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The theory and practice of unity has been much taught, discussed and even attempted.  Such things as oneness of language, purpose, desire and the availability of the glory of God to make us one as They are One has already been taught as well.[1]

It is not uncommon for a group of people to achieve a certain degree of unity for a period of time, and begin to achieve goals and do mighty things, and then split over some insignificant dispute and render the work ineffective or destroy the work completely.

The most famous of these disputes is the one between Barnabas and Saul as recorded by Luke in Acts:  Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.”  Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.  They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.  Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.  He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.[2]  They disagreed over the presence of Mark, with Paul not wanting to have him along because he had deserted them previously.  The most important union of two human beings by God, more important than even a marriage, was torn asunder over a disagreement as to who should accompany them.  Are you shocked that I say the partnership of Barnabas and Saul is a more important union than even marriage?  If you are, you have not yet learnt to prioritise according to God’s agenda.

Tell me… how many husband and wife couples did God ever, much less the Holy Spirit, appear and say, “Set apart for Me so and so in marriage for the work to which I have called them”?  No, in almost all cases of marriage in the Bible, if they were not adulterous as David and Bathsheba’s was[3] or of convenience as David and Saul’s daughter, Michal’s, was,[4] were marriages made by the man and woman themselves or by the father’s will as in Abraham for Isaac.  No partnership of marriage between two individuals has been recorded with the mouth of God saying, “Set apart for Me…”  But the partnership between Barnabas and Saul was specifically ordained and set in place by the Holy Spirit, the only Person of God against whom no blasphemy is tolerated.  The Holy Spirit Himself said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”[5] 

For a while, they had an incredible partnership as they preached and set up churches in Asia Minor.  Truly a true match made by God.  They had all the hallmarks of unity, working for the same purpose, same goal and same language, but yet their partnership could not endure something as minor as a disagreement over who should accompany them on their missions.

If you sat down and analysed Acts 15:36-41 to see who was right and who was wrong in the dispute, then you have missed the point.  You can side with Barnabas and argue that Barnabas was giving Mark a much needed second chance because of the potential that was evident in Mark.  Barnabas was vindicated later, for Mark has now a written gospel to his name, and even Paul commended him in his letter to the Colossians.[6]  If you can say Barnabas was exercising and practising forgiveness, even love for Mark, you are right in doing so.  But does this make Paul wrong?  No.  For Paul’s concern was that Mark had let them down before and the mission was too dangerous and of too high a priority to have someone on the team who could let them down again.  Priority in accomplishing what God had for them took first place from ordinary friendship or “Christian” brotherly love and an enactment of the forgiveness given.  Paul’s stance was that the mission was too important to be lumbered with a weak link and be endangered.  So, if you argue for Paul, you can see he is also right.  No wonder they had such a sharp disagreement and parted company.  You see, both Paul and Barnabas were practising the principals of Jesus’ teachings.  In Barnabas’ case, it was forgiveness and restoration.  In Paul’s case, it was the responsibility of steadfastness in ministry, where Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.”[7]

No wonder neither of them could prevail over the other and they both parted company, for each of them was practising the word of Jesus, the unbreakable word, the irrefutable word, the word that is sharper than a double-edged sword.  I think Luke’s comment that they had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company was an understatement.  Who won the argument?  Neither did.  Everyone lost.  Most important of all, the Holy Spirit lost the only pair of His elect, and whatever they were to do for Him was left undone.  From Acts 15:39 on, whatever Barnabas or Paul did was no longer of consequence as far as the Holy Spirit was concerned, for they were set aside together for His work.  He did not call them individually.  The lesson we can learn from Paul and Barnabas, our precursors as the elect of the Holy Spirit, is this:  No matter what happens, the only thing that matters is that we stay together, letting no ‘Mark’, no angel, no demon, no agreement or disagreement, no triumph or disaster separate us, for it was not us who partnered each other, but it is the Holy Spirit.

Yes, both were called and chosen by the Father and Son, but it was the Holy Spirit who elected them as a team together.  The Holy Spirit may have used Philip and spoke to Peter about Cornelius, but each time it was the Holy Spirit helping Philip and Peter do the work Jesus had set them apart to do… not the work the Holy Spirit had set them apart to do.

This phrase is commonly said in marriage ceremonies in churches:  “What God has joined together, let not man separate.”[8]  If that is so for marriage, which has very little in the most part to do with the work of Jesus, then how much more important that man should not put asunder those whom the Lord has put together as a group, as a church, or as a fellowship?

But what we see is the contrary; groups of men and women coming into sharp dispute over a point of doctrine, faith, ceremony, ritual, belief or practice, so that churches are split again and again.  No wonder it is so easy for wolves in sheep’s clothing to come in to our churches to draw after themselves disciples.  Paul encountered it in the Corinthian church.[9]  This happens whenever a group of persons put their affection for each other ahead of their affection for God whenever they put their social tolerability ahead of God’s tolerance for them.  It happens because the initial unity that was achieved was not consolidated so that nothing in Heaven or on Earth or below the Earth could separate them from the love of God that put them together in the first place.

We forget that if it was not for the love of God, we would never have been saved to begin fellowshipping together in the first place, and if it is the love of God that put together a group of people that they may form a fellowship, then the true foundation, the true mortar that holds them together, must be the love of God that gave them the grace to be saved by faith, and in Paul and Barnabas’s case, God’s election as well.  The consolidation of our unity must be based first and foremost on the love of God.  That we so love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, might and mind that nothing else matters, no disagreement, no difference in doctrine, no traditions, no kind word, no sharp word, no polite treatment, no rude treatment, can separate you from the person whom God has also saved, that you may glorify God together.  Even if you hate each other and can’t stand each other, you’d still stay with each other because of the love of God, because God loved you first and saved you, so that by grace through faith you may enjoy that salvation with one and ones He has surrounded you with in your local church.  And if they do not agree with you, even if they isolate you, reject you, even ask you to leave, do not let that stop you from remaining in fellowship with them until God has to speak and say, “Leave… immediately. Go, I will send you far away.”  You see, what counts isn’t whether you agree with each other or whether you like or even love each other.  It would be more pleasant, but that you love God first and so love Him that you will obey Him even if the experience is unpleasant. 

That is the example Jesus left for us.  He was not sent to the Gentiles, but to the Jews, yet it was the Gentiles who made Him welcome and treated Him with more respect.  The Samaritan woman gave Him water, and her whole village came out to see Him for themselves.[10]  The Roman centurion said, “Lord, I do not deserve to have You come under my roof.  But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”[11]  As different to His disciples who did not listen to Him, the Jews who disbelieved Him and the Sanhedrin who opposed Him.  Yet, Jesus did not leave the fellowship of Israel for the fellowship of the Gentiles, because it was for the love of God that He was sent to Israel and it was for the love of God that He stayed the path, even to death upon the cross.  Even Jesus asked the Father three times, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me.  Yet not as I will, but as You will.”[12] 

Then how much more we ask, “Oh God, take these people away from me,” and worse still, how often do we take things into our own hands and disfellowship ourselves from the company of those who do not agree with us, until the worst of evil has manifested and we started killing those whose doctrines differed from ours.  Indeed, it would appear from the history of the church that she received as much of Paul’s murderous spirit as the Spirit of Grace who gave Paul his gospel.

So what should have Paul or Barnabas, no, what should have Paul and Barnabas done?  With the benefit of hindsight—this is what they should have done and this is what we must always do.  They should have stayed together even as they continued to disagree sharply over Mark.  Whether Mark came with them or not was irrelevant.  Paul may not have liked Mark there, but as long as Paul was with Barnabas, nothing else mattered.  Barnabas may have thought Paul unforgiving and too hard on Mark for driving Mark away, but as long as Barnabas was still with Paul, then nothing else mattered.  As long as Paul and Barnabas stayed together, it didn’t matter if Satan himself was there, for it was the Holy Spirit who put them together to do His work.  If they were separated, it didn’t matter if Jesus Himself was with either of them, the work of the Holy Spirit would still have been left undone.

The consolidation of unity that came first from a common purpose, language and understanding, even a common friendship or love, can only be achieved when all involved put God first in all things, God’s purpose, God’s love, God’s calling, God’s plans.  To paraphrase the Lord’s reply to Peter about John in John 21:21, “What does it matter who I put you with?  What does it matter whether they like you, accept you or agree with you?  You must follow Me.”  So, if the Lord put you in a church to follow Him, then whether you like the people in the church or whether the church likes you, what does it matter?  You must follow the Lord and stay with that church until the Lord Himself comes and says, “Leave… Go, I will send you far away.” The truth is that most churches are made up of refugees who have fled the place where the Lord would have them worship and follow Him, because of a sharp disagreement of some sort with another person who is not God.

As the present elect of the Holy Spirit, you who are elected by the Holy Spirit must know whom the Lord has set you apart to be with to do the work He has for you in this present time.  Paul must know who his Barnabas is and Barnabas must know who his Paul is, and if the Lord has put you together, then let no man put you asunder.  This is the consolidation of unity when we can acknowledge that it is the Holy Spirit who put us together, then let no man, firstly ourselves, put us asunder even if you do not like each other, even if you cannot stand each other, even if your heart, soul, might and mind are not in the fellowship.  By the way, the command is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, not love the fellowship of saints with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.  As you each devote yourselves to the Lord in the knowledge that you have been set apart together to do His work, like Paul and Barnabas, then the love you receive from the Lord will overflow and allow you to love one another as He has loved you.  You see, the foundation, the consolidation, of our salvation was always based on the fulfilment of this command by Jesus:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”[13]  Even if it meant death on a Roman cross, and even when the Father forsook Him, Jesus still committed His spirit into the Father’s hands.

Likewise, the consolidation of the unity of the elect of the Holy Spirit is not based on commonness of purpose, personalities, likes and dislikes, pleasantries or unpleasantries, but on the election of the Holy Spirit.  You have been set apart by the Holy Spirit to do this work He has for you here and now with your fellow elect.  Then your constancy and consistency of fellowship with one another must and cannot be put asunder by human frailties or social peculiarities.  When you and I learn to overcome these things and remain together because of the Holy Spirit’s election, and not because we can agree with each other, than you will find that even 10,000 miles cannot put our fellowship asunder—no angel, no demon, not death, nor disaster, no man, no woman, no ruler or authority can put our fellowship asunder.  And I am not speaking metaphorically.

Those of you who have been yearning for the manifestation of power to overcome distances, walls, elements and so on, will find that you can more than do so at will when you overcome the forces within you that seeks to tear you away from those whom God has put you with.  If you can overcome the thoughts of your mind and heart, the deceptiveness of your heart, the lusts of your flesh, and please, there are worse fleshly lusts than sex, like the lust to accuse, to gossip, to think ill of each other, and the desires of your soul, to just remain with one another in fellowship, then nothing, absolutely nothing, will be impossible for you.  This is my testimony and this is the Lord’s life.  For He overcame all the thoughts of His mind, all the fears of His heart, the sorrow of His soul and the very weaknesses of His flesh to feel pain, to remain in fellowship with those the Lord had put Him with, for the word He had in Him, and showed us the power of God that flows from such a Man.  The power to walk over the lake to be with those who did not listen to Him is just one example.

Your steadfast love of God with all your heart, soul, strength (might) and mind, and your resolve to remain together to finish together this work the Holy Spirit has set you apart for, will provide the consolidation of unity that will repair the foundation of the apostles and prophets upon which the church is built.  For if the Holy Spirit elected two apostles of Jesus Christ to be His elect, would He chose anyone less you ask?  Yet, those two apostles could not stay together but rendered asunder what God had put together.  So, what of this time?  Will the Holy Spirit again elect from Jesus’ apostles for His elect?  He would if there were apostles to spare, if there were hundreds of apostles as in Paul’s time.  Do we have hundreds of apostles?  I mean, real apostles with us now, that is men or women who have seen the Lord,[14] who have a gospel of their own,[15] who have a ministry of signs, wonders and miracles done with great perseverance,[16] and who come last like men condemned to the arena[17]?  Have you met any in your travels in this last year?  The bad news is that there are very few if any apostles in our midst, and if there are, they have hidden themselves well.  Many claim to be, but I have yet to meet one who passes the test. 

The good news then is this:  This time the Lord will elect not from the apostles or the prophets, they will be too busy, but from the least of the brethren, from the worst of sinners, from the youngest, from the least able, from the rejected, from the old, from the frail, from the uneducated, from those who will respond to the love of God that is in Christ Jesus with all their hearts, all their soul, all their strength and all their mind.  Those who will fall in love with Jesus and listen to Jesus, those who are like Mary who did not get into a sharp disagreement with Martha when she complained about her, or with the male disciples when they complained about her wasting the bottle of nard, but just stayed where she was, continuing to listen, continuing to anoint the Lord for this she was spared… “Eli, Eli, lemana shabakthani!”

No, not those who cry out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”  “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”[18] but those who can also say, “Eli, Eli, lemana shabakthani!”  “My God, my God, for this I was spared!”[19]  The consolidation of our unity is released when each of us realise that, “My God, My God, for this I was spared!” 

So as it is the Holy Spirit who has chosen His elect and put them together, then as they quote, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder,”[20] and so we will remain as one, and as one rise to meet with the Lord in the clouds, for no man, not even Jesus Christ, will put asunder the elect of the Holy Spirit this time.  Amen

Elect, “Love the Lord your Godthe Holy Spirit[21]with all your heart, soul, might and mind,” for it is He who has elected you for this work, so that for your sake, He may shorten the days of distress that are coming, days of distress unequalled since the Creation of the world.

[1] See:  Gospel of His Glory John 17:21-23

[2] Acts 15:36-41

[3] 2 Samuel 11:4

[4] 1 Samuel 18:27

[5] Acts 13:2

[6] Colossians 4:10

[7] Luke 9:62

[8] Mark 10:9; Matthew 19:6

[9] 1 Corinthians 1:10-13

[10] John 4:4-42

[11] Matthew 8:8

[12] Matthew 26:39

[13] Mark 12:30

[14] 1 Corinthians 9:1

[15] Galatians 1:11-12

[16] 2 Corinthians 12:12

[17] 1 Corinthians 4:9

[18] Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34 NIV, ESV, NASB, AMP, KJV

[19] Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34 The Aramaic of the Peshitta

[20] Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9 KJV

[21] 2 Corinthians 3:17


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