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“That They Will All Be One”

If you were blessed with a biological brother, you may be better prepared for ministry than an only child. Today we are looking at another benefit of growing up with a brother.

Unity

If you were blessed with a biological brother, you may be better prepared for ministry than an only child. Today we are looking at another benefit of growing up with a brother.

Unity

Unity should mark the Christian family and the Christian church, but sibling rivalry has troubled us, literally, since the beginning. In his epic retelling of Genesis, East of Eden, John Steinbeck calls sibling rivalry the world’s “oldest story.” The planet’s very first siblings, Cain and Abel, were the very first murderer and murder victim. That’s not a very good start for family unity! Steinbeck also reminds his readers that if the story disturbs us, “it must be that we find the trouble in ourselves.”

Lesa is the middle child in her family. She idolized her older brother and had a baby sister who followed her everywhere. It was Lesa’s sworn duty to protect her with her life. But no matter how much die-for comradeship she felt for her brother and sister, there were always sibling rivalries. When they were yelling, clawing, or poised to spit in the face of the “victim du jour,” their mom threatened to lock them in the bathroom, all night if necessary, until they worked it out.

Competing for who’s number one is a given in most families. And yet, to become a healthy mature family, most siblings know that their rivalries are childish and need to stop. The same applies to us as brothers and sisters in Christ. The Bible instructs us to put away childish ways as we mature in our faith. First Corinthians 13:11 says, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways” (NET).

In many biological families, rivalry only heightens as the years go by, and the stakes are usually much higher than “who gets the last Popsicle.” Sadly, the church family is sometimes similar. If you’ve volunteered in any capacity, you’ve probably witnessed the competition between ministries for funding, classroom space, Sunday morning announcement “air-time,” and the list goes on. It is a good thing to desire for your ministry to grow, but we often want the biggest numbers and the coolest T-shirts. Women’s and men’s ministries such as Bible studies, leadership boards, and service groups are no exception. It can easily become an “us-versus-them” mentality, smacking of the childish behavior of sibling rivalry.

As much as we’d like to believe it, brotherly love does not come naturally. In fact, from the first set of brothers—Cain and Abel—until now, unfortunately, the reverse seems true; sibling rivalry seems the natural response. That’s probably why there are so many instructions in the Bible on how to treat “one another” in our spiritual family. To those of us who are like children around the dinner table clamoring for attention, Paul encourages, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

To put away our childish sibling rivalries and instead pursue unity may be hard work, but for our church families to function with Christlike maturity we need input from both our brothers and our sisters. Jesus himself prayed for the church to be unified. He wanted our unity to show the world his authenticity and the Father’s love. This prayer was among the last things he spoke to his disciples, one of his final requests:

I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one—I in them and you in me—that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me. (John 17:20–23 NET)

If the church acted like a family—united in both trials and joys, bound in pure sibling love, treating one another with respect and loyalty, abiding in Christ— imagine our witness to the unbelieving world.

Sue Edwards

Dr. Edwards is Assistant Professor of Christian Education (Specialization: Women's Studies) at Dallas Theological Seminary and holds degrees from Trinity University, DTS, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is the author of New Doors in Ministry to Women, A Fresh Model for Transforming Your Church, Campus, or Mission Field and Women's Retreats, A Creative Planning Guide. She has 30 years experience in Bible teaching, directing women's ministry, retreat and conference speaking, training teams and teachers, and writing curriculum. Married to David for 34 years, she especially enjoys extended family gatherings and romping with her four grandchildren.