While my two boys love each other fiercely and often have a splendid time playing together, they also quite regularly practice some form of three-year-old on five-year-old hand-to-hand combat. They love, but they fight, and they are only slowly learning what it means to find joy when the other one is somehow more fortunate than they are.
Whenever we arrive home, both boys enjoy the responsibility of being passed the house key and opening our front door. The other day, it was Jake's turn, and Joshua, certain it was actually his turn, struggled mightily to contain his anger and combat moves when I passed his older brother the key. Kneeling, I gently held my younger son's face and said to him, "Josh, you love your brother. I know you desperately want a turn, but right now you could actually be happy for your brother. You could be happy that he is happy, that he is enjoying something he likes to do."
Do I see myself laying down my life—my preferences, my personal hopes, my way of doing things, my comforts—for my brothers and sisters in Christ?
On some level, Joshua understood and wanted to be happy for his brother. Slowly, while watching his older brother get the key in the lock, Josh manipulated the muscles of his face into this strange contortion of an anguished, grimacing smile. Lips stretched awkwardly across face. Brow furrowed. Tears starting to well. But . . . it was a smile. It was both painful and wonderfully heartening to watch Josh work so hard to enjoy his brother's joy.
Us adults, we can be like that too, can't we?
Oh sure, we've mastered the social graces of letting others go first, or saying, "No, you go ahead!" when we speak at the same moment. But with our brothers and sisters in the family of faith, quietly in our hearts, we still often struggle with that fundamental part of Christian love—to seek another's good, to lay down our own preference for the preference of another, to delight when someone else's gifts or service is recognized and we're overlooked.
We're born into this world as little sinners, seeking only what we want. But then we're re-born in Christ, and we begin seeking what others want. Christlike love is counterintuitive love, isn't it?
Knowing that our Father delights in love-bound unity between His children, we should examine ourselves to see if we are contributing to a spirit of unity in our own local church context. Here are questions we can ask ourselves: Is my brother or sister's joy a higher priority than my own? Do I see myself laying down my life—my preferences, my personal hopes, my way of doing things, my comforts—for my brothers and sisters in Christ?
In all this, we look to Christ. He's made us new, and He's shown us how to live the sacrificial Christian life. Ultimately, we lay down our lives for our friends—and even our enemies—because He first laid down His life for us.
I wonder if any of you, like me, have had the experience where you read (or write!) an article or hear a sermon about unity and sacrifice, and what first comes to mind is how other people could better apply these unity principles. But then, in His mercy, comes the gentle nudge of conviction. It's not about them. It's about me. Am I contributing to love-bound unity in my church family? Are you?