One of the earliest stories in scripture is one where the people of the world come together in unity and common purpose. It’s a beautiful “kumbaya” moment until the Lord brings it crashing down.
“The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” … from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” Genesis 11
On the surface, this story can have us scratching our heads. Man comes together and starts a community project, and God destroys it? Is God the toddler obsessed with knocking down the blocks stacked by the other children?
Unity that originates in a desire to usurp the position and authority of God is blasphemous. It’s an offense to the Lord. To say, “I’m going to cut God out of the equation, and ascend to the highest heights without Him” is the very definition of hubris.
The will of the Lord was that the builders of the Tower of Babel would be scattered. Disunified. Because the unity that they had built was around the wrong thing: a desire to replace God’s leadership, and disobey His command to fill the whole Earth. Man-centered, humanistic unity is an offense to the Lord. Unity is only good when it dwells under the leadership of the King. All other rebellious efforts will be a stench to heaven until the day they are thwarted.
As followers of Jesus, we can retrain our minds to God’s priorities. Unity is not God’s first and only aim. In fact, Jesus (the Prince of Peace, the “blessed are the peacemakers” Jesus) said this:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Jesus is saying that there will be those who choose Earthly relationships over life with Him. He’s saying that as an ultimatum: “Follow me wholeheartedly, or else depart from me.”
Either build your life around Me, or go build your life around something else.
What’s the sword that He brings? The destruction of the unsubmitted unity that we’ve built. The only cure for building our lives on ungodly foundations is for us to lose that life and find a new life in Him.
So how do we avoid becoming the builders of a new Tower of Babel?
1. We don’t trust in the things we’ve built.
We’ve built the greatest infrastructure the world has ever seen. Cables and radio towers and satellites have connected every point on earth to every other point. Just about every piece of information ever written down is now accessible by anyone with a smartphone or computer. We’re now speaking fewer and fewer languages. Humanity’s capability to move with unified purpose is stronger than ever.
There is a curse for those who put their faith in the things man has built. Jeremiah 17 says,
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.'”
God can easily topple the things we’ve put in place to replace Him. We have to put our hope in the Lord.
We often talk about trusting in the Lord only after our earthly safety nets have begun to fail. We’ll work on trusting in the Lord when we lose our job. We pray when we get sick and the pills haven’t worked.
God’s our backup plan. As long as we’ve got some money in the bank, we don’t see the Lord as our provider. If we can look up answers on Google, we don’t see the Lord as our wisdom.
What are you leaning on? Proverbs 3 tells us “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” This is why it’s difficult for those who see themselves as wise to trust the Lord. And it’s hard for the rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Agur, the author of Proverbs 30, acknowledges this dynamic, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”
The Lord is a good provider and a good leader. He can meet our needs better than any new technology. His answers are better than anything we can find on the internet.
2. We don’t water down the gospel for the sake of unity.
The gospel is not simply, “Jesus loves you.” That’s not a message worth crucifying the King of Kings and martyring the Apostles.
The gospel is that Jesus is God, and has come to bridge the gap between God and man. Our offenses against the Almighty can be forgiven if we choose to lay down our lives and take up a new life found in Him that’s submitted to Jesus as King. We can walk the narrow road that leads to life, peace, healing and rest, but it requires us to leave behind everything else that is contrary to the Kingdom of God.
If we remove the parts of the gospel that offend, it ceases to be the gospel.
“But wouldn’t it be best if we just hold our tongue and make sure we maintain our relationships with unbelievers so that they have a path to eventually accept the gospel?”
It’s cowardly to avoid important confrontation that needs to happen. And it’s foolish to assume that you’ll have tomorrow to share the gospel, “once the time is right.”
Jeremiah prophesied, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” We ought not relate to unbelievers in a way that makes them assume that everything is ok. They are mortally wounded, and if they don’t receive help, they will die.
Paul has this instruction for us: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.”
That time is certainly now. There is tremendous pressure on those who know the truth to be silent about it. There are certainly those who do not put up with sound doctrine. But what’s our response? Preach the Word. Speak the truth. Deliver the message of the King. “Repent, and be baptized for the remission of your sins.”
And then don’t be surprised when the message of Jesus brings the sword of division. This division is all over scripture. The sheep are divided from the goats. The wheat is separated from the tares.
Our hope is that as the Church takes a stand, more and more people will be transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of marvelous light. But we work against this process when we blur the lines between light and darkness.
The gospel brings conflict and division before it brings peace and unity. Preach it clearly, and watch the Holy Spirit bring people over the line.
3. We build our unity around the Lord.
Unity doesn’t appear in a vacuum. It’s always built around something. The Tower of Babel was built around self-aggrandizement and humanism. We can build something different with one another.
Ephesians 2 says this:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
We take our place in a holy building: a temple for the Lord to dwell in. As unified believers, the Holy Spirit forms us together in Godly unity, each of us as bricks that comprise a house for Him.
This unity only exists because each brick wants to be a part of the Lord’s house. Unified in common purpose and common worship. Pulled together in love by our love for the Lord, Himself.
That’s a good place to be. Fulfilling our purpose by taking our place in the house of the Lord. It’s what we were made for. Community together around worship, obedience and love for Jesus.