Unity: how to recognize it, how to get it, how to keep it in your church

“…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3)

“And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” (Colossians 3:14)

The joke about both art and porn is that “I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it.”

That may be how it is with church unity. There is nothing else like it. When a church is unified and moves forward as a healthy body for Christ, the rest of the Christian world stands back in awe. Something inside us calls out “Now, that is what I’m talking about!”

To paraphrase Tolstoy on families, all unified churches are alike but divided churches are each divided in their own way.

1) A unified church will have problems but has people in place to deal with them quickly. A unified church must be ever alert to forces that would divide it.

2) A unified church will have needs bigger than their resources but has been here before and knows what to do without panicking. A unified church can accomplish incredible works.

3) A unified church is an anomaly. It functions as a veteran unit, as though everyone had been in place for years, but welcomes new members into their body all the time. A unified church excels in hospitality.

4) A unified church reacts quickly and quietly against intrusion from the enemy. A unified church recognizes an alien invasion and knows how to deal with it.

5) A unified church loves its pastor, accepts his leadership, and honors him but the unity is based on relationships with Christ, not the shepherd. A unified church is a pleasure to pastor.

6) A unified church is made up of members looking for ways to serve one another. There are no dominating leaders and no insecure ones looking for affirmation; just servants. A unified church has no executive leaders either; everyone is a servant.

7) In a unified church, when one begins to throw his/her weight around and insisting on their way as the only way, the other members pull back in concert. Once the person realizes his attitude just isolated him from the body, his malignant work stops dead in its tracks. Hopefully, he comes to his senses and repents. Either way, the church is unmolested, undisturbed, and goes forward.

There is a reason unity is such a big issue with Jesus.

In His “high priestly prayer,” offered just before He was arrested and crucified, our Lord prayed, “…that they all may be one, even as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us, that the world may believe that Thou didst send me” (John 17:21).

Jesus wants His people unified so the world will believe in Him.

It’s all about reaching people with the gospel.

The unified church will give a more consistent witness, serve more efficiently, and be more effective in its outreach. A divided church will reach no one at all for Christ but will expend all its resources and energies on itself.

What’s at stake is the souls of millions. That’s why unity is of such concern to the Savior.

Too bad the troublemakers do not share the Lord’s concern for the lost. They are actually willing to sacrifice a church’s unity and abandon its outreach ministries in order to get their own way.

Nothing causes the world to scoff at our evangelism and dismiss our witness so quickly as our disunity and division.  Unbelievers hear our words of love and salvation, but conclude, “If they don’t have peace enough for themselves, they sure don’t have any to export.” Consequently, they ignore all the gospel sounds emanating from our direction.

The biggest problem in world evangelism is not the hard-heartedness of the lost nor the entrenched religious systems of the enemy. The greatest barrier to reaching the lost is the disunity (and its mirror image self-centeredness) of the churches.

I urge church leaders to make a study of Acts 6:1-7. In that brief passage, the Jerusalem church faced a threat to their unity, moved quickly with great energy and harmony, and settled the matter to the satisfaction of all. The watching world–they’re always watching!–liked what it saw so much that they wanted in on this Jesus thing (vs. 7).

I cannot emphasize too strongly that that event in Acts 6 does not yield itself to a quick perusal and then a dismissal. It deserves to be thought upon, taken to heart, and listened to, for it has much to say to the modern church.

What unity in the church looks like…

In our text (Ephesians 4:2-3), the characteristics of unity are given.

When you find a truly unified Christian church, it will look like this:

a) “all lowliness and gentleness”Spiritual unity looks like servant-minded people everywhere we look.

Humility is a word unknown in the vocabularies of the Roman and Greek world of the New Testament.  But our Lord inserted it in the first Beatitude. God’s people will be poor in spirit, “not thinking of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3), and thus readily available to stoop and serve (John 13:14-17).

“Meekness” or “gentleness” is the visible evidence of inner humility.  A meek person is not pugilistic, but sweet-spirited and self-controlled.

b) “with longsuffering”Spiritual unity looks like a people at peace with one another and with the Heavenly Father.

The Greek word literally means “long-tempered.” We generally translate it as “patience” or “steadfastness,” which is a strong evidence of humility.  Such a one is not impatient, not prone to take matters into his own hand, but able to wait upon the Lord.

c) “bearing with one another in love”Spiritual unity looks like a people in love with one another.

We are able to put up with a lot of “stuff” when we love the other person. Forbearance is a wonderful trait seen in far too few believers. Some Christians grow shocked at the world misbehaving around them, and instead of acknowledging that the unsaved world is merely acting like it is unsaved, they toss love out the window and react in an ugly temper. When believers act harsh and judgemental, no outsider is ever reached for the Lord.

In summary, unity in the church looks like a lot of Jesus-lovers who are in love with each other, have great patience with one another as well as with everyone else, and have a heart for serving. They can make church decisions easily, respect one another’s point of view, and support each other in times of need.

Watch closely and you will see that when unity goes out the window, all of these disappear: we lose our devotion to each other and become competitive and critical; we lose our peace with everyone and become impatient and demanding; and we lose our servant-attitude and want recognition and prominence.

Pity the poor minister trying to moderate a business meeting in a church without unity.

Unity is so attractive; disunity is the essence of ugliness.

Where to get unity.

Let’s let Paul answer this for us: “We are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies….causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Unity results from our commitment to Jesus Christ.

It’s that simple.

When I love the Lord Jesus Christ, I love His people. He said that, you know. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

The odd thing is that thousands of people calling themselves followers of Jesus dispute that without apology. They will tell you they love Jesus, but have no use for the church. Such fancy verbal footwork with not work with Him, however. The Lord left no such wiggle-room for His followers to choose Him and reject His people.

If unity results from a commitment to Jesus, then disunity is rebellion against Him.

How to keep unity once we get it.

Unity is a fragile thing and must be guarded. Paul told the Ephesian leaders, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock….”   He said, “After my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:28-30).

I have counseled bodies of deacons and elders who serve as “official boards” for their churches on the importance of unity once they make a decision and bring it to the church. To the ones who insisted that they have the right to oppose a motion coming before the entire church even though the deacons/elders had voted to recommend it, I reply that you have the “right,” but you should not use it. Your love for unity in the church should take pre-eminence over your insistence on your rights.

There will always be the headstrong coming into congregations insisting on exercising their rights, determined to get their way, and dedicated to bending the church to their will.

There will always be the Diotrephes among us (III John 9-10).

Sooner or later, the greatest of congregations and the sweetest of fellowships will be threatened by attacks of this sort from the enemy. Scripture has a vital word for us concerning such troublemakers….

“Now, I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teachings which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Romans 16:17-18).

What do we do with them? 1) “Keep your eye on them” and 2) “Turn away from them.”

Only the alert shepherds of the flock can protect the sheep in the hour of their greatest danger. God bless you, shepherd!

2 thoughts on “Unity: how to recognize it, how to get it, how to keep it in your church

  1. This is one of my greatest passions! God has really put this on my heart for the past year, along with true discipleship. Thank you for sharing this, and I am going to borrow a good deal of this for future sermons and Bible studies.

    Love you, brother,

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