by Chris Gore
We get together on Sunday morning, we put on a happy face, we smile, we shake hands, and we can’t stand each other. We see eye to eye on God and the Bible, but…that’s about it.
That might sound like an exaggeration, but for many churches, this is the state of our fellowship. We see the language of Scripture that describes our church as a body and as a family. But the reality is that too many of our churches resemble more broken homes and broken bodies than they do the healthy body of Christ. Ours is a body broken by fights, by quarrels and by church splits. And what should concern us even more is that we have begun to accept this brokenness as “just the way things are.”
The unity of the body of Christ is no small matter. In Ephesians 4, Paul tells the church that unity is essential for the church to have a gospel-worthy existence. They all knew that unity was important, because unity was essential for gospel living and for the growth and spread of the kingdom.
Unity affects everything about us. In Ephesians 4.15-16, Paul tells us that unity is essential for church growth as well. The church grows together, Scripture says, when each part is working properly. That means when we aren’t working together properly, that growth simply will not happen. Broken fellowship slows the growth, not just of one individual, but of the entire church body.
Unity is also essential for evangelism. We often can look past conflict and struggle within the church as long as the Gospel is still being preached and people are still coming to faith. But listen to the words of Jesus in John 17.22-23—“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” The oneness, the unity of the church is a means by which God spreads the gospel. Jesus says basically the same thing in John 13.35—“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We are deceived if we think we can win a lost world to Christ while we are at war with our very brothers and sisters. When we as a church lose our unity, we become an impediment to the Gospel.
Scripture tells us in Acts 2.42 and Ephesians 4.3, that unity is something we must devote ourselves to. Which leads us to a growing problem in the church age we live in, where there is a church on every corner. Scripture never gives us the idea to preserve unity in one church by leaving it to go to another. On the contrary, the Bible encourages us to fight for unity, not to leave the church as soon as there is any sign of struggle or disagreement. If you do not fight for unity in your current church, you will not fight for it in the next church, regardless of how comfortable or happy you feel when you first get there. It is a proclamation of the Gospel when a body vigorously battles through division, and in this world of “my way or the highway,” a church where the people “bear with one another” and are “eager to maintain unity” is a church that will shine.
And so how can we display this devotion to unity? First, avoid divisive people. Remember that Scripture warns us that their words will do you (the hearer) and the church harm (Eph. 4.29; Heb. 12.15). For your sake and the sake of your church, avoid people who break down rather than build up unity in Christ’s body.
Next, don’t be selfish. We must not only be on the lookout for others who cause problems, but make sure that we, too, are not the source of division. Remember the warning found in James 4, that fights and divisions in the church come when we don’t get what we want. James tells us it comes down to nothing more than pride. Our flesh tells us that our way is the best way, and so we fight to get it, sometimes cloaking it in the spiritual language of “God’s leading.” You might even feel that you are fighting for what is best for the church, but if it is not a point of biblical fidelity, then the best thing you can do is to instead fight for unity.
Also, love your church and the people in it (John 13.35). I know people who love their church; they just wish that their church had different people in it. But we must not forget what the church truly is, the brethren, the body of Christ; not a building, not a name, not a memory and not an ideal. Love your brothers and sisters today, and be reconciled to one another, despite your differences of opinion, and God will be glorified.
And lastly, pray (John 17). Jesus prayed that we would be united, and He knew that only God could accomplish that in us. You and I are simply too selfish, the pull of sin too great, to win this battle on our own. The very good news is that we are not alone. Christ himself is fighting for us and will do in us what we could never do on our own: make a body fit for the King of kings, the Son of God, our Savior. Pray, devote yourselves to unity and prepare to watch as God heals the broken bones of your church and grows your members up into the body of Christ.
Chris Gore is the senior pastor of Beggs, First.