Unique Yet Unified
As I sat in a recent church service listening to a song by a vocal trio, I realized it provided a good illustration of unity. The singers were in unity, not because they were singing alike or in unison, but because they were in harmony with each other. They sounded wonderful together, each singing his own part.
The family of God was designed to work together in this same manner. Though we were created as unique individuals, God desires for us to come together in Him to encourage one another and further the Gospel.
In the fourth chapter of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul exhorted believers to strive for unity among themselves. He said, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (verses 1-3). In these and subsequent verses, Paul revealed how to obtain godly unity, cultivate it among ourselves, and preserve it until we are brought into perfect harmony in Heaven. If we will gain an understanding of unity and follow Paul’s advice for achieving it, we will benefit by being a more supportive and productive body of believers.
What is unity?
The dictionary definition of unity includes “being together or one with an individual, group, or thing.” This does not mean being “one” in every way. “Unity” is not the same as “unanimity,” which is when everyone in a group has the same opinion, and it is not “uniformity,” where everyone acts or looks alike. It is possible for two or more people to achieve unity when there are noticeable differences among the individuals. One example is in the workplace. It is not unusual for employees to come from varied backgrounds and have differing beliefs, opinions, and personalities. Yet when all follow the ideas and protocols established by management about how to conduct their work, things tend to go well; there is unity.
Another example is marriage. Spouses can differ greatly and still have a successful union. Often, new couples find they have different strengths and weaknesses, ways of doing things, likes and dislikes. When I was dating my future wife, Merrill, and we began to talk about getting married, she asked if I enjoyed traveling. We were both just nineteen years old, but by that time she had already traveled a couple of times internationally and had even lived abroad as a foreign exchange student. I told her I loved to travel. On several occasions, I had been to the beach, which was eighty-five miles southwest of my family home in Portland, Oregon, and to our church youth camp in nearby Washington State. One of my favorite places to go to was a little community in Mitchell, Oregon, about a four-hour drive southeast of Portland. It had a population of less than two hundred people, and there was not a lot going on there, but that is what appealed to me. My brothers and I loved to load up our dirt bikes and go to central Oregon to camp outdoors and ride the dusty trails in the hills around there.
Shortly after we married, I took Merrill camping in that area, and it did not go as I had imagined at all. I had thought we would be very happy riding trail bikes together, but I was really wrong about that. I learned my wife would much rather travel to Madrid, Spain, than to Mitchell, Oregon.
Even though over subsequent years, our tastes have become more aligned, at that time in our lives my wife and I were not in unity on that particular issue. However, we did have a common bond that was more meaningful to us than any differences we had, and that was a deep love and devotion to each other and to God. We also had a unified goal, which was to serve God together.
When people share a common bond and purpose, they can achieve unity despite their differences.
Obtaining godly unity
The common bond that brings people into unity with God and other believers starts at salvation. When we confess our sins to God and pray with repentant hearts, turning away from those sins, He forgives us. Through the Blood of His Son Jesus, sacrificed for us, we are washed clean. At that moment, we become part of the Body of Christ, united with other believers through God’s Spirit.
Paul described the special bond that believers share in this way: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).
At salvation, we become part of the same body—the Body of Christ; we have the same Spirit in us—God the Holy Ghost; and we share the same hope—eternal life in Heaven. God’s Spirit becomes our Teacher and Guide, leading each of us into the same truth. As we submit to His ways, we are brought even more closely into alignment in faith and purpose. This is a bond more powerful than any that can be experienced outside of the Gospel. It transcends all other relationships, including familial, ethnic, social, economic, academic, and professional. Unity among God’s people is something to be appreciated and nurtured.
Paul understood the value of unity that comes from God. The second verse of his exhortation concerning this unity (Ephesians 4:1-3) contains some good advice on how we can cultivate it with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
First, our approach should be “with all lowliness.” Each of us must have an attitude of humility. This includes preferring others above ourselves. It also includes listening and appreciating another’s viewpoint before responding. The more we practice humility, the more harmonious our church environment will be.
Second, we need to exercise “meekness,” which is not the same as timidity or weakness. In the Old Testament, we read that Moses was a very meek man. Yet he confronted Pharaoh many times and withstood the angry complaints of the Israelites who were unhappy about their circumstances in the wilderness. Moses showed meekness in that instead of defending himself against attacks, he took everything to God in prayer, seeking His will. God helped Moses, and He will do the same for us too. As we relinquish to God any offenses that have been made against us, letting Him fight our battles, He will defuse every situation in the best manner for all involved.
Next, we are to be “longsuffering,” which means that we are to be patient with one another. This is the opposite of having a short temper. Further on in this chapter, we read, “Be ye angry and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (verse 26). When a conflict with another believer causes us to feel anger, we are to attempt to reconcile with that person rather than ignore the situation. If we are longsuffering, we will be able to let go of our anger and resolve the matter. If not, ignoring the conflict will not cause it go away but will only allow resentment to build, making the matter worse. Like dirt swept under a rug, unresolved issues tend to pile up until eventually they cannot be ignored.
Another reason to be longsuffering with fellow believers and reconcile our differences is that we want to be in a position spiritually to exemplify God’s righteousness. Other people will notice if we are angry with another believer. Some will simply observe that there is strife, while others will take sides. Either way, God is not glorified.
Strife among a few in a congregation can result in disunity among many. Therefore, it is important that we attempt to resolve any conflicts among ourselves quickly.
Lastly, we should be “forbearing one another in love.” The word forbear means “to hold oneself up against,” or figuratively, “to put up with.” We should always be kind, considerate, and loving toward fellow believers. It may be more difficult in trying times, when we need to exercise patience, to also show love as we forbear one another. However, this is when it is most needed. As we extend grace for each other’s faults, always assuming the best of motives and intentions, we can expect that same grace will be extended to us.
We have been given the wonderful gift of unity with God and His people. We have a special bond and fellowship that unbelievers cannot experience, and it is worth preserving. Paul said this takes, “endeavouring,” which means to put forth effort. One effort each of us can make is to take personal responsibility for maintaining peace and harmony within the family of God. This starts with each of us as individuals. We must submit to God’s Word and His will when interacting with fellow believers, and then support others in doing the same.
God’s plan for His people is that we work together in unity, encouraging one another in the faith, until our fellowship is made perfect in Heaven. Paul said, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).