God Given Unity,1

John 17 records our Lord's prayer on the night prior to his crucifixion. In this prayer, our Lord gave great emphasis to the subject of unity. Even though man often struggles with this topic, unity is possible - but only on God's terms.

Jesus made it clear that the only basis upon which unity is possible is the word of God. He spoke of those who "believe on me through their (the apostles) word" (v. 20). This is in keeping with Paul's identification of the origin of faith, as he wrote to the church at Rome, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" Romans 10:17). Peter understood what forms the basis of our unity when he wrote "to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:1).

Paul sought to restore unity to the divided church at Corinth by appealing to the word of God. "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:1, 2). "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10).

Notice that the Bible teaches that unity is something that comes from God. Paul wrote to the church at Rome, "Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:5, 6). Notice the word "grant." In what way does God "grant" that we be likeminded?

This same idea is used twice in the book of Acts in connection with repentance. "Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31). "When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18). Notice that in both of these passages, God is said to have given repentance to a certain group of people. We know that this was not some type of miraculous gift, but rather, through the preaching of the gospel, they learned the necessity of repenting.

In just the same way God gives unity - that is, he has given the word upon which unity is possible. Biblical unity -- God given unity -- involves acceptance of and a submission to the will of God. Fellowship with others must first be preceded by fellowship with God - that is, we must be in submission to his will and be following his word. If we are in fellowship with God (in submission to his will), then we are going to be in fellowship with everyone else who is in fellowship with God. In view of this Peter wrote, "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Peter 1:22, 23).

God has granted unity by giving the means where by attaining unity is possible. May we ever be diligent in following the prescription of Ephesians 4:3 -- "Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

Thomas W. Larkin