20 – ENGAGING THE POWERS OF THE KINGDOM – THE POWER OF UNITY
“Unity” is another major theme in the Bible but, unfortunately, misunderstood by many who corrupt God’s word through their misunderstanding.
We must never confuse unity with uniformity. The Bible uses the Hebrew word for unity, “echad”, often translated, “one” which, in context, can only mean “one” in the sense of more than one functioning together to achieve one purpose and one goal.
Look at God’s instruction for marriage.
“This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” Genesis 2:24 NLT
“One” here is the Hebrew word “echad”.
There is a another good example in Ex. 26:1-12. God gave Moses instructions for making the curtains that were to cover the tabernacle. Both inner and outer curtains were to be made of pieces of cloth or animal skins joined together to make one single covering. The word for one here is also “echad”.
In these two examples, “one” cannot mean uniformity or a single person or thing but rather unity in diversity. So it is with the Godhead… three persons who function together in perfect harmony because they are of the same essence, nature, character, and purpose. They work together to fulfill one purpose and one goal, a universe that reflects the unity of the Godhead in the way each part interacts in perfect harmony with every other part under the control and authority of its Creator.
The early Church, through the direction and power of the Holy Spirit, reflected this unity as they lived together in harmony as one body under Jesus as Lord.
“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper ), and to prayer…. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity —” Acts of the Apostles 2:42, 44-46 NLT
“All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had… There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.” Acts of the Apostles 4:32, 34-35 NLT
They stood together under persecution and, through their unity, God did amazing miracles among them and through them.
“As soon as they were freed, Peter and John returned to the other believers and told them what the leading priests and elders had said. When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God…. After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.” Acts of the Apostles 4:23-24, 31 NLT
“The apostles were performing many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers were meeting regularly at the Temple in the area known as Solomon’s Colonnade. But no one else dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them. Yet more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women.” Acts of the Apostles 5:12-14 NLT
When problems arose as the church grew, the Apostles sought solutions that would restore unity.
“But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.” Acts of the Apostles 6:1-4 NLT
As soon as unity was restored, God’s favour tested on the church again.
“Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith). These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them. So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.” Acts of the Apostles 6:5-7 NLT
The initial state of the universe, according to Genesis 1:31, was very good. The word” good” here, means “functional”. Everything in all of creation functioned together in harmony and unity, perfectly reflecting the nature of God who is good… functional.
This unity is so powerful that, after sin entered the world and the world became dysfunctional, God had to scatter the people by confusing their languages because they united together in their rebellion against Him.
“At one time, all the people of the world spoke the same language and used the same words. As the people migrated to the east, they found a plain in the land of Babylonia and settled there. They began saying to each other, “Let’s make bricks and harden them with fire.” (In this region bricks were used instead of stone, and tar was used for mortar.) Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.”
But the Lord came down to look at the city and the tower the people were building. “Look!” he said. “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them! Come, let’s go down and confuse the people with different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other.”
In that way, the Lord scattered them all over the world, and they stopped building the city.” Genesis 11:1-8 NLT
Unity of purpose and goal can, therefore, be used powerfully for both good and evil.
What happens when unity is broken?
In the natural world, when man interferes with ecosystems, the result is death to that system. When the balance is disturbed, the most powerful element takes over and destroys the system.
In human families, the microcosm of society, families are destroyed through disunity. Consider the issue of adultery, for example. Long before the act of adultery, when the unity between a husband and wife is disrupted, adultery has already happened in the heart. Disharmony produces discontent, disrupts family life and results in dysfunctional families. “The rest, as they say, is history.” Adultery is the end product of disunity.
Hence, marriages are doomed from the start if both partners do not understand the goal of marriage – to become one as a reflection of the unity in the Godhead.
God’s focus is to build a family of redeemed children who live together in loving harmony in preparation for their life in His eternal home. Therefore, we must look at the importance of unity in the body of Christ and the way to preserve this unity.
- THE SOURCE OF UNITY
Jesus is the reason for our unity in the church.
In the early church, the great rift was the age-old race issue… Jew versus Gentile. Before they became believers in Jesus, Jews were taught to hate Gentiles as part of their “religion”. They had nothing to do with other races if they could help it.
“Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts.” Ephesians 2:11 NLT
Gentiles were not only alienated from Jews because of racial hatred, but also cut off from God because of sin.
“Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God…. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope.” Ephesians 2:1-2, 12 NLT
However, as a very real part of His work on the cross, Jesus destroyed the hatred between Jews and Gentiles and united them into a new race which does not recognise any of the artificial distinctions created by a godless world system.
Paul, writing to Gentile believers in Galatia, said…
“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.” Galatians 3:26-29 NLT
Our new life in Jesus enables us to have a new attitude towards other believers who are different in colour and culture from ourselves.
“Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.” Colossians 3:10-11 NLT
How did this happen?
“But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.’ Ephesians 2:13-15 NLT
Through Jesus’ sacrifice, every barrier and distinction has been removed. We all stand before God with only one status, son or daughter of God. It was the death and resurrection of Jesus that destroyed the artificial barrier of racism and restored people of every race, colour and culture to one family in Christ Jesus.
- THE HOLY SPIRIT MAKES US ONE IN JESUS
Unity is a hallmark of the Holy Spirit’s work in the true church of the Lord Jesus.
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NIV
- BELIEVERS ARE TO MAINTAIN THE UNITY CREATED BY THE SPIRIT
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:3 NIV
Maintaining unity is the responsibility of every member of the body of Christ. One person’s attitude or behaviour can shatter this fragile unity because unity is a partnership between each individual and the Holy Spirit. We can only keep this unity as we are led by the Spirit.
True unity is impossible outside of the reconciling work of Jesus and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Any other attempts at unity will fail without the supernatural work of the Trinity. The only other power that unites people is the power of evil working through the old nature against God.
“Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” Romans 1:32 NIV
WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF UNITY?
I put humility first because, without humility, pride and self-will makes unity impossible. Self-will is deeply ingrained in the old nature. It is idolatry because it raises self even above God.
Jesus described Himself as “humble and gentle” and He is our perfect model of humility.
“. .. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart…” Matthew 11:29 NLT
We must never confuse humility with being an easy push-over. Humility demonstrates strength, a choice to submit to and serve others. Humility puts your will under submission to authority, except where truth is compromised.
Being a push-over shows weakness, especially when you compromise your convictions under the pressure of others.
Humility expresses itself in different ways.
“And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21 NLT
Jesus is the model of submission. He submitted Himself to the Father’s will, no matter what it cost Him. He submitted Himself to the will of those who condemned Him to death because it was the will of the Father.
“He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth…. But it was the Lord ’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief….” Isaiah 53:7, 10 NLT
“For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21 NLT
So we must submit ourselves to God first and then to one another in the body of Christ and to those in authority over us.
“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.
Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.” Romans 13:1-7 NLT
It is important to understand that God never calls us to submit to bullies, tyrants or dictators, especially in the church. There is no such thing as a one-man show in the leadership of the church. Jesus is the Head of His body, the church. Even the practice of the leadership or the church being a “covering” is not Biblical. Paul said,” To his own Master he stands or falls.”
Each of us is accountable to Jesus. Leadership in the church is to teach, guide and discipline under the authority of the Word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not to make rules and punish rule-breakers.
“And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches….As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t Lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example…. In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:1-3, 5 NLT
Submission has an unexpected spin-off. Jesus had an encounter with a man who clearly understood authority and submission.
“At that time the highly valued slave of a Roman officer was sick and near death. When the officer heard about Jesus, he sent some respected Jewish elders to ask him to come and heal his slave. So Jesus went with them. But just before they arrived at the house, the officer sent some friends to say, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed….
I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to the crowd that was following him, he said, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” Luke 7:2-3, 6-9 NLT
This man understood that authority and submission go hand-in-hand. He recognised the power of Jesus’s authority because Jesus was clearly under a higher authority.
This works in everyday life as well. For example, the effectiveness of law enforcement lies is the submission of those who function under their superiors. Police officers who take the law into their own hands, create chaos.
It seems, then, that submission is an attitude we adopt towards others in all our circumstances without compromising our obedience to God’s Word. It’s a choice we make which helps to smooth our relationships with the people we interact with every day and especially in the family of God’s children.
Submission and obedience go hand in hand and must apply on every level of society from children obeying their parents to citizens obeying the government.
Obedience to the Word of God is the path to submission and humility. Only through the Holy Spirit’s power can we keep the unity if the Spirit in the bond of peace.
What do I mean by transparency?
“Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.” Colossians 3:9-10 NLT
Lying to one another us easy and we do it in many different ways. We wear masks in the way we speak and act that covers our real selves. We have a ” real” self and a “pretend” self, the one we want people to think we are.
Transparency also demands humility because transparency involves being honest about our “bad” side as well as our “good” side. Transparency puts us on level ground with one another, teaching us not to judge or criticise and to be patient and tolerant with one another.
“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:12-13 NLT
I’ve left love for last because sincere Christian love is the glue that holds us together and makes true unity possible.
There can be no unity outside God’s love in us. Loves is the motive for wanting to maintain the unity of the Spirit. In the
“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” Colossians 3:14 NLT
In the end, love and unity in the body of Christ are the powerful witnesses to the world that we are God’s family of sons and daughters.
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34-35 NLT
“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” John 17:21 NLT
All Scripture quotations in this series
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.