“I have never yet known the Spirit of God to work where the Lord’s people were divided.” Like D.L. Moody, neither have I. Instead, most of us probably have seen too often how disunity hinders the Spirit’s work in the church and damages the church’s witness to the world.
Unity in the body of Christ isn’t something to be taken for granted nor taken lightly. It’s a gift from God made possible by the cross of Jesus and made effective by the working of the Holy Spirit. Unity isn’t something we’re able to create, but is our responsibility to guard. Here’s a few attitudes and actions to guard against:
1. Making everything about you
Reality check: The church doesn’t exist to make you (or me) happy; it exists to glorify God.
The way to maintain unity is to think of others as more important than yourself and to make the mission of seeing lives changed by the gospel as more important than personal preferences or comfort. It’s not about you, or about me.
2. Fighting over secondary things
We argue and fight in the church over needless things — things that, from a heavenly perspective, don’t really matter all that much.
Like #1 above, arguing over secondary things is an indication of self-centeredness. What’s required for maintaining unity is less “self” and more “centeredness” on what really matters. Or like Richard Baxter said: “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.”
There’s a reason James said the tongue is a fire (James 3:6). Consider the damage it can do to a church. Gossip and other sins of the tongue have absolutely no place in the body of Christ. None. Gossip is a cancer in the body of Christ that, if not removed, will destroy the fellowship.
The problem of gossip is a problem of the heart, and so the correction needs to happen in the deepest recesses of the heart. A heart problem isn’t corrected by a resolve to hold your tongue. It takes nothing less than the Holy Spirit changing attitudes, leading to genuine repentance, which then opens the way for unity to be restored.
4. Refusing to forgive
Bitterness and resentment are poisons. Unforgiveness poisons the soul and it poisons the body of Christ.
The church is, by nature, a fellowship rooted in forgiveness. What does that mean, practically speaking? 17th-century Puritan Thomas Watson said forgiveness looks like this: you don’t seek revenge when someone offends you, you wish him well, you grieve at his calamities, you pray for him, you seek reconciliation, and show yourself willing to come to his aid. That’s what forgiveness looks like, and that’s what it takes to maintain unity.
5. Taking our eyes off Jesus
This last one is the most insidious of all the threats to church harmony.
In The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer wrote: “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”
It’s time for a tuning, don’t you think?
“Live in harmony with one another.” (Romans 12:16, ESV)