Biblical Unity – Overcoming Strife9 min read
When one considers a variable in the field of algebra, he is thinking about that part of the equation which can have multiple values, depending on the relationship of those values which are constant. Similarly, when we consider a variation, we understand that it denotes difference and distinction. The word before us is “variance,” which can really be replaced with “strife” or “contention”: it is that outward expression of difference between believers, in spite of Scripture’s call to unity. Interestingly enough, when this word in its various forms is found in the New Testament, it is usually in the context of believers. Evidently this is one of our major downfalls.
It is major, because we have been called to that which is mutually exclusive to strife, that is, unity. The well known first verse of Psalm 133 says “Behold, how good and how pleasant for brethren to dwell together in unity!” It is impossible to be unified without dwelling together on a consistent basis, but it is all too easy to dwell together and yet not be unified. Such is foreign to God’s assemblies and people: “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 Cor. 1:10).
God’s Basis for Unity
When discussing strife, it is the outward expression of that which resides within: so then, if we can look deeper than the surface and consider what needs to happen inwardly, we would be much better off than if we grit our teeth and simply lived with the problem. From this perspective, we need to consider what will establish strife and avoid it: then we need to consider what will establish unity and envelope our livelihood around it.
- Unity is based on doctrine. “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, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. “(1 Tim 6:3-5). Contemporary evangelicals would not like to think this way, but Scripture says that doctrine is indeed vital to unity. When God’s people are “Biblically literate” they will be able to have consistent doctrine, and thus, unity in belief. Paul says strife comes when this consistency is lost: it is when people teach different doctrines that arguments arise. We must remember that Christian love is always in the truth, never in spite of it (2 John). It is when we depart from the Truth that love becomes weak. It is when we depart from truth that we lose our pattern for behaviour and conviction: and when we have no consistent pattern for conviction, what is there that we can objectively agree on? We must all be on the same page, as it were, in order to act on the same basis and for the same reasons. It is totally foreign in Scripture to set aside doctrine for the sake of unity (Ecumenism): God says to preserve it for unity’s sake. After all, is unity not single-mindedness? When a company people with different fundamental beliefs gathers together in the name of unity, they are not a unified people, but simply a group that is waiting to divide again.
- Unity is based on the gospel. “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” (Phil. 1:27). The gospel is that which we love. It is our supreme privilege to live it and preach it. And when we may have differences culturally, experimentally, etc., there is one thing that we all love and can enjoy each other’s company in doing: striving for the gospel. The gospel is the changeless message of power that inevitably binds all together who have been struck by its force. Put two people of the world in a room, and their friendship will take great time to develop as they try to find the perhaps few things they agree on. But put two genuine, gospel-loving believers together, and see how quickly they will find Scripture-centered delight in their conversations. The gospel is in one sense a great divider between the saved and the lost – that division cannot be reconciled. Yet consider how strongly it unifies when the saved are together! We truly need the gospel in our Christian experience just as we did when we were lost. Are you a gospel-loving Christian?
- Unity is based on humility. First Peter 3:8 says “Finally, being all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous.” This certainly cannot be the description of an arrogant man. Notice what Proverbs says, “Only by pride cometh contention.” It is when a man cannot admit to be (or even think he can be) wrong that two persons strive. It is when a man looks out for his own well-being, rather than that of others, that contention arises. Consider Genesis 13 – the record of contention between the herdmen of Abraham and the herdmen of Lot. It was only when Abraham humbled himself and gave Lot the opportunity to have the best land that strife ceased. Are you ready for strife to end, even if it means your loss? “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 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. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Phil. 2:2-5).
- Unity is based on spiritual fruit and maturity. “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye 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.” (Eph. 4:1-3). Notice the divine recipie for unity: lowliness, lonsuffering, forbearance, and love. These are marks of a mature Christian. It is really no wonder that the unity of the Spirit is kept with the fruits of the Spirit. Only divine means can accomplish divine goals, and surely we have the most efficient, effective means to keep unity when we see developed within us a likeness to Christ. An assembly will not divide when its members are longsuffering and meek. We will not have contention if we learn to forbear (that is, put up) with God’s people. And if we are truly lowly, we will not see ourselves as being obliged to force our opinions into a person’s mind. We need to deal with ourselves before we deal with others. Let us use our Ephesian passage as a sort of checklist for ourselves before we approach an issue that may cause contention. We cannot make people contradict their stubborn will, but we can deal with our own. An assembly with this attitude amongst itself is a unified assembly.
What Can We Do?
How can we promote this amongst ourselves? The answer is very simple: we examine whether we stand on the basis of what has gone forth above. “Am I a heavily doctrinal Christian who displays the effects of doctrine on his life? Am I a gospel-centered Christian? Am I a humble Christian? Am I a maturing Christian?” A unified people will not be formed by simply avoiding a certain issue or by simply being together. These things are necessary and valuable in their places, to be sure; but there is a deeper matter that must be dealt with first. Strife is a work of the flesh, and as long as we gloss over the root problem, we will be unsuccessful in creating a true, lasting unity. We must aim inwardly: if each member of God’s assembly and each member of a family were making priority their character, zeal, and spiritual growth, the outward problems would be much easier to fix.
So then, in terms of doctrine, let us achieve oneness of mind: an assembly as a pillar and ground of the Truth must make this priority. How is this achieved? Not by a creed or doctrinal statement : this creates superficial agreement to doctrine. What we really need is a people who study the Word beyond reading plans, commentaries, and devotionals (though these have their place). What we need is an assembly of collective testimony that will root itself in consistent, faithful teaching of Scripture. There is no distinction between clergy and laity, and yet we too often leave the upholding of Truth to the select few, when we are all responsible for it. We all must be people of Truth. So many issues of division would be prevented if Scripture was central, yet all too often we enjoy complaining about our preferences more than we enjoy searching the Scriptures to see if our preferences are Biblical.
As to the gospel, are you part of assembly testimony? Do you love the gospel beyond measure? Can you be seen at the front lines, as it were, striving for the faith of the gospel? Do you enjoy hearing the gospel preached? A love for and a firm grasp of this great message is what holds us together. Could it be that we are contentious, because we have lost sight of Calvary?
Finally, in issues of humility and character, there are not things that we can fix overnight, but many times a display of true humility and spiritual fruit can be seen in actions, which we can resolve to change rather quickly, that is, if we wish to. It does take time to develop humility, but time is not necessary to be humble. Are we ready to take these steps for the sake of unity? Or are we happy to linger in strife? If we want to change, we must first change ourselves, and even if the other party may still try to contend with us, we can refrain and take comfort that at least we grew spiritually in the process.