The problem I run across the most in the letters of the New Testament seems to be unity in the early church. The newly established and multi-racial church of the first century really struggled with overcoming social, religious, and ethnic boundary markers in order to have full unity and acceptance of one another.
Why is this so important? It was and is important because since the beginning God desired all nations to worship him in unity. So this is all part of God’s plan and the apostles understood the need to achieve unity in order to be pleasing to God. In Romans 15:3-5 Paul tells the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome about three things that all come together to give them unity and which result in a unified glorification of God through their worship (15:6).
- He mentions the example of Christ who was not out to please himself. If Christ had only tried to please himself he would not have endured the cross. He would not have suffered shame. And so we, as believers and followers of Christ, are not out to get our own way at the expense of unity. Instead we should be willing to suffer to a great degree to maintain unity in God’s church.
- Next he mentions the scriptures that were given to encourage and give endurance. We turn to the examples of those God has dealt with in the past in order to press forward in the identity God has given us and the mission he has in store for us.
- Last he mentions God himself who also grants endurance and encouragement. But God gives something in addition to what the scriptures give. God gives a spirit of unity. Notice he says that spirit is given as we follow Christ. Well, Christ wasn’t there in the flesh to be followed. Instead, we all come to perfect unity when we are walking as Christ would walk and follow his example.
There is a fourth thing that brings unity to God’s people that Paul doesn’t mention here but mentions in Galatians 3-4. In Galatians Paul constantly refers back to the Spirit and its role in bringing unity to God’s people. This is probably the number one aspect of the Holy Spirit we miss out on in our teaching. Because all Christians have God’s Spirit inside them, all Christians have a unity that comes by that same Spirit (See Eph 4:3-4 as well). In other words, if we create disunity toward someone who has by the grace of God the same Spirit inside them that we do, we fail to grasp or understand the very nature of our existence and reality of God’s dwelling within us through his Holy Spirit. But if we realize that all Christians have been blessed by God with his promised Spirit then we should by nature seek out unity and peace with our fellow believers.