UNITY – RHETORIC OR REALITY?
BY RICHARD DAVIS
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3).
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as o f fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
Clearly, few things are as important to Christians and to the church as unity. Unity among brethren is both pleasant and essential,
for how can two individuals “walk together” without unity? Moreover, unity played a vital role in the birth of the church on the Day of Pentecost, for it was when they were “with one accord in one place” that the Holy Spirit suddenly came upon the gathered believers. Yes, unity is very important to Christians.
It is important to understand, however, that talking about unity and possessing it are distinctly separate. Talking about having unity does not guarantee its existence. Further, there is a point where talking about having unity-no matter how positive we are trying to be-becomes empty rhetoric when unity simply does not exist. We cannot talk ourselves into a position of unity; it comes only through reaching agreement through persevering prayer, tolerance for differences, and love, preferring our brethren before ourselves. Jesus Christ modeled this holy attitude of love through the Cross, not doing what was expedient for Himself, but doing what was vital to the salvation of humanity. And He wants us to exhibit the same attitude of unifying love.
“Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him” (Philippians 2:2-9).
If we expect to be exalted with Christ, we first must be willing to humble ourselves as He humbled Himself. Pride and arrogance can destroy unity among brethren. Moreover, pride can become a polarizing element that some may mistake for unity, but it is not unity.
Americans live in a democratic society that has sometimes affected the thinking of American Christians. We sometimes tend to
embrace the notion that majority makes for right and that it does not matter what those holding minority views believe, but this was not the attitude exemplified by Jesus Christ. Indeed, He pointed out that sometimes the majority is wrong. (See Matthew 7:12-16.)
American Christians have lived under the shadow of legalized abortion for more than a quarter century. They, of all people, should understand that majority or might does not necessarily make right. Abortion is biblically wrong, no matter how many people may embrace its practice. Majority opinions are not always right.
Whether or not the majority is right is not the only issue, however. It is just as important to consider what should be the
attitude of those holding a majority view toward those who may hold an opposing view. It is the responsibility of the majority to nurture and cultivate unity with those who may disagree with them over certain emotional issues.
It is an arrogant attitude that projects the idea and feeling, “Well, your side lost; you were outvoted. Just get over it.” Where is
the Christian love in such an attitude? Was that the attitude Jesus portrayed? And what does that attitude do to unity? It does not nurture good feelings or a reality of unity. To speak of having unity just because a majority prevailed is only rhetoric.
Jesus Christ is not interested in rhetoric; He desires true unity among His people. And unity is not always easily obtained; sometimes it requires much effort, patience, understanding, and most of all, genuine Christian love without hypocrisy. Our apostolic doctrine is vital to salvation, but Jesus did not say that His followers would be known for their doctrine. He said that people would know His disciples by their love for one another (John 13:35). God forbid that genuine love ever be missing from our relationship with our brethren! Jesus considered our unity so important that He prayed specifically that we might be unified.
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou,
Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gayest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:20-23).
True love is the key to unity. If God’s love abides in us, we will love our brethren, even when we disagree with them. Love is a
fundamental characteristic of true Christianity and it is a sign that we have new life in Jesus Christ. Moreover, love motivates us to sacrificially prefer our brethren, not demean them or treat them with condescension. Jesus gave His life for us because of love! Can we do less?
“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.
Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (I John 3:14-18).
So, will there be disagreements among brethren? Absolutely! Will there sometimes be partisan divisions and schisms among brethren? Hopefully not, but the early Christians sometimes had to deal with divisions among brethren. Still, divisions will only occur when we fail to live responsibly through the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.What can Christians do to promote love and unity and ensure that no divisions or strife develop?
First, there must be real and genuine prayer. This is not just individual prayer, although that is vital to maintaining Christ’s love
in our heart. But it is important to pray corporately with our brothers and sisters in Christ. When issues arise among us, it is especially important to spend time together, humbling ourselves in the presence of the Lord. God gave us the ability to think and reason, but when rationale is not checked by the Holy Spirit we become carnal, stubborn, and insubordinate in our ideas, spirit, and attitude toward our fellow Christians. We must pray!
Prayer is our lifeline to spiritual living. Speaking in tongues may edify us, but prayer sustains us! It is impossible for Christians
to live spiritual lives without prayer just as it is impossible for us to live for long without food or water. They are essential to human life, and genuine association with God through prayer is vital to spiritual life.
Second, we must nurture and cultivate Christ’s love within our heart and our consequential love for our brethren. If we say we love Christ but do not love our brethren, we only are deceiving ourselves (I John 4:19-21). To say that we love one another is commendable, but it means nothing if we fail to exhibit that love through genuine acts and deeds of kindness and humility.
“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (I John 3:18).
Third, when strong disagreements arise, we should determine to come together in prayer, fasting, and discussion until an agreeable consensus can form. Unity is not achieved by discussing the issue only until one side can muster a majority vote. Unity is achieved by the determination of both parties to reach a reasonable compromise-a conclusion with which both sides can live and feel that the body is served in the corporate will of God. Neither side should leave a meeting feeling defeated or unappreciated. It is important in the body of Christ to reach for and find a “win-win” solution. In other words, it should be a consensus in which everyone wins. That is only obtainable when everyone is willing to make some concessions for the sake of unity-not contending for their particular views to the disunity of the body.
Acts 15 is an amazing chapter in the historical record of the early church. A major point of difference and contention had arisen in
the church in the matter of whether circumcision should be required for Gentiles, so the leaders met to reconcile the matter. There was “much disputing” on the matter (Acts 15:7), so clearly brethren sometimes have differences of opinion that can threaten unity. But when they left that meeting they were not a fractured or divided church; they had discussion on both sides of the issue and together they reached a consensus of agreement. Unity came from agreement.
It has been said that love is a decision, not just a feeling. In the same sense it is our responsibility to make a conscious decision to
seek agreement and unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It should not be a decision that changes with every whim of the will or when differences of opinion arise. It is a decision that we make on the basis of our common experience and relationship in Jesus Christ. Walking “in the light” is our basis for fellowship and unity in Christ (I John 1:7).
The apostle Paul offered invaluable instructions to the Christians at Corinth concerning unity, and we will benefit from his
admonitions today. He had heard of divisions in the Corinthian church and responded to the things he had heard through the
writing of his first epistle to the Corinthians. Paul urged them, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10).
Paul also admonished the Ephesians regarding the need to strive for unity. He wrote, “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
As has always been the case in Christianity, the greater responsibility for achieving and maintaining unity rests with the “strong” (Romans 14:1-15:7; Galatians 6:1-2). This certainly would seem to include those who are strong in number-the majority on any issue. Paul believed so much in his responsibility toward achieving unity that he personally determined that if it was necessary, he would abstain from eating meat for the sake of unity. (See I Corinthians 8:13.)The rhetoric of unity is one thing; possessing unity is another matter. Let it be said of us as Christians that our profession of unity is real-not empty platitudes.
“Let brotherly love continue” (Hebrews 13:1).
Richard Davis is the editor of Word Aflame Publications, which is the Sunday school curriculum published by Word Aflame Press.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY FORWARD, WINTER 2001, PAGES 12, 13, 15.
THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.