One of the greatest hindrances to a church making an impact on the community around her is a lack of unity—a lack of Christian love and passion focused together in the same direction. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
By the love that you have for one another… Not by the great facilities, incredible music, powerful teaching, excellent programs, etc.
The apostle Paul wrote four biblical letters from prison: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. A common thread that runs through each letter is a challenge for the believers to be unified, to recognize that their new standing with God must deeply impact how they relate to others in the family of God. While enduring difficult persecution and facing an uncertain future, Paul wanted to be sure that the churches lived as one. Unity was not a tertiary issue in his mind; rather, it was essential for the advancement of God’s kingdom.
Sadly, many local churches are plagued with disunity that confuses a watching world and hurts those inside the body. Sometimes the disunity manifests itself in overt fighting over preferences, such as style, dress, programming, and even facility decisions. Other times the disunity manifests itself more subtly in competing directions. Instead of “contending as one man for the sake of the gospel,” the church runs in a plethora of directions driven by multiple ministry philosophies that subtly compete with one another. Whether disunity rears its head overtly or subtly, the disunity reveals a spiritual sickness deep beneath the surface.
Paul challenged the church at Ephesus to “diligently [keep] the unity of the Spirit” (4:3). He did not challenge them to “create unity” because they were already unified by the “one hope at your calling—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (4:4-6). A church’s unity reflects the Godhead (He is one God, yet three Persons) and the salvation He has given us (He has made us one with Himself and each other). Thus, not to live as a unified body of believers is to drift from the foundation of our faith and the character of our God. A drift in unity reveals a deeper drift—a misplaced priority and a mistaken enemy.
A misplaced priority
While unity is not the ultimate goal of a church, it reflects our commitment to the One who is ultimate.1 A lack of unity shows that personal preferences have taken priority over the Lord and His mission. When Paul challenged the Philippians to be one, he essentially said, “If you have any joy at all in being a Christian, any mercy at all in your hearts, then think the same way and focus on one goal” (2:1-2). A lack of unity reveals that for some, personal kingdoms have taken precedence and priority over His.
A mistaken enemy
A church fighting is as heartbreaking and appalling as an army turning and shooting its own people. Surely the Enemy, the Devil who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour, is pleased and present in such circumstances. Instead of uniting to advance God’s kingdom, a church that fights within herself wastes countless amounts of energy and time devouring her members.
Christians throughout history have been recognized as a group who love each other well. Aristides, who wrote scornfully of the early Christians, admitted that they loved each other deeply. He said, “If these Christians hear that any one of their number is in distress for the sake of Christ’s name, they all render aid in his necessity.” For a local church to forsake unity is to forsake the great history we claim. Thus, a drift in unity reveals a deeper drift—a drift away from our Lord and the mission He has given His Church.
Unity is kept when we view others as better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3), and the only way we are empowered to do so is if our minds and hearts are continually reminded of how Christ served us (2:5-8). Church leaders must join the apostle Paul in greatly valuing the unity of a local body of believers and continually encouraging people to live the unity that Christ has already graciously given His people.
1 This statement was taken from a lesson in The Gospel Project.