The Cost of Unity

This past Monday, I was asked to speak to a group of preachers in Huntsville on the subject that serves as the title of this article. Two other men spoke, one on the Importance of Unity and the other on the Parameters of Unity. All three of us made reference to the passage penned by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:3 -- "Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." This passage, and especially the word "endeavoring," makes it clear that there is a price that must be paid in order to keep the unity of the Spirit. This word carries the idea of putting forth great effort (compare its use in 2 Timothy 2:15, translated "study," or Hebrews 4:11, translated "labor.")

We must pay the price that the word "endeavoring" implies because of the danger that exists concerning unity. If we do not continually put forth our best effort to keep it, we could very well lose our unity. But make no doubt about it, the unity of the church is not endangered by those who are without. It is rather those who are within the church who put unity at risk. The New Testament makes this abundantly clear in numerous places. For example, when Paul spoke to the elders of the church in Ephesus, he warned that "also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:30). And to the church at Corinth, Paul wrote of their division and the members were picking and choosing personalities to follow rather than following Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10-15).

The background of division and false doctrine is self-seeking pride. If I am more concerned about my wants and wishes than I am the good of my brethren and the glory of God, I will be willing to sacrifice the unity of the church to get my way. Listen to Paul's description of such a one -- "If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words" (1 Timothy 6:3, 4).

This is also seen in the list of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5. Right in the middle of the list are "strife, seditions, heresies" (v. 20). Strife is defined as "a desire to put one's self forward." The result of this kind of an attitude is seen in the two words that follow, namely, "seditions," which is a word that means division, and "heresies," a word that originally referred to the groups into which people divide and later came to mean the different beliefs of such groups. But mark it down -- at the heart of such division is pride. If we take the time to carefully examine the various divisions that have occurred in the Lord's church, I am confident that we will find pride and a haughty spirit at the very center of most, if not all, of them.

And so, the cost that we must pay in order to keep the unity of the Spirit is to remove pride from the heart. When Paul said that he had been "crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:20), the word that he used for himself is the word from which we get our English word "ego." If I am a true Christian, my ego must go! I must put it to death on the cross of conversion. Then and only then will I be able to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Paul exhorted the church at Philippi to be "likeminded," to have "the same love", to be "of one accord, of one mind" (Philippians 2:2). In the next verses, he tells them exactly how to do so -- "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others" (v. 3, 4).

If I am more concerned with the needs and well being of my fellow Christians than I am my own desires, then I would do nothing to harm the sweet harmony that binds us together. It is only when pride rears its ugly head in my heart that I would consider sacrificing the unity of the body.

But it is the next verse that completes the picture. The example of our Lord is the perfect example of how we can maintain our precious unity. If I seek to treat my brethren the way my Lord has treated me, nothing can harm the unity that exists between us.

But to have this kind of unity, I must make sure that the Lord reigns in my heart. I must live by such principles as, "Not my will but thine be done (Luke 22:42);" and, "I am crucified with Christ . . . (Galatians 2:20);" and "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Galatians 6:14). The one who lives by these principles will pay the price necessary to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Division has hurt the church of our Lord because Christians have been unwilling to pay the price necessary to maintain unity. But when we pay the price -- put away the old, prideful man, and be renewed with the mind of Christ -- the words of the Psalmist ring true -- "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" (Psalm 133:1)

Thomas W. Larkin