Unity Among the Lord’s People: It’s Bigger Than We Think

I pray that they all may be one…that the world may believe that You sent Me.(John 17:21)

I have a strong suspicion that the Lord is almost the only One among us who truly knows the value of unity within His Body.

To put it another way: Even those who love the Lord with all their heart, who treasure His word and work to obey Him, seem not to place a high enough value on unity within the Body.

Mr. Burger King pulled into town one day and decided to check out his franchises. Driving up Route 45, the business district of the city, he spotted one of his fast-food restaurants. It seemed to be doing okay, so that pleased him.

Then, he spotted something that puzzled him.

Right beside that Burger King was another one, identical to the first. What in the world was going on, he wondered.

Then it got worse.

Across the highway in the next block was another one. Three Burger-Kings that close together? What kind of marketing is this?

Before he left town that day, Mr. Burger King had found fourteen of his franchise restaurants in that community, most of them within half a block of one another.

Something was badly wrong. Some district manager was in bad trouble.

One day, the Lord Jesus came to our town. He spotted the First Baptist on one corner, First United Methodist on the other corner, the Presbyterians across the way, and the Assembly of God down the block. In the next block was the Catholics, the Latter Day Saints, and the synagogue.

And of course, each one claimed to be using the original recipe.

The Apostle Paul saw the seeds of such a weirdness in I Corinthians chapter 1….

Now, I plead with you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.

Two kinds of division grieve the work of the Lord, and doubtless the heart of the Saviour: the denominationalism so ubiquitous in our world and the disunity within local churches.

As a longtime Southern Baptist pastor, I confess that the latter has been my major concern. Other than to try to know pastors in other denominations and to encourage them, I have done precious little to bring God’s people together. In fact–another confession here–I would not know where to begin.

As I write, the National Council of Churches is having its annual meeting in my city. That organization represents an attempt by the Lord’s people in generations past to do something about the splintering of the Lord’s people. I’m not one to say how well they have done, but the attempt itself was a noble one.

So, what follows, I am directing to pastors and other church leaders and it will mostly be thinking in terms of congregational unity. Just so you’ll know.

1. Unity is a command of Scripture. It’s not optional.

I Corinthians 1:10 above is the text for that.

2. Unity is a work of God’s people. It’s not automatic and not a spiritual gift.

3. Unity is a multifeatured thing. It’s not simple.

In the text (I Cor. 1:10), Paul urges the Lord’s people to speak the same thing, to work that there be no divisions among them, and to “be made complete” in the same mind and judgment of Christ.

In Paul’s message to the Ephesian leadership (Acts 20:28ff), he cautions them to be on guard for wolves from outside the flock and false teachers from within.

And, in Ephesians 4:3, he instructs leaders of that same church “to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The unity we seek is of the Holy Spirit, not something we work up in the flesh.

4. This unity occurs with great diversity. It is not mindless conformity.

In I Corinthians 12:12, 14-20, we are told that this “one body” which is the Lord’s church has many members.

In 12:25-26, the members of the body are to work in full sympathy and harmony with one another. When one part suffers, they all hurt.

In 12:28-30, each member is to value the contribution of the others. All do not have the same gifts.

5. This unity is a Treasure. A blessing. It is not minor, something to be neglected.

In fact, a unified congregation accounts for so many blessings on many levels. Here are some, you’ll think of others.

–Unity honors Christ.

–Unity pleases God.

–Unity infuriates the devil.

–Unity makes the work of the church productive and efficient.

–Unity encourages the believers.

–Unity witnesses to the outside world.

–Unity attracts the hungry, the seekers, those open to truth.

See Acts 6:1-6 where all of these things are present.

6. Unity is a daily challenge. It is not a one-time thing that we do once and check it off the list.

Congregational harmony will be constantly challenged. Unity must be earned again and again.

Satan loves to divide God’s people. He’s always seeking it.

Never let your guard down.

7. Unity is a test for the church’s leadership. It is not just for the preacher to handle.

Lay leadership should always be on the lookout for anything that threatens the peace and harmony of the congregation. This is not to imply they should stifle dissent and shush anyone with a question. It means they are constantly on the lookout for troublemakers.

When troublemakers are spotted–or when something containing the seeds of division is identified–let the leadership go into action. My recommendation is that two or three of the key leaders should pay a visit to the individual. They go the first time for information.

These visitors will be loving and respectful. They must be godly people of courage. Sweet and humble, but confrontive and faithful.

If they determine that the individual is out of line or doing something detrimental to the church, they should say so and try to end the matter there. If a conference with the pastor is required, they can arrange that.

My strong conviction is that faithful and courageous lay leaders in any church can head off rebellion and division a long time before it gathers speed and begins to split a congregation.

Now, all we need are faithful and courageous lay leaders.

That’s another subject.

3 thoughts on “Unity Among the Lord’s People: It’s Bigger Than We Think

  1. Hey Joe, I too find myself dealing far more with the latter, though we are attempting to organize a multi-denominational prayer for revival here. Divisions are a grave sin according to scripture. God says he “hates” those who cause divisions among the brethren. Do you feel that our unwillingness to deal with those who sow discord and strife is a main reason for the disunity in the local body? Romans 16:17-18 urges us to note, literally mark, those who cause divisions and to avoid them as Paul says they do not serve Christ. When we allow those who contradict sound doctrine and cause divisions throigh selfish ambitions to remain in the body, are we not setting ourselves up for disunity. Heard 2 great messages by Jimmy Draper and Jim Henry last week regarding this. Is true church discipline the missing ingredient here, done in love of course?

  2. Joe, I would like to contact Joe Phillips about his praying for a multi-denominational revival. I have been praying for revival for a while and have gradually become more and more inclusive. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is my year verse and I have been praying for Christians to turn from whatever is coming between them and God and seek Him. Only then will we see revival. Our land (country) has seen revival in each century, but it has been almost a century since there has been an impressive revival.

    Denominations start off great, winning souls and training them, but gradually wander away from that first enthusiasm and became social clubs. I have even added the Catholic Church in my prayer for revival. That was the church I was raised in, but they have had more time than any other denomination to wander away from God. And they have wandered far away.

    I will add Jeff to my prayer list and pray that he and his will endure.

    Thanks for this good blog.


    PS: I pray for you every day and I thank you for posting about David Platt. You two are together on my prayer list. I have added an associational DOM in Indiana to go along with y

  3. For many, many years we have had a wonderful Ministerial Alliance. We met monthly and held four community-wide services a year. The only

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