Conflict. Argument. Fighting. Division. Dispute. What came to mind when you heard those words? We have all experienced this in one way or another. It’s dark. Debilitating. It steals our joy. Seems to squeeze out life. It tempts us to bitterness. At times it is all consuming.
We see it all around us. Whether it be conflict amongst families or in the workplace or in politics or between nations, it is the way that the world works. We fight, compete, argue, disagree. It is such a source of stress and discouragement. It makes life such a burden. It is the way of the fallen world, but our spirit longs for something more.
Many times we settle for just getting along or even tolerating each other because that seems like the best we can hope for but God has made the way possible for something more. We are called to unity as believers and as a church.
When we look for this theme in scripture we begin to see it everywhere.
1 Corinthians 1:10, “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 Peter 3:8, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”
Colossians 3:14, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”
2 Corinthians 13:11, “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.”
Ephesians 4:3, “(Be) eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Philippians 1:27, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”
Unity, not division is God’s will for His people. In Christ, what seems impossible becomes possible. Even though conflict saddens us at times, this is another example of how the brokenness of the world is an opportunity for ministry and testimony. Praise God that scripture does not stay silent on this issue.
John chapters 13-17 show us the conversation that Jesus had with His disciples during the Last Supper. It was one of the final conversations Christ had with them before His arrest and crucifixion. Towards the end of the supper Jesus prayed for His disciples, and the believers who would come after them. Jesus was praying for us. In John 17:20-23 we find these words,
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
In these verses Jesus is talking about unity. He first gives us the “what” and then He gives us the “Why.” One of the significant truths in this passage is found in both verse 21 and verse 23. In verse 21 Jesus prays that “they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.”
Jesus is praying that we, His children, will be one with one another in much the same way that He and the Father are one. We are to be one with one another and then be one with God.
Jesus then gives us the “why.” As believers, we are called to be one so that the world may believe that God has sent Jesus. In verse 23 Christ then prays that as He is in us, that we may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that the Father sent Him and loved us even as the Father loved Jesus.
Jesus could have prayed that we would be brave or wise or generous or kind, but instead, He prayed for unity. Both verses declare that it is through the unity of believers that the world will know that Jesus has come from the Father. This kind of unity among mankind is so rare that when the world sees a unity like this amongst the people of Christ they will know that it is only possible through Christ. For our multi-cultural church it is even a clearer testimony to the grace of God working in our midst. When different ages, nations, different education levels and different socioeconomic levels come together as one, the watching world will take note. Unity is a requirement for God’s people and it is one of the clearest testimonies that we can present to a watching world.
We are called to be one with one another as God the Father and Jesus, the Son, are one. That is quite a high standard. God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one. Jesus prayed that we will be one with one another and that we also will be in them.
This seems to be an impossible command. How can one be in complete unity with other believers and also at one with God? It is another case of the now and the not yet. As followers of Christ, who have turned from our sin and believed in Jesus Christ, we are already one with God. That is the reason that Christ came. He paid for our sin so that through faith we could be reconciled to God. We see it through out the scripture. Positionally we are already in Christ and He is in us. The command is to now functionally walk in that oneness with Christ that results in a walking in oneness with others. It is similar to the great commandment that Jesus talked about in Matthew 22:37-39,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
As we walk rightly in our relationship with God, He gives us the resources needed to walk rightly with others.
Paul wrote with this same truth in mind in Philippians 2:1-2,
“So, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind”
In this verse Paul is stating the obvious. They are encouraged in Christ. They have received comfort from love. They have participated in the Spirit and have experienced affection and sympathy. With all of this in common Paul is exhorting them to be in one accord by having the same mind and same love that comes through knowing Christ. It was this unity that would complete Paul´s joy as he thought about this church in Philippi.
This oneness could have only come from Christ. Their relationship with Christ was the only thing they shared in common. As they each walked near to Christ, vertically, the natural overflow would be unity, horizontally, as they followed Him together. In the words of William Barclay, “The fact that we are all in Christ should keep us in unity. No man can walk in disunity with his fellowmen and in unity with Christ.”
The love of Christ that we have received is to compel us to love others. While this oneness with Christ is already in place within us it is something that must be submitted to and sought on a daily basis.
Unity is not attained by seeking unity. It is attained by seeking Christ. Any human effort to be unified in our own power will be short-lived and superficial, at best.
As we seek Christ our hearts are changed. Our desires are transformed. We die to self. When standing with Christ we are reminded of our fallenness and humbled by His continual grace. In Christ we are given a love for God that binds us all together. We turn from facing against one another to standing alongside one another.
In Galatians 5:16 we are instructed to “walk in the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.” This is a good summary of the war that is waging within each of us.
The word “walk” in this verse was a military term. It was walking in step with your commanding officer. It is the same idea. All believers have the Holy Spirit living within them. As we walk with the same Spirit we will be “in step” with each other because we all are walking “in step” with our “commanding officer,” the Holy Spirit.
That does not mean we all have the same personality, calling, passion or perspective, but it does mean that there will be a oneness in the midst of our differences. As we submit to the direction and the pace of Christ we will walk in step with one another. When we think of this military term for walking in step, in the Roman army some were archers, shield bearers, infantrymen, but in the midst of their different roles they were kept in unity as they remembered their overarching purpose and walked in step with their commanding officers.
It is like the idea of the “plural one” in the Old Testament.
Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is One,” the word for “one” comes from the Hebrew word “echad”, which many times was used to refer to a unity of more than one person. In Genesis 2:24 we find this same word. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. “In Ezra 3:1 this same word was also used, “. . . the people gathered as one man.” It is interesting that the word meant “one” but in a plural sense. That idea is a picture of us as a church that is walking in unity. We have intentionally be created and gifted differently, but as we fix our eyes on Christ and walk in humility we are made into this “plural one” where as a church we will be able to walk in unity.
This is a beautiful word picture but it is so difficult to walk in. It is a heightened problem here in the U.S. where individualism is often seen as more important than community. It is a battle between the spirit and the flesh, a love for God verses a love for self.
1 Corinthians 3:3 Paul warned the church in Corinth of this battle, “For you are yet carnal. For in that there is among you envy, strife and divisions, are you not carnal, and do you not walk according to men?”
If they followed the selfish desires of the flesh they would all fight for their agendas and their personal battles. As they walked in step with the Spirit they all would walk in unity. That is how being unified in Christ would bring about a unity in the church. Seeking unity is not the way to unity, seeking Christ is the way to unity.
As we are unified in Christ we no longer defend our image, our agenda, or our “kingdom“. All allegiances are set aside. Our identity is no longer bound by ethnicitiy, language, money or education. We are now brothers and sisters in Christ. We now have the same Father, the same Savior and the same Spirit and the same eternal home. Christ is our King, and united, we now will live for the sake of God’s kingdom.
Ephesians 4 tells of different spiritual gifts that are given to the church “through the Holy Spirit for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” and then we read this phrase. . . “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
“Until we attain . . . the fullness of Christ” reveals that this journey to complete unity will always be in process. But as the church grows in greater and greater unity the testimony of Christ in our midst will grow stronger and stronger.
As for now we must remember that we are already one in Christ. As we seek first the Kingdom of God our attention will be turned away from a small selfish agenda for our lives and will fix its focus on the advance of His kingdom. We no longer will seek our plans and our preferences, but instead will wholeheartedly join what God is doing around us and in us. We will become an active part of something that is so much bigger than ourselves and will join hearts and hands with millions of believers in the world around us.
As we seek Christ we will be draw to humility, reconciliation, service, and all that will be necessary to walk in step with those around us in step with what God has planned.
For now may we each take time to evaluate our present condition of seeking Christ first. It is only in Him, as our first love that our heart will be prepared to walk humbly with the believers around us.
Secondly, are there relationships that need to be nurtured or differences that need to be made right? If so, ask God to give you the courage and humility to seek reconciliation in a God-honoring manner.
Thirdly, as we relate with God rightly and with others in unity, may the watching world be provoked to question. That is the result that Christ speaks of here. Through our unexpected unity it will be clear that Jesus was sent by the Father as Savior and Lord.
In closing I would like to leave you with two pictures of the church. One is found in Acts 2:42-47. Listen to Evangelistic unity in this description of the early church,
“42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
It was not just unity in what they believed, it was unity in how they lived in relation to one another. The result. . . “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Unity brought about testimony. May God bring that about in our day, in this place.
As one looks at our front wall of the auditorium we see an image of Revelation 7:9-10. We see the unity of the church in Christ, where a great multitude “from every nation, tribe, people and language” stands before God and cries out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Every Sunday, when we come into this place and see this image, may we be reminded of Christ’s call to unity. In Christ our differences fade away and our unity takes front stage. May that be the way that we live and because of it may the watching world be drawn to Christ.
In closing please receive the prayer of Paul over each of you.
“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)