Learning unity in Christ

Any discussion of shared authority and responsibility between men and women must start with the importance Jesus placed on unity among His followers. Jesus’ prayer over all believers in John 17 places unity at the top of the list of concerns He brings to the Father. In that prayer He asks that we would be one even as He and the Father are one. Jesus specifically states that this unity among His followers will cause others to come into relationship with Him (verses 21-23). The unity He describes lays the foundation for shared authority and responsibility between all Christ followers. Paul expands on this when he emphasizes in Galatians 3 that as we follow Christ we no longer live within the boundaries created by differences of race, cultural belief, social status or gender that commonly separate people. These differences don’t disappear and we shouldn’t expect them to. Unity is oneness, not sameness. We are to be avenues of grace to each other, mutually submitted to one another, learning to live as one in Christ.

In our North American cultures as well as many other cultures globally, men generally hold the positions of ultimate authority and responsibility. As Jesus followers, when men submit themselves to God’s direction of being one with other Jesus followers, a picture is drawn which challenges male hierarchy. Sharing authority and responsibility, as men and women, gives a real world picture of Jesus. As we follow His example of emptying Himself as Paul describes in Philippians, we reflect the selfless love and generosity that are in God’s nature. Interestingly some have taught that by limiting authority and responsibility to men only, men are serving women as Christ serves the church. However this isn’t the picture of serving that Jesus gave us. Not only did He wash the feet of his disciples, an act they immediately recognized as that of a servant, He also freely shared His authority and responsibility by sending out the disciples, empowering them to establish His kingdom.

In the absence of shared authority and responsibility, men and women both suffer. When women are excluded from authority and responsibility, they are placed in the position of either sublimating the gifts and abilities God created within them, or learning to manipulate the men holding authority. They don’t develop a full understanding of God’s gifting in their lives. They can end up embracing a view of themselves that has little or nothing in common with the view God has of them. As Jesus shows us in the parable of the talents, God’s expectation is that every one of His followers is to develop the talents and resources He has given them.

Meanwhile, when men are expected to be the sole holders of authority and responsibility, they are denied an opportunity to understand and experience the truth that learning and leadership are reciprocal in the body of Christ. These are key components of living in community as Jesus followers. We deny men the benefit of mutually submitted partnering that is the essence of unity which Jesus asked the Father to provide in John 17. As with the experience of women, men can completely miss seeing themselves as God sees them.

Shared authority and responsibility are integral to living in unity as Jesus followers and reflecting His image so that others will be drawn to Him. The benefits are clear for men and women as they grow in their relationship with God and each other.

This article first appeared in the May 19, 2011 issue of Arise.

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