Unity in Faith
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 1 Corinthians 1:10
A Case for Unity
The Bible is chock-full of reminders and encouragement to stand united. Unsurprisingly, it's also human nature to desire that feeling of solidarity, whether it's with our families, friends, or bowling league. Despite the forceful statement made in a certain 2000s-era rock song, most people don't actually want to stand alone. Sure, we all enjoy a little recognition in life, although maybe not for the kid's public meltdown or missing our monthly quota at work. But at the end of the day, despite all our aspirations to be upheld as a successful man or independent woman, it's so much easier to feel confident in a situation when you know at least one person has your back.
God knew humans needed a support system all the way back at the beginning: "Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."" Genesis 2:18. God didn't say, "Adam can't populate the planet alone; he's gonna need a lady," He said, "It's not good that man should be alone." Eve wasn't created to be the mother of humanity, she was created to be Adam's emotional and spiritual helper. The first couple wasn't infallible (obviously...), but they were able to rely on the fact that they would always be there for one another, that they were literally made for one another.
That theme of unity continues on throughout the rest of the Old and the New Testaments. In the opening verse of this post, from his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul says "I appeal to you, brothers..." He doesn't gently nudge or make a polite suggestion to the recipients. He appeals. Google's Dictionary tells us that means to "make a serious or urgent request". Paul wasn’t messing around. He didn’t ask nicely. He urgently reminded the Corinthians (by the name of the Lord, no less!) of the importance of staying united within their church body.
The Challenge of Unity
"A house divided against itself cannot stand." Abraham Lincoln
The House Divided Speech given by Abraham Lincoln in 1858 is a powerful and well-known piece of rhetoric. Most Americans today remember hearing that particular quote at some point during their grade-school days, and I pray future generations will continue to be taught it, as well. But what some (probably more in this day and age) people don't realize is that later-President Lincoln was actually quoting a passage from the Bible - one that didn't even need to be taken out of context to suit his purposes: "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand." Matthew 12:25. Jesus was responding to the Pharisees' accusation that He was able to exorcise demons because He himself was a demon. His response was, essentially, how can a person accomplish anything if they're simultaneously wrecking their own plans? Although Jesus referred to Satan in this passage, and Lincoln was speaking of the clashing opinions on slavery tearing down the strength of the United States, it's easy to see how the lesson applies to faithful unity as well. If the Christian church is constantly undercutting itself with in-fighting, how can it uphold the directives of God?
We've all heard plenty of stories on the news or from around our communities of yet-another church dissolving or splitting over some scandal. It always seems so huge and horrible: adultery, embezzlement, child abuse. But how many churches separate over doctrinal disputes? In a word: many. A church in my own small town had a major split over doctrine, later followed by the new church splitting again over a different doctrine! If it seems this ridiculous to us as believers, how much more so does it seem to outsiders who aren't quite sure about this "church stuff" yet? Christ's number one directive, the Great Commission, instructs us to "Go...make disciples of all nations..." But it also says "...teaching them to observe all I have commanded you..." (Matt. 28:19-20). Maybe we need to all spend a little more time focusing on the second part of that, possibly with a handy reference back to His earlier command to not be divided against ourselves!
At the end of the day, Christ himself very clearly laid out the greatest commandment:
"'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." Matt. 22:37-40 (NKJV)
Brief disclaimer: I added the emphasis.
There really isn't any room for interpretation or debate here. #1: Love God above all else. #2: Love other people as much as you love yourself. In other words, treat other people as well as you want to be treated. Yup, the Golden Rule. Practically everyone you meet knows it, so why is it so hard to follow? Especially for Christians! I mean, it's not like our entire belief system is riding on these two commandments or anything... But I struggle with it, too. An unfortunate side-effect of being human is that we all want to be right. Preferably all the time.
It's not wrong to struggle with temptation. (That urge to prove somebody wrong and flaunt your superior intellect? Yeah, that's definitely a temptation.) God Himself warns us throughout the Bible that we are always going to face temptation. In those moments, we just need to remember what really matters: God. God is what matters. Always. But not just the angelic, holier-than-thou thought of God that the Pharisees believed was good enough; all of God matters - including all His commandments. Thus: love your neighbor as yourself, and do not be divided against yourselves.
So let's just do that. We all already know we will never agree on everything. So why keep wasting time, energy, and God-given opportunities in the name of bickering, or being able to say "I told you so." Because none of that matters. God matters. God's people matter (i.e. all of humanity).
Let's stand united.
All verses, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the English Standard Version.