Free associate. I’m going to mention a word, and you tell me the first thing that comes to your mind. Ready? Here is the word: unity. What came to your mind? Now, let me ask another question: what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word Christianity? I’m going to assume unity was not the first word.
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There is no one right answer to my questions because of the subjectiveness of them, so let me ask, “Where does unity rank in your top 10 list of words you would associate with Christianity?”
I suspect many folks would find it difficult to connect unity to Christianity because of the fractures within our body. Of course, if you have a high view of sin, you understand it can’t be any other way because sin’s mission is disunity (John 10:10).
To expect Christianity to be immune from disunity is a setup for disappointment and even anger toward Christianity. The irony is how ongoing frustration at the disunity within Christianity only perpetuates the despised disunity.
Unity Begins In the Trinity
If disunity is an issue, which I think nearly all of us agree, the point-of-focus should be on the most effective ways to combat the problem. There are four distinct relational spheres within our reach where we can bring unity. Think of them in sequential order from greatest to least relational impact.
- You and the Lord.
- You, the Lord, and your closest friend.
- All of the above, plus your community of friends.
- All of the above, plus the greater Christian community.
You cannot have unity without the Lord because He is the first unified community from which all biblical unity connects. The first unified community is the Father, Son, and Spirit: the Trinity–the core and context for all biblical unity.
Being in union with the Trinity is why unbelievers cannot have true unity. They can be friends with each other. They can relate to each other and even relate to Christians. They can do many wonderful deeds, but until they connect with the Source of all community, there will always be at least one thing wrong with them: alienation from the Trinity.
They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. – Ephesians 4:18
The pursuit of unity begins with regeneration. When the LORD God Almighty reconciles you to Himself, you are empowered to enjoy a unique Christian experience in the body of Christ.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled. – Colossians 1:21-22
You are released to have an incredible privilege of pursuing unity with your closest believing friends, which is the place where you have the most leverage. Your Christian relationships can move beyond the superficial and into what has been called biblical koinonia.
Are You Fed Up with Superficial Relationships?
Five Keys for True Relationships
Koinonia (true community) means a sharing of your entire life–the good and bad of it–with another person while guided by the Spirit of God. Koinonia is one of the many gifts from the Spirit of God. Paul thought about it this way:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:1-4
Would you like to have Paul’s kind of joy-filled unity? He provides five keys, if properly and practically applied, could lead to joy-filled unity with others. Philippians 2:1 was Paul’s pastoral and poetic way of saying these things should be the way you interact with others.
The Greek rendering of verse one would have the word “if” in front of the five words. As you read it that way, ask the Spirit to help you analyze yourself to see if you are a pursuer of unity within your relational spheres.
- If you are an encourager, you can have joy-filled unity.
- If you are a comforter, you can have joy-filled unity.
- If you are a participator in the lives of others, you can have joy-filled unity.
- If you have genuine affection for those within your sphere, you can have joy-filled unity.
- If you have authentic sympathy for others, you can have joy-filled unity.
“If” these things characterize your interaction with others, you will be able to experience relational joy. These are five big keys that will complete your unified joy with others.
Unity Brings Joy
Complete my joy by being of the same mind (unity), having the same love (unity), being in full accord (unity) and of one mind (unity).
Paul takes it a step further by connecting joy to unity, which you can’t gloss over because the implication is if you do not have joy, there is–more than likely–disunity within some of your relationships.
I know this is true for me. Whenever I experience tension in relationships, joy drains from my soul. There is a logical implication: unity equals joy or joy equals unity. Relational tension is where some Christians do not perceive the problem with their lack of joy. And because they don’t understand the real issue, they fight for joy the wrong way, pursuing the wrong things, while hoping to be fixed.
A wrongheaded pursuit of joy does not strengthen them. It weakens them and compromises their ability to withstand the wiles of the evil ones. Once division comes between two people, it quenches the redemptive efforts of the Lord. Any fracture within a relationship weakens the participants in the relationship. This idea is probably obvious to you, especially if you are married.
Whenever there is a disruption in a marriage, it impedes both spouses from greater effectiveness in the Lord’s redemptive purposes. The reason is simple: there is something wrong with their one flesh. In the physical world, body sickness is called a disease. In the spiritual world, “body sickness” is called sin.
In such cases, the response should not be to work harder or to do more but to “heal the body sickness.” You must remove the divisive sin so they can be unified.
Practical Steps Toward Unity
Fixing disunity begins with each person’s private interaction and engagement with the Lord because God is the center and the context for unity. When something breaks between you and another person, don’t begin with the other person. Start with your relationship with the Lord.
Examine yourself before you begin making assessments of others (Matthew 7:3-5). If you have an open, honest, transparent, and maturing relationship with the Lord, you are well on your way.
The goal is not a perfect relationship with the Lord but, minimally, an honest and confessional one. (cf. 1 John 1:7-10) I have no idea how many people I have counseled who wanted to reconcile with their spouses while holding on to secret sin.
For whatever reason, they did not discern or regard how their relationship with God was the first thing to repair. Their primary goal was to “fix the spouse” while not making appropriate adjustments to their lives first.
The core characteristic missing in their lives was humility. (cf. James 4:6) Without humility, a person’s relationship with the Lord will be affected, divided, and rendered powerless. These things will spill over into other relationships too.
Let’s say you have an open and honest relationship with the Lord. You share with Him your true self—the upside and the downside. You resist self-denial and self-deception.
If true, the Lord’s favor is on you, and you are ready to interact with others. Unity with the Lord positions you to export what you possess with God. A real community can now mature within your sphere of influence.
If you do not have a growing and developing unity with the Lord, you cannot have open, honest, transparent, growing, and maturing unity with others. Who you are with the Lord will somehow, in some way, reflect in your other relationships. You must “be” the person you want to create in others within your sphere of influence. (cf. Ephesians 5:1).
Paul, in Philippians 2:1-4, frames biblical unity in a specific and practical way. Below is an assignment for you. Ask your closest friend to answer these questions to help you examine the value you place on biblical unity.
- Are you characterized as an encourager?
- Do you regularly seek to comfort others?
- Are you a persistent participator in the lives of others?
- Do you have authentic affection for other people?
- Are you sympathetic toward the needs of others?
If you are married, the primary person to receive these things from you is your spouse. If you bypass your spouse by not giving him/her your prime encouragement, comfort, participation, affection, and sympathy, you’re in a world of hurt.
(I realize the brokenness in some marriages does not allow for this kind of biblical reciprocation. If that is the case for you, then your next move is to seek help from your local church.)
Going Deep With Others
There is a difference between being friends with someone and being intimately connected with another human being by the working of the Spirit of God who is continually carrying you into a deeper togetherness.
- You can be relational.
- You can be friends.
- You can know each other.
- You can like others.
Biblical community is better than this. It’s deeper than this. It’s more intimate, more profound, more rewarding, and more God-honoring because it is how two or more people can collectively enter into the heart of God. Here are five ways to assess if you possess biblical unity with God and others. You have a “joy-filled, unity disease.” If so,
- You cannot help but encourage others.
- You cannot keep yourself from comforting others.
- You strategize how to participate in the lives of others.
- You possess a genuine affection for others.
- You are humbly sympathetic toward others.
Call to Action
The people who regularly experience these things from you are the ones who have the greatest possibility of enjoying biblical joy and unity with you. If you want to impact the disunity problem in the body of Christ, I appeal to you to work through all the questions in this article with those closest to you.
My prayer is for the Lord to give you the grace and the courage to talk about these ideas with someone close to you. If you do, prepare yourself for an extraordinary measure of the grace of God (James 4:6) and a relational adventure with another human being that will transcend anything you’ve ever experienced before.
Also published on Medium.