How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!
Psalm 133 is a short and simple chapter extolling unity – while unity certainly isn’t one of the most common topics in the Bible, passages and verses on it are regular enough – especially so in the New Testament through the teachings of the apostles in the days of the early Church – the idea that the church is a body of saints and the necessity for the unity of hearts amongst the saints has oft been mentioned in the New Testament. Unity is not unique to the New Testament, of course, David sang psalms on unity long before Christ was born, and we see implicit examples of unity in the historical books; while some of the prophets prophesied about it as well.These give us an idea of how precious it is to seek and find and maintain unity between believers. In this study we will examine the Christian concept of unity and some of the difficulties regarding it.
live together in unity – There are, perhaps, a few branches of unity – unity with Christ – If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection [Romans 6:5] – as in being Christ-minded, seeing his goal as our goal, taking his words as our law. Unity with Christ would, and should, spark us to be united in hearts with one another – If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves [Phil 2:1-3] – for this is the attitude of Christ. Being like-minded, and being one in spirit and purpose really just means that we should aim to be perfectly united in mind and thought [1 Cor 1:10].
And then there’s the unity of the Spirit – Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all [Eph 4:3-6]. There is no reason for division, because this is one faith, one hope, one baptism, and there is only one Lord, one God and one Father. Much as we argue over leaders, debate over theology, quarrel over methods, and disagree over interpretations, we worship the same God. My God isn’t more powerful than your God, because he is the same, omnipotent and all-powerful God.
“Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives.” [Gen 13:8] – said Abraham to Lot. Zechariah prophesied, so I shepherded the flock marked for slaughter, particularly the oppressed of the flock. Then I took two staffs and called one Favor and the other Union, and I shepherded the flock. [Zech 11:7]
I personally think that unity is at times more challenging than the other big topics of Christianity, like hope, faith, love etc. Why? Well, might be myopic of me, but I’m not the biggest people-person out there, and things like hope, faith, love, don’t really hinge on others. Other people may help bring you more hope, love, or faith, but whether you love or not or whether you have faith or not ultimately boils on your own decisions. Unity, however, is different. You can choose to love your enemy no matter how many times he or she betray you, scorn you, bully you, hurt you. You can still have hope no matter how cruel circumstances and people have been to you. You can still have faith even if you are the only Christian in your community. But how to have unity if nobody else wants unity as well? How to have unity if nobody else sees the importance of unity and prioritises it as well? You can’t solely decide, I’ll have unity, and suddenly everybody is united. I think unity is terribly difficult, and I think the only way unity is ever possible is really by the grace of God.
Some tips, though. Humility and a big, open heart is necessary – Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. [Romans 12:18]. Love is crucial in order to have unity – And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity [Col 3:14]. Jesus, in his prayer at the Mount of Olives, prayed at length for his disciples and for all believers, and one of the things that he prayed about was for unity – May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me [John 17:23]. Amazing no? Love is necessary for unity amongst the believers, and unity amongst the believers will allow the world to know the depth of God’s love.
The church is a body of believers. We’ve all heard this before. And if a body – any body – is not united, it will malfunction. Paul goes into elaborate details about the church as a body in 1 Cor 12:12-26, and at the end of it, Paul concludes – If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it [1 Cor 12:26]. Whether we choose to be united or divided, the church is still a body, and if one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Isn’t that so true? In recent years my country has been hit by some scandals involving local big-name churches and church leaders, which really rocked the spiritual climate of the entire country. People became wary of churches and Christians, and it was just hard for us in general, even though it’s really nothing to do with us. But we are a body of Christ. We bear the brunt of it together, whether we like it or not, whether we want to or not. If, united or divided, you’ll suffer along with everybody anyway, then why not stay united and work together so that everybody suffers less, or suffer more joyfully?
We live in hope, don’t we? Indeed, how good and pleasant it is when brothers live in unity!