“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others...” (Philippians 2:1-4).
One of the greatest concerns of Jesus and His apostles was for the unity of those who believe in Him. Jesus cared enough about it that even when facing betrayal and death, He prayed for His followers…
“…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.” (John 17:21).
According to Jesus, the oneness of believers is so important that the salvation of souls depends upon it. While followers of Jesus have long professed to want unity, they have sought it most often on the basis of agreement on doctrine, perceiving that to be the major cause of division. Although doctrine is important, and I wouldn’t minimize at all, it is not the only thing necessary to fully and practically realize that for which Jesus prayed and for which Paul pleaded. There are other components that make for unity.
But Jesus’ prayer is not that His disciples strive to achieve unity. His prayer is that the Father make them to be one in their fellowship with Himself and the Father.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to 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 4:1-3).
Human beings will never find grounds for a perfect unity. What we need to realize is that unity is not something that is achieved by us weak and faltering human beings. Paul’s phraseology in verse 3 tells us that unity is “of the Spirit.” It is given by the Spirit. This unity becomes real when a person is added to the one body by the Lord.
“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
What Paul instructs Christians to do is to “keep” or “maintain” the unity that we have been given. You cannot keep what you don’t have. You cannot maintain something that isn’t there. But unity is divinely given and we have the responsibility of keeping it. We are to “endeavor,” “…intensely labor to promote and preserve peace and unity” (Adam Clarke, eSword).
One of those elements that go into maintaining unity is the character and attitude of believers. Paul’s words here in Ephesians 4 tell us that love and humility are indispensable in a realized, visibly demonstrated unity. Why? Because to love and to humbly submit ourselves to serve others is to be like Jesus!
To be impatient and harsh when there are differences between ourselves is to invite division. It is to be un-Christlike. Isaiah prophesied of the Spirit He would manifest;
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law. (Isaiah 42:1-4).
He “…does not clamor for attention, but speaks in a spirit of gentleness and patience. Rather than breaking the weak, He heals them. Those who are close to losing faith and hope, He does not further discourage but strengthens. (adapted from: Reformation Study Bible, BibleGateway.com).
How different the attitude of some who, under the profession of seeking unity, mercilessly attack anyone who differs with their views on practically any subject. We are not the standard of unity. Neither are our beliefs and interpretations. And even if we have perfect understanding of all truth, (and who among us can say we have that), we have no right to be impatient, unkind, or unloving in our attitude toward others.
Are we to overlook error in order to have unity? By no means! But there is a way to go about dealing with error that will, as far as we are concerned, not drive people away from the truth. It has to be done in a “spirit of gentleness” as in restoring an erring brother.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)
I know I am assuming the ideal where both parties are open and willing to freely and honestly discuss matters of difference. To be perfectly honest, in many cases this will not be possible. Sometimes people become so wedded to their own view it is not possible to have a profitable dialog with them. When that is the case, rather than becoming embroiled in an endless harangue with a recalcitrant brother, it would be better to simply leave him alone than to allow ourselves to be overcome by his provocation. Jesus’ instruction to the disciples when he sent them out to the house of Israel would apply to us also;
“And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.” (Matthew 10:14).
Trying to reach someone whose mind is closed is like trying to teach a pig to sing. You get yourself dirty and only annoy the pig! There simply are some people with whom we cannot have unity. They don’t want it. They won’t have it. And we only waste our time in trying to achieve it. There are others with whom we dare not seek unity. These are the people who destroy the power of the gospel by their legalism, human doctrines, opinions and false interpretations. Such are to be marked and avoided.
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Romans 16:17).