Unity is only mentioned three times in the Bible. The first time it is found in the book of Psalms, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalms 133:1). It is definitely a good thing to dwell together with brethren in unity, but what is unity and how do we get it?
The book of Psalms was originally written in Hebrew, and the word translated “unity” in this verse is yachad, which was used a total of 142 times in the Old Testament. It was translated in the King James Version as follows: “together” 120 times, “altogether” 5 times, “alike” 5 times, “likewise” 2 times, “withal” 2 times, and miscellaneously 8 times. The word is defined as “union, unitedness, together, altogether, all together, alike” (Brown-Driver-Brigg’s Hebrew Lexicon).
The next time unity is mentioned is in Ephesians where Paul says, “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:3-6).
Ephesians was originally written in Greek, and the word translated “unity” in this verse is henotes, which was only used twice in the New Testament, both in Ephesians chapter four. The word is defined as “unity, unanimity, agreement” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).
The Bible tells us that we should endeavor to keep “the unity of the Spirit.” This unity is given to us by the Spirit. It is a unity that we are to strive to keep. If you have been given the Spirit of Christ, then you are automatically joined to everyone else who has been given the Spirit of Christ. “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Romans 12:5). We actually belong to one another because we are part of the same body. “But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17).
Christ’s Prayer for Unity
Just before His death, Jesus prayed to His Father, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:20-23).
Here Jesus explained what it means to be one with Him and His Father. We must have Jesus living in our hearts, and then we will have both the Father and the Son. It is this connection to divinity alone that produces unity among Christians. This is “the unity of the Spirit” that we are to strive to maintain. This is so prominent in the mind of Christ that even when He was about to die He was thinking about you and me and the unity that we can share with Him and one another. Let us keep prominent in our minds that this unity can only be accomplished through being united with Christ.
The Bond of Peace
We are to strive to keep “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The Bible says, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). My mom used to tell me, “It takes two to fight.” There is a lot of truth to that. It is hard to fight with just one person involved. Even though you are just one person, you have the power to avoid a lot of fighting by being kind. “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Jesus said, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39).
Peter wrote, “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8, 9). The Weymouth Translation says, “In conclusion, all of you should be of one mind, quick to sympathize, kind to the brethren, tenderhearted, lowly-minded, not requiting evil with evil nor abuse with abuse, but, on the contrary, giving a blessing in return, because a blessing is what you have been called by God to inherit.” (1 Peter 3:8, 9 – Weymouth Translation).
Bottom line, be nice to each other. We are to strive to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This can only be accomplished if we have the Spirit of Christ in our hearts. When this happens the result will be as Paul described, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22, 23). When you have the Spirit of Christ in your heart, He will change the way you treat others. “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9).
If we claim to have the Spirit of Christ and treat each other like dirt, then our profession is a mockery. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20).
Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Men often seek to have unity by conformity to a list of rules and doctrines, while they treat others, especially those who do not agree with them, like they are the scum of the earth. If we do this, it is a sign that we are not disciples of Christ.
To the Jews of Christ’s day the Samaritans were considered lower-class citizens. It was almost a dirty word to call someone a Samaritan. One time when Jesus was contending with the Jews, “Then answered the Jews, and said unto him, Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” (John 8:48). Why did they throw in the word “Samaritan” here? They already were claiming that He had a devil, the word “Samaritan,” in their minds, just made it worse.
Notice the following story that illustrates the friction between the Samaritans and the Jews. Jesus was planning to bless a Samaritan village with His presence: “And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?” But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village” (Luke 9:52-56).
Jesus had healed many people, and his fame was widespread. The Samaritans knew that Jesus would have healed their sick, but because of their animosity toward the Jews they would not receive the blessing. The only reason they would not receive Him was “because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.” What a sad prejudice! Jesus wanted to heal them but their pride and jealousy prevented them from receiving Christ. It was not a fault alone with the Samaritans, for the disciples asked, “Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?” Jesus rebuked them by telling them they were being led by a satanic spirit. Sadly, this spirit is still very active in the churches today, yet it is no less satanic.
Jesus met a Samaritan woman at the well, and startled her by talking to her. She asked, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9). Just the fact that a Jew was talking to a Samaritan was cause for alarm in those days. Their hatred for each other ran very deep. After the shock wore off, this lady explained why there was so much dislike of each other. She said, “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (John 4:20). The reason the Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along was because they differed in doctrine.
Jesus explained, “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24). Jesus was about to break down the system of rituals that tied worship to a specific location. The true worshippers could worship the Father in spirit and in truth wherever they happened to be.
In Jesus’ discussion with this Samaritan, he did not downplay the importance of true doctrines, but he did reject the unkind attitude manifested between the two opposing sides.
Jesus told a story to help alleviate this senseless hatred. “And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:25-37).
Jesus gladly healed and preached among the Jews and the Samaritans. He did not hesitate to cross barriers to show God’s love wherever He went. Shouldn’t we do likewise? We have many brothers and sisters who differ from us doctrinally, but is that an excuse to treat them unkindly? In fact, most of us disagree doctrinally with ourselves five years ago. God instructed the Israelites, “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34). We should be kind to one another also, and remember where we came from.
I ran across a hypothetical story that illustrates the sadness of people using doctrines as an excuse to mistreat others. The story goes like this:
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said, “Stop! Don’t do it!” “Why shouldn’t I?” he said. I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!” He said, “Like what?” I said, “Well, are you religious or atheist?” He said, “Religious.” I said, “Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?” He said, “Christian.” I said, “Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist? He said, “Baptist!” I said, “Wow! Me too! Are you from Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord? He said, “Baptist Church of God!” I said, “Me too! Are you from Original Baptist Church of God or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?” He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God!” I said, “Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?” He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!” I said, “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off.
This story could be replaced with any denomination to illustrate it in your own experience. Few people would take the last step of this story, but many are willing to put up barriers to keep from communicating or mingling with those who see things differently. Are these separations healthy, or biblical?
The Bible says, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:13- 26).
The Bible presents God’s people as all belonging to each other, even with their differences. This unity is caused by the Spirit of God dwelling in our hearts.
A few years ago I smashed a finger on my left hand with a hammer that my right hand was carelessly wielding. Fortunately, my left hand did not retaliate against my right hand for hurting it. Imagine if it had the ability to say, “Just you wait until I get the hammer and I will show you what it feels like to get smashed.” Unfortunately, members of the body of Christ treat each other as ridiculously as that.
When my left hand was hurt, I had to be careful with it because it got to the point where my fingernail was about to fall off, and I didn’t want it to rip all the way off. It hurt every time it moved just a little bit, so I was careful with it. Sometimes my right hand put a Band-aid on it, not to stop the bleeding (for there was none), but to keep it from catching on something and being pulled off. I was careful to protect this part of my body that was hurting. I had to watch over it, and that is the way we should be as a church, as part of the body of Christ. If you see some part that is hurting, or struggling, you should take more care to help strengthen that part, to protect it. God says that we should have the same care one for another.
In fact, Jesus spoke about how we treat others and said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40). He also said, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me” (Matthew 25:45). However we treat other parts of the body of Christ, we are doing it to Jesus Himself. Remember this the next time you communicate with people.
When I was hurt, my right hand pitched in and did things for my left hand to help out because it couldn’t do the same things it used to be able to do. I found myself using my right hand sometimes when I would normally have used my left. When part of your body is suffering the rest of the body needs to help out. That’s the way we should operate as a church, as part of the body of Christ. Not just as a local church in your local area. The body of Christ is not only the small group you fellowship with. It is all over the world, such as orphanages in Africa and refugee camps. There are some of the members who are being attacked in Iraq. Some are in accidents and you meet them on the streets. The body of Christ is all over, and we just cannot think that we are it—that this is all there is—because God has His people everywhere. These others are just as important to the body of Christ as we are. We need to recognize that.
The Bible says we should have the same care one for another. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1, 2). Solomon wrote, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
Have you ever been somewhere alone, with no support, or no help from anywhere, while you were going through a difficult time? It’s hard to be alone, isn’t it? We need each other to help us. “Woe to him,” the Bible says, “that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.” Two are better than one, because when one of us is in trouble or one of us falls, we need others to help us up. We need to be there for each other, we need to do our part for the body of Christ.
Have you ever tried to put a bandage on a finger on your left hand by only using your left hand? That’s pretty hard to do. You need your right hand to pitch in and bear that burden. That is the way we need to be with one another. We need to bear each others’ burdens.
An excellent Proverb says, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). If you want people to be friendly to you, you have to be friendly to them. If you want people to bear your burdens you must bear their burdens. If you want people to encourage and strengthen you, you must encourage and strengthen them. Jesus said, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31).
The Source of Unity
“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:14-18).
True biblical unity can only be accomplished by being united with the great source of unity, God Himself. When that happens, kindness is a natural result. You will treat others with love and compassion. There is too much manmade unity that leaves out the essential ingredient of unity: Christ abiding in the heart. With Christ being left out, men resort to manmade rules and doctrines to bring an apparent unity by conformity. Jesus quoted Scripture saying, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8, 9).
Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). There is an interesting fact about this verse. To catch it we must first understand the difference between the parts of speech called “active” and “passive.” In the sentence, “The boy was hit by the ball,” the passive voice is being used because the subject is the one receiving the action of being hit. In the sentence, “The boy hit the ball,” the active voice is being used because the boy is the one performing the action. In the Greek language, the active or passive voice is expressed in the verb itself regardless of the position of the nouns in the sentence. The words “gathered together” in Matthew 18:20 are in the passive voice, indicating that the two or three who are gathered together are not the ones initiating the gathering together. Instead, they are on the receiving end of being gathered. God is the one who gathers us together.
Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44). Here, the word “draw” is in the active voice. God, the Father, is actively drawing men to Jesus Christ so they can be saved. Speaking of the early Christian church, the Bible says, “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:46, 47).
God is the one adding to the church, drawing us to Christ, and gathering us together. If He is not doing this, and we gather ourselves together, then Jesus’ promise, “…there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20), does not apply. Manmade unity is not true unity. It may look unified but, with Christ left out of the equation, it has to fail. During the Dark Ages the papacy strove to unify its kingdom by killing all who disagreed with it. We see the same type of thing happening today in the Middle East. Today, most Christians would not be willing to kill those who differ from them, but they often will resort to slander, hatred, criticism, etc. Jesus explained that if we are angry with our brother without a cause it is equivalent to committing murder. “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:21, 22).
Paul wrote, “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:1-5).
We are instructed to be “likeminded” and to be “of one accord, of one mind.” Then, to explain how this is accomplished, we are told, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” This is true unity. When the body of Christ is surrendered to the head, we will be unified with one another. God is going to take the reigns into His own hands and do a mighty work in the last days. It will be clear that man is not in control. I pray that each of us will be united to God so that we can be part of that work.
Unity of the Faith
Shortly after Paul told us about “the unity of the Spirit,” he explained, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13). God is doing a work to bring us into “the unity of the faith.” This has not been completed yet, but that is what He is working towards. As His body, we should cooperate with Him in this work. The first step in this work is having “the unity of the Spirit.” If this is not a reality in our lives, then regardless of what WE do, we will never come into the unity of the faith.
The unity of the faith is reaching the maturity of the “knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” A newborn Christian does not automatically have all knowledge. Therefore, his thoughts and actions will not perfectly reflect the complete will of God for a mature Christian. Because of this, there will naturally be differences in the body of Christ. Two people may be in the body of Christ, but differ in the way they think or act. This does not mean that one of them is not a Christian, but just that they are in different parts of the body. All the water in rivers and streams is connected to the ocean. Follow a stream long enough and it will lead to a river. Follow the river long enough and it will lead to the ocean. A stream in the mountains of China is just as much connected to the ocean as the Mississippi River. Just because you meet someone who is in a different part of the channel of water, does not mean that he is not connected to the source, Jesus Christ. Water in these channels is constantly moving toward the ocean. As long as we stay in the channel, we will come closer and closer to Christ, which will naturally bring us closer to one another.
Jesus is the vine we are the branches (John 15:5). He is leading us into the unity of the faith, unto a perfect man. This process requires learning and growing. Right after Paul told us about the unity of the faith he wrote, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:14, 15).
It is important for us to speak the truth, but it must only be done in love. The Bible says, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). There is a unity of the faith where we speak the same thing; where all divisions will be removed. I want to be part of that unity. As the water of a stream continually travels closer and closer to the ocean, so we must “grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” Sadly, some will set up their own stagnant pool, thinking that they are connected to the source. When they see others in the water who do not meet their criteria, they cast them out of their “pool” (church).
John wrote, “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church” (3 John 1:9, 10). Diotrephes cast people out of the church for receiving the apostle John. Did he really cast them out of the true church? No, he cast them out of his own manmade church. They were still just as much part of the body of Christ after they were cast out as they were before. In reality, Diotrephes was setting up his own stagnant pool and choosing who he would allow to stay in that pool. But the pool was not moving toward Christ. It is that kind of pool that God’s people want to be out of anyway, so he did no harm to those he cast out.
There will be men “who love to have the preeminence” who will continually strive to set up their own stagnant pools, and then try to convince others that theirs is the only true “pool” (church). God’s church is a moving church, growing closer and closer to Christ. In this process we will have many things to learn, and many, many things to unlearn. Let us not get stuck in a stagnant pool, but move ever closer to our head, and “grow up into him in all things” (Ephesians 4:15).