"The Unity Of the
By Eddie Cloer
"Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1: 10).
T. B. Larimore, a gospel preacher whose
gentle and Christlike spirit was recognized by all who knew him, illustrated
the family unity of Christ's church with Psalms
133:1: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell
together in unity!" Brother
Larimore said that some things are good but not pleasant. A visit to the
dentist may be good but not pleasant. An operation to remove a cancerous
growth is life saving and thus good, but it is not pleasant for the patient.
Then, brother Larimore said that some things are pleasant but not good. Candy
is pleasant to eat, but is not always good for us. Recreation is pleasant and
enjoyable on special occasions, but continual recreation would be dissipation.
Brother Larimore observed that one can find a few things in this world that
are both good and pleasant, actually beneficial to us and at the same time
enjoyable to experience. He concluded that both of these qualities are found
in unity in Christ, in brothers dwelling together in one accord.1 Who of us
would not agree with T. B. Larimore?
1 'T. B. Larimore, "Unity," in Biographies and Sermons, ed. F. D. Srygley (n.p., n.d.; reprint, Nashville, Tenn.: Gospel
Advocate, 1961), 3 25?36.2
The unity of the believers had to be
the dearest and most important
longing in the heart of Jesus, or He
would not have prayed for it
on the night before His death.
According to the New Testament, unity in Christ is not only good and pleasant to us; but, even more importantly, it is good and pleasing to God. Just before Jesus was betrayed into the hands of lawless men on the darkest night of the world, He prayed for the unity of those who would believe on Him in the future. He prayed to His Father, "I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me" (John 17:20, 21).
If you were scheduled to be executed tomorrow, and you
knelt to pray tonight, for what would you pray? Would you pray for trivial,
unimportant dreams? Would you not pray for the dearest and most important
aspirations in the world to you? Do we not see how Christ valued unity as we
read His prayer for unity the night before He was crucified? The unity of the
believers had to be the dearest and most important longing in the heart
of Jesus, or He would not have prayed for on the night before His death.
When Paul wrote to the terribly divided church at Corinth, a church beset by numerous problems and Weaknesses, he first gave them a forceful call to unity: "Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Corinthians :10). At the time that Paul wrote to the Corinthians, A.D. 54 to 56, denominations did not exist. The only church that existed was the Lord's church, and Paul, by inspiration, tells God's church at Corinth to dwell together in unity. He not only pleads for this unity, but he pleads for it in the very name of Jesus Christ.
Let us look at the unity of the church in greater detail. The two passages already cited make it obvious that Christ's church is to have a beautiful unity, but hat kind of unity is it to have? What are the characteristics of it? A deeper understanding of this unity should provide practical assistance for our Christian living and should enhance our understanding of the church itself.
AN ORGANIC UNITY
First, let us recognize the organic unity of
the body f Christ. The New Testament speaks of a unity that is inherent and
fundamental to being in Christ. This unity occurs by the grace of God when one
enters Christ's body. Anyone who has genuinely become a ember of the body of
Christ has received this unity.
The New Testament world was essentially divided into two communities: Jewish and Gentile. The gulf between these two groups was as wide as any gulf which might exist between any two races today. Yet Paul affirms that Jew and Gentile had become one in Christ:
For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one,.. . (Ephesians 2:14).
... that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross,... (Ephesians 2:15, 16).
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
Christ, through His death
on the cross, has made into one all people who come into Christ, regardless of
their backgrounds and race. Jews and Gentiles, two distinct races, are
re-created into a new race and are called Christians. Christ does not make
Jews into Gentiles or Gentiles into Jews. He does not raise the Gentile up to
the position of privilege occupied by the Jew; neither does He bring the Jew
down to the position of the Gentile. He raises both Jew and Gentile to a
heavenly position in Christ which far transcends any privilege or position
ever promised to or possessed by either. The Jew forgets that he is a Jew, and
the Gentile forgets that he is a Gentile. Each thinks only of what he is in
Christ. Christ is Savior and Lord to both. In this divine oneness, all
national, racial, social, and family distinctions are removed.
Through Christ, we are first of all reconciled to God (Colossians 1:20). Second, through that reconciliation, we are reconciled to one another and "are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:22). Before two can be united with each other, they must first be united with God.
History contains examples of peoples, like the Normans and the Saxons, who were continually at war with each other. Hostility and hatred perpetually characterized them. Through the centuries, however, the peoples intermarried and intertwined, until eventually these two communities of people had merged into one. Thus, the separate nations, as unique communities, ceased to exist. The wars, of course, ended because the division between them no longer existed. The intermingling of the two communities produced one new community of people who loved and respected each other.2
In a similar way, all human divisions and barriers are broken down in Christ; one new body of people is created by God's marvelous grace. In His body, we do not see Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, rich man or poor man, male or female, white man or black man. We only see that we "are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
In understanding the unity in Christ, then, we must first recognize the organic unity which we receive when we enter His body. It is appropriate, and even necessary, to tell ourselves when we enter the body of Christ that we are now one with all other members of His body. We must think and act in concert with this truth. No rank, no barriers, no divisions, and no cliques organically exist in Christ's body. We have become one with Christ and one with each other.
R. C. Bell, Studies in
Ephesians (Austin, Tex: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1971), 25.
A DOCTRINAL UNITY
Second, we must recognize the doctrinal
unity which is found in Christ. An organic unity is given by the Spirit when
we enter the body of Christ, but this unity must be maintained by our
adherence to the teachings of the Scriptures.
Christians are bound together by a unity of teaching and belief. Christ's body is not a collection of people guided by groundless beliefs about God and dreamy speculations about life. Members of His body are united upon God's divine revelation of truth.
As Paul discussed the unity of the church of Christ, as he urged Christians to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, he named seven "ones" which form the doctrinal foundation for the maintenance of the organic unity in Christ's body. He said, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were 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 all" (Ephesians 4:4-6). The body of which Paul wrote is the spiritual body of Christ, the church (Ephesians 1:22, 23). The Spirit is the third member of the Godhead who gave us the revelation of the Scriptures. The one hope is the eternal hope which girds the heart of every Christian through the gospel (Colossians 1:23). The one Lord is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the one who died for our sins and was raised for our justification. The one faith is the belief in Christ and His Word which is engendered by the testimony of the Scriptures (Romans 10:17). The one baptism is the baptism which Christ commanded in the Great Commission and which will be in effect until the end of the Christian Age (Matthew 28:19, 20). The one God is the eternal God who is Creator and Sustainer of the earth, the only true and living God. Concerning the seven "one's," R. C. Bell said, "These unalterable, final facts demand either acceptance or repudiation. No other reaction is possible; a man who rejects even one of them is not to consider himself a Christian at all."'
God seeks to bring all the clanging discord in His world into a harmonious unity in Christ.
Union is one thing, but
unity is another. Union can be achieved by coercion, but unity can only be
found in devotion. Union can be created by binding two people together with
ropes, but unity can only come when hearts are bound together with faith and
love. The pioneer preachers said, "One can take two tomcats, tie their
tails together, and throw them across a clothesline, and he would have union,
but not unity." People of divided minds and wills can experience a type
of union, but people can only dwell together in one accord through speaking
the same things and being one in mind and judgment.
Paul not only pleaded for unity in 1Corinthians 1:10, but he specified the kind of unity for which he pleaded for unity of agreement, without divisions, complete in mind and judgment. This kind of unity is brought about by a submission to Christ's will. In Acts 2, on the day the church was established, each person submitted to the message of the Spirit delivered by inspired men. This submission resulted in doctrinal unity: "And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching.... And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common" (Acts 2:42-44). Understandably, then, Paul wrote to the brethren in Philippi, "Let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained" (Philippians 3:16).
A PRACTICAL UNITY
Third, a practical unity
must characterize the body of Christ. The organic unity which is given by the
Holy Spirit when we enter Christ must be maintained by not only each member's
adherence to the plain teachings of the Scriptures but also by each member's
adopting a practical, common-sense approach to living together in one accord
Paul admonished the Philippian brethren to manifest the attitude of "live-togetherism." He said, "Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose" (Philippians 2:2). He further said, "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord" (Philippians 4:2). These verses necessarily demand that each member of Christ's body live by the teachings of the Bible and keep his opinions, and sometimes even his wishes, to himself.
We are never to put a brother in a position where, if he does what we demand, he would violate his conscience. Paul said,
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way (Romans 14:13).
Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me" (Romans 15:1-3).
Ben Franklin once said that if a man is
trying to get two boards to fit together perfectly, it may be necessary for
him to saw off both of the ends that are to fit. In other words, practical
unity often requires give-and-take. The selfish man will never know unity with
others. He will always live in a little kingdom which is bounded on all four
sides by his selfish demands. He cannot come out of that kingdom for genuine
fellowship with others, and no one else can enter it for genuine fellowship
This practical unity in Christ grows out of a conscious attempt on the part of each member of Christ's body to consider his brother or sister with love and grace. He is to devalue his opinions and even his wishes. He is to do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, he is to regard others as more important than himself (Philippians 2:3). He is not to look out for his own interests; he is to look out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). As he so lives, he is uniquely exhibiting the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5-8).
Christ's body, therefore, is to be
characterized by unity. This unity has a threefold character: an organic
nature, a doctrinal nature, and a practical nature. The organic unity comes by
God's grace upon our entrance into His body. It is maintained and experienced
through a doctrinal and practical unity resulting from a conscious commitment
to the teachings of the Scriptures and to the spiritual life of other
God seeks to bring all the clanging discord in His world into a harmonious unity in Christ: "For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven" (Colossians 1: 19,20). Christ, through His gospel, calls us to this unity in His body. God planned it (Ephesians 3:6), Christ prayed for it and provided the possibility for it (John 17:21; Ephesians 2:16), Paul pleaded for it (1 Corinthians 1:10), and the Spirit produces it (Ephesians 4:1-6).
Should we not accept this unity by receiving it and abiding in it?
QUESTIONS FOR STUDY
| 1. In what way is unity in Christ both
pleasant and good?
2. What was Christ's special prayer for His church the night before His crucifixion?
(See John 17:21-24.)
3. Discuss the admonition for unity given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10.
4. Define the organic unity which Christ's church has.
5. When is the organic unity of the church given to one who is entering the church?
6. Define the doctrinal unity of the church. What is the difference between the organic
and doctrinal unity of the church?
7. Discuss R. C. Bell's statement about the seven "ones's."
8. What is the difference between unity and union?
9. How are unity and submission to the will of Christ related?
10. Define the practical unity that we are to have in Christ.
11. What is the difference between the doctrinal unity and the practical unity of the
12. What are some common-sense steps one can take in maintaining the practical unity
of the church?