3 reasons we reject unity

How committed to unity are we?

If I am committed to being a Christ-follower, unity is not optional.  Here’s an example of one of the many times Jesus and the apostles expressed how vital unity is:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

John 17:20-21 (NIV)

For Jesus, unity wasn’t simply about getting along with one another, but “so that the world may believe that [God sent him].”  Functioning as a unified Body of believers was always the design; we were never meant to represent Christ as factions or in silos.  As the Apostle Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NKJV):

“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”

I’ve never met a Christ-follower that was overtly opposed to the concept of unity; in practice, however, it is not hard for us to see ways we allow — or even embrace — disunity.  If in theory we want it but in practice do not live it, how committed to unity are we?  Why is it so easy for us to slip into disconnection while still desiring to follow Christ?

Issue #1: We treat unity as an “extra”; it’s actually in our DNA.

The fact Paul chose to use the body for his analogy on unity is important, as it points to an element of spiritual unity that we often miss.

We engage unity in the same way Noah engaged the animals of the world, which were naturally separated.  He knew it was important for them to be unified in the ark, or else they would die, so he set out to do something that seemed impossible and unnatural.  Afterall, predator and prey were traveling to and journeying on the ark together, which would normally end in bloodshed.  Fortunately for Him, God made a way (more on that below.)

When we think of all the opposing mindsets among believers, a call to unity can feel like bringing “predator and prey” together, and we’ve seen enough “bloodshed” on comment threads to be weary of coming together.

Rather than it being simply about agreement and peace, Biblical unity is about living into our actual design.  The humor of Paul’s passage on the body is that it imagines feet and ears voluntarily leaving the body, which we know they cannot do.  Our body parts are formed attached to us — bound by skin, muscle, and ligaments — and only separated by an unnatural, exterior force.  Scripture urges us to understand that the Body of Christ is the same way, bound together with the intention of functioning in unity:

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Ephesians 4:15-16

We engage the pursuit of unity differently depending on if we believe it is an “extra” task or baked into our DNA.  The former can feel like unnatural, difficult, or even impossible work; the latter reveals that a lack of unity is actually disastrous to our very existence.

We were created to be “one”; it is not optional.

Issue #2: We don’t know how to achieve unity; God does.

Axolotls are amazing creatures.  If something were to disunify their body, these aquatic salamanders have the ability to regenerate; whether limbs, skin, or organs, within a few weeks their bodies can be reunified and fully functioning.

This is not so with people.  If we were to lose a limb, we would be filled with fear as we desperately sought the help of a surgeon, or give up if it seemed hopeless.  Because our humanity is the bulk of our understanding, we think about the Body of Christ like a human body, responding to its severing with fear (though we haven’t “been given a spirit of fear”), desperation (with futile attempts at fixing things) or apathy (writing off “problematic people” and accepting brokenness.)

We forget we have been called to a supernatural Body with access to the ultimate Healer.  God never expected us to be unified by our own methods, which is why Jesus sent a Helper.  Yet we are quick to ignore issues, dismiss others, initiate agenda-laden mediation, villainize, numb ourselves, and an array of other human responses all in the presence of a God who knit us together and knows how to bring restoration.

The believers in the Acts church demonstrated phenomenal unity, with powerful results:

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.”

Acts 4:32-34a

However, this was not by their means.  There was immense disconnection and confusion following Jesus’ death; unity began when Jesus revealed himself and invited them to be one in prayer, and continued when the Spirit came down and made a crowd of multiple languages become “one in heart and mind.”  Churches and ministries work hard to figure out how to manufacture unity; Biblical unity is not built by human efforts, but the work of the Spirit.

Nor is it retained by human efforts; despite the incredible outpouring captured in Acts 4, the Body still succumbed to their humanity, neglecting others (Acts 6) and arguing about theology (Acts 15).  However, like the regenerative power of the Axolotl, the Spirit flowed past the disconnection wrought by their brokenness and brought restoration.

This was beautifully shown amidst the theological dispute, which led even the apostles to fall into “sharp dispute and debate” (Acts 15:2).  The magnitude of disagreement was so immense that churches and even denominations today would split over it, yet this is not what we see.  Something compels them to stay at the table together in the presence of the Spirit, who does something they failed to do on their own: rejoins the two fractured sides.  In the course of one chapter they go from “sharp dispute and debate” to a unified message that “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28.)

Where we cannot see a path to unity, God can.

Issue #3: The cost of unity is too much; Jesus made a way.

We can all think of something we would love to have, but go without because we can’t afford it.  My family would love to have a new SUV to replace our van with a struggling transmission; the cost is too great, so we make do.  In the same way, we believers would love to have unity, but it often feels too costly.

Here is the hard reality: it’s not that unity feels too costly… it actually is too costly.  In fact, Jesus said it would cost us everything.

He begins by making unity a non-negotiable for his disciples:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35

He then makes it clear that the cost of discipleship is “everything”:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

Matthew 16:24-25

If the cost is too much, how is it possible to reach unity?

Our problem: we are thinking about costliness as basic humans, not “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:17)

Humans are bound by the rules and experiences of this world; heirs are freed into the reality of the Kingdom:

Unity can cost too much time; “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8)

Unity can cost too much in resources; “The Lord will open for you His good storehouse.” (Deuteronomy 28:12)

Unity can cost us our reputation; “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me.” (Psalm 139:1)

Unity can cost us our hopes and plans; “I know the plans I have for you.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

The pursuit of Biblical unity is too much, and yet God makes it possible: “but seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

Our invitation is to embrace that the cost of unity is too great, and to pursue it anyway, through the power of the Spirit.

Jesus showed us how to do it; “being in very nature God, [he] did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage,” (Philippians 2:6) and so came in human form to be in unity with us.  In relationship with his Father and the Spirit, he demonstrated what it meant to pursue unity no matter the cost — “even death on a cross!” — and then said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:15)

To be fully committed to Biblical unity, we must acknowledge that we were created to be “one Body”, and it is not optional.

To be fully committed to Biblical unity, we must admit that our efforts are limited, and we must seek God to embody “oneness”.

To be fully committed to Biblical unity, we must “count the cost” and choose to walk in obedience nonetheless, following Jesus’ lead.

These commitments must come before solutions; without a healthy foundation, our answers will inevitably falter back into our humanity.  However, with a right understanding of Biblical unity and a willingness to pursue it, we can see God bring restoration in the spaces that seemed utterly lost; “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

 

 

How important is unity to your community, on a scale of 1 to 10?  If 1-7, comment below how your community can take a step towards Biblical unity.  If 8-10, comment below what has helped you remain in Biblical unity.

 

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:1-8

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One Response

  1. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

    Where we cannot see a path to unity, God can.

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