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Unity

July 01, 2016

A prerequisite for God's blessing.

FROM A SERMON BY Bill McKibben

S

ome years back when our three children were still living at home, my wife and I made plans to drive with another family from our home in Seattle, Washington, to our church’s Midwest camp meeting. The five of us and the five of them loaded into a fifteen-passenger van and traveled for thirty-four hours straight through to our destination, trading drivers. Somewhere along the way, the children began behaving like children sometimes do on a long trip. Out in the middle of nowhere, I remember hearing my son say to his youngest sister, who was not getting along with one of the other girls, “Could you please try to be a part of the solution instead of a part of the problem?” I wonder where he had heard that!

The what, why, and how of unity

As Christians, each of us would say we want to be a part of the solution rather than part of the problem. However, people have personalities, and sometimes those personalities do not work together as well as they should or could. In an effort to understand and encourage unity, today we are going to consider some texts from the Word of God on that topic. We will address some questions that come to mind when we think of this subject, such as what unity is, why it is important, and what the results of unity are.

Unity is defined as “the state of being united or joined as a whole.” It is a condition that God desires for His people; the place where He moves and works. In Psalm 133:1-3 we read, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”

Psalm 133 is identified in its superscription as “A song of degrees of David.” That tells us these words were sung while ascending the steps into the Temple. The closer one came to the Holy of Holies, the higher the level, so this song was to be sung as one approached the presence of God. That is important for us, just as it was important for the Children of Israel. We want to be in unity as we approach the presence of God.

In our desire to be in unity with each other, the first prerequisite is that we are in unity with God.

In our desire to be in unity with each other, the first prerequisite is that we are in unity with God. The Psalmist declared that it is “good and pleasant”—agreeable and delightful—to exist in harmony together with brethren. The original word translated brethren literally means “brothers by blood or kinship in a wider sense, being of the same tribe, friends or allies.” In our case, it means being a part of the family of God because we have been redeemed through the Blood of Jesus.

A number of years ago at camp meeting, one of our ministers coined a phrase which describes the unity which should exist among believers. His text was Acts 2:1, which relates that on the Day of Pentecost the disciples were “all with one accord, in one place.” He commented that these followers of Christ were not only together in one place, but they were also together in one accord—they were “together, together.” We can be together but not “together, together”! In the incident I related about driving to Midwest camp, our two families were all together in the van but there definitely were times when some of the passengers were not together in spirit! Togetherness—true unity—is more than mere proximity.

We cannot hope to be in unity with one another if we do not begin with the same source of unity—a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ.

In Ephesians 2:4-6, the Apostle Paul gives some instructions on how to live in this state of unity. We read, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” So the first step simply is: if we are dead in sins and trespasses, we must be quickened or made alive in Christ. We cannot hope to be in unity with one another if we do not begin with the same source of unity—a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. From that place, it says God raises us all up and makes us “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

Results of unity

Entering the presence of God. Looking back to Psalm 133, the Psalmist explained what this unity looks like by comparing it to the precious anointing oil used to consecrate the high priest, Aaron, and the holy instruments of the Tabernacle and Temple worship. This was a special recipe given by God; the anointing oil was not to be used for any other purpose. In fact, using it for anything else would result in the death penalty—it was that important. The Psalmist said unity was like that precious anointing oil that was poured over the head of Aaron the priest, which ran down his beard and down his garments from his head to his toes. It covered him. Unity brings us into a similar place. When we are unified and covered from head to toe with unity with God and our fellow believers, we can step into the presence of God just as the high priest, once anointed, was allowed to go into the Holy of Holies where the Shekinah glory of God dwelt.

The Psalmist said that unity is like dew—it needs to come on a daily basis.

A daily blessing. In verse 3, the Psalmist compared unity to the dew on Mount Hermon. Geographical illustrations are helpful. If I were preaching in Korea, perhaps Mount Sorak would be my illustration. If I were from Portland, Oregon, Mount Hood would be the example. If I were from India or Nepal, no doubt Mount Everest would be mentioned. The Children of Israel were familiar with Mount Hermon at the north end of Israel; it is nearly three thousand meters in height. On that snow-capped mountain, dew occurs on a daily basis, even though it is an arid area. That daily dew is what eventually feeds the head waters of the Jordan River. The Psalmist said that unity is like dew—it needs to come on a daily basis. It may come in small amounts, but gathered together it becomes a river and a source of life. Some people want unity to be a state that God bestows once, and then all of life’s problems are over. That is called Heaven, and we are not there yet. Here on this earth, we need unity on a daily basis. When it is present, the Covenant God of Israel commands the blessing. Those early Hebrews did not have as much understanding of Heaven as we do, but they knew their Covenant God wanted them to have an abundant, full life. There is nothing more fulfilling and abundant than being in unity with God and God’s people. It is a place where God’s blessing falls.

Accomplishing God's purposes. When unity prevails, the nature of humanity becomes aligned to the nature of God, and the purposes of God can be accomplished. God has a plan for us. In Jeremiah 29:11 we read, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” God is interested in your future and mine, and He has a plan for us to get there. However, our lives need to be aligned with that plan. When God’s blessing flows, we are in a place where life can flourish. We are in a place where wholeness can be accomplished and where fulfillment is found.

The way to attain unity

In John 17:11, we read in Jesus’ prayer for His disciples, “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” Jesus prayed these words just prior to His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then His betrayal and crucifixion. In those last crucial hours, He prayed that His followers “may be one, as we are.” How close in purpose do you think God the Father and God the Son are? They are perfectly united—they are One—and that is His desire for us also.

Reading on in Jesus’ prayer, we learn how unity is accomplished. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:17-21).

There is a need for people who have yielded to the Lord and have had a life-transforming experience of salvation to press into a deeper walk with God and be set apart in holiness—entire sanctification.

There is a need for people who have yielded to the Lord and have had a life-transforming experience of salvation to press into a deeper walk with God and be set apart in holiness—entire sanctification. That happens through an application of the Blood of Jesus to the human heart which eradicates the nature of sin. Sanctification provides unity and oneness among God’s people.

Picturing unity

Our unity with other believers is to be a reflection of the unity which exists within the Godhead between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is completely differentiated in personality, role, and substance, but completely unified in mind, heart, and purpose. When God’s people are sanctified, they are one in their desire for the furtherance of the Gospel. Sanctification does not remove individual preferences and viewpoints, it simply fuses together the deepest desires of believers. They will be pressing forward with the same goal in view.

As an example, consider an orchestra, band, or any musical group. It is obvious that the instruments in a musical group are different. The flute and the tuba are nothing alike. The cello, trombone, and percussion are nothing alike. The instruments not only look different, but they produce different tones and quality of sound, yet when played together under one director with a common piece of music, they produce a beautiful combined sound that no soloist alone can achieve.

As individuals, we have different personalities, different tastes, and different opinions. However, in the things that matter, we want to be unified.

That is the Gospel. None of us are to be soloists. We are to be in unity—working together for God’s purposes. As individuals, we have different personalities, different tastes, and different opinions. However, in the things that matter, we want to be unified.

What is the result of unity? Jesus prayed for unity among His followers so that “the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” He wanted His followers to be united as a powerful example to the world of the reality of His love. How will the world know the truth of the Gospel if there are divisions in the church? Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul the Apostle used the metaphor of the human body as an illustration of unity. We read, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). The Body of Christ has many individual members, but Paul pointed out that we are called by one Spirit into one body. In this chapter the word “one” is used thirteen times! That reveals how important the Apostle Paul thought unity was.

These verses were written to a church that had all sorts of problems. The Corinthians could not decide which preacher they liked best—Paul, Apollos, or Cephas. They could not decide who should be in the church or out of the church. Paul reminded them that there is danger in either elevating or minimizing the value of anyone in the Body of Christ. The devil will attempt to do both in order to destroy unity. Differences can lead to division, but that should not be the case in the church. Paul wanted believers to understand that each person is valuable in God’s sight.

The human hand has four fingers and one thumb. Biologists tell us that the opposing thumb is what enables us to pick up things easily. If you want to see the importance of your thumb, try to pick up a pencil without using your thumb. You can do it, but it is hard! Though the thumb is a critical part of our anatomy, notice that we have only one thumb on each hand, and that is best. Similarly, we cannot have a church full of “thumbs” or we would have problems. However, the thumb should not be proud that it is the thumb; it is just a thumb. There are many other parts in the body, and we need all of them.

We are not to compare ourselves among ourselves, but to simply align our purposes, our motives, and our hearts with the will of God and the purposes of God.

In verses 15-16, Paul asks these questions, “If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body: is it therefore not of the Body?” Paul’s answer was no. Every member is part of the body and is valuable, whether it is seen or unseen. All work together to make the body function properly. We are not to compare ourselves among ourselves, but to simply align our purposes, our motives, and our hearts with the will of God and the purposes of God. When we do that, every part will work smoothly together.

Doing this will take effort. In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul admonished the believers at Ephesus to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” “Endeavoring” means that we will need to work at it! Unity is not just a one-time bestowment from God. It is a way of life, a way of learning to live and work together with people. It is characterized by humility, patience, longsuffering, and love.

Do you want wholeness and peace? Do you want the blessing of God in your life, your church, and your community? Do you want your testimony to ring true to those around you? Start by being reconciled with God. Apply God’s Word to your heart. Align your purposes with God’s purposes and your heart with the hearts of God’s people. The world will be blessed as we follow God’s Word and work together in unity, in recognition of the diversity of personalities and cultures and opinions, but with our hearts and minds united in our Savior.

About the author

Bill McKibben is Director of Asia Work for the Apostolic Faith organization, and pastor of the Apostolic Faith Church in Seattle, Washington.