Work for Unity
Ask any pastor about the things he would most like to see in his church, and somewhere at the top of the list is going to be unity. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). It is good and our churches do become more pleasant when they are marked by unity.
And so faithful church members must pursue unity. The Bible calls us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, NIV).
But ironically enough, in our pursuit of biblical unity, we can become overly self-focused. We can think of the call to unity as just being about our own individual relationships with other Christians. “Do I have any interpersonal conflicts that need to be addressed?” “Am I gracious and charitable toward those with differing opinions on secondary and tertiary issues?” “Am I joyfully submitting myself to the leadership of the church?” Those are great questions that we should ask ourselves in order that we might, so far as it depends on us, live peaceably with all. But the Scriptural call to unity goes deeper and wider. That is, the Bible sets a higher bar for us than simply not being in conflict with others in our congregation.
And so I want to offer four practical suggestions that will help you work toward unity within your local body. But I’ll give you a warning upfront: these aren’t easy boxes to check. Some of them require lots of work, others may lead to awkward conversations, and all of them will call you to step out of your comfort zone. But that’s why we’re commanded to “make every effort” for unity. If it were easy and came naturally, we wouldn’t have to be commanded to “make every effort.” Nobody has to be told to “make every effort” to eat more potato chips. It’s only for eating things like kale that we have to “make every effort.”
1. Be a peacemaker.
Being a peacemaker goes beyond just making sure that your own relationships are reconciled. It calls you to encourage and catalyze reconciliation among members who are at odds in your congregation.
When dealing with a potentially unity-disrupting conflict in the church at Philippi, Paul first directly addressed the guilty parties: “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord” (Philippians 4:2). But notice that he doesn’t stop there. He then goes on to enlist the help of other members: “Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:3).
Suppose you know that two members of your church are having a conflict. You could sit back and do nothing—and that would certainly be the easier route to go. But you’re called to “make every effort” for unity. What exactly that looks like depends on the situation. In some scenarios, you might call a meeting; in others, you might go to one party and encourage them from the Bible to go and be reconciled. This requires wisdom. But in every case, working for unity means proactively being a peacemaker. And as Jesus said, blessed are the peacemakers.
2. Be a connector.
We are, in our sinful nature, cliquish and exclusive. Left to ourselves, we naturally gravitate toward certain people at the expense of broader relationships. But those natural tendencies can be very unhelpful for establishing unity.
So on the most basic level, we need to make sure that we’re not simply gravitating toward a single group of friends. Really working for unity calls us to do more—to bring people together as a connector.
Here’s an idea on how you can do this: the next time you have a group lunch at your home, invite two people who have completely separate social circles within your church. Allow your home to be the place where they can get to know one another and begin to form a friendship that they may otherwise have never developed.
3. Be a rejoicer and a weeper.
Paul points out that similar to a human body, in the church, “there are many parts, yet one body” (1 Corinthians 12:20). One important inference that he draws from this analogy is that “if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
And so very practically, if we are going to work for unity, we need to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Which means attending baby showers and attending funerals. Which means writing notes of congratulations and notes of sympathy. All of that requires us to know each other well enough that we are actually aware when our brother or sister is rejoicing or weeping, which again involves intentional effort. Being with your church members in the highs and lows of their lives will go a long way toward building a greater, more enduring unity.
4. Be gospel-centered.
Most importantly, if you’re going to work for unity in your church, you need to be gospel-centered.
Through the gospel, each member of your church has been united to Christ. Therefore, each member of your church is united to one another. Note how Paul specifically points out that the believers at Philippi—the ones who really needed to make every effort for unity in their body—all have their names in the book of life (Philippians 4:3). Given that we’re all going to spend eternity together worshipping our common Savior as fellow citizens of heaven, unity in the here and now is something worth fighting for!
We must remember the gospel. Because it’s only by the power of the gospel that such an eclectic church like yours (and like mine!) can be brought together by a common interest and demonstrate true love and unity. In fact, it’s this love and unity that then empowers the church’s gospel ministry “with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).
So, brothers and sisters, go and make every effort to pursue unity. I know it’s hard. But it’s good for you. Like eating more kale.