Unity amongst Christians (Part 1)
One of the results of God’s work is unity. We become united with God and we become united with God’s people, our brothers and sisters in Christ. However, we don’t see much visible unity amongst Christians today. This sheet deals with the principle of unity in the Church/Assembly. Unity must always be Christ-centred and much of the break-up amongst Christians today is the result of Christians gathering, not with Christ as their centre but something else, such as a central doctrine or tradition.
Unity seen in the Scriptures
“Wherefore remember that ye, once nations in the flesh, who are called uncircumcision by that called circumcision in the flesh done with the hand; that ye were at that time without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus ye who once were afar off are become nigh by the blood of the Christ. For he is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of enclosure, having annulled the enmity in his flesh, the law of commandments in ordinances, that he might form the two in himself into one new man, making peace; and might reconcile both in one body to God by the cross, having by it slain the enmity” (Ephesians 2:11-16).
It is good for us to know something of what is to characterise us as members of the body of Christ and as part of His Assembly. The Lord came here to establish unity. Not unity amongst men, but to reconcile men with God. He was the basis of the reconciliation of man with his Creator.
Our Lord Jesus passed through this world in perfection and left us the supreme example, not only of what man was intended to be, but also of what man was intended to enjoy in the presence of God. How close that fellowship of Father and Son was! We too are intended, and should be able to, enjoy that same fellowship. John tells us that our fellowship is with “the Father and the Son” (1 John 1:3). The Lord left us with those words that God is now “my God and your God” and “my Father and your Father” (John 20:17). We have been brought, not only into communion and fellowship with God, but also into relationship as sons and “beloved children”.
The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus has so completely provided for every demand of the Father that we can now enter into His presence. The life of the Lord Jesus was such a delight to the Father that He can bring us in on the basis of that perfect life and sacrifice in which there was no sorrow or disappointment to the Father’s heart. We have been made the “righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). What absolute perfection! We could never have imagined it, nor attained to it; that God would clothe us in His own righteousness, His own perfection, in Christ Jesus so as to make us completely fit for His presence. He could not look on us if we were less than perfect; if we still had some taint of sin or imperfection, but by clothing us in Christ He has made us suitable. Thus we cannot rely on ourselves any longer, but on the work that He has done.
The driving purpose of this work was love, for that is God’s nature. “God is love” John tells us and we can see this so perfectly expressed in the cross. May we, as recognising the value of that cross, cling to it as the hymn writer says:
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it one day for a crown.
It was in love and divine grace that God came forth to man in Christ and was “reconciling all things to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Yet it was not to result in peace for all men for the Lord said that He had not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). This did not mean that our Lord Jesus was advocating violence but rather He was warning the disciples, and indeed us all, of the enmity that man in his natural state would have against this message of grace and all who are identified with it, even to the extent of dividing families which are the closest links of natural affection and unity. Why is this? Man desires to have a place in his own salvation in which he can take pride. God’s message of His grace gives no glory to man, only mercy. We must accept the death of all that we are naturally in Christ’s own death and then we can rejoice that we live through Him and not our own efforts. Mankind rejected Christ, but there are those who received Him, to whom has been given the right to be called “children of God” (John 1:12), who as a result will experience the same opposition as our Lord Jesus faced (John 15:18-19). He told us that if the world rejected Him, it would reject us also (John 15:18-19). And so, He prayed that we might be kept and preserved in the world; that we might be one as He and the Father are one (John 17:21).
So, the Lord Jesus left the world to await His second coming, leaving us with the blessed “other Comforter”, the Holy Spirit who reveals to us all the glories of Christ and empowers us here on earth, leading us onward with the hope of the Lord’s Coming and stirring up our heart’s affections to say with Him “Come, Lord Jesus”. Is that our hope and desire; that the Lord might come? If we love the Lord Jesus there will not be anything more wonderful to our hearts. It is only things of this world and our love for them that makes us feel less willing for the Lord to return soon.
Having been so completely reconciled and united to God through our Lord Jesus, Paul then shows us what He has done to us as believers on earth. We, who are predominantly gentiles, have been brought into the divine realm where we had no claim to any right. We were “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel” (Ephesians 2:12) and the promises associated with the covenants of promise. How dark is our rightful and natural portion; “without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Yet now in Christ all the walls of division have been broken down. He has become our peace! He has not only reconciled Jew and Gentile, but has made us both into one new man. Thus we are reconciled to God as one new man, not many but one, and as a result of that we have access by the Holy Spirit into the presence of the Father. The Jew did not have that privilege or power, neither did the gentile, but the Church/Assembly does. We are now fellow citizens and members of the household of God, marked out as belonging to Him.
Unity in Ephesians 4
“I, the prisoner in the Lord, exhort you therefore to walk worthy of the calling wherewith ye have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love; using diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, as ye have been also called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all. But to each one of us has been given grace according to the measure of the gift of the Christ.” (Ephesians 4:1-7).
In Ephesians 4 we have this reinforced. We have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all”. There is “one body, one Spirit” on earth at present. In fact, we are told that when we put on Christ we have ceased to be what we were before, (i.e. Jew, Greek, bondman, freeman, etc.) and have become one in Christ. We are no longer seen as separate units acting according to our own ambitions and pride, but as one in Christ seeking His interests, His glory and what is for the benefit of His body on earth and all the component parts of that body. How different from the great heaving mass of independent ambitions, hopes, desires and deeds of men. One body here representing and serving Christ with its one uniting object – His glory. Unity in the body is in our appreciation of Christ.
We are then given in this passage the spirit and attitude in which we are now to view things, from which we are to derive our perspective. We are to walk in this manner which is worthy of our calling. If we showed forth the characteristics listed here, how beautifully one the Assembly would appear publicly on earth. We should not seek to produce these attitudes relying on what is natural, but as we see at the beginning of that beautiful chapter of Romans 12, these things are derived from our understanding of the “compassions of the Christ”. We will not be able to truly demonstrate these features from the heart if we have not been in His presence and got to know Him personally. The body will not function without its head; it will die and decay. It must be connected to its’ head if it is to live. The same is true of the Assembly and its’ Head, the Lord Jesus. We need only look at the Lord’s message to Ephesus in Revelation 2 to see the seriousness of this point. Although they had all the right teaching, the right judgement of the world and right works, they had lost that love for the Lord that had given Him the first place in their lives and in their local assembly. The result of this would be disastrous! Their lampstand removed and the loss of the Christian testimony there. How terrible! Perhaps they had become so occupied in the Lord’s work, so determined in their judgement of the world and false teachers with false doctrine that they had forgotten to get into the presence of the Lord in whose name they were acting. The adoration of Christ, the heartfelt worship was missing. May we recognise and experience the need to adore and worship the Lord with all our being.
If we are one in Christ with every born again saint then let these attitudes of humility, gentleness, patience and love be seen and experienced amongst us. Let the spirit of Christ’s love be evident as a result of our continuous fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Let us really demonstrate that divine nature of which we have become partakers (2 Peter 1:4), for if the Lord’s will is not plainly seen in our lives and Him in our affections we will not be able to demonstrate His spirit to all in all things.
Unity in Romans 12
“For I say, through the grace which has been given to me, to every one that is among you, not to have high thoughts above what he should think; but to think so as to be wise, as God has dealt to each a measure of faith. For, as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office; thus we, being many, are one body in Christ, and each one members one of the other. But having different gifts, according to the grace which has been given to us, whether it be prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or service, let us occupy ourselves in service; or he that teaches, in teaching; or he that exhorts, in exhortation; he that gives, in simplicity; he that leads, with diligence; he that shews mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:3-8).
When we come to Romans 12 we find that the one body has many members. Each has been given some gift or task which is for the benefit of the body and glory of Christ. In actuality then, we will each have different abilities which have been given to us by the Spirit. No one gift or service is to be exalted or despised. They are simply to be made room for. The brother who can minister or teach in a public way is no more than the humble evangelist who serves in an old person’s home, or the faithful mother who educates her children in the things of Christ. We are to esteem each as more excellent than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). God sees the work of each and will give His seal of approval for faithful service. All these things are for the benefit of the body of Christ and thus for the glory of its Head.
But here we also see something else about the unity of the one body in Christ - we are individually “members one of another”. That is, we value each brother or sister in Christ as we value ourselves, for we are now all inextricably linked. And we find that don’t we? As we meet other believers we can often share our impressions of the Lord and our mutual hope of seeing Him. Thus we use our gifts and our resources that God has lent us to benefit and serve one another. There is to be a one-ness of interest and affection between one another and for the Lord Jesus as we meet and enjoy one another’s company.
We are told elsewhere to be of one mind and two sisters were exhorted by the apostle Paul to be of one mind in the Lord (Philippians 4:2). This is because such things as strife, seen in 1 Corinthians, and disagreements are not to be found amongst the Lord’s people for they are foreign to God’s principle of unity. We are all to be close to the Lord and to know His mind and will in every circumstance. If we all have His mind then there will be no division, for the Lord cannot have two opposing minds. If we have His mind we will show forth His spirit. This is not something our natural spirit can do. It is only when Man’s mind comes in that disagreements and offenses appear. In the company of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will find that the fruit of the Spirit seen in Galatians 5 will become evident amongst us in perfect unity. It is the Lord’s prayer in John 17 that we may be one. This is what we are in Christ; may it be realised practically in His Assembly today.
Unity in Ephesians 5
“So ought men also to love their own wives as their own bodies: he that loves his own wife loves himself. For no one has ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as also the Christ the assembly: for we are members of his body; we are of his flesh, and of his bones. Because of this a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall be united to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh. This mystery is great, but I speak as to Christ, and as to the assembly. But ye also, every one of you, let each so love his own wife as himself; but as to the wife I speak that she may fear the husband” (Ephesians 5:28-33).
Finally, in Ephesians 5 we have a beautiful unity seen in the picture of marriage. Marriage is itself a beautiful picture of Christ and the Assembly being united together into “one flesh”, never again to be parted. The Assembly today is not perfect. By the blood of Christ each one of us is made perfect, but the Assembly today is being prepared. She will be perfectly suitable at the marriage supper of the Lamb. All imperfections will be gone. She will have been divested of any clothes spotted by the dirt of this world and will have made herself ready. But now, the Lord is washing her “by the pure water of the word” and “nourishing and cherishing” her so that He might present her to Himself all-glorious.
The Bride, which is the Church/Assembly, will be united to Christ physically. She will be a chaste virgin for Him; alive in her affections and desire for Him. There will be no strife, no despair, no tears, no sorrow – none of that. The pattern of eternity will be unity of mind, unity of spirit, unity of praise, unity of affection and unity in worship.
But these things are not just for eternity. They are to be experienced now. We are to enjoy something of that unity with Him and amongst His saints now. We are to have His mind, to be one with Him in all that He does, to be like Him on earth, for “as he is, so also are ye in the world” (1 John 4:17). We are to encourage one another, admonish one another and build up one another so that we might perfectly represent and worship Christ in our lives. May it be that there will not be much adjustment for us when the Lord comes and we physically step into His presence.
So the Church/Assembly is one in the Lord’s sight. We too are to view it as such. We are to demonstrate the blessed features of believers in the enjoyment of unity with the Lord and by extension with each other. We have been united to God in Christ, we have been united to each other as one body, we are members one of another, we have one faith, one baptism and one Lord and we are united in our hope of the eternal union with Christ. May that unity be seen in the Lord’s Assembly practically and be experienced and desired in our humble, but loving relationships with the Lord’s people. May we be found “with one accord praising Him” as we find that it is as united in testimony, praise and worship that we are the greatest witness for our Lord.