The United States of America was formed by a group of citizens united in their response, united in their purpose and united in their defense of their beliefs. Woodrow Wilson once said, “We cannot be separated in interest or divided in purpose. We stand together until the end.” Even Benjamin Franklin realized cohesion was necessary when he declared, “We must hang together or assuredly we shall hand separately.” Americans are famous for sayings such as G. P. Morgan’s “United we stand, divided we fall.” Even naming our country embodies a reliance on one another for survival. What happened?
The church was united in beliefs, purpose and goals. As Jesus disappeared into the clouds from the Mount of Olives, the disciples remembered His reminder to be unified in their witness to Jerusalem, Judea and the ends of the earth. Together they returned to Jerusalem to share, as one, the greatest message the world would ever hear. What happened?
No sooner had the early church organized than dissension arose. Why do believers, seeking the same Savior, yearning for the same heaven, proclaiming the same Gospel continue to chip away at unity? Who cares? God cares. Lets look at this ubiquitous word and see how deep the implications dig into our theological stances.
First we need to understand the prefix “uni.” Webster defines this as simple “uni-prefix: one: single.” (Uni, Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, G&C Merriam Company, 1979.) Nothing complicated, nothing debatable, just a single unit. Logically we would assume all words built on this prefix contain a sense of one, not multiple. As believers we are called to unity in the church. John 17:23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan Corporation, 1989. All scripture quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)
What does it mean to be in complete unity? Simple, we are to be working together toward the same goal. We are to be striving as one unit, complex in structure, to proclaim the Gospel and encourage one another. An old Aesop’s Fable stated, “In union there is strength.” As the church presses toward another century of service we need strength. God provides strength and also expects us to work with one another for strength.
The NIV Bible Dictionary describes unity: Used in the O.T. in the sense of togetherness of persons (Genesis 13:6), fellowship (Judges 19:6), and praise (Psalm 34:3). Isaiah 11:6-7 tells of a future time when there will be a togetherness among animals. The NT word speaks of the unit of faith that binds together the people of God (Ephesians 4:13). (Bible Source NIV Bible Dictionary, J.D. Douglas, M.C. Tenny eds, Zondervan Corporation, 1989.)
In Chronicles, during Hezekiah’s reform the people of Israel turned back to God. Hezekiah sought God and serve as a King seeking God. He reopened the temple and encouraged the people to return to God. God provided the unity of purpose to accomplish this reform. 1 Chronicles 30:12 Also in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the LORD.
The psalmist reminds us of the good effects from unity. Psalm 133:1 How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! God is pleased when we get along. I’m reminded of a pleasant aroma which rises to God and how that might be seen in this statement.
As Christians we have a pressing need to seek unity with one another. Our relationship to one another has a direct, perceptible impact on our witness to the world. John 17:23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Unity is a sign of God’s work in our lives. When we are splintered we present the wrong message to the world. This reminds me of Paul’s admonition. Ephesians 4:3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
How do we accomplish such unity? Our frailties make us prone to stand up for our point of view. We want to be right at all costs. Often we create division, not by design but as a result of our desire to be seen and accepted as correct. Romans 15:5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus. Paul recognizes we cannot achieve the peace and unity called for by God. It’s only when we rely on God and rest in His hands and allow Him to do the work that peace and unity will actually come to bear in our lives.
It’s difficult for us to be humble and humility is the starting point for unity. We don’t like to give in to another point of view. Saint Augustine wrote, “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” A good passage to contemplate and memorize is Philippians 2:1-4. When we can live this passage with one another we will have unity.
Will we always see what we are convinced is correct come to be? No. There are many Biblical Imperatives which cannot be soiled with compromise. There are many more Personal Convictions which need to be weighed carefully before being applied to others. Liberty in Christ is one of the most difficult concepts for us to understand and live.
Are you unified with your brothers and sisters to proclaim the Gospel or are you at odds on how to proclaim the Gospel? Are you unified with fellow believers in discipling new believers or arguing over the proper methodology? Are you on a tangent or on target with the body of Christ?
Let us work together. Let us consider more than one point of view. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus as the goal of our life. Let us bring unity back to the church.
Colossians 2:2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.