A congregation is never stronger than when it’s united and never weaker than when it’s divided.
Jesus talks about this principle in Matthew 12:25, not in the context of an individual congregation, but it’s certainly true of congregations. “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” A divided congregation is a damaged and weak congregation. There are signs of division in a congregation – fighting, arguments, but also more subtle issues like gossip and backbiting.
Division makes us weak, but unity makes us strong. Unity in the faith is closely connected to strength in the faith. Ephesians 4:13-15:
till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ…
Unity in the faith, in Christ, offers a degree of protection. It makes us stronger against the intrusions of false doctrine. Division makes us vulnerable; unity makes us durable. A united congregation can take some blows; it can handle adversity; it won’t crumble under pressure. Unity makes a congregation stronger because it makes people stronger.
Our aim is to be one. Within a congregation of God’s people there are many people – with many personalities, many talents, many strengths, and many weaknesses – and yet there is only one body. Romans 12:5: “…so we, being many, are one body in Christ…” 1 Corinthians 10:17: “For we, though many, are one bread and one body…” 1 Corinthians 12:12: “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.”
What does this unity look like, and where will we find it?
The Nature of Unity
A union is not the same as unity. Every marriage is a union, but not every marriage has unity. Every employee is in a union with their employer, but that doesn’t imply there is unity. Every congregation is a union of believers, but not every church has unity.
A congregation must be united in thought, in speech, and in deed. This is the theme throughout the New Testament.
Romans 15:5-7: “Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.”
Philippians 1:27: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel…”
Philippians 2:1-2: “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”
Unity must also be based in truth. A church can be united and apparently strong and still completely wrong. The goal is to be united with each other by being united in God and Jesus. This was Christ’s prayer in John 17:20-21:
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
The Pursuit of Unity
Unity in the body is an effect of effort, and it’s not easily achieved. In the Apostle Paul’s pleas for unity he describes all of the necessarily attitudes and actions required in the pursuit of unity. Ephesians 4:1-4:
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body…”
Similarly in Colossians 3:12-14:
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.”
Perfect unity does not require perfect people. If we wait for people to fix all their faults before we’ll accept them in Christian unity, we’ll never have unity. If we must wait for people to be just like us before we can join them in Christian unity, we’ll never have unity. If we are not willing to forgive and be forgiven, we will never have unity.