Last month, I gave you four keys to unity. I wrote that we must first fix our eyes on the work of Christ. This, in essence, is theological unity. We must gaze at the core of the gospel together, and be united around it. But second, we must be forgiving one another. Beyond that, we need to know deep in our hearts and minds that unity is strengthened when we lay down our demand for comfort for the sake of the good of all. Finally, I said that we must be aimed at the same end. We must have shared mission.
This month, I want to give you four more keys to unity.
The first key I want to mention today is that we need to remember that there is a distinction between unity and uniformity. The gospel doesn’t call us to all become clones of each other, eating the same food, drinking the same drink, walking around like lemmings. God wires different people in different ways, and he calls people from every tongue and tribe and race, with all of their unique contributions to the kingdom of God. Consider the way that Ephesians 4 points to this reality. We’re told in verses 3 that we are to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. Why, because, as 4-6 tells us, “There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” That’s theological unity. There’s the foundation of the gospel again. The thing you have to hold on to and gaze at if you are a follower of Christ.
But then, in verse 7, Paul doesn’t say, ok, you should all look like carbon copies of each other. Instead he writes, “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” Then he goes on and says in 8-15, “This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men." (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work”. Paul wants us to see in these verses that unity is essential, but he’s also showing us that God puts different things in us for His glory. So that we can all reach unity in faith. These differences actually contribute to the unity in an amazing way.
This brings us to the second key to unity I want to mention today. Unity in Philosophy. Last month, I said that we have to aim at the same end in shared mission, and I just said that there is a difference between unity and uniformity. But at the same time, we also have to have philosophical unity in regard to ministry methods and style. For anything to succeed, there must be an agreed upon way of doing things. This is different from unity in mission. Two people may love Jesus and agree he has sent us, but at the same time, have completely different opinions on the way things should be done in the church to further his kingdom. Mark Driscoll has a great way of illustrating philosophical unity. He writes, “In addition to Bible rules, the church family, like all families, also has house rules about how they do things". These family rules are the ministry philosophy, and in many ways, it is the cause of a particular cultural style in the church. A church must have philosophical unity. We need to not only agree what the mission is, but how we will accomplish that mission, because if a church can’t have a common way of doing things, a common approach, it is in trouble. Often, this lack of shared philosophy is at the root of a given churches bickering and arguing and disunity (and why it’s often easier to start a church than renew it). A church must have unity in philosophy. We must use our unique gifts, our differences, to work towards the same ends, with a shared philosophy. Now, is this contradictory? I don’t think so. My wife and I are different people with different gifts. But we work towards the same end, and we do it with a shared philosophy, a shared approach (and if we don’t, we have to get a place where we do have it). What happens if a church doesn’t have a shared philosophy? Bad things. Usually, division and infighting, because even if we can agree on mission, we still won’t have agreement on how we actually do things. Sadly, the result of failure to have unity in philosophy is the same as failing to have unity in mission, or unity in the gospel. Nothing gets done and in the end, Satan gets a win, and God’s kingdom is not be furthered by this church.
The third key I want to mention today is that unity demands unity in commitment. The gospel doesn’t say, some people are called to really seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and others, well, they can sit in the pew and then go home and watch TV and not really seek to grow in Christ and grow in terms of their love of Christ and commitment to Christ. It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t allow us to come, sit in a pew, and then go home and go about our business like nothing has happened. We’re called to live out of the gospel in all of life. We are called to remember that the church exists in two spheres; we exist as the church gathered, this is what we do on Sunday morning, but then we also exist as the church scattered, living out of our faith on a day to day level as salt and light wherever we go. As individuals, as a church body we are all called to live on mission for God. One of the things that I think destroys the church is that we have this expectation that some can just come and be partially in. That’s not a follower of Christ, that’s not a disciple, that’s a fan. There’s no such thing as part time commitment to Christ. We are called to be all in. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die, Bonheoffer observed. Why did he say that? Because he knew that Jesus didn’t say, come when it feels easy, Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33)” and “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Mark 8:34)”. HE called for total commitment. If you’re hauling your cross, you count yourself dead to this world, and all in for the kingdom. Your saying with John the Baptist, "he must increase, and I must decrease”. That’s what the Christian is called to. That’s what we are called to. If we are all committing ourselves like that, we will find that as we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, we will see the gospel will go forth, we will see the lives of those we encounter changed, and we will find that real unity is growing.
The final key to unity I want to mention today is that unity demands that we obey the call of God, and be people that love one another. What does this mean? On the one hand, it doesn’t mean, as we’ve seen, that we are all uniform lemmings. It actually doesn’t even mean that everyone in the church has to like each other. But what it does mean is that the church should love one another and demonstrate that love by being cordial, respectful, and friendly with each other, even when they are talking about areas where they disagree. It does mean that we sacrifice for one another, that we are willing to meet each other’s needs and care for each other in real ways, and obey God’s commandments, in obedience to Christ, but also out of love for each other. Think about what John says in 1 John 3, he says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. Then he says, “But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us (1Jo 3:16-24)”. John highlights these two things because they show us the level of sacrifice that love calls us to, submitting to meeting each other’s needs, and submitting to obeying God’s commands,
In the end, if a church doesn’t have this, it’s in deep water; it’s in deep water because, as Jesus makes clear, love is the ultimate apologetic for the gospel. Love is the ultimate sign to the world that we are new creations, that people who might not naturally have the same disposition and like each other now love each other and sacrifices for each other, and even live under the commandments of Christ for each other as well as for Christ. Jesus says, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John13:34-35). But along with that, it’s in deep water, because the only way that we can live with unity is if we are seeking to love the other and aim for their good. If not, our church, any church, will splinter and fall apart.
These are just some of the keys to unity, there’s more that could be said. But I think these two sets of four are the most important. If they don’t exist, a church, be it ours or others, will wither and die. They will fragment and split apart and it will be ugly.
Don’t take unity for granted. It comes through sacrifice and effort, and it can be lost easily. If you’ve ever led something, you’ve probably experienced some level of disunity. You know the painful cost you must pay when, not if, disunity occurs, even in the smallest of occasions, and you know that every breach in unity costs time, energy, emotion, and momentum. Division is often the cause of the greatest stress, pain, conflict, and despair, which is why unity is vital. Don’t take it for granted. It is very fragile. It is gained slowly and lost quickly.
Along with that. don’t ever stop praying for it. Jesus desire is for the church to be united. In his high priestly prayer, his cry to the Father was, “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. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me (John 17:21-23). My hope is that the church be marked with this kind of unity. My hope is that we will have this kind of unity.