Many people in the Lord’s church today have a presence on Facebook and other social media. It can be a helpful way of keeping in touch with friends, literal, and “friends” of a less personal nature (they have no interaction outside of the online community). Part of our online presence is, on Facebook at least, often summed up in a single word: single, engaged, married, separated, divorced. One of the relationship options is “widowed.” That single word, according to an article dated December 29, 2017 on Daytona Beach News-Journal Online, raised the suspicions of Florida authorities leading to the eventual charges against a man accusing him of attempting to murder his pregnant wife.1
There were other clues. Among them, according to reports, the 32-year-old man warned his estranged wife to not allow a child to touch the knob on her front door. When his wife mentioned this odd request to her step-father, he went over to her house to investigate. After looking over the scene the woman’s step-father contacted police who discovered a battery charger connected to the inside knob of the front door in such a way that to insert a key into the lock would complete the electrical circuit sending a shock through the person seeking to unlock the door and enter the home. Another hint: the accused had changed his Facebook status to “widowed.”
Relationships are important, especially when it comes to Christian fellowship. Healthy, scriptural fellowship in all its various facets is the result of the careful balance of two vital traits that lays at the heart of New Testament Christianity: love and unity. This precarious balance can be clearly seen in John’s portrait of Jesus. In John’s gospel account, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7 and 21:20) provides his readers with a unique look into Jesus as He interacts with His disciples on a level not pictured in the synoptic Gospels. John describes in depth Christ’s words to the chosen twelve on His final night with them prior to His arrest and execution. Part of that final conversation included Jesus’ prayer. High among the thoughts occupying the Lord’s mind on this agonizing night was the idea of unity (John 17:20-26). It is vital to keep in mind that in this portion of Jesus’ prayer, our Lord was praying for us, the then future Christians who “will believe in Me through [the apostles’] word” (John 17:20). What we learn from Jesus is crucial in establishing and maintaining fellowship.
Love for Christ produces unity. As Jesus’ thoughts progress in His betrayal night prayer from the chosen twelve to the multitude of yet unborn believers it becomes clear that the unity of this body will rest in their mutually shared love for Christ. The very basis for a single body of believers stretching across the centuries is their love for and obedience to Jesus Christ. Listen to His words: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:20). It is the mutually shared faith in Jesus as the Christ, the God ordained Savior and the God appointed Head of the one true New Testament church that provides the very basis of our unity in the church of Christ.
Jesus prayed specifically “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:4). That same love which eternally exists between the divine Father and Son must also exist between believer and Lord (14:15 and 15:14). It is on this very basis that unity among believers of this common faith is possible: “that they may be one just as We are one” (17:22).
Love for the truth protects unity. The events of the closing chapters after Jesus’ prayer for unity (John 17) move quickly. In just the next chapter Jesus is betrayed and arrested, brought before Annas (a former yet still influential High Priest; 18:13), denied by Peter, taken before the current High Priest Caiaphas (18:24) and then He was finally brought before the Roman Governor, Pilate (18:28). Forced to hear the case against Jesus (John 18:29-32), the reluctant judge questions Him. “Are You the King of the Jews?” (18:33) “My kingdom is not of this world” (18:36). “Are You a king then?” (18:37) This last question prompts this response: “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (18:37).
It was this final declaration that elicited the infamous response by Pilate, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) We know the truth to which Christ referred. In fact, it is that “truth” which protects the church from the eroding influence of division. We have that truth preserved for us in the inspired New Testament (“Your word is truth” —17:17). This powerful Word of God protects the body of believers by laying down the boundaries of the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42). Preserving our unity in Christ goes hand in hand with keeping or obeying God’s Word (John 17:4).
Love for our brethren preserves unity. The preserving effect of love is powerfully declared by Jesus as He concluded His prayer in John 17:26: “that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” When the church’s fellowship is infused with a love “like” God, the love of Christ will sweeten that fellowship. However, when that fellowship is broken we can be assured that someone’s love for God has faltered. A failure to love God, His Son, and the inspired Word of God is certain to create the fissures of division of which Jesus, who prayed that we be one (John 17:21), and Paul, who condemned division in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 1:10), warned.
Love is indispensable to unity. Unity is impossible without love. Yet when these two qualities are properly balanced fellowship is enriched and God is glorified. Maintaining that balance is crucial in our efforts to evangelize. In His prayer, just hours away from the cross (John 17:4), Jesus emphasized the opportunities for outreach, evangelism, love and unity will create (“that the world may believe that You sent Me” — 17:21; cf. 17:23).
On May 11, 1811 twin sons were born in Meklong, Siam. These were no ordinary twins. The brothers were tightly joined together as few brothers could experience. They were literally connected at the chest by a narrow band of flesh. Coming to America in their late teens, the brothers, whose original birth names are lost to history, toured North America as Chang and Eng Bunker (Chang was the Chinese word for “left” and Eng meant “right”)2 and would become known as the original “Siamese twins.”
After touring for years with P. T. Barnum, the brothers met and married sisters in Wilkes County, North Carolina, where they would retire and raise large families. Although the brothers sought to be surgically separated, their wives were opposed to the idea and convinced the brothers to not undergo the surgery.
The families eventually settled in Surry County, NC. Chang became addicted to alcohol and, in early January 1874 contracted pneumonia. On the night of January 17, 1874, Eng awoke to find his brother dead. There are conflicting stories about what happened next. According to one account the family summoned a doctor to the farm to perform an emergency surgery to separate the brothers. But by the time the doctor arrived Eng had died. Another account claimed that Eng refused the families’ pleas to be separated and, knowing death was quickly approaching, stood vigil next to his brother’s corpse until he died three hours later. The brothers are buried in the White Plains Baptist Church cemetery near Mount Airy, NC.3
Regardless of which account squares with the truth, the reality is that on that January night one thing was clear to everyone involved, the death of Chang Bunker was a death sentence to Eng Bunker. While he remained connected to his twin brother it was certain that Eng could not continue living. The same thing is true regarding the relationship between love and unity within the New Testament church. They are inseparable. The death of one spells certain death for the other.
Dave serves on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger.
1 Seth Robbins, Palm Coast man rigs door to electrocute pregnant wife, deputies say, Daytona Beach News-Journal Online, Dec 29, 2017.
2 Chang Chun Bunker, Eng Chun Bunker, http://www.geni.com, Burbank, CA. The information used in this article is not endorsed by or affiliated with Geni.
3 Eng and Chang Bunker, The Original Siamese Twins, Surry Arts Council, Mount Airy NC, 2018; http://surryarts.org/siamesetwins/index.html