By Kathleen A. Trissel
“Never do anything to embarrass yourself, your team, or your family” is a quote from the movie Forever
Strong. Unity in the body of Christ requires much the same. Our job is to make Jesus look good, which can’t happen without the unity of the Holy Spirit.
What is unity? It is oneness, singleness of mind and purpose. As human beings we struggle with the desire for our independence from one another. It’s encouraged by our culture, but this is not the way in the body of Christ. I got a picture of unity the other day when sharing a swing with a neighbor. We moved in unison, so the swing functioned as an extension of our unity. But if one of us broke the rhythm of that unity, the swing jerked.
Knowing that unity in the body of Christ is critical, what makes it a reality? Merely striving to be united with one another will not yield true unity because it misses the standard. Only unity with the Holy Spirit creates a genuine unity with one another. The basis of that unity is the grace and truth of Christ.
What Does Unity Require?
Unity requires that we seek the face and glory of God and walk in dependence on him, imitating the example of Jesus’ dependence on the Father.
Let’s look at the glory of God first. John 17:22 says, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.” The glory of God is the self-manifested nature of God, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. It’s the revelation of Christ to our hearts. Moses prayed in Exodus 33:18, “Show me your glory,” and the presence of God passed by him in the cleft of the rock. The presence and glory of God in our lives is what enables us to walk in the unity of the Spirit.
John 15 speaks of our dependence on Christ: “Remain in me, as I also remain in you” (v. 4), without which we can’t bear fruit. There’s the unity again, the oneness with Christ. We also see the dependency of Christ on his Father in John 5:19: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” If we live this way, what can we expect to see?
The Effect of Unity
Unity in the body of Christ gives the world the message that God sent Jesus; it causes the world to stop and take notice. Francis Schaeffer said, “We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians.”
Look at what happened in the early church in Acts 2:42-47. They continued every day in one mind with gladness of heart as they shared all their possessions. Unity gave them favor and influence with the people. As a result the Lord added to the church daily.
There’s also safety in unity. When hyenas hunt they go after the wildebeests that are separated from the herd. Only then can they overtake them. Like the animal kingdom, when we stand together there is protection.
Love and peace are outgrowths of oneness in the body of Christ. We’re called to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Colossians 3:14, 15 brings love, peace, and oneness in Christ together: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (English Standard Version). But what does it look like in life?
Unity in Action
In a project called COOL, Community Outreach of Love, 1,800 people from 45 churches came together to impact a neighborhood. The people of God shared his love by painting houses, building decks and handicap ramps, planting flowers, cleaning, and so on. This year’s theme was “Unity in Community,” which involved bridging two communities with a history of competition and rivalry between each other. Mainline and nondenominational churches came with one vision—the desire to serve the community.
What was the result? A police officer who saw the work couldn’t stop crying because of the contrast between seeing the worst in his line of work to watching others serve one another. Neighbors who hadn’t talked to one another in 32 years were now bridging the communication gap. One woman who hardly left her house, except for work and necessities, began to venture out and walk into healing from the loss of her two daughters to murder. Adults and children alike are going to church. Neighbors who were judgmental began to open their hearts to others they felt were inferior. And two Vietnam vets connected in a way that opened the door for sharing Christ.
Hindrances to Unity
This is the beauty of unity, but there are hindrances to unity. Strife, division, pride, competition, gossip, an unwillingness to forgive, and holding on to our own rights all disrupt unity.
Paul wrote about divisions in the Corinthian church when he described people arguing, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:12). He pointed out that Christ was not divided. So then we shouldn’t be either. On vital matters, such as the death, resurrection, and coming of Christ, we’re called to stand together. As Rupertus Meldinius stated: “In essentials, we must have unity. In non-essentials, let us allow liberty. And in all things, let us show love.”
I faced the challenge of forgiving a fellow believer. As I spoke with my minister, still in a place of deep hurt and anger, he lovingly said that forgiveness is not an option—it’s a command. As I gave up my right to be right for the sake of the relationship, I experienced incredible freedom and joy. Healing and restoration occurred. When I remember the incident, I always remember the joy and freedom that comes in letting go, which only happened because God worked his grace in my heart. Unity comes with the price of laying down our lives for one another (1 John 3:16).
For Pondering and Prayer
Psalm 139:23, 24 says, “Search me, God, and know my heart . . . See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Here are some questions to ponder as you consider your role in living out the unity of God:
• Do I walk in the love and peace of Christ? Am I obedient to the truth I know?
• Do I love my brothers and sisters in Christ? Do I bring division in the body of Christ, or do I seek to be a peacemaker, even if it requires laying down my right to be right?
• Am I prideful? Am I willing to forgive?
• Do I feel jealous when a brother or sister is honored and I am not, or am I able to rejoice with them? Do I gossip, even if what I say is true, or do I cut it off?
Unity does come with a price, but its benefits are felt now and in eternity.
Kathleen A. Trissel is a freelance writer in Canton, Ohio.
Praying for Unity
When faced with disunity, many believers begin brainstorming actions to take and attitudes to change to restore unity. But do you regularly pray for unity in your church, in your family, and in your workplace? Even when everything’s going well, it’s important to lift your desire for unity to God—unity is not something humans are capable of on our own.
Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17 is powerful. Add unity to your regular prayer list, and consider gathering a small group of people who will pray specifically for unity in your church and in your homes. When you face conflict or division, remember to pray before you problem solve.