No family is perfect; there are often disagreements, fights, and arguments. The church is like a family. At least it should be. Some of the worst fights I have seen have been in a church. This should not be the case. But we live in a fallen world and this side of heaven, the church will continue to be made up of imperfect people trying to serve a perfect God.
Amos 3:3 asks, “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” Amos would go on to chastise Israel for not walking together as a nation and for not walking with God.
How can a church walk together?
Unity in a local church is preserved and developed by striving to accomplish seven actions. I usually don’t like to use the word “strive” because it is a “weasel word.” You can weasel your way out of it. Another sage once said, “Do or do not do, there is no try.”
As such, these seven actions are necessary for a church to live in harmony with one another and be a lighthouse for the community. These are easier said than done.
- Strive to be of one mind and spirit.Romans 12 discusses spiritual gifts and how to live together as Christ’s body. It says, “We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (v. 5). This chapter instructs the church to “Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all” (v. 16). Okay, we get it, we should get along. But how? I mean, there are some really annoying people in the church. There are also bullies and people who smell funny. Romans 15 offers the answer: “May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus” (v. 5). It is God who brings us together and who holds us together. When we pursue our own mind or agenda, we get out of step with God and with the church. When we pursue God’s mind and agenda, we are living by the Spirit and in harmony with His church. When we do this, we can “fight together for the faith, which is the Good News” (Philippians 1:27).
This first one is the goal. It is accomplished by the remaining six.
- Strive together in prayer.At the end of Romans, Paul asks the church to do one thing for him. Pray. “Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:30). Paul’s other letters are filled with prayers for the church. Here are some examples:
- “God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bright you and your needs in prayer to God… One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you.” Romans 1:9-10
- “I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 1:4
- “And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.” 2 Corinthians 1:11
- “Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him.” Ephesians 1:15-19
- “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good news about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.” Philippians 1:3-5
- “We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Colossians 1:3
- “We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3
- “Dear brothers and sisters, we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing.” 2 Thessalonians 1:3
- “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” 1 Timothy 2:1
- “I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.” Philemon 6
And those are just the prayers at the beginnings of his letters. Prayer is one of the constant calls to action throughout Scriptures. I wonder what would happen if God’s people took His command to pray for one another seriously. Can you imagine what your church would be like if everyone was praying for one another? And not prayers like “Help them see it my way,” but genuine, heartfelt, pleading prayer. Prayer for wisdom, discernment, truth, thanksgiving, faith, action, joy, and so much more. I get excited just thinking about what God would do in and through a praying church.
- Strive to mature one another. We help other people grow in their faith and knowledge of God. We don’t approach them with an attitude of “I know more than you, now let me tell you how it is…” but of humility and care. There is something to be said for admitting you aren’t the smartest person in the room. We can all learn something from someone else, even the negative examples in our lives. Colossians 1:28 says, “So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.” This is why it is so important to take notes during sermons or other times when you are learning. You do this not only so you remember it better, but so you can take what you are learning and share it with others. When was the last time you pulled a friend aside and told him what you were learning in God’s Word? When was the last time someone told you what they were learning? Help one another grow up in the Lord. Read books together. Talk about the Bible. Pray for others (and yourself) to mature in the faith. Encourage one another to attend church, small group, and Sunday school. The day you stop learning is the day you die.
- Strive to encourage and build one another up.The prayers of Paul tell us we are to do this. But how? I heard a pastor say once that whenever he is talking to someone, he is asking God to help him be an encouragement to this person. He asks God how he could speak life into their circumstance or situation. This is a good practice. Before you meet with someone, ask God to help you be an encouragement. When someone shares something with you, don’t berate or tear them down. Encourage them, build them up, point them to Christ, show compassion, mercy and LOADS of grace. Leave the person feeling better and closer to God. This does not mean that you excuse or gloss over sin. Some of the most encouraging times I’ve had with others have been when they told me to “Stop it” and get it together. They lovingly rebuked me and showed me how what I was doing was not in line with God’s purpose for my life. They did this in love and with a gentle spirit. It was incredibly encouraging to know that I had someone in my life who loved me enough to let me know I was wrong.
- Strive to be at peace with others.Romans 12 says “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God” (vv. 17-19). There is something in us that wants to see justice delivered on the spot, especially when we are wronged or offended. Bitterness and unforgiveness can wreak havoc on your life and those around you. Whenever I am counseling someone, the minute I sense any bitterness or unforgiveness in their hearts, we focus in on it. The reason? Bitterness and unforgiveness can block any other help they need. Jim Logan writes, “When unforgiveness and bitterness rule my heart, I’m moving backward in my relationships with people and God, and I’m opening myself up to Satan’s attack.” Bitterness and unforgiveness are weeds in our lives and must be uprooted completely. Peace with God and others depends upon this. I believe this is why Jesus talks about conflict often and most of Paul’s letters were written to deal with conflict in the church. We should live at peace with all men, so far as we can. This is essential in life, and in the life of the church. If there is conflict, ask yourself what you contributed to the disagreement, own up to it, accept responsibility, and humbly ask for forgiveness. Stop making excuses and pursue peace.
- Strive to speak the same thing.1 Corinthians 1:10 says, “I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” When the family of God gets on the same page about their mission and purpose, watch out! It isn’t enough to just know your church’s purpose but believe and do it. I heard a story recently about NASA during the 60’s. You could ask anyone at NASA, from the janitor to the executives, what their “job” was, they would all respond with “I’m putting a man on the moon.” Everyone knew what they were doing was working to this end, even if you were scrubbing toilets. The church has an infinitely more important mission than NASA, to get the good news about Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. How much more should we be unified? The church exists to take the gospel to anyone and everyone. This should be what we speak about, not gossip about other matters. We should talk about our Lord and Savior a lot more than what so-and-so did over the weekend or posted on Facebook. Speak the same thing: the overwhelming and never-ending love of God.
- Strive to act the same way. Paul encourages folks to imitate him as he “imitates Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). He also says, “Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example” (Colossians 3:17). What example is this? The one where he is “pressing on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” (v. 12) and “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly price for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (v. 14). If we are of one mind, and we are all seeking Christ, then we should be acting the same way. This does not mean we are all robots. One of my favorite games to play with kids is “Simon Says.” I like it because it is fun to watch kids interpret what you say. For example, hop on one foot looks different for every single kid. So does run in place. Some go slow, some fast, some include vibrant facial expressions, some get their arms going too. It is fun. Likewise, when the Bible tells us to “make disciples” or “live by the Spirit,” our expressions of this command are all going to look differently. And that is okay as long as our actions all line up with the truth of God’s Word. A church experiences unity when they are acting the same way: loving God, loving others, and making disciples.
These encouraging principles not only apply to unity in the church, but unity in the family and unity in your community.
A church that walks together in unity will experience multiple benefits, blessings, and a greater desire to share this with others. It would be a true lighthouse.
I leave you with Paul’s words to a troubled church in Corinth: “Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.” -2 Corinthians 13:11
Referenced and Recommended Books:
Jim Logan, Reclaiming Surrendered Ground.
Gene Getz, Building Up One Another
All Scripture taken from the NLT. © 2015 Tyndale House Foundation. Used with permission.