How can we have unity?

Before he was betrayed, Jesus spent time in prayer for both himself and his followers (see John 17). He prayed for the men he had chosen and even for those who would believe through their work. His concern was for unity among his followers.

He prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21 ESV). Sadly, unity at times seems to allude Christians. Perhaps that is why so few today believe in Jesus.

When Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus, he spent the first half of the letter writing about all that God has done for us, for those who are in Christ. In the second part of the letter, he detailed what Christians should be doing in response to what God has done for them. And he began by emphasizing the unity we must have if we are in Christ.

“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” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

This unity that we are to have as Christians is not a unity that we create – this is the unity that the Spirit has already created and provided for us. We are to make sure this unity continues. This is something that we desire, that we are eager to maintain. If we have unity we can live in peace with each other. But how do we have this kind of unity? Paul mentions two things that are necessary to maintain unity with each other.

It would seem obvious that if we are to have unity that we must have the same beliefs. In Ephesians 4:4-6 Paul detailed seven areas on which we must be united: “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.” On these seven items, we must have unity – and all of these are explained throughout the pages of scripture.

But we can all believe the right things and still not be united. Just because we have our teaching and beliefs in line with God’s word does not mean that we will have unity.

Not only must we be united on God’s word, Christians also must have the right attitude toward each other. Paul wrote that we are to “bear with one another in love.” To do this we must have humility, gentleness, patience, and love. But what exactly does it mean to “bear with one another”?

This is not a phrase we often use in everyday speech. Here is how another version translated it: “…showing tolerance for one another in love…” (Ephesians 4:2 NASB). We must be showing tolerance for other people. Another way of saying that is that we must “put up with each other.” The vast majority of conflicts between Christians are not over teaching and beliefs but are a result of some showing little tolerance for others who are in some way different from them.

If Christians could realize that not everyone will be exactly like them and learn to tolerate these differences, as well as basing their beliefs on God’s word, then unity can be a reality. After all, is this not what being a part of the body is about? (See Ephesians 4:15-16.) If we are united, then perhaps those around us, as they see our lives reflecting Jesus, will believe that he is the one God sent to save the world.

Readings for next week:
13 November – Ephesians 3
14 November – Ephesians 4
15 November – Ephesians 5
16 November – Ephesians 6
17 November – John 1

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