Summary: We live in a divided world in so many ways. Jesus calls us to unity in the Church through the power of the Spirit. What does unity look like and how can we grow closer together in unity?
In my last post, I looked at Biblical images that describe you as a disciple of Jesus. In this post, part of being formed in the body of Christ is to seek unity in the Spirit.
I love to watch movies and TV shows about the military. Through all the discipline and shared experiences of the soldiers, a unity, a singleness of mind and movement happens. It’s not that each soldier loses his personal identity, although in some depictions it seems that’s exactly what the drill sergeant is attempting to do.
Unity is not easy to achieve, or everyone would have it. Even within the same political party, denomination, or any other organization of human beings into something greater than themselves unity is quite a chore. It has to be something people want.
It may surprise you, as it did me, that the Greek word for unity is only used twice in the New Testament, both references in the book of Ephesians. Paul addresses unity in the body of Christ and if you and I are going to become good disciples of Jesus, we must learn what unity is, how to achieve it, and what it means for the Church. Let’s get started.
What Is Unity Anyway?
It seems like an easy concept, but it is much harder to produce in real life. Dictionary.com gives the meaning of unity as the state of being one, or oneness. In practice, unity is much harder to achieve. Because we all are individuals, getting together on any one thing sometimes is impossible.
I think of how a man and a woman come together as one flesh, becoming one with one another so that one person cannot be separated from the other. That’s the goal of marriage, and yet most marriages are woefully unhealthy. Two worlds collide, but sometimes with disastrous effects. That’s not the way God wanted it, but that is the way many marriages are.
If only two people cannot seem to unite as one, how can an entire church find unity? Words for unity in the New Testament give pretty much the same idea as the English word. It stresses the idea of a group of people moving “as one man.”
One must wonder if unity among the great diversity of humanity can be achieved. The Church has help from the Holy Spirit in unity. Why do we want to be unified? There’s a power in unity that can in no other way be obtained. Can many people act as one person?
We see glimpses of the power of unity in the Bible. At the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-7, the people gathered in one place. This was not God’s will as He told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). He told Noah the same thing (Genesis 9:1, 7). God intended us to fill the earth, not gather in one city.
When the people came together at the Tower of Babel, they had a common goal to reach the heavens. What was the intent? Probably to be like God, the same sinful mistake Adam and Eve made the garden of Eden. But listen to what God says about the people gathering together with one goal and one language (all clues to unity): “Nothing that they propose to do will be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6). God Almighty, the Ruler of the universe, grants that the people cannot be stopped if they are unified to do one thing.
To prevent the people from coming up into heaven, God came down and confused their languages. They had no unity when there was too much diversity among them. Unity, then, is a tool that can be misused or used to further God’s Kingdom and glorify Him. That’s exactly what happened on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The people who came together could understand one another because God united them for His purpose of salvation and to expand and multiply His Church. God unites those under His banner and disperses those whose unity is for mere human purposes.
We seek unity because we seek to be like Jesus. When you think about the Godhead, it makes sense why God would want us to be united in His cause. Nobody will ever understand this side of heaven the Trinity, but at least one thing is clear: there are three distinct Persons who are members of a divine unity between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are the best example of diversity of Persons in perfect unity there is.
A Common Goal for the Church
God wants us to be united so we can carry out His plans for His Kingdom. He once unity because this is the only way to accomplish His divine purposes in us. What God could do with a unified Church that takes the world by storm! There’s nothing He could not do among us if we would humble ourselves to hear His purposes and do them.
I’m not speaking of God’s overall purposes, but what He wants to do in every local church, community, neighborhood, and city. I believe God has a purpose for each of us, and so for the local churches surrounding us, the communities of people who need Jesus, and the cities, states, and countries around the world.
Humility is a must-have for the unity of the Church. Since there are many members and parts of the body, we cannot get what we want. We must surrender our desires and wills to Jesus so He can put His agenda above the many. It is not enough to have many people acting as one person. We must act in His favor and do what He has for us has a unified body to do.
Indeed, Jesus taught us humility when He washed His disciples’ feet the night of His betrayal. John 13 shows us how Jesus taught His disciples, and us, to put others ahead of ourselves and act in humility toward one another. Paul cites Jesus’s example of humility in coming down to earth to give His life in our place and be humbled from His kingly position in heaven (Philippians 2:1- 11).
The goal Jesus places before us is impossible for one person to accomplish. Paul appeals to the humility of Jesus because without humility we will all be moving in different directions. That is not unity but diversity. If we all trying to achieve our own objectives, we are not focused on the goal Jesus lays in front of us. We most certainly cannot achieve it on our own. We need one another. Under unity, we are better together and can achieve what Jesus places before us.
John speaks about unity with different language but the same concept. In 1 John 1:6-10, John describes having unity with God and other saints in terms of fellowship. The Greek word for fellowship can be described as having things in common with one another or sharing things together. This is the essential nature of Christian unity.
He talks about how sin blocks us from fellowship with God and the saints. We must remember that unity cannot be achieved without living holy lives before God. Sin separates us both from God and the saints at the same time.
The only way to maintain unity with both is to live a holy life. This does not mean we will not fall into temptation and sin from time to time. However, that is a completely different reality than what John gives us here. He is saying that we cannot excuse sin, act like we have no sin, or live a lifestyle of sinfulness. Those are the distinguishing marks of this passage in 1 John.
Unity in the Body of Christ
The Greek word for unity is used twice in Ephesians 4. The first time Paul uses it, he combines the ideas of having unity in the Spirit and having it through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). He introduced unity through humility in Philippians 2 and unity through peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ here in Ephesians.
One way we maintain unity in the body of Christ is to have the unity of the Spirit, without whom it would be impossible to be unified through peace with one another. The biblical idea is not like our English idea of peace. It does not mean that we stop fighting amongst ourselves. Biblical peace is being in harmony with others, taking pains to make sure we are at peace with everyone else.
You cannot make others have peace with you. But you can go the extra mile to have peace with them. If they don’t want peace, you did your part. When everyone submits to one another peacefully, we can obtain the unity of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit must have yielded and humble hearts who desire peace with everyone. When He has that, He can make us move as one person with one mindset and one goal.
The other place Ephesians mentions unity is to obtain the unity of the faith (Ephesians 4:13). He combines this unity of the faith with knowledge of the Son of God, maturity, and the fullness of Christ. This is something the Protestant Church needs to work on. It is easier to divide from one another than to have unity in the faith.
Paul combines unity in the faith with knowledge of the Son of God because when we understand who Jesus is, we cannot have a different faith than that of our brothers and sisters. We have differences but we need to learn to major in the majors and minor in the minors of Christian doctrines.
We need to be united in the major doctrines of the faith. We need to hold denominational distinctives closely to ourselves but not be divisive with Christians who have different views. This requires Christian maturity, which is why Paul includes it almost on a one-on-one basis with unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God. When we understand who Jesus is and have unity in the faith, we grow in maturity.
One other place Paul talks about unity is in Romans 15:5-6 where he does not use the word for unity but uses similar words. He uses the word “harmony,” which is one way of talking about us walking as one person with one purpose in mind. He says we may “with one voice” glorify God. These words link us together in unity.
Unity is not something we easily obtain. We need the help of the Holy Spirit. Only He can help us walk in unity in lockstep with one another. He gives us grace for the task of growing together in unity. Let us call on Him, listen to and obey Him, and humbly be in harmony with one another.
Are you seeking the unity of the body with believers in your faith community? What are some ways you can seek to be united with other Christians? Do you major in the majors and minor in the minors?
Now that we have seen what unity looks like and how we might go about unifying with the body of Christ, we want to turn to how to discover and develop our ministry and gifts to serve the body.