Most things worth having require effort. Good marriages require lots of work. Bringing up children who are responsible citizens requires a huge amount of work. Keeping a family united and working together is a tremendous challenge that requires great effort on the part of the whole family. The Bible clearly teaches that in order to have unity in a church doesn’t come easy. When Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesian church he told them to “Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” He tied the idea to living in a manner that was worthy of the calling we have received. In order to have such unity demands that we be patient with others and that we willingly suffer long with people who have different ideas from us.
What is the “Unity of the Spirit?” The point seems to be that just being united in some way doesn’t fulfill the challenge being made. It is only the unity of the Spirit when we are together in fellowship and communion with each other on the basis of what the Spirit teaches us to do. It has often been the case that large numbers of people are united on things that are completely out of harmony with what the Spirit is leading one to do. The crowd screaming for Jesus to be crucified was united. But it was a horrible unity. It is easier to get a crowd to come together to do something that is destructive than it is to get them to do something the builds up. Think of how quickly a crowd can turn into a mob and begin to destroy things around them that none of them would have even considered individually a few hours earlier.
It doesn’t always matter that everyone at church agrees on some idea. It matters more that they all be in agreement on what God wants them to do. Jesus was never in unity with the religious leaders of His day, but he was in close communion with the Father always taking the attitude, “I didn’t come to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me.” The unity of the Spirit is a submissive unity tied to the Father’s will instead of our own.
In explaining the nature of the unity of the Spirit Paul declared seven “Ones” that are necessary. “There is one body and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith and one baptism, one God and father of all who is above you all, in you all and through you all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6) I want to focus on those seven ones for the next few blogs, perhaps having one study on each of the seven.
In declaring these seven ones he is noting the fact that these seven are fundamental. There are no choices among them. They are all basic to the idea of oneness that is pleasing to God. It isn’t a multiple choice or a cafeteria from which to choose the ones that matter to us. God is telling us that each of these must be held in high regard by all who would follow Him. But, just as the seven shout the fact that these are essential, the inclusion of only seven indicates that other things aren’t fundamental. To declare that these are the foundation on which unity is built demands that things not included among the seven not be part of the foundation for unity. It has never been the case that unity for God demanded agreement on every thing or every issue that might come up.
Think for a moment of things you know of that have caused churches to either divide or at least to get into a strong disagreement about. By the way the thoughts here aren’t limited to any particular religious group in that churches of all strips have had their disagreements that have led to either people leaving to go somewhere else or the starting of a different group altogether. When I was very young in the first church work after college, I remember riding around with an elderly gentlemen from the area one day (Thinking back he may have been 40 years old at the time, but I was 20) when we passed two different church buildings just a little ways apart that were the exact same kind of churches. I asked him what had happened that would cause these two churches to exist so close together. He said that they had gotten into an argument over whether it was right to have a board over the church and one of them was known as a “Board church” and the other an “Anti-board church.”
I recently had a call from a man wanting some information about clapping in church. At first I thought it was a joke but soon realized he was dead serious and learned that the church where he attended had split because some wanted to clap during the songs and others were opposed to it. I wondered if anyone was allowed to pat their feet.
Most of the things I’ve known of churches fussing about had little to nothing to do with what the Bible teaches about anything. Most instead had to do with personalities or personal preferences. Instead of the attitude of Jesus that said, “Not my will but yours be done” we have too often taken the position, “Not anyone else’s will be done but mine.”
Just as the seven ones tell us that the fundamentals are necessary they also tell us that we have freedom in areas that aren’t tied down clearly in Scripture. It is just as easy today to be like the religious leaders who tormented Jesus with their petty regulations as it was then. Their rules made it hard for anyone to be right except them. Why would we think we could add laws about worship anymore that the Pharisees could add laws about the Sabbath and still be right with God? Remember it was their regulations that Jesus scoffed at. Instead of trying to go along to get along with them, Jesus intentionally did the very things that they declared he couldn’t do. Healing on the Sabbath Day was work. But it was all right for them to help their donkey get unstuck if it had a fall somewhere. Jesus said they would strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. Can’t you just see the picture he painted of some guy working his hardest to keep from swallowing a small gnat, but being able to gulp down a camel without even taking a swig of water along with it? Religiously it is done all the time.
Unity begins with an attitude of patience and long-suffering. It proceeds with the recognition that some things matter and some things are just insignificant and it is vital that we be able to detect the difference.
In the next blog we will look at the “One body.”