Unity is not an option for the Lord’s church. If a sinner is able to be restored into a relationship with the heavenly Father, then the children ought to get along with one another. The Psalmist David wrote, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1) The “good” and “pleasant” unity that David spoke of is the will of God. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians,
“1Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. – Eph. 4:1-3
Because God wants unity, every Christian is responsible for his or her part in it. Being members of the one body of Christ, Christians must learn to function together. To the Ephesians, Paul said,
“from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” – Eph. 4:16
Knowing the will of God, we need to talk about unity, and pray for it, and do the things that bring it about. Paul said, “God is not a God of confusion . . . . Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Cor. 14:33,40) This unity is rooted in the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How does the church achieve unity?
Paul said to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” The “manner” you walk concerns the conduct of your life. There is a certain way that a Christian walks that is characterized by kindness and gentleness for others. A church with carnal leaders or a church that does not address sin among the members is not in unity with God. And the sin will spread and create havoc for all the members. It is essential that holiness be the goal of all members of the body. Holiness starts at home, it starts with me. A Christian has no business worrying over someone else’s shortcomings when he has not taken a look in the mirror. It is like Paul said to the Corinthians, “examine yourselves!” (2 Cor. 13:5) If the church is pure, real unity is made easier.
PUT OTHERS FIRST
The moment a Christian puts his pride and will ahead of others is the beginning of potential problems. Real unity is achievable when we value what God does. God values selfless, sacrificial behavior. He Himself demonstrated it and He called for it in us.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard
one another as more important than yourselves;” – Philippians 2:3
Selfish ambition and pride create divisions in the church. Some among the Corinthian church were puffed up because of their gifts or because of who converted them. They were filled with selfish, carnal pride. Things like prideful boasting are a sure way to alienate members of the body of Christ. Paul wrote:
2 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. – 1 Cor. 12:20-27
In the the metaphor, we see that some of the members didn’t love and care about others as they should. The prideful and selfish mind was creating problems in the body at Corinth. Some were looking down on others. God’s unity comes from valuing every soul in the church. Real, godly unity will exists where there is love and respect for others. Understanding what God values is essential to unity in the body of Christ. The way that God has made the church as a body with individual members demands that the members work together. At the root of true unity is love, compassion, and true respect for every other member of the Body. If the body of Christ is to accomplish its purpose, then each member must put others first.
FOLLOW ONLY GOD’S WORD
Unity in the church includes unity on matters of doctrine. In fact, unity is only possible if we put the Bible first. At the mention of the word “doctrine”, some become squeamish in fear of being called “legalistic”. Legalism and careful adherence to God’s Word are not the same thing. Paul wrote to that God’s unity is based on Bible truth:
4There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of
your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all who
is over all and through all and in all.” – Eph. 4:4-6
In the context of being “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”, Paul’s listed the seven “ones” necessarily implying that doctrine is the basis for God’s unity. With the guidance of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, the church is spiritually matured, and is not “carried away by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). Through doctrine, each member of the body works together to achieve the “unity of the faith” (Eph. 4:13). Through the inspired Word, God gives everything that is necessary to accomplish His unity.
Because the false teacher and the doubter knows that unity hinges on doctrine, he attacks the Bible in order to confuse and cast doubt on the Bible. What is the one faith? What is the Baptism? Here are the seven items listed by Paul:
- One Body – The church of Christ, Eph. 1:22,23. We must strive to be like the church of the New Testament.
- One Spirit – The Holy Spirit.
- One Hope – The anchor of the soul which is the hope of heaven, Rom. 8:24,25; Heb. 6:11,19.
- One Lord – This is none other than the Lord, Jesus Christ.
- One Faith – The Christian faith rooted in the Gospel of Jesus. There are many “faiths” today, but there was only one faith in the Bible (Jude 3; Rom. 10:17)
- One Baptism1 – The burial with Christ and resurrection into newness of life (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:26,27; Col. 2:12; 1 Pet. 3:21; Tit. 3:5).
- One God and Father – His name is Jehovah. There is no other God who is our Father.
According to Paul’s list in Ephesians 4, a God by another name is not the true God. A Jesus who is sinful is not the Jesus. A Spirit that contradicts itself is not the Holy Spirit. A baptism without the biblical purpose seen in Colossians 2:12 or Galatians 3:26,27 is not the one baptism. A faith that is rooted in human tradition is not the faith that unifies. A body/church that is not found in the Bible is not the body. And the hope that is not eternal life in heaven is not the one hope.
No one should be trusted who thinks unity with God and with the church is possible without diligent adherence to doctrine. There’s a reason Paul commanded the Corinthians not to “exceed the things which are written.” (1 Cor. 4:6) It’s the same reason the Revelation letter warns against adding to or taking away from the Word of God. Love and compassion are invaluable, but hearts are knit together that are founded on the Word of God.
UNITY OF SOUND DOCTRINE
- For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; (2 Ti 4:3)
- Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. (Tit. 1:9)
- But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: (Tit. 2:1)
- In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, (Tit. 2:7)
Unity of doctrine means defending the moral teachings in Scripture. There are many religious people who are not very spiritual. They tend to conform more to the values and morals of the world than with the Bible. A person who agrees that it is a woman’s “right to choose” is way out of unity with God’s truth. A person who says that that Paul was sexist for writing what he did in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 is way out of sync with God’s Word. And anyone that agrees that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle is not in tune with God. Real unity, unity God’s way is unity with His teaching. It is unity with what He thinks and feels. It is unity with what He loves and hates. It is unity with His people. Real unity, not the superficial type, is achievable if we diligently walk with God and diligently study and adhere to His Word.
AVOID FAKE UNITY
Maybe you have heard of “unity at all costs”, or unity “in name only”, or the unity of “agreeing to disagree”. God isn’t superficial and He isn’t interested in a superficial unity which is what these things are. God’s unity is real and substantial which calls for “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose”(Philippians 2:2). God’s unity is achievable when hearts and minds are connected in Jesus Christ. That’s the problem with worldly unity. “Unity at all costs” often means unity at the expense of the moral truths of the Bible. Unity “in name only” or the unity of “agreeing to disagree” is little more than a mask to conceal an undercurrent of division which exist. By “agreeing to disagree”, one is agreeing to maintain “fellowship” with someone he has major differences with. That is a perverted unity. Too many people prefer to be in unity with mankind at the costs of opposition to God and His Word. James said, “do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?” So let’s be careful what KIND of unity we seek or settle for. Many religious folks are very happy to have the wrong kind of unity. I recall reading an article a year or so back where a local church in our area celebrated its unity with a diversity of beliefs. Some members of the group were “christian”, and some were atheist, and some this and that, and some were somewhere else between. At first I thought this is not unity. But after some reflection I came to the conclusion that they were, in fact, very unified. In the name of unity they assemble! And they acheive it. But it not unity with the Word of God. It is a unity with man; a unity with humanity; a unity of self; a unity of fear; a unity of do and believe what you please. These people come as close as anyone ever has to having real unity with the world. In their “church”, there is no sin, and no Bible, and definitely no closed-minded person who would threaten the peace. But they were not unified with God and His Word.
God’s unity is commanded and therefore achievable if we love God’s Word and strive to do our part in the body of Christ.
1. It is my belief that the “one baptism” is the water baptism Jesus commanded. But some people say that Paul is referring to Holy Spirit baptism. For my purposes here, I am not attempting to answer which one Paul is referring to. If we read the Bible, then we know that God commanded water Baptism. Besides being commanded to receive it, it had a purpose which Christians could latch onto (Rom. 6:1ff) and be reminded of for its significance to them. And Christians need to be unified on this. The person who teaches sprinkling or pouring water as an acceptable substitute is creating DISunity.
There was also the Holy Spirit baptism which was essential to the beginning of the church. But it is not likely that Paul meant this baptism when he said there is “one baptism”. God poured out His Spirit in Acts 2 and on that day the church had its beginning. By the time of Acts 10, a number of years had passed and the church was not yet converting Gentiles. And so God told Peter to go to the Gentile named Cornelius and tell him how to become a Christian. And when Peter began preaching, God poured out the Spirit again “just as He did in the beginning” (Acts 11:16). Holy Spirit baptism was a significant thing that was unmistakable and impossible to miss. With it there were signs such a “noise like a violent rushing wind”, something like “tongues of fire” which rested upon the Apostles, and there were notable miracle where those baptized in the Holy Spirit spoke in tongues and glorified God by the accompanying power. For the sake of unity, this needs to be what is taught in the church. Holy Spirit baptism was not for the purpose of salvation.
Our understanding of Holy Spirit baptism is an understanding of what God did historically. But our understanding of baptism in water has to do with what we are to practice in the church today.
Legalism is not the strict adherence to God’s word