We talk a lot about unity. But what is true unity? I think it has much to do with honor. There are things in life that unify individuals together. People work at the same profession, attend the same church or school, have the same racial or cultural heritage, work out at the same gym, belong to the same family or have a common hobby. Is that the unity that Jesus talked about?
When Jesus prayed that “…that they may be one, even as we are one” was He thinking about something man-made? For example when one belongs to an organization such as a union the connection is mechanical; wanting to protect the group. Unity based on political needs will surge and ebb with the political climate. Unity based on religious rulings made by a denomination only create an environment of “us” and “them” and even if signed by the members will not truly unite people’s hearts. Iron-clad compulsion is not unity. Ed Noble clearly outlined how it can quickly morph into an environment of judging whether a person is qualified as being “in” or “out.”
Unity should not to be confused with putting together combinations. A manager can put together people in his organization to create a team but those combined individuals may not have unity. Unity initiated by God does not take away individual characteristics but rather honors them. Look at how God created a field of wheat. Each blade of wheat is different. No two are alike. Yet looking at the whole field there is a pleasant unity to it. When God created us in His image, He did not create any two individuals alike. Yet He expects us to be unified even though we think and act differently. How can that happen?
David writes in one poem: “how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” Throughout history, men have tried to create unity through the mechanism of socialism. Results have always been disastrous. Jealousies, envies, rivalries, wars, banishment are the results. Unity is not about uniformity. Unity is never completely achieved by merely engaging in some common work or thinking in a certain way.
God’s Spirit is the only person that can initiate and achieve a real unity of souls. Unity in the Spirit incorporates everyone’s gifts and focuses them toward a common goal. The Spirit teaches us to esteem [honor] others above ourselves. Unity comes when the people of God decide to take seriously the command of Jesus Christ. When the people of God fail to esteem [honor] one another we fail to demonstrate one of the primary evidences of Imago Dei. Our failure to give up our individualism is to deny godliness. We would rightly laugh at the US Army if different units started fighting each other over how to wear the uniform. Likewise, the world laughs at the different parts of Christ’s body as it contends in rivalry over non-essential forms. The world is waiting for the gospel. Jesus said that the fields are over ripe. In our arguments over dogmas, do we ever stop to consider the stumbling blocks we create for our mission as given by Jesus?
The way of Jesus is counter-intuitive. When Jesus prayed: “…that they may be one, even as we are one” He was not praying about obliterating individuality in His followers. He was not praying about unity as something external and structural. Unity is not by artificial restraints. It is by being faithful in allowing the Holy Spirit to teach us grace; it is a holy work and not a work by us. A durable lasting marriage is the result of two distinct individuals actively honoring the other above themselves regardless of the pain to themselves. As we learn to honor Christ and honor each other over ourselves, we will achieve unity.