On Christian Love and Unity

A homily for the Sunday after Theophany

We’ve entered the Sunday after Theophany and the church gives us two texts to contemplate: one speaks of Christ being the “great light” that shines in the darkness. The other is the Epistle to the Ephesians that is focused on the growth and edification of the Church.

Both these things relate to Theophany, which is a word that means the manifestation of God. Where was God made manifest? In heaven? Of course not, for He was already known there. Instead, He is made manifest here on earth. How? First, through His incarnation, and now through His Body the Church.

Turning to the Epistle (Eph. 4:7-13), St. Paul writes,

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift…

“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.”

That is, when we become members of this Body of Christ, the gifts of grace are given to us. Different people receive different measures, mostly according to their preparation for receiving divine grace. But also due to the will of God. Some receive great grace and work miracles or evangelize or lead the people of God. Others receive less grace. Either way, the grace we receive is sufficient – not only for our salvation – but for the edification of the Church. And not only for the edification but the unity of the Church. All receive grace from the same source: from Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Those who possess the Spirit of God and God’s grace will encourage others around them and bring unity to the Body – for how can we strive against one another if we are filled with the same grace? How can grace fight against grace? There may exist differences of opinion – but where grace reigns – love does as well.

Those who are filled with the Spirit of God will lead others to Christ – they won’t try to gather followers for themselves – they won’t try to undermine the ministries of others – they won’t speak badly of the grace of God working in others simply because someone outside their circle is doing things a little differently.

When writing about the pagans persecuting Christians, Tertullian wrote that the even the pagans could not help but exclaim, “See how they love one another!” If those same pagans came back today, would they recognize Christianity? Would they say the same thing? In the words of our Lord (Lk. 18:8), “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” And to that I would add another question: can anyone claim to have faith if he has not love?

St. John writes,

In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another (1 Jn. 3:10-11).

So, according to the Apostle John, two litmus tests of being a real Christian are living righteously and loving one another.

The Apostle Paul continues,

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,

Here we once again see that even though we receive a unifying grace from the same Source, it results in a variety of offices and gifts. That is why the Church is called the “Body of Christ.”

A body has a multitude of parts that grow in synchronicity with one another – each helping other parts. If they don’t grow together – if one part were to become hugely overgrown – we would call that cancer or some other disease. So while organs and systems in our body serve greatly different functions, they all edify one another.

Today’s epistle continues with St. Paul telling us this gift of grace is,

for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

Which is exactly what I’ve been saying all along. Grace edifies the whole body. The end result of this grace is found in the next verse:

till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

Unity of faith. Knowledge of God. To a full perfection that is in the image of Christ. We the Church become a manifestation of God – a Theophany – here on earth when we operate in the grace that God has given us. It brings unity, knowledge of God, and perfection. It tears down dividing walls (Eph. 2:14) and unites humanity in Christ.

For those who are thinking, “I don’t even know what part of the body I am,” I would say don’t lose sleep over it. Our calling is toward purification and repentance. If you work on those things, if you work on “acquiring the Holy Spirit,” as St. Seraphim of Sarov would say, then you will naturally flow into whatever gifting you have.

When an opportunity comes to serve God and edify the Body of Christ, you will naturally desire to fulfill that role. But we must repent first so that the unnatural sin that dwells in us does not obscure the natural and supernatural gifts God has for us.

That means I won’t be handing out tests on spiritual gifts – which was a trend in some circles of Christianity decades ago. After all, this isn’t a philosophical system to figure out but a life to embrace. Live the life, repent of your sins, love your brethren. In other words, be a Christian through and through.

By being a Christian, we bring the Theophany of God to others, we continue what began in the Jordan River, and both we and those around us are transformed.

St. Paul writes of Christians who have experienced this Theophany,

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Today’s reading stopped at verse 13, but St. Paul continues in verses 15-16:

But [we], speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

2 thoughts on “On Christian Love and Unity

  1. Hi there, I have recently started exploring Orthodoxy and your website has been incredibly helpful and informative. I really appreciate all the work you have put into it.

    1. Thank you, John. May God continue to bless your journey.

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