It has been suggested that you can bind the tails of two cats together and they will be united. While they would be joined together, there wouldn’t be unity. Likewise, there are indeed hundreds of religions and church affiliations today but God has always desired there be unity among His people.
The idea of spiritual unity presents us with the goal of being united or joined together as a whole so there are no divisions among us (1 Corinthians 1:10). Not only does God desire that Christians be united in doctrine but also in matters of judgment and in our daily work within the church. We know from reading Ephesians 4:1-6 that unity is expected because there is only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all. If we are not one with God, we are not united with Him nor with our brethren.
Let us explore a number of ways in which we can be united and how we can contribute to this unification:
Speak The Same Thing
God desires of His children to be of the same mind when it pertains to what we believe. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth because it was reported to him that there were contentions and division within the congregation. Paul sent Timothy to remind the Corinthians to imitate Paul as he taught the same thing everywhere in every church (1 Cor. 4:17). He also encouraged them to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). It is by the authority of Jesus and the standard of His word that they should have been united.
It is no different for us today. We must be perfectly joined together as brethren in order to be pleasing to God. If we cannot agree on sound doctrinal matters then we cannot be united. There are many passages that encourage us to speak soundly in our teachings and passages that warn of those who do not (1 Cor. 1:10; Titus 2:1-15; 1 Tim. 1:3-11; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; Gal. 1:6-10; Rom. 16:17-18).
Imagine if I had a stick, passed it around a crowded room, and asked everyone to tell me exactly how long they thought it was. You might hear twenty different answers based on each individual’s perception of length. It isn’t until a ruler is introduced that all in the room can be united in their agreement of its length. The same principle can be applied to what we believe and why we believe it. Unity isn’t based upon each individual’s perception of truth but by the spiritual standard that is the Bible.
God’s Word has been recorded in a way that makes it possible for us to understand it. Paul prayed without ceasing for the brethren in Colosse that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. By being filled with His will they would continue to grow together spiritually, being partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light (Col. 1:9-14). In order to remain in the light one must fight the good fight and keep the faith (2 Tim. 4:6-8). By walking steadfastly in the light we have fellowship with God and with fellow faithful Christians, and the blood of Jesus Christ continues to cleanse us of our sins (1 John 1). May we never break a bond of fellowship that is in perfect harmony for the sake of our own desires.
Why Judge Your Brother?
An important facet regarding relationships with our brethren is not to bind our own convictions on others. There are some subjects that are matters of opinion and those who are strong must be patient with their weaker brethren. Likewise if you happen to be the weaker brother you would expect those who are more mature in the faith to be longsuffering. When we speak about matters of judgment we are talking about morally neutral topics according to the Bible but which still may affect a Christian’s conscience. In Romans 14 we read of the example that one believes he may eat all things while another eats only vegetables. If they do not judge or despise one another they will both stand because God is able to make them stand.
The type of language used describing scruples is very different than that used in matters of doctrine or salvation. In Romans 14 we read of such language: “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind,” along with, “Who are you to judge another’s servant? But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?” In verse 13 it closes out with this statement: “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” If we are aware of a certain weaker brother’s faith we must walk in love. We are to consider our brethren and the possibility of giving up something that is not sinful of itself in order to preserve unity.
Another example of how to handle a matter of judgment can be found in 1 Corinthians 8. Concerning meat that had been sacrificed to idols, some would have violated their own conscience by eating it. There wasn’t anything inherently good or evil about eating the meat. Yet by eating the meat a more mature Christian would have sinned against the weaker brother by wounding his conscience. The attitude of Paul in this situation sums up how we are to walk in love: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Cor. 8:13).
We Be Brethren
When it comes to unity between brethren I think of what Abram said to Lot: “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren” (Gen. 13:8). I especially like the KJV rendering “…for we be brethren.” Even though they parted ways soon after this, they remained brethren and Abraham would later rescue and intercede for Lot and his family. Sometimes we forget that as children of God, we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. If we stick together we will be glorified together (Rom. 8:16-17).
Another Old Testament passage that can be applied to unity is Amos 3:3: “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” This makes me think of a three-legged race, where two people are united at the ankles and must work together to move forward. If you have ever seen or participated in one of these races you will inevitably see some awkwardly stumbling, some falling down and sometimes one will fall and the other will try to keep going. Unless there is agreement and cooperation between brethren some will walk disorderly, some will stumble and some will fall. Yet, the words of the psalmist still ring true: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)
Bringing these thoughts to the New Testament, we can turn to 1 Corinthians 12 and read of the diverse members within the one body of Christ needing to be united. We are taught the importance of each individual, the necessity of the weaker members and how God composed and views the body. In verse 25 we read again that there should be no divisions within the body but all should have the same care for one another. There is no doubt that problems will arise. Yet the more time we spend with brethren in the word, the easier it will be to avoid or solve our problems. We will be united in our common faith. If one does stumble the rest will be there to encourage, to pray and to build him up on our most holy faith (Jude 1:20). While those who do fall away will feel the godly sorrow necessary to repent and return to the light. It is a wonderful thing to be unified with brethren of like precious faith by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Work of the Church
There are a number of scriptures that come to mind concerning how we can properly prepare ourselves to be united in the work of the church. The very first is 2 Timothy 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” I’m also reminded of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which teaches us that the word of our living God is able to equip us for every good work. The Bible contains all that we need when it comes to being united in our work. In order for us to all be of the same mind and judgment we must be diligent in study, accurately handling the word of truth.
We must be knit together in such a way that our love for God will naturally lead to an unquenchable thirst and hunger for righteousness. Yet we must also grow together. One cannot remain on a milk-only diet while others feast upon the meat of the word. Ignorance of the scriptures can leave an individual vulnerable and we know how wolves and lions target the weak, sick and defenseless of a group. If those within the body, with Christ as the head, wear the necessary armor we will be able to stand together against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 5:23; 6:10-20).
If we can be truly united as God intended, the church will grow day by day both spiritually and numerically. We would have strong bonds and consideration for one another, stirring up love and good works. If we can be united with our brethren, in our doctrine and in matters of judgment there will be more time to carry out the work of the church. Without having to address constant dissension, discord and contention there will be more opportunities to study, to teach, to evangelize, to share the soul-saving gospel of Jesus Christ. If we can be united God will be pleased with us. We will be avoiding division and embracing unity (1 Cor. 1:10).