Principles for Unity
For Christians there is one thing needed in the life and work of individual believers: the blessing of the Lord. The notable Chinese believer, Watchman Nee, cautioned in several of his writings that the concern of Christians should be that they in no way obstruct the blessing’s flow. Should God’s blessing be withheld, there is a cause, and the explanation is not in outward things.[i] The primary condition that must be met in order to obtain blessing is unity among believers.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together
in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the
beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It
is like the dew of Hermon, coming down upon the mountains of Zion: for
there the LORD commanded the blessing – life forever.[ii]
Unity among brethren is compared to oil running down the head and face so that it encompasses the body, and pictures the anointing of the Holy Spirit. One result of this anointing is blessing. And one of the evidences of blessing is peace. “The Lord will bless his people with peace.”[iii] Many have taken this admonition for unity to mean compromise and weakness in order to have no conflict with others. If one reads the gospels and follows Jesus’ earthly life, then one can easily see that conflict with religious leaders surrounded Christ. He opposed many of their words and ways, and willingly confronted them with their sins. Thus, absence of conflict is not the primary way to define unity. However, the presence of conflict is a sure way to determine that there are inward causes within a group that will obstruct the blessing’s flow.
James describes a situation where there is disorder and every evil thing (conflict). He attributes the cause of such a situation to inward conditions.
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, and demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. (Emphasis added) But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.[iv]
The opposite of unity is disarray and disorder, or, in another word, disunity.The inward attitudes that manifest themselves in disunity are jealousy and selfish ambition. It is clear as one reads through the gospel accounts that the Jewish religious leaders were jealous of Jesus. They wanted to be foremost in authority; they wanted to be called ‘Rabbi’ (teacher); they wanted the accolades and devotion of the people. They aspired to greatness. So while many of the common people accepted Jesus as the anticipated Messiah, most of the religious leaders did not. Jesus addressed their heart issues and displayed them for the sinfulness that they were. Jesus called the teachers of the law and Pharisees “hypocrites and ‘whitewashed tombs’”.[v] They revealed their demonic wisdom when they plotted the betrayal, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus the Christ. In contrast, Christ revealed His wisdom to be from above; Godly; pure. The word that James used for ‘pure’ ishagnos, which means holy and sacred.[vi] Thus, Christ spoke and acted in ways that were holy, in accordance with Who God Is and Who He Is. Jesus did not compromise on truth or holiness just to have a superficial accord.Supposed unity that is built apart from truth and holiness is not unity.
The manifestation of divine wisdom is revealed in attitudes and behavior. It results in good behavior that is done in gentleness. Actions and attitudes that result from divine wisdom are peaceable, able to be reasoned with, full of mercy, firm, and are not hypocritical (or two-faced). Peace pervades all of divine wisdom’s words and actions, and results in righteousness.
In order for God’s blessing to be upon believers and the organizations of which they are a part, their relationships must be built upon true unity. This unity has unique characteristics and principles, but if sought, will bring about tremendous blessing for the people involved. Some of the results of blessing are: peace, favor, prosperity, life, good things, righteousness, riches without sorrow, God’s anointing on children, faith, and Jesus Christ.[vii]
What are the principles for unity? Unity is defined as oneness, harmony.[viii] Principles are a fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption.[ix] Thus, principles for unity are the fundamental doctrines needed to achieve oneness and harmony. While not an exhaustive listing, the principles listed below may be divided into two groups: principles for the self and principles for a group.
Principles for the self:
The first and fundamental principle for the self is inward: the need to be united in relationship to God through Jesus Christ. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.[x] God created man to be in relationship with Him. Man’s sin caused this relationship to be broken, but God sent His Son Jesus to restore the relationship. There can never be unity between men unless each man is in unity with God. And apart from Jesus Christ there can be no relationship with God.[xi] The second principle for the self is the need to walk in the Spirit. A believer in Jesus Christ can be self controlled or Holy Spirit controlled. If self is in control, then he thinks and acts in carnal (fleshly) ways. The fruits of this carnality are:“immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these”.[xii] A person that habitually practices these things provides evidence to suggest that he may not even be a true believer. One who walks in the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.[xiii]The third principle for the self is that priority must be given to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.[xiv] The person who is diligent in this way cultivates a loving, humble, gentle, and patient spirit.[xv]He is well aware that he must preserve unity above ‘rightness’.
Principles for a group:
The first and fundamental principle for a group is like-mindedness.“How can two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?”[xvi] There can be no unity within a group without an underlying oneness or harmony.Scripture exhorts believers to not be bound together with unbelievers.[xvii] The essential point for like-mindedness is the relationship that each member of the group has with Jesus Christ. Group members may disagree on many issues, or may have many points in common, but if each member of the group does not have a faith relationship with God through Christ, then there can never be true unity within the group. A second principle for unity within a group is that each member must not look out for just his own interests, but also for the interests of others in the group.[xviii] The group does not succeed unless each person who is part of the group succeeds. It is up to the group leader, primarily, to make sure that each person succeeds, but group members must also work towards this end. ‘One up-man-ship’ is not allowed. Neither is backbiting, gossip, cliques, exclusions, put-downs, zingers, etc. The third principle is interwoven with the second: Let all that you do be done in love.[xix] Love is an action, not a feeling. I Corinthians 13 describes what love looks like. The actions of each individual group member can easily be measured by the plumb line of 1 Corinthians 13. God gives believers permission to evaluate other professing believers by their fruit(words and actions), but not to judge the thoughts and intents of the heart.[xx] Finally, because each member of a group is unique and has his own way of doing things, the fourth principle is to speak the truth in love.[xxi] It is okay to disagree on an issue or a plan of action. While most people are non-confrontational, it is a mark of maturity to speak what you think, as long as you do it kindly and lovingly, with wisdom. (Conversely, we must be humble enough to acknowledge that we could be wrong.) Groups need to mature so that each member has the freedom to speak the truth in love, without retribution, hurt feelings, or grudges. Taking this course of action allows the group to maintain its essential unity without sacrificing true unity and individuality to pettiness or grudges.
A little leaven leavens the whole loaf. It takes only a small sin to permeate a group. A group member who harbors selfish ambition will undermine the efforts of the group in order to achieve his own ends. His actions will have a ripple effect and create instability within the group. This sets the stage for disorder, strife, and every evil thing. By encouraging group members to examine themselves, to walk in faith, to be filled with the Spirit, to value unity, to look out for others, to act in love, and to speak the truth, groups can maintain their unity and receive God’s blessing upon their labors. “God be gracious to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us, that Thy way may be known on earth, Thy salvation among all nations.”[xxii]
[i] Nee, Watchman. A Table in the Wilderness (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1965), February 2.
[ii] Psalm 133, NASB
[iii] Psalm 29:11, NASB
[iv] James 3:13-18, NASB
[v] Matthew 23:27, NASB
[vi] Robert L. Thomas, editor, New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1981), 1627.
[vii] Ps 29:11, Ps 5:12, Deut. 28, Ps 21:3, Ps 24:5, Prov 10:22, Is 44:3, Gal 3:14, NASB
[viii] Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary
[ix] Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary
[x] Westminster Shorter Catechism
[xi] Acts 4:12
[xii] Galatians 5:19-21, NASB
[xiii] Galatians 5:22, NASB
[xiv] Ephesians 4:3, NASB
[xv] Ephesians 4:1-3, NASB
[xvi] Amos 3:2-4, NIV
[xvii] 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, NASB
[xviii] Philippians 2:4, NASB
[xix] I Corinthians 16:14, NASB
[xx] Matthew 7:16-20, NASB
[xxi] Ephesians 4:15, NASB
[xxii] Psalm 67:1-2, NASB
Copyright 02/10, Cheryl Nester. All Rights Reserved.