When my wife and I retired, we moved into a 55+ community that required all dogs to be leashed on walks. We soon noticed our Maggie was barking loudly and incessantly at every dog we met. She was disturbing the peace and quiet, the tranquil unity of our “senior” streets and sidewalks. Maggie soon had her own personal trainer, who said she didn’t have enough self-confidence to approach other dogs without fearful behavior. She needed lots of positive verbal feedback. We were soon saying things like, “Good dog Maggie” and “Such a good girl” over and over again as she learned to sit quietly, lie down, and heel.
I suppose it would be stretching things theologically to say that giving Maggie glory helped her to get along with other dogs, but something like that can’t be denied. She needed an enormous amount of affirmation to overcome her fear and meet other dogs properly. Jesus singled out the gift of glory in his farewell intercessory prayer as the primary means by which his followers could achieve oneness (unity). The word, one, may refer to either uniqueness or unity in the Bible (see Richard Bauckham’s discussion in Gospel of Glory, 26–27). Unity is pluriform rather than uniform oneness (see 1 Corinthians 12). Jesus prayed to his Father in the upper room: “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one” (John 17:22; NRSV). Paraphrased, “I have given glory to all who believe in me (John 17:20), I have glorified them, so that they might become united, just as you and I are united.”
A Facebook friend posted a selfie of himself and his bride taken on their wedding day. His comment for all to see: “One month is the length of time that I have been married to the stunningly gorgeous “Mary Jane Doe.” It’s been a fun month. Thanks, Babe. I love you! Let’s keep those months coming!” Yes, affirmation and praise are not just for dogs! Our wives, our husbands, our children, our parents, our brothers and sisters need “the gift of glory” if we are to experience unity in our families. But what do we mean by glory in the context of family unity? When family members die to self, affirm one another, and serve one another in Christ, they are motivated to honor each other by working together as a single unit to accomplish their mission.
After Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he began his last public discourse by declaring, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). Then he spoke about a grain of wheat falling into the earth, dying, and producing much fruit. The “hour” of Jesus’ glory, his eventual universal honor, would be his death on the cross, his resurrection from the grave, and his triumphant return to his Father. But now he was focused on the glory his death would bring to his Father: “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (John 12:27–28). God, in sending his Son, would glorify his own name through his Son’s willingness to come to this world and die for it, which revealed the depths of his Father’s love.
The Greek word for “glorify” can mean either “to honor” or “to show shining splendor” depending on the context (see Bauckham, 58). Jesus was honored by the Father at his baptism, when a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Jesus displayed the splendor on the mount of transfiguration, a preview of his post resurrection brightness (see Acts 22:6–8; Rev. 1:12–16).
Jesus said in John 17:22 that he had already given believing followers the glory that the Father had given him. What sort of glory was that? Isn’t glorification an aspect of believers’ salvation reserved for the Second Coming? Again John 12 helps us. After Jesus illustrated glory by referring to a kernel of wheat that falls into the earth and dies, he applied it to his followers’ unselfish service. “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor” (John 12:26). The Father glorified Jesus at his baptism, and the gift of glory and honor is given to believers at their baptism: “We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). The indwelling Holy Spirit empowers the gift and enables believers to die to self as they strengthen their brothers and sisters. The result is the unity that will “let the world know” that God has sent Christ and has loved the community of believers even as he has loved his Son (John 17:23; NIV). The gift of glory, therefore, cannot be limited to the future; it is needed to make unity now.
Jesus prayed that all believers may be united in him, “Just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21). Family unity is experienced today when members are abiding in Christ. Ellen White put it this way, “Picture a large circle, from the edge of which are many lines all running to the center. The nearer these lines approach the center, the nearer they are to one another. Thus it is in the Christian life. The closer we come to Christ, the nearer we shall be to one another” (Letter 49, 1904; The Adventist Home, 179).
Appreciation is a key concept in the process of nurturing family unity. Four meanings of appreciation apply: 1) to place a value on, 2) to be fully aware of, 3) to be grateful for, and 4) to increase. Take mom, for example; each member of the family places a value on mom and is aware of mom: her likes and dislikes, her personality traits, and her contributions to the development of the family. Each member is grateful for mom, and in their minds her value increases as time goes by; their knowledge of her also increases and allows them to be more responsive to her needs, which contributes to her well-being. Unity happens not only when each member appreciates the uniqueness of each spouse, each parent, and each child—but when they appreciate their common values and experiences.
The challenge is to continue to appreciate family members when, over time, they no longer share some of the same values. Family unity does not require members to compromise truth, and sometimes it is necessary to “speak the truth with love” (Eph. 4:15). Family leaders may practice what Rabbi Edwin Friedman calls “leadership through self-differentiation.” The principle is simple but not easy to practice: if a leader can maintain a clearly defined position while still staying in loving touch with members, there is a good chance those who initially resist will eventually follow (Friedman, Generation to Generation, 1985, 229). Of course, leaders rely on intercessory prayer throughout their efforts to influence.
Families, working together, can make action plans for strengthening at least four conditions that provide rich “soil” for unity to flourish: healthy spirituality, open communication, mutual appreciation (discussed above), and agreeing on the purpose of unity, their mission definition. Spirituality can be strengthened in participative family worships, but the concept of “life worship” should be considered. I still remember helping my dad early in the morning out in his garden and the way he spoke with soft tones of reverence about the growing plants. Family gardening is a good way to model synergic unity, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and the unseen hand of God can be seen. Good communication skills begin in courtship and are fostered by parental modeling. In terms of mission, united families can meet their own material needs as they attract relatives, friends, neighbors, and co-workers to the gospel.
Both conditions and action plans for nurturing unity are related to the central theme of the glory of the cross. Unique family members thrive on continual and loving affirmation which motivates them to work together in unity to realize family goals and contribute to the unity of the church and the eventual accomplishment of God’s world mission.
Richard Bauckham, Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology, (Baker Academic, 2015). Chapters 2 and 3 focus specifically on unity and glory.
Doug Matacio, “Creating Unity in a Multicultural Christian Organization: Is the Seventh-day Adventist Church Effectively Meeting Its Goal of Scriptural Unity?” Andrews University Seminary Studies, Vol. 43, No. 2 (2005): 315–331. This article is based on my doctoral dissertation from Fuller Seminary School of Intercultural Studies.
Doug Matacio is professor emeritus of religious studies at Burman University, Lacombe, Alberta, Canada. He writes from Rio Vista, California.
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