Be united to one another

Last week we started looking at the ‘one another’ statements of the New Testament as part of our focus on spiritual growth and spiritual maturity. 

Last week we looked at the ‘Love one another’ verses which made up a third of those statements. Today we look at the second third of the “one another” commands and these deal with the church getting along, in other word Unity among believers.

Former US President Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist, addressed a Baptist convention: Among the unsaved people on earth, what is the prevailing image of Christians today? It’s not the dedicated and inspired work of our missionaries. It’s not the great preaching of Billy Graham or others who inspire people. It’s the image of divisions among brothers and sisters in Christ as we struggle for authority or argue about the interpretation of individual verses in the Holy Scriptures.[1]

We tell people that the Church is a family, and if our mission is to be effective, we need more occasions when it can be seen to be one.

In a human family, do we walk out of it because some uncle or aunt does or says something we do not like, and do we leave and disavow our familial links and start a new family elsewhere?  And worse still, do we bad mouth and attempt to wipe our family off the face of the earth?  Clearly not, we are linked to our family by blood, whether we like it or not.

Yet that is what happens in the church family. Divisions, splinter groups, just like Jimmy Carter identifies. 

Yet we too are linked by blood: - the blood of Jesus.

Romans 11:17 NLT

But some of these branches from Abraham's tree--some of the people of Israel--have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God's special olive tree.

NIV refers to us sharing in the nourishing sap from the olive root

Romans 8:17 says that we are children of God, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ

Ephesians 1:5 says God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.

If that is not reason enough to be unified in the body of Christ, maybe Paul’s call to us to be united will suffice:

 

 

 

1 Corinthians 1:10

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.

Jesus considered unity to be most important. In his last major prayer before his trial, crucifixion and resurrection, he prayed first for his disciples

John 17:11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father protect them by the power o] your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.

And for us who follow those initial disciples

John 17:20 “…. 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.

Jesus knew that the devil relishes division and disharmony, after all he came to kill and destroy.  Any disunity within the family of God is the work of the devil.

Let me pick out some ideas about this unity.

First, Christianity is not a solo sport. You can’t play tennis by yourself, or soccer or rugby. Same with Christianity. It is not a solo sport.

 

The trend in these modern times is that our faith is a personal thing between me and God and I do not have to associate with, hang out with, rub shoulders with or even tolerate my brothers and sisters in Christ yet Hebrews 10:25 is very clear:

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

George MacDonald wrote: There can be no unity, no delight in love, no harmony, no good in being, where there is but one. Two at least are needed for oneness. And the greater the number of individuals, the greater, the lovelier, the richer, the diviner is the possible unity[2]

There are no Lone Ranger Christians, we cannot be Rambo and take on the world singlehandedly.

In fact, whereas biblical unity can be created by self-less ness it can be destroyed by selfishness.[3]

There was a song in the 70s by the group Brotherhood of Man, which sums this up.

For united we stand, divided we fall, And if our backs should ever be against the wall, We'll be together, together, you and I

Togetherness is the key to surviving.

This week I watched an episode of a documentary on penguins.  There was a wonderful time lapse film of Emperor penguin males huddling together into a large tightly packed clump of thousands of birds, so they could keep body heat and withstand the driving sub-zero winds and ice and snow and eternal darkness of the Antarctic winter. [show clip]

That should be a picture of unity for us. Huddle together for warmth and support against the storm.

Secondly unity starts in the Heart; it is not a façade; it is not (in this case) fake it till you make it.

It is the inner working of our hearts which creates the outward work of unity.

This inward attitude of unity expresses itself in the outward signs:

Mark 9:50 says Be at peace with one another

John 6:43 says Don’t grumble among one another

That grumbling would also include gossip and putting each other down.

James 5:16 says Confess sins to one another

You can’t do that last one unless God has done a work of breaking down your barrier of self-containment and let unity take its place.

The hidden life forces that hold a community together are emotional, not rational beliefs or agreements in doctrine, theology or concepts.[4]

In other words, heart not head.

If your service is rendered from a servant heart, it will bring unity to the Body.[5]

The fruit of this changed heart attitude is unity within the body of Christ.

The third point is that Unity builds up the family

Tommy Tenney identifies that When strife, division and discord disrupt and usurp the peace of God, his bride (the church) is weakened. The child (the new convert) is often destroyed in the process.  Every time men strive against each other in the midst of the congregation, they risk aborting the seed of God and weakening the Bride of Christ. This is a serious offence against the Almighty.[6]

Think on these verses that identify appropriate behaviours:

4. Accept one another (Ro 15:7)

8. Gently, patiently tolerate one another (Ep 4:2)

9. Be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving to one another (Ep 4:32)

10. Bear with and forgive one another (Co 3:13)

11. Seek good for one another, and don’t repay evil for evil (1 Th 5:15)

There is a change of focus when we think more highly of others than of ourselves.  When it is not all about me and me alone, then we are free to think of others.

And lastly, Unity is not sameness

Larry Osborne in discussing unity wrote: Genuine and biblical unity is found in the midst of real and passionate differences that we set aside in recognition that the differences we have are nowhere as important as the King we serve.[7]

Romans 12:6 and 15:5 say Be of the same mind with one another

But we are not talking here uniformity. Unity is not the total absence of conflict. That might be uniformity. Unity is agreeing with your adversary while you are walking together.[8]

And there are behaviours that are recommended by Scripture:

 7. Don’t challenge or envy one another (Ga 5:26)

12. Don’t complain against one another (Ja 4:11, 5:9)

5. Wait for one another before beginning the Eucharist (1 Co 11:33)

6. Don’t bite, devour, and consume one another (Ga 5:15)

[I love that version: bite devour, consume!!! – My mind works overtime on that picture)

The NIV translation is 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

We need to think of what binds us together and not what separates us. Because if the body is separated, then so are we.

Instead of searching out terms and phrases [and doctrines and practices] to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree. (Charles Simeon) [9]

Think of an orchestra: every instrument doing something different, making a different sound but the result of all that is a beautiful sound.

True unity is simply people working together in harmony. In the field of music, harmony does not mean unison. We are not all singing the same note, but we are all singing the same song.[10]

We need to realise that we all are different, with different strengths and passions. Part of unity means we can accept that some people within our church community may desire to function differently from others. We must defend the right to be unique, with differing tasks. But diversity must find its expression without contention and strife.[11]

Let’s pray:

Lord, forgive us for accepting divisions. Heal your church, O God. Bring us into Christ centred unity, so the world will believe in your power. In Jesus ‘name, Amen[12]



[1] Jimmy Carter at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration, reported by Baptist Press

[2] George MacDonald Your Life in Christ, 68

[3] Tommy Tenney God’s Dream Team 112

[4] Israel Galindo The Hidden Lives of Congregations: discerning church dynamics 28

[5] Tenney 69

[6] Tenney 96

[7] Larry Osborne “Understanding Unity”

[8] Tenney 57

[9] Warren Wiersbe 50 People Every Christian Should Know 50

[10] Tenney 120 

[11] Francis Frangipane House United 159

[12] Frangipane 162