Unity is not technically an “attitude” but the desire for, and pursuit of unity can certainly be classified as an attitude of the heart. God’s desire for the church is perfect unity. Jesus prayed that the church “may be one” (John 17) and for this reason, much of the Spirit’s internal work has the purpose of producing spiritual unity in the church (Eph 4).
1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
2 Corinthians 13:11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
Unity can be described negatively as “a lack of division” or it can be described positively as having commonality in our thoughts, desires, affections, pursuits and consequently, our actions.
The World’s Unity vs. The Spirit’s Unity
Unity is hard to come by in this world. Generally, worldy unity is artificial and fragile. Unity in the world is accomplished when individuals see it as in their best interest to lay aside differences. This type of unity is fleeting. When one party feels that his needs or wants aren’t being met he will, driven by self-interest, disrupt the unity. Spiritual unity is not this way.
Ephesians 4:1-6 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call– 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
There is a stark contrast between the world’s “spirit of unity” and the church’s “unity of the Spirit.” The focus of a “spirit of unity” is unity for unity’s sake and often results in compromise and a lowest-common-denominator type of religion. In our day of countless denominations, worldy compromise and doctrinal ignorance there is a consistent call for the unification of the body of Christ. Oftentimes these would-be unifiers call for unity “at any cost.” They are willing to lay aside most anything that causes division, including distinct, biblical doctrine and standards of personal holiness. This is not Spiritual unity. The “unity of the Spirit” is a principled, spirit-led and spirit-empowered unity under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Spiritual unity keeps the Spirit of God as its center and its circumference. All that we are and all that we do must please the Spirit of God. For this reason, it makes no sense to compromise doctrine or holiness in an effort to unify. In doing so, we grieve the very source of spiritual unity and are left only with unity for unity’s sake.
God’s Provision for Lasting Unity
Spiritual unity does not come about by organization or outward pressure, nor is it driven by self-interest. Spiritual unity is produced by the inward work of the Holy Spirit as He motivates us to please our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Spiritual unity was a mark of the early church:
Acts 1:14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.
Acts 4:32-37 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Verse 32 tells us that the early church was of one heart and of one soul. Q. How do we know that this unity was not driven by self interest?
After the death of Jesus Christ, the disciples were initially distraught. They did not understand God’s redemptive plan. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were sad, Peter returned to his fishing trade, Thomas doubted the resurrection. This was an open door for discord and division but neither of these occurred. Shortly after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples and gave them a unified comission (Matt 28:19-20) and told them to meet together in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4). They were immediately unified in obedience to their risen Lord.
The Indwelling Spirit
The disciples, in obedience to Christ, met together and continued in one accord in prayer and supplication. Then, in Acts 2, we see how Jesus Christ planned for this unity to continue and to grow.
Acts 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
John 17:20-23 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 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. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 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.
Christ’s prayer was not primarily about practical unity in daily church life, but about the spiritual union that takes place at the moment of salvation. This spiritual union with Christ, the Father and all other believers happens as God sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within the believer. In John 17:22 Jesus prayed, And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one. The Holy Spirit is the “glory” which God the Father has given us and the means by which all believers are united in Him. We are one because we share his very nature.
The Bible refers to this moment of uniting with God by his indwelling spirit as being “baptized into Christ” (Gal 3:27). For this reason also, the church is referred to as the “body of Christ” (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:27; Eph 4:12).
1 Corinthians 12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
Ephesians 4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call– 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
All believers share the same Lord, same faith, same God, same calling, are part of the same body and have been baptized by the same spirit. Our baptism into the body of Christ speaks of our positional or spiritual unity. This took place on a spiritual level at the moment of salvation and will never change. This unity is essential for, but different than, the practical unity which every church must work to achieve.
Unity Through Maturity
After Paul listed the seven things which bring unity from diversity in Eph 4:4-6, he went on to list the diverse spiritual gifts that exist within the unity of the church.
Ephesians 4:12-13 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
Each of these gifts is for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. In short, they produce spiritual maturity.
Unity in the church is produced when Christian men and women grow in the faith. This growh entails increasing in the knowledge of Christ and becoming stable in our doctrine. When we all seek to please the same Lord, studying and obeying the same Bible and adhering to the same doctrine we will naturally be unified. In contrast to this unified maturity, division in the church is a hallmark of spiritual immaturity.
1 Corinthians 3:1-4 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?
Proverbs 6:16-19 There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
Church unity is the product of men and women growing in the Lord and walking in the Spirit. As an individual Christian matures he grows in love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. These are the fruit or evidence of the Spirit’s working (Gal 5:22-23). This spiritual fruit is developed in each and every growing Christian which leads them to new and increasing areas of commonality. The Christ-like character in me will not clash with the Christ-like character in you!
Romans 15:5-6 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the church we do not need to search in vain for areas of common interest. We are not strangers trying to get along. We are brothers and sisters in Christ with the exact same Spirit working to make us all like Jesus Christ. Our love for the Lord Jesus Christ and the transforming power of the Spirit of God is what produces the ability for us to walk in supernatural unity. For this reason a growing church is a unified church.
Unity Through Labour
Ephesians 4:3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Like many aspects of the Christian life, unity is two-fold. It involves both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. On one hand there is God’s sovereign provision of the Holy Spirit as the source of our unity and on the other hand there is our responsibility to endeavour to keep unity. To endeavour means to use “diligence”, “labour” and “effort.” In other words, unity takes work!
Philippians 2:1-2 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
In verse 1 of this passage Paul is giving the reasoning or motivations for his exhoration to unity. The word if found in this verse can be better understood as “because.”
The encouragement and comfort we have in Christ, the fellowship we have with the Spirit and the mercies which God has shown us should create in us a spirit of gratitude, indebtedness and obedience. It is with this attitude that we should labour to keep unity in the church.