Chain gangs are thankfully a part of our punitive past, but the image endures in the American mind. Chain gangs show up in our music and our movies. The image running through your mind right now is several men in striped uniforms bound together by ankle chains. They are sweltering in the noon day heat as they work their scythes back and forth in a field. It doesn’t seem like this image is very helpful when it comes time to think of church. But I wonder?
In Ephesians 4:3, Paul counsels the Ephesian Christians to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (NASB). Likewise in Colossians 3:14, love is called “the perfect bond of unity.” In both cases, the word bond comes from a Greek word which if broken down woodenly would be translated “with chain.” Somehow we don’t think that love and peace are congruous with chains. Yet Paul doesn’t seem to think that bondage is an inappropriate way to picture the unity of the church.
I find something edifying in thinking of church unity in terms of chains wrapping us up and holding us together. First, the idea of a chain helps me to think of the unbreakable strength of God’s covenant love in Jesus Christ. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you are a part of the body of Christ and nothing that you can do can change that. God preserves his true people. And even when we are pushing at the bonds and doing a really bad job of living as the church, it is impossible for us to destroy what Christ has made. Second, the image of a chain gang reminds us that the bonds are there in part because we will try to run. We all long for human community, yet in a fallen world we all are scared of it as well. Thank God that he somehow chains us together so that we cannot get away from him or from one another.
Let us then work together to strengthen these chains that hold us together. They remind us of God’s amazing love. And one day when you or I try to run away, we will need these bonds to keep us in place.
If you want to know more about strengthening this “bond of peace,” join us in worship this Sunday morning.