By Peggy Park
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. . . . For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133:1, 3).
Maintaining unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ can present quite a challenge; however, unity can be maintained in the face of disagreement. Agreement is not the basis of unity for Christians. We unite around the person of Jesus Christ.
Common Purpose Yet Individual Calling
We share the common purpose of loving and serving the same God. Our desire is for his light, love, presence, and power to be shed abroad through us to the world. He calls his children in multiple ways to accomplish this. It is helpful to let go of the expectations that others may understand and support our individual calling.
We should encourage each other. “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3, 4).
It is wise to resist the temptation to compare ourselves with others. The measuring stick of success in God’s kingdom is, are we being obedient and faithful in the areas (visible or invisible) to which he has called us? We are only responsible for using the gifts he has entrusted to us. Another person may have far more for which to be accountable.
Personalities & Maturity
We all have a spiritual personality, just as we have a personality in the natural world. We have the same indwelling Holy Spirit, but he expresses himself through us in a myriad of ways.
Some turn the volume all the way up in prayer, music, dance, lifting hands, worship, and approach to spirituality. Others find God’s presence through a quieter, more liturgical approach to worship. Let’s respect other’s preferences and don’t compare them with your own choices.
We are all in varying stages of being trained in righteousness. An area in which the Lord has walked us through may still be an area of struggle for another. We must not be impatient and allow this to cause conflict. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
Remember there are areas where we are still in need of his training. Let’s not take a superior stance but extend grace and patience to our fellow believers.
Accountability & Authority
Each of us needs an inner circle of believers where we can be transparent and to whom we are accountable. These are people we have given permission to speak into our lives and who we expect to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), helping us see when our thinking and actions are not in line with godly principles.
Make the decision not to take offense in encounters with these accountability friends but to carefully weigh and pray over what they say. Also consider carefully what you will say in potentially divisive situations when you must confront.
“Great peace have they who love Your law nothing shall offend them or make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165, Amplified Bible). Taking offense is deadly to our spiritual walk, both with others and with the Lord, and is a major cause of disunity.
Some of us have been tested in our respect of authority when we believe we are mistreated. Perhaps the individual ministry the Lord has called us to is not given a place of expression in our church. We are to take our grievances to the Lord in prayer, after which we should try to resolve the problem with the person in authority over us.
This discussion is done in love, without finger pointing, in a straightforward, nonconfrontational approach. The situation may not change, but God honors his children staying under the authority where he has placed them. We guard against getting into an attitude of rebellion, complaining, speaking ill of the leadership, or indulging in self-pity. After we handle the disagreements openly and through proper channels, then we have to let it go.
Basis of Unity
Our unity is built around the commonality of our faith as well as our respect and acceptance of each other in our varying stages of learning to live the Christian life. This is not a touchy, feely, permissive love that overlooks gross sin and wrong behavior.
Scripture gives us clear instructions on dealing with other believers who are in areas of sin (Matthew 18:15-18; Galatians 6:1; 1 Corinthians 5:1-3). We are to go in love. If they will not listen then we take others with us. If they still refuse to heed scriptural correction, the end result is to break fellowship.
Once we discern a situation and confront someone, expressing the scriptural basis for our caution, we have to free that person to listen or not to listen. It is not our responsibility to correct every wrong. Hold the person with an open hand for the Lord to deal with.
I was in a Sunday school class where the teacher suggested we change the name from “Marrieds” to make single people feel more welcome. A man stood up and adamantly objected, saying we had always had this name. The teacher calmly replied, “OK, brother” and completely dropped the issue. Several months later, the man who had objected stood up and apologized. He said the Lord had dealt with him and he was wrong.
Keep sight of the fact that Christ lives in each believer in the form of the Holy Spirit. The Christ in me can’t be divided from the Christ in a fellow believer.
Rewards of Unity
When conflicts arise, our eyes should immediately focus on our Savior and pleasing him. He never told us to nurse grievances. Instead he instructed us to take our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). Our thoughts should not be on serving, defending, and justifying our purposes and agenda. Instead we are called to practice self-control, a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23). We are to take potential conflicts to God in prayer rather than speak hastily into what may escalate into a hostile situation.
Discord drains energy and affects ministry. It separates us from our brothers and sisters in the Lord. The turmoil we inevitably experience causes a barrier in our relationship with the Lord. We focus on the grievance and not on him. It is a wise person who comes to the conclusion that no amount of one-upmanship or putting another believer in his place is worth temporarily breaking our sweet fellowship with the Lord.
When challenges come, we need to remind ourselves that we will eventually have to repent for wrong attitudes and behaviors if we are serious in our Christian walk. It is freeing to let God right the injustices done to us rather than experiencing battle fatigue in trying to right every wrong.
We return to focus on our opening Scripture, which assures us that the Lord bestows his blessings on those in unity. I am confident you share my desire for an abundance of his blessings.
Peggy Park is a freelance writer in Lexington, Kentucky.
SIDEBAR: The Coach Approach
When you approach a conflict (yours or someone else’s) with the perspective of a coach rather than a competitor or bystander, you can more easily see things the way God sees them. A coaching perspective looks for what’s best for each individual in the conflict and for God’s best solution for the situation. The coach asks questions that push people toward skills such as understanding and empathy. Coaches aren’t looking to place blame or guilt; they look for a resolution that honors God and unifies his body.
To find out more about coaching, the Professional Christian Coaching Institute offers a free mp3 download of “A Crash Course in Christian Coaching.”
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