"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." - Ephesians 4:1-6
Disagreements and divisions distract us from the deeper purpose of the Church: to share the love of God and make disciples of Jesus Christ.
A lack of unity has led to hurting people within the Church, shunning people outside the Church, and a noticeable lack of missional motivation among Christians.
Before I go any further, I want to be clear in communicating that this is not an article bent on knocking down the Church. I don't think that would be productive or helpful to anyone. It also would not be biblical. Furthermore, IDES is a ministry that practices international and national partnership with the local Church as the heart of our operations.
The Church is God's desired vessel for carrying the Good News of Jesus Christ to all those who don't know Him. The Church is called the "bride" and "body" of Jesus Christ, which means it is not just an institution for worship, but rather a loved, cherished, and honored community of God's children that He is devoted to like a husband.
Our loving Husband and Head has our best in mind. He loves us deeply, and He has given us a mission to carry out in His name for the good of the world. According to Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus, one of the primary ways we ought to live not only as his children, but also as representatives of his Church is in unity.
So, in our many divisions and disagreements, how do we live in unity?
I think Paul's words to the Ephesians in Chapter 4 of his letter can point us towards at least four ways we can practice and promote unity in the Church.
1.) Do Something About Disunity. Paul writes, "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called..." Our calling is the Great Commission. We have been called directly by our Lord Jesus. He was a peacemaker and a unifier--notorious for hanging out with those whose lifestyles He didn't approve of and for eating with those whose opinions He didn't agree with. He actively took steps to bring people together. Paul writes that we should "walk;" not just talk about differences or just complain about disagreements. Instead, we must walk out into the world with inviting arms, willing to show God's love where love is not often shown.
2.) Allow Others to Disagree With You. Paul writes, "with all humility and gentleness..." How many of us who claim to be Jesus-followers could honestly raise our hands and say confidently that humility and gentleness are the absolute best descriptors of our demeanor? I certainly can't. Jesus Christ shared the truth in a way that was incredibly gentle. He told meaningful stories, and listened to others first. He expresses beautiful humility in the very fact that He is indeed fully God, yet took on the likeness of human form to be truly with us. He washed His disciples' feet to teach them servanthood. Rather than spewing angry words of arrogance over social media posts, let us instead share humble words of encouragement and gentle words of truth-telling, even with those we disagree with.
3.) Show Grace and Mercy to Others Equally. Paul writes, "with patience, bearing with one another in love..." I, for one, have sometimes been described as "overbearing," or hard to bear with. Some folks are pushy, some folks are push-overs. Some folks are loud, some folks are quiet. Whoever you are, and whoever "they" are, Jesus Christ loves you both. He was incredibly patient with his often bumbling 12 disciples. He bore with the painful accusations of the Jewish leaders who hated him. He showed grace and mercy to sinners just like you and me, without playing favorites. Even with our innumerable differences, it is possible to imitate Jesus in all of our relationships.
4.) Earnestly Seek the Spirit's Bonding Power. Paul writes, "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Do we really want to be at peace with our neighbors? Do we actually desire to be on good terms with the people in our church we don't get along with? Deep down, I think we all truly long for the Spirit to heal and bind the wounds which we have inflicted upon each other. Jesus Christ earnestly sought the Spirit's bonding power on all occasions. He healed those who were sick regardless of their social status. He rebuked the disciples for bickering with each other over petty things and encouraged them to bond with each other. In the most earnest and powerful bonding of all, He laid down his life so that all sinners may be offered the opportunity to be united once again to our Father in Heaven. Let us also seek the Spirit eagerly and earnestly when we feel tempted to draw lines in the sand and tempted to see the world as black and white.
Although these four pieces of advice are only a start, I believe that if we practice these things in our daily lives, we will indeed see fruit--sweet, delicious, unifying fruit.
"There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."
As the bride and body of Jesus, our unity is not an impossible goal--it is as attainable as we want it to be. Our prayer at IDES is that by building bridges instead of burning them, we may all more effectively and more efficiently share the hope that we have in Jesus Christ with those who have not heard the good news. We are in this together.
-written by Chase Cotten, Media Director @ IDES