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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Salter Goodwin

What’s So Hard About Unity?

In the first century church, unity prompted by love in Christ and for Christ, grew the reputation and reach of the first Christians.

Often, we have a limited and sometimes skewed view of unity. Unity by itself is not a virtue.  A lot of people are united around evil, politics, or philosophy.  However, as Christians, we find and express our unity in Christ.  There is a bigger problem than what might divide us if we can’t do that.

Too many times we want unity to come from sameness or agreement.  We want to worship the same, think the same, act the same.  However, sameness doesn’t create unity; it creates monotony or heaven forbid, closed mindedness. 

Some think that by spreading more love, we’ll have unity.  While love is an essential ingredient, it is an outgrowth of unity, not the creator. More love doesn’t produce more unity.

So where does unity in Christ come from and how do we get it?

The Bible is clear here, but the message has been overlooked.  Unity is a by-product of life in Christ and Christ in us. It’s the vine-connection, leafing from the true branch. 

First, we invite Christ to live in us through thoughts, hopes, dreams, attitudes, and actions in every way possible. We give Jesus complete access to everything about ourselves. No closed doors or secret cabinets.

But the other step is just as important.  We live in Christ.  We make our home in the life and teachings of Jesus.  All of them.  Not just our favorites.  Not just the love points.  We let the all-forgiving love of Christ so fill our grudge and wound-holding spirits that forgiveness leads in uncomfortable situations.  We listen for the prompts to speak or not to speak and we obey them.

Jesus didn’t lead a protest or a revolution.  He didn’t argue his way with anger or disgust written on his face.  He wept over Jerusalem.  He didn’t count the walking away of the rich man as a “win” for the team. 

Jesus in us and us in Jesus, co-abiding and living together in a fusion of love, forgiveness, and empowerment.  That’s how unity is born.

Paul encouraged this kind of unity in Philippians 2:1. He wasn’t ignoring differences; he was affirming what would make the difference.  Paul encouraged a combination of Spirit-led love, tenderness, and compassion. The emphasis is Spirit-led, not just how we decide to offer these gifts of God’s Spirit.   

What prevents unity?  When people take sides. Sides stimulate argument. Argument forces choices based on your way or my way.  That divides.  It doesn’t unify.

How do we address unity? Here are some starting points.

Before God

We bring to God whatever separates us from other Christians. We can’t solve great divides, but God can. We are His representatives, not His defense lawyers.

We ask God to help us respond the way Jesus did, with scriptural truth, thoughtful questions, and compassionate articulation.

Pray For

We pray for those we disagree with rather than praying for changes in behavior or thinking.  Change comes from God’s work, not our arguments.

Be Humble

We ask God to help us remain humble in the presence of disagreement.  Humility protects us from thinking we are better than someone else because of what we believe. We are only better when the Spirit of Christ leads us in attitude as well as belief.

Stay Gentle

We ask God to keep us gentle.  Gentle words turn away anger.  Gentle words keep a conversation going.  Gentleness feeds relationships.  Anger, argument, debate—those are fire-starters.  Besides, whatever we argue about won’t make us ready to live forever together!

This list can only be applied effectively where Christ lives in us, and we live in Christ.   Jesus, through His Spirit of all Truth, informs our decisions about what to say and how to say what we believe.  His goal is unity in Christ, so He will never encourage what can’t be used to unify.

Even when stalemate occurs, the goal is amicable separation.  The test:  If I meet you on the street after separating, can I still have a productive conversation because we are united through the Spirit of Christ?

Is it only a Pollyanna dream to hope we could live this way in our church culture where there are so many many break downs?  It isn’t to Jesus.  He prayed for it. 

We must decide when we will become His answer.

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