In John Owen’s little book on the duties of Christian fellowship, he outlines “rules” for the body of Christ that he learns from the pages of Scripture. We have covered 3 of those to this point, now we come to Rule 4.
Believers must maintain an unremitting care and effort to preserve unity, both in general and in particular.
Here are the passages that Owen offers:
Philippians 2:1-3 (ESV) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Ephesians 4:1-6 (ESV) I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV) I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
2 Corinthians 13:11-13 (ESV) Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you.
Romans 14:19 (ESV) So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
Romans 15:5-6 (ESV) May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 6:5-7 (ESV) I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
Acts 4:32 (ESV) Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.
The thrust of these passages is unity that is the fruit of love. Love for each other will produce unity. Preserving unity will be rooted love.
Owen identifies three areas this unity is to work itself out in:
- Spiritual unity – This is the unity we share with born-again followers of Jesus all over the world. The universal church or the catholic church (little “c” catholic not the big “C” Roman Catholic church).
- Ecclesiastical unity – This is the unity we share in the local church…the universal church manifested in a practical way on mission and covenanted together. We seek to oppose anything that divides us like suspicious speculations about each other, not understanding each other’s motives or assuming the worst motives, strange customs that impede salvation by grace alone through faith alone, unnecessary differences and anything else that drives us away from affection for one another. We strive to maintain doctrinal integrity while granting freedom in things not essential to maintaining the faith.
- Civil unity – This is agreement about this things of life, not fighting for them or about them but fighting with every man and woman and child for the welfare of the other. This is where we would do well to jettison our political ideologies and love our neighbors as ourselves.
Why should we seek this kind of unity?
- The strong emphasis of the Lord and the apostles respecting unity.
- The dishonor that comes to the name of Jesus when we are not in unity.
- The sweetness of fellowship that comes in preserving unity.
- Holy fear of the distress that comes from division in the body of Christ.
- The contempt for the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper that we show if we fail to preserve unity. The ordinances suppose unity.
How do we preserve unity?
- Work hard in prayer and faith to have our souls seasoned by love for one another. Satan will no doubt seek to inject suspicion, distance and silence and any other deadly seasoning to disrupt unity. This is hard. I fail here often.
- Keep a careful watch on ourselves and others for any sign of strife that could result in letting out a dam of disunity. Proverbs 17:14 (ESV) The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.
- Act quickly to get rid of division by doing whatever you have to do biblically to preserve unity.
- Deal a death-blow to division by conforming ourselves humbly to Jesus as he humbled himself. See Philippians 2.
May this be a help to you as you work to be in unity within the body of Christ.