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The One Anothers - Unity


[this is the fifth of several articles in the One Another series]

Unity or Diversity, which of these do we want? In our world we often hear the praises of diversity sung. Ethnic diversity, sexual diversity, religious diversity – the call is for everything to be many and multi. We want multi-culturalism, we want many faiths to coexist, we want all the colours of the rainbow to loosely join together in a mosaic. And yet on the other hand, even here the world insists that all this diversity must join together as one. It is one of the great ironies of our age. That in the name of diversity and tolerance, we would get one of the most homogenizing, monopolizing societies in human history. There are to be no differing viewpoints on diversity, there must be total acceptance of the one view of multi-everything. But all of that aside, what should we want as Christians, and as the church of the Lord Jesus? Should we pursue unity or diversity?

Well the answer is not as simple as you might at first think. Both unity and diversity are praised in the Scriptures, and both are connected.

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another (Romans 12:4-5).

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12).

As it is, there are many parts, yet one body (1 Corinthians 12:20).

So the Scriptures are clear that there is a glory in the oneness of the body of Christ, and there is a glory in the diversity of the members of that body. We are not all the same, we don't all do the same things, we don't think the same way about everything. And yet we are one in Christ, we have all believed in this One Christ, we have all been baptized, we are all on the same mission, we are all heading to the same great destination. All of this to say that it is not a simple either/or, and it is also not a matter of splitting the difference. It is unity and diversity together and at the same time.

But, and this is important, the focus of the Scriptures in instructing the body is predominantly on the one side of the spectrum, and that is the side of unity. We are not commanded to pursue greater and greater diversity of thought, viewpoint, or action. There is no command to be a snowflake, or an edgy hipster, or a cool and aloof international man of mystery. The desire to be avant garde may be common in the world but it is not what God calls his people to. He calls us to jump in with both feet, to sign on the dotted line, to put on the team jersey, to join the people of God with wreckless abandon.

Some of the verses are frankly shocking to us who have been taught to prize this diversity and independence. We read Paul say, "Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind" (Philippians 2:2).

Most of us want to kick back at this idea of being "of one mind". We love to bring our own unique perspective to things. We love to play devil's advocate, and always bring up the other side of things. But consider again some of these one anothers. We read, "Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you" (2 Corinthians 13:11). Or as Paul says earlier in 1 Corinthians: "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10). Do you realize that God commands us to agree with one another. Essentially saying, stop disagreeing about everything! Hop on the same boat, go to the same place, play on the same team, pull in the same direction, stop being so obtuse.

And we have more than the command to agree. We have the command to live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16). Paul doubles down on that a few chapters later in Romans, saying, May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:5-6). One voice. Harmony not discord. This is the beautiful picture of the people of God.

Or consider the call to bear with one another and forgive one another (Colossians 3:13). We read the same in Ephesians, "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:2-3). We should be quick to pass over an offense, quick to forgive, eager to maintain unity. Maximizing differences, assuming the worst of others, holding grudges, harbouring resentment, growing bitter, these things are the enemy of unity. We must fight back against these with a whole-hearted pursuit of unity. Let us double down and obey the commands to agree, to live in harmony, to pursue unity, to forbear and forgive, to be a peacemaker.

It is at this point that some of us might be wondering if there is ever a place to disagree, or to be different from one another, or to treasure the diversity seen in the church. And yes, of course these things all have a place. But I want us to feel the strong push of the Scriptures towards unity. However, perhaps some clarity would be helpful. Namely on what our unity is about. You see we are not unified around unity itself. And we are not to use these verses on unity as a cudgel to wack everyone into a sort of stoic silence. The unity of the church is not our aim to be a set of cookie-cutter, androgenous human-units, all "unified" in the faith. True unity is much more beautiful than that. True unity takes the diversity of all of God's people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and unites us all around one Saviour. Hear Paul in Ephesians,

"There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift" (Ephesians 4:4-7).

What are we unified around? What brings the business man and the nascar fan together? What brings the college student and the senior citizen to sing side by side in the same church? What brings the introvert and the extrovert together as dear sisters? It is Christ. It is the gospel. One hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. This unity is around the essentials of the gospel, not around every niche theological position one might hold. Our unity is not around personality, or preference. Our unity is around Christ and his gospel. And because our unity is around Christ and his gospel, we must stand firm on these things even if others move away. There can be a time to divide from others over matters of the truth and the purity of the gospel. In those cases we remain standing on the truth, while it is the others who have drifted away. 

There is much that can divide the body of Christ, but it generally falls into two categories: secondary matters and sin. With regards to the first, we get in trouble when we let our varied interests and opinions and even convictions become a wedge between the brethren. Often what is a good pursuit of learning, or an innocent preference, we let become a divisive thing. Feeling strongly about a topic is no excuse for disrupting the unity of God's people in Christ. And we can do this in many ways. Complaining about the music instead of singing with God's people, steering conversations to your pet topics instead of fellowshipping around Christ, being argumentative or aloof instead of warm and welcoming. This is not being eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Sometimes, however, the issue is not so much the opinions or the convictions ballooning to divisive proportions. We can agree on everything, but still be divided. Why is this? Sin. We let pride, arrogance, self-interest, envy, anger, gossip, slander, and all of this bitter fruit divide us. The greatest threat to our unity as a church is personal un-repentant sin. Envy and rivalry are a big deal – you must put them to death. Pride and arrogance are ugly and poisonous, they must be ripped up and thrown on the burn pile. Slander and gossip ought not to be tolerated. We need to do what God so plainly tells us to do. Put off all sin, and put on Christ. Don't let your sin divide you from the people of God, and don't let your sin divide others. Live in harmony and at peace with God's people.

So how can we not only protect unity in the church but build that unity? There is one more command that I think fits this bill: welcome one another (Romans 14:1; 15:7). Instead of quarrelling, dividing, and remaining distant from one another, come close. Welcome one another. Welcome new people into the church. Be hospitable. Welcome each other into your homes, into your lives, into friendship, into greater depths of true fellowship. I'll close with these great words from Paul, "May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God" (Romans 15:5-7).


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Saturday, 15 June 2024