Unity can seem elusive to a group from diverse ethnic and religious heritages. When writing to Christians in Roman, the apostle Paul prays that the church in Rome may know unity as they follow Jesus: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:5-6). Gentile and Jewish Christians alike carried cultural baggage into their new association as disciples of Jesus. We may not understand the exact nature of their differences concerning diet and holiday observance, but we know how political, ethnic, and regional differences disturbs the peace of churches today. Jews from Rome who heard Peter preach on Pentecost in Jerusalem a few weeks after the resurrection of Christ included both ethnic Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism. When the emperor had expelled all Jews from Rome a few years later, the church there suddenly would have been entirely Gentile Christian. When the Jewish Christians (who included Priscilla and Aquila) returned, they would have discovered new dynamics of relationship among the believers in Rome. The exhortations to love (Romans chapters 12 and 13) surrounding a passage about honoring the government make more sense when one realizes they were addressed both to Christians who identified with the ethnic and legal heritage of the Roman Empire and to Christians who a short time before had been expelled from their homes by the Emperor. Paul prays to the God who gives endurance and encouragement on behalf of the Roman Christians. They would need those traits before they could know unity among themselves.
Paul prays that that Christians will know unity as they “follow Christ Jesus.” Disciples divide when distracted from focusing on the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:3). Rather than focusing on issues over which we have no control, let us focus on the one who unites us and renders meaningless our differences. When we pray, let us pray for unity based on the teachings and example of Jesus. Paul’s benediction reminds us also that our goal is to glorify God. Unity amplifies our shout of praise. When we focus on the desires of Jesus and the glory of our God, the urgency of our longings diminishes. Prayer matures when accompanied by obedience to Christ.
Father in Heaven, help us to recognize our selfishness and prejudices when they threaten our relationship with other disciples of Jesus. May we discard what distracts us from our Savior and focus on following him. Thank you, Lord, for your patience and your love. May we serve in ways that will bring you praise. In Jesus’ name, Amen.