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Endeavoring to Keep the Unity of the Spirit
John 17, often referred to as the Highly Priestly Prayer, captures Jesusprayer before His crucifixion. A key element of this prayer is Jesusplea for the unity of His disciples and followers in love: Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.(cf. John 17:11) ...so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me.(cf. John 17:23)

Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

Similarly, Paul urges in Ephesians 4: Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity in the Spirit through the bond of love. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called.” (cf. Ephesians 4:2-4) Why does Jesus pray for unity in love? Because it is of vital importance. Why does Paul remind us to keep the unity of the Spirit? Because even though the Spirit gives us the heart to pursue unity, practicing it is challenging due to our differences. People coming from diverse backgrounds, with varied families, personalities, experiences, habits, preferences, and perspectives, can find unity difficult. How then can we maintain the unity of the Spirit in love?

To explore the pathways to the unity of the spirit, I would like to borrow the philosophy of Chinese social anthropologist Fei Xiaotong: “各美其美,美人之美,美美与共,天下大同 (Each civilization treasures its own heritage, appreciates the beauty of other cultures, shares in mutual beauty, and strives for a world of unity and harmony).” It not only offers an ideology for understanding and managing relationships among different civilizations, but also provides an ideal method for achieving unity. Personally, I believe it applies equally to fostering unity, harmony and prosperity among diverse people and groups.

Treasure one’s own goodness -- or, in other words, accepting oneself -- leads to a proper understanding, self-evaluation, self-acceptance, and self-promotion.

Notably, MBTI personality test has gone viral in the past two years. Social media buzzwords like “E人” and “I人” (type E and type I, representing extroverts and introverts), are frequently used by young people, capturing attention online. Given the complexity of human behavior and personalities, and the fact that individuals behave differently at different ages and in different environments, it is difficult to generalize a person with simple labels. Regardless of the scientific validity and credibility of personality tests, undeniably, the existence of personality trait differences is undeniable.

Some self-identified “type I” young adults have complained to me, “If I were as extrovert as the ‘type E’ ones, I could make more friends.” My response was, “Being extroverted may make it easier to meet people, but often these relationships are just acquaintances rather than confidants. What do you prefer: A large number of acquaintances or a few close friends? If you prefer the latter, it is no easier for type E people.”

Some type I individuals believe that opportunities and platforms for self-presentation are more accessible to type E individuals. Undeniably, the latter often find it easier to attract attention and secure opportunities. However, my question for them is -- “Is seizing opportunities and obtaining platforms your ultimate goal? Chances given to those without sufficient knowledge or skills only expose their deficiencies and ignorance. Type I individuals, who often enjoy solitude and are good thinkers, seem to have an advantage when it comes to self-enrichment.”

Each personality type has its own benefits. It is hopeful that everyone can treasure their own strengths and diligently use their expertise to honor God. Accepting oneself leads to fewer self consuming behaviors, and often results in a greater appreciation for the goodness in others.

Appreciating the beauty in others means admiring and respecting their merits and traits in a humble and tolerant manner. Being true to oneself should be the standard for everyone. We should never deny, depreciate, exclude, or attack others just because of differences.

The undergraduate offer letter from Nanjing University includes a line: “Let roses be roses, and cypresses be cypresses. Each river flows its own way.” This reminds educators to teach students according to their aptitudes, recognizing that each one is unique. Students also need to discover their own potential. Roses should simply blossom, without needing to grow as tall as giants trees and vice versa. At the same time, it encourages respecting differences and applauding others’ merits.

Neither roses nor cypresses should exalt themselves, or meddle in the affairs of others.

When we treasure our own goodness and appreciate the beauty in others, we combine these beautiful qualities together.

Sharing diverse beauty means that individuals or groups showcase their unique talents, freely expressing themselves and contributing to a world full of varied colors. Like orchids blossoming in spring and chrysanthemums in autumn, there is a time for everything.

The human mind has limitations, while our God is infinite and capable of everything. Even an anonymous artwork, like a painting or a book, may reveal clues about its author due to its unique style and limitations. However, in the hands of our God, the Creator of the universe, no two leaves are the same, and no one is a duplicate of another.

In Psalms 99:6, Moses and Samuel are referred to as those who often prayed and obeyed the will of God. In Jeremy 15:1, they are called mighty intercessors. The personalities of these two wholeheartedly faithful servants, whom God greatly used and was pleased with, were clearly different. Leviticus 10 records that Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were consumed by the unauthorized fire before the Lord. Rational and restrained, Moses asked Aaron and his two other sons, Eleazar and Ithamar to prioritize their priesthood. In 1 Samuel, however, after God rejected Saul as king over Israel due to his disobedience, the soft and sensible Samuel the Prophet mourned Saul’s failure for a long time. God then encouraged Him, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? (1 Samuel 16:1)

What God has created is a marvelously brilliant world, where each type of person whom God pleases can be greatly used. “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him.”(Colossian1:19)

Being in a world of great harmony signifies that every one one of us helps and loves one another harmoniously in mutual prosperity, without conflicts or wars. For our Christians, it is an ideal state to work together and keep the unity of the spirit in love. Sharing diverse beauty symbolizes richness and diversity, while a world of great harmony reflects a state of unity and harmony. As you marvel at a splendid garden, it is not simply attributed to a rich and diverse selection of flowers and trees; a thoughtful arrangement and spacing of plant also deserve credit.

Maintaining unity does not mean advocating a single idea, but rather fostering harmony in diversity. It does not require uniformity in structures, opinions, or actions, but rather the unity of the Spirit to live a shared life in Christ. As Paul the Apostle said, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work... Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-12)

By accepting ourselves and ceasing self-consuming behaviors, appreciateing others with a humble heart, sharing  diverse beauty with openness, and working with others in honor of the name of the Lord, we can bear witness to the unity of the Spirit, create harmony and pass the peace.

Author: Liu Lingwei

Translator: Bei Feng