We have probably all heard the phrase “United we stand, divided we fall.” It is the moral of one of Aesop’s fables, The Four Oxen and the Lion. His story goes like this: “A Lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.”
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
Jesus taught the same principle in Matthew 12:25. He said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand”. Matthew Henry said, “If we divide one from another, we become an easy prey to a common enemy…Churches and nations have known this by sad experience.”
The truth is we need one another. God made us to be part of a whole – not to try to single-handedly be the whole. We need the input of others into our thoughts to keep us balanced. We need encouragement to keep us from falling into despair. We need correction to keep us on the right path.
In the first letter Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, he was calling them to unity. They had been privileged to have the teaching of many of the great apostles of that day and they had grown in spiritual gifts. But their focus had turned from Jesus, to the ministers that brought them His message.
Genesis 49:10 is a prophetic scripture about Jesus, the Messiah. It says, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” Rather than gathering to Jesus, the Corinthians were gathering to Paul or Peter or Apollos. Paul asked, “is Jesus divided?” Of course that was a rhetorical question jarring them back into reality. Certainly Christ is not divided.
Finally, in 1 Corinthians 1:10 Paul said, “But I urge and entreat you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in perfect harmony and full agreement in what you say, and that there be no dissensions or factions or divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in your common understanding and in your opinions and judgments.” (Amplified Bible) Perfect harmony? Perfectly united? Full agreement? How does that work? A thousand different opinions, backgrounds, personality types, abilities, temperaments…and we are to live in full agreement? How on this earth can that be possible? It’s even hard to get two people to agree on everything.
My husband is a morning person – I am a night owl. He thrives on competition – competition stresses me out! He doesn’t particularly like to read – I am an avid reader. And the list goes on. So how have we made if for over 27 years? We agree on the things that matter and give room in things that don’t.
Thomas Jefferson said, “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste swim with the current.” Some things matter. Some things don’t. The teachings of Jesus matter. The Word of God matters. Following the Spirit of God matters. Preferences and personalities don’t. We don’t all have to have the same favorite color. Our ideas about music, cars, housekeeping and food may vary widely. And that’s okay.
In Romans 14, Paul speaks of some things that don’t matter. (vvs.1-3, 5-6) “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.” [That means not to criticize him for his weakness; not to split hairs over what doesn’t matter.] “For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not, judge him that eateth: for God hath received him…One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.”
What is the important part here? Doing it unto the Lord! If you can’t do it unto the Lord, then don’t do it! Satan delights in causing us to spend so much time fighting over what doesn’t matter that we fail to be and do what does matter.
Down through the years there has been much talk about unity. And for all the talk, there is very little unity because we are trying to be alike and are uniting with the wrong things. Unity does not mean all being the same…being clones of one another. We all have different gifts and abilities to offer. Unity is combining what we have to become one. It is gathering unto Jesus and doing whatever you do unto Him. Unity is using what we have and who we are for the same purpose within the parameters of God’s Kingdom.
If I said, “Let’s have a picnic”, some would be getting the picnic tables ready, putting on the tablecloths and getting the tents up for a little shade. Others would be planning a trip to the mountains, hiking 15 miles through the wilderness and spreading out a cloth on the edge of a cliff so they could eat with the bears. One is not right and the other wrong. They are just different. But they both accomplish the same purpose – A PICNIC! That’s a very simplistic example, but it gives us a picture of what unity is and what it isn’t. The pieces in a puzzle are not all alike, but they all belong there. If they were all alike, there would be no picture. It would just be blank.
There is strength in unity, but we need to be cautious as to what or with whom we become united. After all, if you put in pieces that are for a different puzzle, it will distort God’s picture. Before we become united, we need to know what we are connecting to. There are some purposes we cannot work toward because the purpose is wrong.
2 Corinthians 6:14-17 says: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord [harmony] hath Christ with Belial [the devil]? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel [unbeliever]? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.”
As the temples of God, we cannot connect ourselves to unrighteousness, unbelief, darkness or idols. They don’t mix with the righteousness, light, faith and the Spirit of God dwelling in the children of God. If we are to be followers of Christ, we cannot be joined to those things. They lead us away from “the way, the truth and the life”. They lead us away from the right purpose. Those puzzle pieces do not belong in God’s picture.
So, what are we to unite with? What is the central element of true unity? We already know the answer to that – it is gathering together unto Jesus. Ephesians 4:1-4 tells us the way to do it.
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
The first step toward unity is to walk worthy of the divine calling of God in our lives. If we are Christians, we are to be followers of Jesus, not just giving Him mental assent. Too many people want to live for Jesus their way. It doesn’t work. If we are the same as we were before we were saved, we are not saved. If we are still leading, we are not His follower. We are called to live out our belief in Him, pursue after Him above everything else, follow the teachings of Jesus, stop doing things we cannot do unto Him and be filled with His Spirit. That’s when we are walking worthy of Him.
The second step is knowing how to interact with one another. Our relationships with others should be marked by the heart of a loving servant. We are to walk in humility and meekness. Not being a doormat, but giving value to others and serving one another. We are to walk in love toward one another, realizing we all have weaknesses and making allowances as we help each other to grow and be strengthened in the faith.
Thirdly, we are not just to hope unity happens. The word ‘endeavor’ means to put forth effort to preserve it. We are to do everything we can within the boundaries of God’s Word to keep the unity of the Spirit, not the unity of this faction or that faction. We are each to be in harmony with and at one with God. The bond of peace with God is the key to our unity with one another. Without it there can be no unity. The bond of peace is each individual becoming one with God, being bound or connected to Jesus as one with Him. When we are united with God individually, then we are automatically united with one another corporately.
In John 17:20-23 Jesus was praying for His disciples and for us, those who are followers of Him because of the word of His first disciples. Jesus prayed, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”
Jesus is one with the Father and came to show us the Father. Now we are to show the world Jesus! Here again we see that when we are one with God, we are one with all those who are one with Him. And this unity, this oneness, transcends time and place. When we become one with Jesus, we become one with His first disciples. We are building on what they started…working for the same purpose by the same power of the same Spirit and in keeping the same teachings of Jesus. We are perpetuating the Kingdom of God. We also become one with those who will come after us as they build on what we leave for them. We are one with those in our local fellowship and those on the other side of the globe. How can we be one with those we have never met, who we have been separated from by time and space? Because we are one with the One we have met and we are working toward His purpose wherever we are. Those who came before us paved the way for us to be one with God. Now we pave the way for those who follow after us. We are part of a much bigger picture. What an astounding thought! We are all part of the body of Christ. We will live eternally in union with Christ and His true Church – all those who have been born again throughout every era. We are part of something much bigger than ourselves.
Think of the way God has designed the family. The siblings in that family all live under the oversight of the same mother and father. They have the same rules, the same love, the same guidance, the same correction. They might not always agree with one another. They may not always see things the same way. They all have different personalities and ideas, but they will lay all that down to defend one another because they love one another. Why is that bond so strong? Because they are all a part of the same unit. And that’s exactly who we are as the body of Christ.
We are called into the family of God to protect, defend, encourage and watch over one another. Hebrews 10:24-25 says “And let us consider and give attentive, continuous care to watching over one another, studying [that means we pay attention, we look at them carefully] how we may stir up (stimulate and incite) to love and helpful deeds and noble activities, Not forsaking or neglecting to assemble together [as believers], as is the habit of some people, but admonishing (warning, urging, and encouraging) one another, and all the more faithfully as you see the day approaching.” (Amplified Bible)
Unity is defined in Webster’s New World Dictionary as “a harmonious, unified arrangement of parts in an artistic work; continuity of purpose.” Only Jesus can accomplish that with billions of people down through time. Only our oneness with Jesus can consolidate our unity with one another. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) We are God’s workmanship. He is the one that brings everything together as an “artistic work”, complete in Christ Jesus.
1 Corinthians 12:18 says, “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.”
We are all different, but working toward the same purpose!