.” The unity of the Godhead, and love as God’s chief attribute, make God superior to and distinct from all other “gods”. Christianity is not a philosophical religion. Neither is it an organization that simply provides safety and security to those who come under its umbrella. Rather it is an organism that promotes growth and unity, and exhibits the love of God. Without these essential characteristics Christianity, and as a result, the Indian Christian Community in the United States of America would disintegrate leaving only a skeleton of a dead religion. To avoid any such possible deterioration Christians must maintain a personal relationship with God who is one and who is love.
A personal relationship with a God who has such a worthy nature and attribute makes all the difference in the world in identifying what the Christian life is about. It is not just a system of beliefs with certain ideas about a god, but a way of life exemplifying the life of Christ. Christ’s life was one that depicted the love of God and union with Him. To show God’s love in bringing unity between men and toward God, Jesus gave his life on the cross. Jesus laid his life down, being stretched out on the cross vertically and horizontally, thus symbolizing the depth of God’s love and his desire to unite those who were alienated from Him, the vertical relationship, and one another, the horizontal relationship (Jn.15:13). Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant offered His own blood on the cross, asking God to forgive the sins of men, that they no longer be alienated from God, nor be divided among themselves.
Thus, the paradigm for Christian life is derived from Christ’s own life sacrificed on the cross in love for all humanity, and for their unity, not from any philosophy or humanism. Jesus offers love, life, unity, and freedom for all. Accepting Jesus into one’s life means that an individual is agreeing to abide in unity and the love of God revealed in Christ. Thus, Christianity is essentially a way of life displaying the love of God and unity with Him. This is a challenge to any Christian. This is a challenge to the Indian Christian Community in the USA, that unity and love would exist amongst them, their churches, and the next generation of Indian Americans.
The themes of unity and love are not exclusive to the Indian Christian Community in USA. It is an integral aspect of every community, culture, race, color, and ethnic group that has committed itself to Christ. The history of Christianity reveals strife, hatred, suppression, banishment, and even murders as the result of lacking unity and love among people who professed to be Christians. The lack of unity and love among Christians has prevailed for many centuries.
For instance, Christianity became the official religion of the entire Roman Empire under the reign of Emperor Constantine (A.D.312-337), following the Christians’ persecution by Emperor Diocletian (A.D. 284-305). During this period Christianity grew and churches were built, however, divisions and hatred rose among Christians due to differences in doctrinal beliefs. This was disturbing to Constantine, for it caused more distress within the empire already on the verge of crumbling. Therefore, the Emperor Constantine called for a council to meet at Nicea in A.D.325 to resolve these differences. The depth of division is clear from Constantine’s own address to the council. According to Bruce Shelley, “Division in the church, he said, was worse than war.”1 Shelley describes the intense divisions and lack of love that continued among Christians during this period as follows:
Whatever Constantine’s motive for adopting the Christian faith, the result was a decline in Christian commitment. The stalwart believers whom Diocletian killed were replaced by a mixed multitude of half-converted pagans. Once Christians had laid down their lives for the truth; now they slaughtered each other to secure the prizes of the church.2
Lacking unity and love among Christians did not end with the age of the Christian Roman Empire. It continued into the sixteenth century, the age of the Reformation. During this period many Anabaptists (a group who believed in adult baptism similar to the apostolic order) were put to death by drowning for their new belief of adult baptism. The first incident occurred on January 5, 1527, in Zurich when Christians drowned Felix Manz, an Anabaptist leader, for his new and distinct doctrinal belief. During the Reformation years, according to Shelley, “between four and five thousand Anabaptists were executed by fire, water and sword.”3
Although many centuries have passed the same issue, the lack of unity and love among Christians remains even today. The Indian Christian Community in the USA is similarly affected. Denominationalism among the Indian Christian Community is dividing people and wiping away their love for one another. It often seems as if Indian Christians are living for their denominations, rather than to extend God’s heart of oneness and love to others who are in the household of faith.
Denominationalism is a huge wall that separates Christians from one another. It blocks the love of God people should have for one another and causes divisions among them. Therefore, leaving behind a superficial understanding of love and unity, denominations must recognize the important need for these attributes. This realization would bring a change in the Indian Christian community in the USA. This is possible only if we want to learn, understand, and practice the real meaning of unity and love as portrayed in the Scriptures. Thus, what follows is an attempt to understand unity and love in the light of the Scriptures.
Unity in the Light of Scripture
Unity is best understood by looking at a Triune God (three-in-one). Scripture is very specific in delineating the unity of the Godhead. The trinity is a doctrinal issue, yet Scripture declares, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One!” (Deut. 6:4, Mk. 12:29). The Triune nature of God is never a disintegrating factor to his essence. The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are one. Perfect unity exists between them, and there is no division at all because they are one in essence. They differ functionally but ontologically they are one.
The number “one” has significance in every language. It is the symbol of unity. One, as a cardinal number, according to E. W. Bullinger, “denotes unity; as an ordinal [number], it denotes primacy.”4 He further states: “Unity being indivisible, and not made up of other numbers, is therefore independent of all others, and is the source of all others. So with the Deity. The great First Cause is independent of all. All stand in need of Him, and He needs no assistance from any.”5
Both the Old and New Testaments speak of the importance and significance of unity. One of the Psalmists compares its beauty to a precious oil (Psa. 133:1-3), while the Apostle Paul expresses its importance in his epistles. To glorify God, he says, and to sustain peace, joy, and faith believers must live in unity (Rom. 12:16; 14:19; 15:5-6; 1Cor. 1:10; 2Cor. 13:11; Eph. 4:3; Phil 1:27, 2:2). The Apostle Peter, through his epistle, also exhorts believers to have unity among themselves (1 Pet. 3:8-9). He underlines its importance by saying that believers are not to inherit the blessings of God without living in unity. The significance and benefits of unity are many. Importantly, it builds relationships with one another. And without these relationships believers cannot have adequate vitality within themselves to achieve what God desires to accomplish through them. In short, unity builds the Kingdom of God, while division separates one from another, making the believers ineffective in ministry and service to their God.
Love in the Light of Scripture
In Scripture love is a major component discussed to explain the relationship of God to man. Its significance is highlighted in various Scriptural passages portraying its nature and character (1 John 4:7-19; 3:10-23; John 15:12-19; 1 Cor. 13:1-13). Jesus states that love is an inevitable virtue of God needed by all those who want to be His disciples. He commands his followers to love one another, as exemplified in his life (John. 15:12, 17). Loving one another is, thus, a good measuring rod regarding one’s relationship to God. It helps one to discern the integrity of the heart.
The knowledge of love begins with God, for He alone is love. Love is the most won¬derful attribute of God. The love of God is by its very nature quite different from all other kinds of love that are found in the world. In defining this love Tom John states, “Love here is the agape love of God, not storge (familial love), phileo (brotherly love), or eros (sensual love). It is the uncon¬ditional love of God, a divine attribute, which He desires to communicate to the world (John 3:16).”6 Love is not totally compre¬hensible, yet it is the most desirable aspect of the attribute of God. Jesus, in the par¬able of the prodigal son, depicts God’s love and how much He desires to love his people. His love is fathomless (Luke 15:11-32); and its nature and qualities are stated in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
The experience of love cannot be explained metaphysically, but only phenomenologically. For example, a being never exists in another, but only in oneself. Simi¬larly, love of one cannot exist in another metaphysically, however, phenomenologically the experience of love can be self-transforming and self-transcending.7 This means, according to Vacek, “affectively we really exist in another that the others exist in us. As we go out ourselves, we are inwardly transformed by that to which we extend ourselves.”8 This kind of transformation is impossible metaphysically. However, it is possible phenom¬enologically, for this is what Christ has done by emptying Himself. In love for humanity, He emptied certain of his godly attributes to put on the nature (form) of a man (Phil. 2:5-8). An invaluable thought is here attached if we ask ourselves a question, “Can we possibly empty our humanity with all that is in it to become more like God?” If so, then it would be the kind of love - according to the nature of God reaching out to the depth of humanity - as God desires of us.
This is how God reached out to humanity. He emptied himself in love of human¬ity. This kind of love is powerful to transform a sinner into a saint (John 3:16). This is where lays the essence of God’s love, transforming men and women freely, demanding nothing from them at all. To God it was a costly matter, for He had to sacrifice His own Son to extend his love to the world (John 3:16). Scripture states, God “demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Believ¬ers are now justified and reconciled to God through the death of his Son, and having been reconciled they have been saved by his life (Rom. 5:9-11). ¬
Offering one’s life to others is the true test of love. The Apostle John elaborates on it as such: “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). Jesus Himself said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-26). What does Jesus mean by these words? Once a person dies to self a new life begins within, resulting in growth and producing fruit in that person. Being dead to sin, believers are now able to manifest fruit in themselves. This fruit must be nothing but the love of God that was imputed to them by the Holy Spirit at their new birth.
The ¬¬fruit, love, is dormant in believers as long as their flesh is alive in them. Putting flesh to death brings life, and life produces fruit. Believers can put their flesh to death by being crucified with Christ, so they no longer live according to the desires of the flesh, but according to the nature of Christ who lives in them (Gal. 2:20). Thus, being born-again is a matter of dying to self and liv¬ing for Christ, manifesting his love by the power of the Holy Spirit. In short, showing God’s love for one another is not optional for Christians, regardless of their national origin, for it is required of them to uphold their identity as faithful Christians.
Loving Your Neighbor is Foundational to Christian Ethics
Christianity has a foundation, and it is founded on certain principles that rule the conduct and character of Christians. Christian life would become meaningless without following these God-given principles. It is neither to be lived in isolation of others or in some unrealistic utopic fantasy.
Christianity can be summed up in this statement by Robert Roberts, “It is love of God and neigh¬bor, grief about one’s own waywardness, joy in the merciful salvation of our God, grati¬tude, hope, and peace.”9 Principles to live a Christian life are not limited to loving God alone but also loving the neighbor. The Christian life is one with responsibility to God and neighbor. It is a life lived not only to experience the love of God, but also one that responds with the love of God expressed freely to your neighbor.
Jesus in his disposition to the Pharisees declared the first and greatest of all command¬ments in the Law of Moses, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37). “And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Mt. 22:39-40). The Christian life should revolve much around these two commandments. Any hesitation to follow them is a violation of God’s will, and an obstacle in fulfilling His plan and purpose in the life of a Christian.
The importance of loving our neighbors comes in focus only when we realize who they are, and their place in relation to God. Who are our neighbors? Jesus answered this question in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk.25-37). In the story, it is seen that neither priest nor Levite did show any compassion for the wounded needy stranger, who was supposedly a Jew, but by only a Samaritan, who disliked Jews. Thus, Jesus asks the lawyer, “So which of these do you think was a neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” (Luke. 10:36). The answer was, “He who showed mercy to him.” Then Jesus said to the lawyer, “Go and do likewise” (Lk.10:37). The story illustrates that we should never limit ourselves to loving anyone in particular. But we should love including our enemies and godly and ungodly neighbors, if the love of God abides in us. This is not an easy task, however, it is possible when Christians are rooted and grounded in love of God, knowing the width, length, depth and height of that love (Eph. 3:17-19).
Many Christians do not love or have love for their neighbor because they are not rooted or grounded in the love of God. To love a neighbor, one needs an immeasurable level of God’s love in oneself, which is beyond one’s own understanding. In addition, every believer needs the fullness of God in oneself to respond to a neighbor with love.
In the Beatitudes Christ very specifi¬cally points out the Christian responsibility to one’s neighbor. The Sermon on the Mount may not be complete within itself about Christian ethics; however, it contains the essence of Christ’s moral teaching. It requires one to be righteous before God and man having certain prescribed personalities of Jesus. Living a righteous life has always been God’s will for man, both under the Old and New covenant. To this end, Henelee Barnette has commented, “Righteousness as confor¬mity to the will of God is the most comprehensive term for piety in both the Old and New Testaments. It is the sum of the attitudes and actions to be manifested toward God and man.”10 However, Barnette adds, “In contrast to the old, the new righteousness of Christ ‘exceeds,’ is ‘over and above’ it.” 11 This is true in Jesus’ own statement to his disciples, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:20). Jesus continued his teaching, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven . . .” (Mt. 5:43-45).
The ethics of Jesus demand much more than what Jews taught and practiced during his day to be righteous. Jesus’ ethics demands one to love not only his neighbor, but also his enemy. This leaves no room for Christians, including the Indian Christian Community in the USA, to be idle in their relationships with their neighbors. Each of us has to ask this question of ourselves, “Am I righteous according to Jesus’ standards?” If the answer is yes, be introspective and ask again, “Am I the kind of person who upholds the kind of personality Jesus describes: poor in spirit, a mourner, who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker, and persecuted for righteousness’ sake?” If the answer is no, then believers have much work to do ahead of them to walk in the path of righteousness. Those who take their first step in the ways of righteousness are to progress in developing their Christian personalities.
An Assessment on Unity and Love
What do we mean by unity? Does it mean two individuals working together to complete a project? This is not necessarily a picture of unity, for it can mean two people acting independently without any real cooperation. Unity is bringing oneself into partnership and participation with another by which mutual growth and friend¬ship are developed.
In participation with others we are allowing ourselves to grow, and we are also creating a unity with them. In other words, through participation we are creating an atmosphere and opportunity for ourselves to grow, earning our own identity and distinctive perfection. This type of participation is existential in form. It is called “unity-in-differ¬ence.” According to Vacek, this kind of participation brings greater unity among the participants, and it promotes greater personal differentiation.12
Participation should never mean indifference in opinion or elimination of individuali¬ty. Indifference and individuality are vital to one’s personal growth; however, they should not in any way interfere with the unity of participants. Vacek explains this more thoroughly as such: “Participation in God’s kingdom means a move forward to a realm where God will be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28), yet each creature will attain its own proper perfec¬tion.”13
God created us as free moral agents. Therefore, we have a choice of will, whether in participating with God or fellow men. Our choice can make a difference bringing unity or division where we gather for worship and fellowship. Unity is brought in when we act freely to cooperate with God and men. Of course, God is free to communicate, but if there is none willing to respond or desiring to cooperate with Him, then hardly anything can be done. Saul, the first King of Israel, and Balaam the Prophet are good examples of this. Both knew the will of God concerning them, but they disobeyed Him in fulfilling his will (1 Sam. 15:1-3, 10-11, 18-22; Num. 22:9-12, 22).
How God involve those who are unwilling to cooperate with Him? It is simple. God uses His power of love to motivate them. God does not pressure anyone to cooperate with Him, but simply shows his love to fulfill His will. How then should we go about gaining cooperation, partnership and participation from others in our day-to-day life? The door to cooperation is not opened by twisting anyone’s arm, for it only opens when believers are modeled after Christ. Having said this, bringing unity in worship, fellowship, home, and society is not that difficult, for it is only a matter of believers allowing themselves to move freely by the love of God to cooperate with others. This is possible only if they allow the Holy Spirit to work among them. This was the case among the first century Christians; they united, loved, and showed concern for one another when the Spirit of the Lord worked among them (Acts 4:31-32). Stanley Horton states, “The result of the work of the Spirit was a bringing of the people into a new unity where they were of one heart and one soul (Acts 4:32). As Ezekiel 11:19 indicates, the one heart, the unity of mind and purpose, goes with the new experience in the Spirit.”14 Therefore, believers must take note in allowing the Holy Spirit to work among them to appropriate His counsel, guidance, and strength that the impossible may become possible, resulting in unity and love.
The importance of unity and love among believers is never to be under- estimated, because we are inter-dependent in meeting the needs of our lives. Scripture reminds us of this stating, “But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Cor. 12:20-21). This metaphor is a reminder to believers that God is their head and they are His body. Therefore, neither one can do anything without the other one’s cooperation. Believers’ willingness to cooperate with God is so important, since as Charles Curran describes, “God is powerless to intervene directly in human history . . . The empowering work of God will be mediated by free human beings.”15
Freedom of choice in life can either refuse or invite God to be involved in one’s personal life. God does not need anyone’s consent to sustain what He has already created; however, He needs cooperation from a person to be involved in his life. God called Abraham, and he was willing to cooperate with Him in fulfilling His will. A choice to cooperate with God would result in blessing of God according to His eternal purposes. Therefore, what kind of choice would the Indian Christian Community in the USA make? Would they be moved by the power of God’s love and enabling of the Holy Spirit to cooperate with Him and others resulting in unity and love within the body of Christ?
A Critical Evaluation on Love and Freedom
Freedom is essential to life; however, many are living in bondage because they are missing the basic ingredient in their lives to find that freedom. They do not realize the importance of having agape love in their heart to set themselves free from bondages of life. Many are striving to fulfill their personal ambitions, forgetting this journey only brings more bondage than freedom. The source of freedom lies in the heart that is filled with agape love.
A vast gulf exists between the love of God and drives and desires of life. Our fleshly desires are the pride of life and lust of the eyes (food, shelter, sex, power, position, prestige, and so on), while agape love seeks to care for others. Our personal drives of life cause us to be self-centered, egoistic, and neglect those who are deserving of care. This group of people only loves those who are channels to meet their own drives. Others rise to meet the needs of the needy for the love of God drives them.
Agape love has no barriers or boundaries. It travels widely to reach out those who are desperate in every situation. It breaks down the walls of race, color, and cultural prejudice to provide peace, comfort, and love to those that are oppressed and depressed. This is where the freedom of life rests. Freedom of life comes as one moves out of oneself with agape love. Freedom in life is experienced when one freely loves others, because one’s love for the beloved displaces self-centeredness with the goodness and virtue of God. In essence, that person no longer is preoccupied with the drives of personal life, but enriched by the fulfillment of giving the love of God to those who deserve it.
Unity and love are the distinctive marks of Christianity, including the Indian Christian Community in the USA, for the Lord has commanded everyone to treasure these values in their lives. Believers are expected to develop unity and love within themselves by putting off the works of the flesh (dying to self), disciplining their lives, and commit¬ting to the Lordship of Christ. They are to also open their lives to learn to manifest the love of God. As they do so, God’s love will be perfected in their lives bringing unity and love among and for others.
1. Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1982), 115.
2. Shelley, 133.
3. Shelley, 269.
4. E. W. Bullinger, Number in Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1967), 50.
5. Bullinger, 50.
6. Tom John, Never to be Barren, but Fruitful: A Study Guide Designed to Develop Christian Character and Conduct According to the Nature and Attributes of God (Tulsa, OK: Earth to Eternity, 1996), 9.
7. Donald Gee, The Fruit of the Spirit (Springfield, MO: Gospel, 1928), 17.
8. Edward C. Vacek, Love, Human and Divine: The Heart of Christian Ethics (Washington, D.C: Georgetown University, 1994), 66.
9. Robert Roberts, Spirituality and Human Emotion (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans, 1982) 1.
10. Henelee H. Barnette, Introducing Christian Ethics (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1961), 56.
11. Barnette, 56.
12. Vacek, 23.
13. Vacek, 24.
14. Stanley M. Horton, What the Bible Says about the Holy Spirit (Springfield, MO: Gospel, 1979), 148.
15. Charles Curran, “Providence and Responsibility.” Proceedings of the Forty-Fourth Annual Convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America, 1989, 58-59.