“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”¹ On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln spoke those words to his Republican colleagues in the Springfield, Illinois statehouse. He had just been chosen to run against Stephen Douglas for the United States Senate.
When Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, questioned the use of such a strong statement, the future president said, “The proposition is indisputably true…and I will deliver it as written. I want to use some universally known figure, expressed in simple language as universally known, that it may strike home to the minds of men in order to rouse them to the peril of the times.”
Lincoln’s famous statement is a paraphrase of Jesus’s words recorded in Mark 3:25—“If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (NIV). Lincoln was right because Jesus is always right. Unity is the foundation of everything we value: peace and love, respect and purpose. And like Lincoln’s colleagues, we need to be reminded of what’s crucial to awaken us “to the peril of the times.”
Reconciled to God
We long for unity because our Creator placed the desire for it in our hearts. When sin entered the world, disunity followed—conflict between Adam and Eve led to conflict between Cain and Abel, which spiraled into a vortex of disharmony that has plagued humanity ever since.
But Jesus entered our world to end the conflict, to restore unity between God and sinners. In Paul’s letters to first-century churches, he used the term reconciliation, which means “to bring back to a former state of harmony.”
Sinful people had been separated from their holy God since Adam and Eve tasted the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But Jesus’ death and resurrection made reconciliation possible:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners [at enmity with God], Christ died for us.…For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life. (Romans 5:8, 10).
Jesus satisfied God’s requirements for reconciliation, but each person must receive the terms of reconciliation: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
The Ministry of Reconciliation
Once our relationship with God has been restored, we are called into his service: “[God] reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.…We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:18, 20). God has commissioned each of us to share with others his message of love and peace.
To move people toward a reconciled relationship with God may seem a daunting task, especially in our postmodern culture that exalts moral relativism and disdains absolute truth. But as Paul told the Corinthians, we must open wide our hearts, allowing God’s compelling love to flow through us to others (2 Corinthians 5:14, 6:11).
Eight Practical Ways to Pursue This Ministry
What are some practical ways we can open our hearts and deliver God’s loving message of reconciliation to those who don’t even realize they’re searching for it?
When God provides an opportunity, share the message of reconciliation clearly with your words to lost, estranged people who desperately need peace with him through Jesus Christ.
Refuse to engage in divisive discussions on social media or to share divisive posts and tweets. Choose instead to post comments about God’s goodness and faithfulness. Share the blessings you and your loved ones experience, and give God the glory.
Give a generous tip to a harried restaurant server. Explain that it’s a privilege to share God’s resources with others.
Seek to understand opposing viewpoints when people speak against the values you hold dear. Choose to listen rather than argue.
Send a handwritten note of thanks to people who impact your life—a mail carrier, doctor, or neighbor. Tell them why you consider them one of God’s blessings in your life.
Invite a neighbor or coworker to share a meal with you. If you’re not a cook, meet at a restaurant or pick up food and bring it home. Express your appreciation and give God the glory for bringing that person into your life. Share experiences that point to your relationship with God.
7. Boasting in Christ
If someone compliments you on the way you handle a situation, glorify God by explaining that you sought his guidance in the matter. As we point to God’s work in our lives, the evidence of his grace, forgiveness, faithfulness, and attentiveness to us can create a hunger in other people’s hearts for such a relationship.
You may also find it helpful to list the fruit of self (Galatians 5:19-21) and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) on a 3×5 card or on your smartphone. Each day read the two lists and ask the Spirit to help you produce fruit compatible with your role as a minister of reconciliation. As conflicts, problems, and frustrations rise, look at the lists and pray for guidance.
If you’re like me, you may need time to pluck the seeds of anger, defensiveness, or jealousy from your heart. If possible, wait a few hours, even a few days, before you respond to situations. Allow the Spirit to plant the right seeds in your heart.
We Shall Not Fail
Lincoln ended his impassioned plea for the abolition of slavery with these famous words: “The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail—if we stand firm, we shall not fail. Wise councils may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but sooner or later the victory is sure to come.”
“The result is not doubtful” for us either. God has promised his words will accomplish what he intends (Isaiah 55:11). We sow his seed, plant, and water, but God gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7). He also tells us to stand firm in his truth and his love—in the message of reconciliation he has given us.
If we deliver that message in loving actions and words, then through the power of the Holy Spirit “we shall not fail” to move others toward reconciliation with God in accordance with his great plan of salvation through Christ. And one day we’ll stand before Jesus in perfect unity with saints of every nation, tribe, and language, praising him for finishing what he started (Revelation 5:9-14).
[i] The text of Lincoln’s speech and his response to Herndon can be found at abrahamlincolnonline.org.