Sometimes, simply allowing scripture to speak is the best approach to tackling a subject. Why don’t you read the following words, very slowly, and then imagine a church community living this to the max. After a few minutes revisit that imaginary church but include yourself in the mix and see what impact it has upon how you think, feel and act:
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity – Col 3:12-14
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.” (Psalm 133:1-2)
“It’s so important that Christians demonstrate unity”. “God loves unity, in fact we’re even told that unity is the place where his blessing is poured out”. “Is Life Church into church unity?” I hear each of these statements – and more – on a reasonably regular basis. I’m sure you’ve heard similar things. However, the problem with each statement is that no one ever defines what unity looks like. To put it simply, everyone squeezes their own opinion as to what unity looks like into this verse from Psalm 133. So for some, unity is really another way of saying let’s not offend anyone. For others unity is such a narrow and claustrophobic space that, in reality, it only has room for one person (and we know who that is)!
So what is biblical unity?
1. We unite around the gospel
In Ephesians 4:13 the Apostle Paul says,
“… until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.”
Notice how unity is directly linked with knowledge. Christian unity is a truth-based unity. This means that we are not to pursue unity at any cost, but our pursuit of unity must be rooted in a passionate pursuit of truth.
2. We unite through our affections
The Apostle Paul says to the church in Rome “Love one another with brotherly affection.” Unity is more than just truth-based. It requires us to exercise the often painful ‘duty’ of affection. That means not allowing bitterness or distance to grow up in your heart. No; you’ve been called to close-proximity love for your brothers and sisters. This means giving and receiving. It involves walking the mountain tops of success together, and trudging through the bare valleys of uncertainty together. Love is an active ingredient and, without unity, will soon become cold and formulaic.
So christian unity has two essential ingredients: truth and affection.