Everyone on our team loves coffee, but when it comes to preferences and rituals associated with this nectar of Heaven, we tend to stray from common ground. When I asked my coworkers about their ideal cup, this is how it went:
M: Salt Spring Island Organic Fair Trade Medium Roast, with plenty of room for cream. My wife and I buy it at Costco and make it at home.
L: I would prefer a light roast from Ethiopia or Uganda, made in a Clover, from a real mug — no paper allowed. No cream, no sugar. And I would love to drink it in a beautiful cafe with people I love.
L: I like fruity notes — but nothing too acidic. Like cherries. I like a hint of chocolate, but the taste of fruit should be the biggest player.
M: Gah! Coffee isn’t wine!
As for me, give me something creamy, with warm notes, like a classic latte (with a touch of vanilla on special occasions). Something I don’t have to make myself.
Whatever our preferences, the answer to “Coffee?” in our office is always a firm “Yes!” We are united on that front.
The church in Philippi had issues. They all said “Yes!” to Christ, but there were disagreements between those who were from a Jewish background and those who weren’t. They had different ideas about the rituals and practices involved in living out Jesus’ commandments and building the Kingdom of God. Ultimately, Paul knew they ought to set aside those fights in order to build up a strong church with Christ at the center.
Paul’s plea to them was clear:
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care — then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends (Philippians 2:1-2 MSG).
About seven years ago, I was a freshman in a Christian Liberal Arts university. A young Gospel-minded student, I felt a call on my heart to serve and spread the word of God in Eastern Europe. One day in chapel, a leader from a well known non-denominational organization came to recruit for their summer projects. One of these was a mission to Ukraine. I was so excited! I met the speaker after chapel and inquired about the trip. I shared the call that I felt God had laid on my heart and upon sharing that I had discussed it with my priest, the speaker stopped me. I’ll never forget what he said: “We’re not interested in your type of people.” I felt a bomb go off in my ribcage. I figured he didn’t mean redheads. The way he saw it, my people — people from my particular denomination — did not belong on his mission field.
We all suffer from the brokenness of the universal Church. Like the church in Philippi so many years ago, the Christian community today gets caught up in differences that our salvation does not depend on. We get fixated on the style of Christianity we prefer, and lose sight of the fact that we all love Jesus. And that holds us back from serving Christ and following him well together.
We judge each other despite professing with our lips that God is the only Judge.
Christians have the same goal: unity with Christ in Heaven and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. We want the world to see us as set apart for God. And the thing that is supposed to set us apart? Our love for one another (see John 15).
Billy Graham has done more than perhaps any other Christian leader in working towards unity in the Church, and I love his reflection on Christ’s words from John 15:12:
What is the great overwhelming evidence that we have passed from death unto life? It is love! Jesus Christ clearly was speaking of visible unity, such as can be seen by the world. His motive for praying was that the world might believe and the world might know. He prayed for unity among believers. God, who wills man’s unity in Christ, is a God of variety. So often we want everyone to be the same — to think and speak and believe as we do. Many Scripture passages could be called to witness that love is the real key to Christian unity. In the spirit of true humility, compassion, consideration, and unselfishness, we are to approach our problems, our work, and even our differences.
What do you think the Church might look like if we trusted the testimony and experiences of other Christians we met, rather than writing them off? How much better might evangelism function if we used our energy to collectively share the Gospel rather than fight against each other to share it the “right” way?
Let’s make it a priority to get to know Christians from different backgrounds and focus on the things we have in common — our unity in Christ. And instead of condemning our differences, let’s celebrate the diversity of God’s children!
I suggest doing it the right way: over a vanilla latte.