When I was nineteen years old, I started making a careful study of Steps to Christ. It details how to become a Christian and then how to live the Christian life. It is a very interesting book. In the second chapter it says that if Satan could be taken to heaven, he would not enjoy it. Not only would he not enjoy it, he would find heaven a place of supreme torture.
That is an interesting point. At least it was to me. I always thought that heaven would be the most wonderful place for anyone. Ellen White went on to say that if the sinner could be taken to heaven, he would not enjoy it either. You see, it is not really an arbitrary decree on the part of God that excludes sinners from heaven. God knows that if He should take sinners there, they would not enjoy it. If God took you to heaven right now, would you enjoy it? Evidently, if God took the majority of the people to heaven right now, they would not enjoy it.
The gospel does not just take away the guilt of our sins. It works a change in our hearts so that we can be taken to heaven and enjoy it. If you could not have happiness in heaven, you will not be happy here in this world, no matter how much you have. When I was pastoring in North Dakota, one of my church members, who had a large farm, told me a story about a man that lived near him. This man owned the largest wheat farm in the United States. He was a very wealthy man.
The area where he lived was along the Red River Valley. For the past four thousand years (since the flood) in the spring time, the Red River has flooded and deposited silt on the soil in the Red River Valley. In the summer time the waters would go back down leaving an almost coal black, alluvial soil that grew bountiful crops.
This man had a very productive farm, and since he was wealthy everyone knew him and thought that he was in a very enviable position. But for some reason, it did not make him happy. One morning he road off in his truck and did not come back. After a while people started looking for him. They found him in a secluded section of his farm, where he had put a gun to his head and ended it all. So, all the riches and possessions he had did not make him happy.
Even heaven would not make you happy unless a change occurs in the heart. This is the change that Jesus prayed for in John 17. He prayed that His followers would be one, would have unity, just as He and the Father are one. (See John 17:22.) It has been almost two thousand years since this prayer was prayed. This is the prayer that the devil is determined will never be answered. But I believe the Father is going to answer Jesus’ prayer, but it has to be answered through you and me.
Have you ever been in a home where there is such unity and harmony that you enjoy being there? As soon as you walk in the door, you can feel that it is a wonderful place. This is the kind of home that all God’s people are to have. When it happens in the homes of God’s people, then it will happen in the church, and as it happens in a local church it will spread around the world.
The devil is at work in every church and family to keep this from ever happening. The devil is a liar. Every time there is a separation or a divorce, in a Christian family, the devil says, See there, it cannot happen. And every time there is fighting in a church the devil says, See there, it cannot happen.
However, the devil is much more deceptive than just stirring things up into contention and fighting. One of the greatest deceptions in the world in the last days will be a false unity. Christian people all over the world will think they are seeing the greatest revival and reformation ever. Most of the world will be involved in this unity: “These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.” How did they get to be of one mind? “I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.” Revelation 16:13, 14.
Here we should notice some things about this counterfeit unity and how it works. Number One: The counterfeit unity is a unity to the system. In Jesus’ day it was the church organization. The Pharisees decided that anyone that would confess that Jesus was the Christ, would be cast out of the synagogue. (See John 11.)
They could point back to their history and say, “God is the One who ordained our church organization.” That was true, but notice where it went. Caiaphas the High Priest soon said, “Nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one Man should die for the people and not that the whole nation should perish.” John 11:50. He was saying that they must get rid of Jesus or have their church structure destroyed. Nobody would ever do that again, would they? If any church structure tells you to do something contrary to the Bible or to your conscience and you do it, you have made that structure a god. You are not following God, you are following a system. The first commandment says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” Exodus 20:3. That was the problem with the leaders of our church in 1888. Ellen White wrote to them in Testimonies to Ministers, in an article called, “Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me.”
Everything that the angels do is organized, and it is right for God’s people to be organized. But an organization must never take the place of the Bible or your conscience. The elders, the deacons, the officers in the church should be determined never to try to be conscience for anyone in the church. We try to be an encouragement in the church, but we will not be conscience for someone else.
That is what happened in Jesus’ day, and that is what is going to happen at the end of the world. Church organization can be placed above the Bible and the conscience. When that happens it does not matter what the name of that church is, it is wrong. When my brother was a pastor just a few miles from here, people said to him, Why do you not get in harmony with the structure? He said, “I am sorry, I cannot do it with a clear conscience. I am a Protestant and I have to live by my conscience.”
Those same reasons still exist. People ask me, Why cannot you be in harmony with the Conference? Because of my conscience and the Word of God. For us to unite would be a false unity. When you make a church structure a god and it becomes conscience for you, that is a false unity.
Number Two: False unity has the power of the state. There are legislators in countries around the world that think that the way to have unity is to pass laws to bring uniformity. Laws like that are in the works in the United States, Europe, the Pacific Islands, Australia, and China.
Constantine thought the same way, and that is what brought on the Dark Ages. In the Dark Ages, if you had a different religion than the king, you could be killed. Revelation 13:14–17 says that the same thing will take place at the end of the world.
Number Three: Who will people be following? For some people the church system or structure becomes their god or their conscience. For some people it is the state. But for some people it is a person and that is going to be a problem in the last days: “All who dwell on the earth will worship him [the antichrist power], whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Revelation 13:8. If your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, you do not worship this power, false unity or the church structure. Christians believe in obeying all the laws of the state as long as they do not require them to violate the laws of God. If the church structure or the state tells a Christian to do something that is contrary to God’s word, the apostle Peter said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29.
There are a number of other things besides the false unity that can prevent unity from happening. Worldly policy will prevent unity. This is the “If you favor me, I will favor you,” policy. And this is unsanctified worldly policy, which displeases God. It is paying favors and admiration for the sake of gain. It is showing a partiality for certain ones expecting to secure advantages through them. It is a hard thing to see one’s own errors, but everyone should realize how cruel is the spirit of envy, rivalry, distrust, fault finding and dissension.
Many people say, Pastor John, worldly policy (politics) is how the whole world runs. It may be, but it is not how the government of God runs. The Bible says that God is no respecter of persons. James 2 says that if we exercise partiality toward the rich instead of the poor we are guilty of sin! Worldly policy will prevent unity because we have our favorites. Jesus took special pains to be friends with people who did not have friends. He did not have favorites.
It is easy to understand how this worldly policy can prevent unity. Many churches are divided into two groups, the “in group” and the rest. Jesus Christ was a friend of the friendless, those who are not in the “in group.” He got in a lot of trouble with some people for this. All the “in group” said this Man is nothing but a drunkard and a winebibber. They said He was a friend of the tax collectors and of sinners.
This is something for us as a church to pray about. Who are the people that you and I know who have no friends? Those are the people we need to be reaching out to because that is what Jesus did. They were all equal in His eyes.
Feelings of contention will prevent unity from developing in the family or in a church. How does it work? This is from an article Ellen White wrote on unity in 1887. She wrote: “The Spirit of God will not abide where there is disunion and contention among believers in the truth. Even if these feelings are unexpressed, they take possession of the heart and drive out the peace and love that should characterize the Christian Church.” Testimonies, vol. 4, 221. Often if we have feelings of contention we think that if we do not talk about them then we are guiltless, but even if we do not talk about it, peace and love will be driven out of the church.
We need to remember that our church is to be a family. Jesus said to the people in His day, “You are all brothers.” Matthew 23:8. We are to consider each other in the church as our brothers and sisters. Primitive Christians addressed each other as “Brother or Sister.” They addressed each other that way because they were members of one family. They had unity and harmony. That custom has fallen out because unity and harmony has disappeared and there is contention and strife. Christians in church now call each other Mr. and Mrs. Will we ever get back to the old greetings of “Brother or Sister”?
I would like to get back to that place. I would like to have a revival and reformation that would cause this to happen again. This reformation is a change in the heart. We have to go to the Lord and say, “Lord, I want all feelings of contention to come out of my heart. I do not want it any more.” We cannot take it out, but the Lord can.
Sister White said about these feelings of contention: “They drive out the peace and love that should characterize the Christian Church. They are the result of selfishness in its fullest sense.” Ibid.
Unity is also kept from happening because we are too severe and sensitive. The same people who are too severe are too sensitive. “We are too severe upon those whom we suppose to be in error, and are very sensitive to the least blame or question in regard to our own course.” Ibid., 222.
What is the problem? I am too severe on the other person and I am so sensitive about myself. Can that be changed? It can if we will surrender to Jesus. He wants to change us completely. The reason for all this contention, worldly policy, and the reason that we are too severe and too sensitive is because we do not have the love of Jesus in our hearts.
“And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:26. So, the reason we have these problems is that we do not have the love of Jesus in our hearts.
Here is another thing that keeps unity from developing within the church. This is a real problem for some individuals, pastors, the wealthy, professional people, and highly educated people. “He was the majesty of heaven, yet He stooped to minister to the humblest having no respect to persons or station. Our Lord after performing the most humiliating office for His disciples [washing their feet] recommended them to follow His example. This was to keep constantly before them the thought that they must not feel superior to the lowliest saint.” Review and Herald, January 18, 1887.
Who is the lowliest saint in our church? People have different ideas who it is. But whoever it is, we are not to feel superior to the lowliest saint, the lowliest believer in Jesus. The Majesty of Heaven came down and washed the feet of His disciples to teach them that they were to serve each other.
The history of the disciples reveals that in a church where feelings of superiority are manifested there will not be unity. That was one of the biggest problems for the disciples. They were in controversy and strife over who was to be the greatest. Jesus kneeled down and washed their feet. He acted the part of a servant of servants. He showed that He did not feel too superior to perform the lowliest humble service for any of His followers. And it is still that way. Jesus said that we are all brothers regardless of how much education, money or experience we have.
What keeps unity from happening? I had a teacher in elementary school that taught us that before you say something, count to ten. The trouble was that I could count to ten too fast. I found that I needed more help than counting to ten. I needed divine help to control my tongue. James 3 says that no man can tame the tongue. It is full of deadly poison and will destroy the unity and harmony in your home and church.
“Be pleasant and cheerful. Remember that love is the power that binds your children to you. Keep your words and actions free from anger. Do nothing that will destroy the harmony of the home. Let the sharp words that you are tempted to speak die unspoken. Such words wound and bruise the hearts of the hearers.” Signs of the Times, September 16, 1903.
“There is to be no sharp speaking, no fretful scolding for angels of God are walking up and down in every room. Little mistakes may be made but words of censure arouse feelings of retaliation and God is dishonored. Any word spoken thoughtlessly or unadvisedly should be retracted on the spot . . .We are to remember that as Christians professing to work in unity, we must not act like sinners whose sinful words and works unless repented of will condemn them.” In Heavenly Places, 182.
There is nothing unchristian about going to someone in the home and saying, I am sorry and I want you to forgive me. The Lord wants us to learn to stop speaking stinging, sharp, fretful words to the people in our homes whom we love and who love us. And when we learn it at home, things will change in the church.
“And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one.” John 17:22. The glory is His self-sacrificing love. The angels will study this throughout eternal ages. (See The Desire of Ages chapter 1.) That is the mystery that Peter said the angels desire to look into. I am not an angel, but I want to understand and experience it also. If we experience it, we will have to know more than theology, we will know Jesus. We will have to study His life and meditate upon it and say, “Lord, what are You trying to teach me by what You said and what you did?”
God’s glory is His character and it was revealed to Moses. “He said, Show me thy glory. And He [the Lord] said, I will make My goodness pass before thee.” Exodus 33:18, 19. “The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth . . . Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.” Exodus 34:6, 7.
God’s glory is His character. His character is a love for others and that causes Him to sacrifice Himself. The cross of Christ is the extreme example of how far God will go to sacrifice Himself to save someone else. That is what the angels want to understand, and that is what I want to understand.
1 John 3 says that He gave His life for us, so we should be willing to lay down our lives for the brethren. When we get to the point in a church where everyone loves everyone so much that they would lay down their lives for them, then there will be unity.
That is exactly the spirit that Jesus had. Paul says, “While we were yet enemies, God sent His Son.” Jesus did not die for His friends. He died for His enemies, because He chose to and He wanted to. The love that He wants to give us is the same kind of love that He has.
The second thing that will bring unity is, “Perfection of character means perfection of unity.” (See John 17:21.) Some Christians today do not like their pastors or their teachers to talk about perfection, but Jesus taught and preached about it. The Sermon on the Mount ends with, “Be perfect.” That is a command. Would Jesus command you to do something that He would not give you the power to do?
Perfection of character should not have a negative connotation in your mind. We can never have perfect unity among God’s people until we have perfection of character. One of the reasons that there is so much dissension and disunity all over the Christian world today is because of the character of the people who profess to be Christians. Some who profess to be following the Lord live like the devil. It does not make sense, and it does not lead to unity. That is why the devil is so successful in getting people to think that we will get the church directors and governments together and we will unite the whole world under one system and force it to happen. They will force things to happen all right, but it will not be this unity that Jesus was praying for, because there is no glory of God in the way they are going about it.
Number Three: God is leading a people to stand in perfect unity upon the platform of eternal truth. True unity is based on truth. You cannot have a unified people who cannot even figure out whether or not to keep the Ten Commandments. Paul said that the church was the pillar and ground of the truth. If you leave the truth, you have left the true church. 1 Timothy 3:15.
Last of all, if you and I become one with Christ, the result will be that we will be one with each other. We will find that we are close to each other. We have unity and harmony. The Holy Spirit will work in our hearts to create unity and harmony so that people with all kinds of dispositions, temperaments, backgrounds and education, can have unity and harmony and love among them.
It will happen. The only question is, Will it happen to you and me? I am determined that I want to be part of the great unity that is developing around the world. I want to have my heart changed, so that I will have self-sacrificing love inside. Then I will be willing to change on any point to be in harmony with God’s Word. When that happens and I am heart-to-heart with Jesus in His work to save the world, the Holy Spirit will pour the love of God into my heart.