October 1, 2013

Unity in the Church

While Jesus was in the Upper Room with His disciples, just hours before His Crucifixion, He prayed this beautiful prayer: “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 gavest 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).

In praying “for them also which shall believe on me through their word,” Jesus was looking ahead to the Church of 2013. He was praying for us—that we might be one with our fellow believers and with Him. He knew the necessity of oneness between His followers if the Church was to fulfill its mission on this earth.

What is unity? The dictionary defines it as “complete agreement among persons regarding attitudes, opinions, and intentions.” As an illustration of unity, consider a symphony orchestra. The orchestra makes beautiful music when the instruments are in tune, the musicians are at the same place in the piece, and everyone is following the conductor. All of these components must be in place! In the Church, the members share a common purpose, do what is necessary to promote unity, and have a commitment to the same goal—to follow Christ’s instructions so that the Gospel can go forward.

Why do we need unity?

Why do we need unity in the Church? In our text, Jesus gave the reason: “. . . that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (verse 21). Oneness among Christ’s followers will indicate to the world that He was sent from God himself to be the Savior. Verse 23 repeats the same thought: “... that the world may know that thou hast sent me.” To know someone indicates a relationship. Jesus wanted the world to have confidence in Him and trust Him for salvation. This is the goal of the Church—to be a witness for Christ so that others may come to know Him.

There is spiritual power in oneness, and we want power in the Church. Unity is necessary for revival to occur. We read in Acts 2 that when the Day of Pentecost came, the disciples were “with one accord in one place.” That means they were in unity! They all had the same purpose, the same desire. They were headed in the same direction spiritually. And when they were in one accord, they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. That was revival! Then Peter preached a sermon and three thousand souls were converted.

The Word of God helps us understand what prevents unity and what promotes it. Perhaps the biggest hindrance to unity is a lack of prayer—prayer in our individual lives and corporate prayer in the church body. Jesus said, “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). When we fail to pray regularly, consistency is lacking in our Christian lives. If we continue to neglect prayer, our lives will not back up what we claim to be, and our witness will be gone.

A lack of prayer may result in strife and discord. The Old Testament prophet Amos asked the thought-provoking question, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). The writer of Proverbs lists seven things that God hates, and concludes the list with “he that soweth discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:19). The word discord means “strong disagreement; not getting along.” We do not want discord to exist in the Church.

Careless words can damage unity. The Apostle James said that although the tongue is only a small member of the physical body, “how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” (James 3:5). A small instrument can wield great destruction. A few words spoken in haste can destroy relationships that took years to build. Thoughtless comments can destroy unity between brothers and sisters in the Lord very quickly. How careful we must be that our communication with others—both verbal and electronic—is truthful and kind.

Discord can also come into the church through resistance to church authorities and the order that God’s Word prescribes. In Hebrews 13:17 we read, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” Order is necessary for the welfare of the church, and believers are instructed to yield to those who are set over them by the Lord. In turn, those leaders give an account of themselves to God. This Biblical mandate is timeless. If we want unity in the church, we are charged to submit ourselves to the order God has put in place.

The Apostle was encouraging these believers to do whatever they could to remain steadfast and in spiritual oneness with one another so the Gospel could go forward.

What promotes unity?

We have looked at some behaviors that destroy unity; now let’s consider what promotes unity. In Philippians 1:27, the Apostle Paul instructed the church at Philippi to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Notice that Paul said “striving together,” not “coasting together.” Unity takes effort! The Apostle was encouraging these believers to do whatever they could to remain steadfast and in spiritual oneness with one another so the Gospel could go forward.

In the next chapter, he repeats the challenge, telling them to “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” (Philippians 2:2-3). After Paul challenges the Philippians to be of one mind, he goes further, exhorting them to respect one another, and to think of others as better than themselves. Selflessness promotes unity in the church.

Paul penned a similar message to the church at Ephesus, writing, “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 [working hard] to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” How important it is to be humble, long-suffering, and forbearing of one another! Paul was saying, “Don’t be easily offended. Work hard to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Peace is the “glue” that holds us together. When we live at peace with one another, our hearts are united.

Differences of perspective are inevitable, because God made us individuals. Living in harmony does not mean we will agree on everything; there will be many opinions, just as there are many notes in a musical chord. At times reconciliation will be needed. The dictionary says reconciliation is “to call back into union and friendship the affections which have been harmed; to restore to favor.” Have you had a disagreement with someone else? Go to that person and seek reconciliation! Do all you can to restore the relationship. That will promote unity.

My wife is a supervisor at a clinic for one of the hospitals in Yakima. They have a company-wide policy of “no triangulation.” In other words, if an employee has something against a co-worker, he does not go to the supervisor. Rather, he goes directly to that co-worker and straightens it out. A “no triangulation” policy is good for the church as well. If you have a disagreement with your brother or sister, do not run to the pastor. Do not go to someone else and say, “Oh, pray for so and so, because he did this to me.” We read in Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” It takes purpose and determination to maintain unity, and reconciliation is a part of that.

Pray for one another

One of the most important things we can do to maintain oneness is to pray one for another. Have you ever seen a person get up after a good prayer meeting and seek conflict? It does not happen! It is hard to hold something against your brother or sister if you are praying for that one. In James 5:16, we are admonished, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another.” Prayer is a powerful resource when it comes to preserving oneness in the Body of Christ.

While we must do our part to promote unity in the church, it is important to realize that we cannot achieve oneness with God and with each other in our own strength. We must be saved and sanctified in order for true unity to exist.

In His prayer, Jesus prayed that He might be in us, and that occurs through salvation. We come to Christ with a repentant heart, confessing that we have sinned against Him, and by faith accepting the provision that He made at Calvary for our sins. The Spirit of God witnesses that we have been forgiven, and we have peace, knowing that Christ has come to abide in us.

Jesus prayed for our sanctification, that we might be holy and separate from the world, and one with Him and each other. Saved and sanctified individuals enjoy that kind of unity.

After receiving salvation, we must seek to be sanctified. In John 17:17, Jesus prayed for His followers, saying, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” In verse 19 He said, “For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified.” God wants a pure Church, a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle. That is the goal! Jesus prayed for our sanctification, that we might be holy and separate from the world, and one with Him and each other. Saved and sanctified individuals enjoy that kind of unity, and it comes in no other way.

The results of unity

Psalm 133 describes the results of unity: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”

The Psalmist compared unity to the holy anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head when he was anointed as the first high priest of Israel (see Exodus 29:7). That precious oil which had been blended together with spices that were fragrant. And the Psalmist says that just as that precious ointment covered Aaron from the top of his head to his feet, unity should cover us. When that is the case, the result will be attractive—it will have a pleasant “fragrance” to the world. But even more importantly, God will be pleased, and will command the blessing of life evermore.

When we live in unity, we will win spiritual battles, because the Spirit of God will be able to flow in an unobstructed manner. There will be success in prayer because there is nothing to hinder. We will be able to pray with confidence toward God, knowing that there is nothing between us and our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can get down and worship the Lord in spirit and in truth with pure hearts.

Do you want God’s blessing upon your life and upon the Church? Make sure you are one with God and with His people!

apostolic faith magazine