Spiritual Attitudes That Maintain Unity
As we have already learned, spiritual maturity leads to unity in the church. The reason for this is that spiritually mature Christians will exhibit Christ-like character qualities. When we learn to respond to hurts, offenses and accusations with the meekness and gentleness of Christ, we will be well on the way to maintaining unity in the church.
Now, let’s explore a few of the spiritual attitudes which maintain unity.
Ephesians 4:2-6 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.
Humility is an essential character quality that should define all Christians. God abhors pride. It was the very sin that had Satan cast from Heaven. It had no place in the presence of God in heaven, nor does it have a place in His church.
Philippians 2:5-8 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Proverbs 13:10 By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom.
Pride will, without fail, bring about arguments and offenses in the church. We can expect to find ourselves in situations where we disagree with others. The question is, how do we respond? Do we allow a contentious conversation to ensue so that we can prove our point? Do we go out of our way to prove ourselves right? Do we dwell on the disagreement? Do we involve others? All of these responses are driven by pride, show a lack of humility and will result in disunity.
Philippians 2:1-3 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. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Romans 12:16 tells us not to “mind high things” and to “condescend to men of low estate.” Romans 12:10 tells us to be “kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love” and to “prefer one another.” Humility involves considering others as superior to ourselves. In a world driven by pride, that is a very difficult thing to do. Our flesh naturally desires pre-eminence and oftentimes attains it by looking down upon others. God hates pride and has designed the entire salvation plan so as to exclude any human boasting (1 Cor 1:26-31; Rom 3:27; Eph 2:8-10). For the sake of spiritual unity we should ensure that nothing that we do has even a hint of fleshly pride.
“Meekness” is a humble attitude that expresses itself in the patient endurance of offenses. A meek person does not assert himself. He does not “always have to be right.” He does not engage in arguments which cause strife. He does not react harshly. He has learned how to maintain unity by putting down his own pride and making peace his priority.
Proverbs 16:32 Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
It takes two to argue. Oftentimes those who are disgruntled look for opportunities to cause strife. They approach you with an angry, irritated tone or sarcastic words hoping to evoke an emotional response from you. When you oblige them by reacting with the same attitude they have, you have allowed them to successfully “stir up anger” and consequently cause division in the church. On the other hand, if you were to respond to this person with meekness, gentleness and humility it would have the same effect as throwing water on a fire. You rob the person of the fuel they need to fan their anger into wrath and bitterness.
1 Peter 3:8-9 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
Jesus told us how to handle offenses in Matt 5:39. He indicates that “turning the other cheek” is the same as “resisting evil.” Sometimes a meek and humble spirit is the best resistance against division in the church.
Longsuffering speaks of being long tempered, patient and having endurance through negative circumstances. Especially when dealing with others.
Paul told Timothy to preach and encourage with all longsuffering. In 1 Corinthians 13 we see that longsuffering is a characteristic of love. Romans 2:4 tells us that God is longsuffering toward us. To be longsuffering is to be patient and gracious with others even in the face of their shortcomings, immaturity and sin. It is enduring humility, enduring meekness and enduring love even when our flesh tempts us to give up on others.
Forbearance is even more intense than longsuffering. It literally means to put up with one another. It is loving in the midst of other’s imperfections, faults, annoyances even when it is taxing on us.
Love and Peace
All of the above must be done in the context of love and with the desire of maintaining peace.
Romans 12:10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Romans 14:19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
God hates discord in the church. He has provided everything we need for continual oneness, but because we still exist in our mortal, sin-prone bodies we must always endeavour to keep unity in the church. The best way for the church to function in continual unity is for its members to be in a continual state of spiritual growth; consistently exhibiting the character qualities of Christ and employing the tools for unity which God has left us. When a church functions this way, it can with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 15:6).