Since moving to Mongolia six years ago I’ve had to give a great deal of though to the issue of Christian unity. In Mongolian culture the idea of unity is very important. In fact, unity if one of Mongolia’s most important value (just behind power).
For a society to be healthy it must be unified around a set of principles or a history that defines what that unity looks like. Most importantly, unity is often seen as agreement on important issues—especially controversial ones.
However, the idea of Christian unity as presented in the Bible is different from the secular unity that is promoted in culture and politics. This is true not just in Mongolia but also worldwide. Most secular unity is achieved by reaching agreement on common ideas. Those who are not in agreement on those ideas are not unified, or perhaps even viewed as divisive.
For some nations, such as those of the Islamic world, a common religious heritage is the driving force for perceived unity. For many in Mongolia unity often revolves around a history—Chinggis Khan, and the unity of the Mongolian tribes into one nation. These are examples of a secular-focused unity.
The unity that the Bible prescribes for Christians is very different. It is a unity that transcends ideas and opinions in pursuit of something far greater. The idea of unity in Christ, as presented in the Bible has very little to do with a common set of ideas, and almost nothing to do with agreement on controversial issues. Rather, biblical unity always centers on behavior. Psalm 133:1 declares:
“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.”
Conspicuously absent from Psalm 133 is any reference to philosophical agreement. In fact, I believe it is absent on purpose.
The Bible provides the authoritative model of unity for Christians. While many passages touch on the subject, I find it is best modeled in Ephesians 4:2-3 when the Apostle Paul says:
“With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forgiveness to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
It is no coincidence that the idea of unity is tied to the Holy Spirit and issues of behavior. In fact, in most New Testament passages a Christian’s behavior and the Holy Spirit are linked whenever the topic of unity is approached. And there is another subject not far behind: Truth.
Continuing on his theme of unity, Paul later says in Ephesians 4:13-15:
“…until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the Head, even Christ.”
Biblical unity always looks like this: TRUTH + LOVE = UNITY.
Where else does the Scripture provide this model? One book earlier in Galatians 5:22-26 Paul ties the “Fruit of the Spirit” with a life empowered by the Holy Spirit. But earlier in the chapter as he prepares to touch the topic Paul rebukes the Galatians for abandoning the purity of the Gospel message in Galatians 5:7 by saying:
“You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?”
What “truth” is Paul referring to? He reveals it in Galatians 5:1:
“It was for freedom that Christ set you free.”
Paul also makes these connections in his famous love chapter in I Corinthians 13 when in verse 6 he notes that love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” The entire chapter is part of a much larger context from chapters 12 through 14 about how the Holy Spirit expresses Himself through the life of the believer and the church at large. Paul’s focus in these chapters is spiritual unity among people of different motivations, gifts, and talents, based upon the simplicity of Christ’s identity (truth) and expressions of love.
The model presented in Colossians 3 is the same, with a much heavier emphasis on personal behavior along with Paul’s note that in Christ there is “no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). The implication, and application, for our modern times is that it doesn’t matter if you are Mongolian, or American, or Chinese, or Russian, Korean, or any other nationality. In Christ such temporary distinctions are to be washed away in favor of a much higher citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus Himself also tied together this notion that TRUTH + LOVE = UNITY. In John 16:13-14 Jesus revealed:
“When He, the Spirit of Truth comes He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever he hears He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you.”
With this important background on the Holy Spirit’s role in revealing truth, Jesus then prays for unity and truth in the very next chapter!
“Holy Father keep them in your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are,” (John 17:11)
Then in verse 17 he prays, “Sanctify them in truth, your word is truth.”
Just before speaking of unity and truth Jesus said in John 16:8-9:
“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment, concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me.”
What is the first truth we must recognize? That we are sinners in need of a Savor—the Lord Jesus. Even the passages in Galatians 5, Colossians 3, and I Corinthians 12-14 demonstrate that we are sinners in need of unity with Christ that comes first by recognizing our sin and embracing Jesus as the only solution to our sin.
So while the secular model of unity is based upon heritage, or philosophy, political principles, or some other set of ideas, the biblical model is different—so different as to be foreign to the way the world works. Biblical unity is not a unity of ideas, but a unity of behavior based upon the identity and work of Jesus Christ. Even Paul’s example of marriage in Ephesians 5 and 6 reveals this, as the husband and wife are different, having different motivations and relational desires, but their behavior toward one another unifies them as a family.
Christians can have many different ideas and disagree on a wide range of issues. Jesus didn’t say people would know we are His disciples because we agree, rather because of our love for one another. Disagreements don’t need to be wiped away to unify the church—only the sinful behavior that elevates personal opinion to the status of godly conviction and thus dishonors the brother or sister for whom Christ died.
TRUTH + LOVE = UNITY.