We have asked the question over the last few weeks, what price? What price revival, holiness and wealth, and today I want to ask what price unity.
Let me start by showing that God loves unity, and and hates dissension.
John 17:21 (ESV)
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.
God wants us to be one, one body of one mind, but at what price? Unity is a word we hear thrown around a lot, but what it is? What does it mean and are we prepared to pay for said unity? For holiness and revival we said we should give everything, but this is not the case for unity. God’s unity cannot be bought. We cannot compromise truth and God’s standards to maintain unity.
WHAT IS UNITY?
Unity does not mean we agree on everything, but that we agree to disagree agreeably.
1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV)
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.
The Bible frequently commands believers to be of one mind, without division, and I feel Ignite currently is that kind of church. We may disagree agreeably on a few things, but we agree with each other on the big issues, the important issues, and importantly, unity involves preferring others ahead of yourself and your preferences. Unity doesn’t say, my way or the highway.
UNITY IS NOT UNIFORMITY (THERE’S ROOM TO BE DIFFERENT IN UNITY)
Firstly, unity isn’t uniformity, but true unity allows space for people to be different. And the thing is, we are different, but the differences mean we are better together! An ocean-going ship is made of many steel parts: propellers, rudders, steel plates in the hull, etc, all of which can sink by themselves. Steel doesn’t float. But when all parts are all joined together in unity, they float. A football team is made up of players who are all different. They have different roles and positions, but they play together in unity as a team. Individuals who are different, but in unity and function as intended.
Romans 12:4-6 (ESV)
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them:
That passage goes on to list various spiritual gifts. We are all different, and we shouldn’t try and be the same person, uniformity, but we should strive for unity.
Ephesians 4:3 (ESV)
eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
WHY IS UNITY SO IMPORTANT?
Unity is an incredibly powerful force, for good or evil. Just this week we have seen it topple a corrupt government in Sri Lanka. If you look back through history you will see unity manifesting evil in movements like Nazism and communism. There’s power in unity, for good or for ill.
When God looked at mankind building the tower of Babel He said this
Genesis 11:6 (ESV)
“Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.
God knows the power of unity, for good or evil, and that’s why unity is so important.
WHAT MUST WE BE IN UNITY ABOUT?
Unity involves being in one mind, and for us as believers, this is incredibly powerful. That’s why Satan wants to destroy unity in the body of Christ.
Mark 3:24-25 (ESV)
If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.
Frankly, it cannot be unity at any cost, because we cannot forsake truth for the sake of unity. For churches, we can have differences on many things but still be in unity. However, there are certain non negotiables that we cannot compromise on to achieve unity.
Salvation by faith is one. The inerrancy of Scripture would be another.
If you don’t hold that God’s Word is truth, how can we fellowship? If you call what the Bible calls sin acceptable, how can we be in unity?
2 Corinthians 6:14 (ESV)
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
Unequally yoked is not just in marriage or business, it’s a life principle. You cannot properly join 2 oxen that are pulling different directions. In the same way, we cannot be joined together in unity with people who don’t believe as we believe on central truths. And we cannot compromise God’s truth for the sake of unity. So what should the church strive to be in unity with?
1. UNITY AROUND THE FUTURE NOT THE PAST
There is a need to be in unity about the direction we are taking, not the past we have lived.
We have seen incredible things in our past, but we want to see power now and in the future, not nostalgia.
We can celebrate God’s goodness in the past towards us, we can remember it, study it, learn from it, but we don’t need nostalgia for past glories, we need momentum for future victories.
Every great movement of God, be it the Salvos, Methodists, even the ACC, has 4 phases. A man, a movement, a machine and a monument. We want to stay in the movement phase, and not become a machine or a monument to past glories.
2. ABSOLUTE TRUTHS NOT RELATIVE TRUTHS
I believe the Bible is truth from cover to cover. It’s absolute truth, one upon which we can stand in unity. But what some people, even some churches, are peddling today is the concept of relative truth. What’s true for me is different for you, but they’re both truth. Or what was once true has changed now because we are so modern and progressive.
Proverbs 23:10 (ESV)
Do not move an ancient landmark
We have landmarks of doctrines that have stood firm for centuries that people now feel we need to move! I believe if your truth can change, it was never truth in the first place! Jesus said,
John 8:31-32 (ESV)
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Our society is in the mess it is because their truth doesn’t set you free any more, it enslaves you, because truth is no longer truth, it morphs.
If truth is relative, relative to the government, media or social media’s whims, relative to the latest fashions or crazy ideas, dictated by a group of alphabet soup letters that don’t even know who they are, let alone what truth is, then we are lost! Because it has all changed, now some priests are coming out as gay, and the most dangerous place in the world is not on the road, or in the Ukraine, it’s in the womb! The truth of the sanctity of life is discarded, considered outmoded and bigoted.
But not in God’s Word. His Word doesn’t change, His truth doesn’t morph with social opinions,
Isaiah 40:8 (ESV)
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
Hebrews 13:8 (ESV)
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Now more than ever we need to fasten the belt of truth around our waists. Ephesians 6:14. We need real truth, proper truth, unchanging everlasting truth. Truth that doesn’t change with fashion or public opinion. The world won’t like it, but I don’t care because God does like it, and on absolute truths we can stand in unity.
3. PRINCIPLES NOT PREFERENCES
A principle is a fundamental truth that is the foundation for a system of beliefs or behaviours. In essence it’s the core of what we as Christians believe. Bible principles are the basis of our beliefs.
But a preference is just that… a preference, the way we prefer to do things. The world calls a principle a preference. Then it makes preferences into principles.
For example, the principle that men are men and women are women has long been recognised as a biological fact. They say look to science when it comes to climate change, but they dare not say that when it comes to gender change. Today, if you hold to such scientific principles, you’re called bigoted. Today, despite science or biological principles, if you’d prefer to be the opposite sex, your preference is now made into a principle that is guiding governments and lawmakers.
Preferences strengthen segregation, create factions and cause disunity. Principles are truths that strengthen foundations and create unity.
John 8:31-32 (ESV)
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Truth, not opinion. Principles, not preferences, unite and set us free.
Listen, everybody has an opinion, and social media tells us that everyone has a divine right to express their opinion at any price. No longer do you need to hold your tongue, weigh your words or speak with respect to those in authority. You can say what you want, when you want and hurt whomever you want, because it’s your opinion, and your opinion is the most most thing in the world, not truth.
In church we are as guilty as any other group when it comes to principles and preferences. Most criticisms that pastors receive from church members are preferences, which are elevated to principles.
The style of preaching. The style of worship… they are preferences, not principles. Having communion every week… preference, not principle. Nowhere in God’s Word does it pronounce hymns more sacred that praise songs, or topical preaching less anointed that expositional.
Before you start criticising others, have a good look at what you are criticising. Is it God’s truth, is t actually Biblical, is it God’s principles, or is it just your preference?
What unites us is far more significant than what divides us. We can unite on Scriptural proof, because Bible truth is not a preference, it’s a principle, and it doesn’t change. In the end, Principles outlast fashions, trends, ideas and preferences. In church, if it’s not a core Christian doctrine or belief, we must show grace for the sake of unity, and we should guard or tongues.
Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
THE RESULT OF UNITY IS BLESSING
I use to think that unity brought blessing because people were not fighting and squabbling so we had peace, but it goes beyond just that. There is an actual, tangible blessing when unity reigns in the body.
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
Our church was once a place where disunity was commonplace. Two-three years ago we had disunity in this church, promoted by a few individuals, and we were struggling. I noted that my attackers could quote the Bible to suit their argument, but conveniently overlook the many passages on unity. Interestingly, after the last of the dissenters left, within 6-8 weeks we found these premises. There is power when we are in unity!
Unity is definitely powerful, but can we unite with our Christian brothers and sisters when God’s basic, core truths are watered down and compromised?
The acceptance of gay marriage within the church, as trumpeted by many Uniting and now Anglican churches, makes God’s absolute truth into a relative joke. Instead of seeing society through the Bible, they want us to see the Bible through society, which constantly changes, and I can’t be in unity over that.
Philippians 2:2 (ESV)
complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
What price unity? We can pay our preferences, our desires and our opinions, but we cannot sacrifice truth on the altar of unity!
Let me finish with the great Bible passage on unity.
UNITY COMMANDS A BLESSING
Psalms 133 (ESV)
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
Psalm 133:2 is often overlooked, because it is weird. It’s strange because it doesn’t seem to fit with the other two verses.
Oil in Scripture speaks the Holy Spirit, of God’s presence. Now the passage says this oil doesn’t just stay on the head, it overflows. Across the collar and if you keep pouring, it flows all the way down until to edge of the garment. Aaron gets soaked, like Mt Hermon, covered in dew.
Today I believe Jesus wants the whole body anointed, every person, not just the pastor, not just the leaders, but all of us, and he wants the flow of oil to extend right to the edge of the garment.
Remember the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and was healed?
Matthew 9:20-22 (ESV Strong’s)
And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.
Most people will not touch the head, the pastor, but they will be able to touch someone nearer the edge of the church. That’s why we need unity! We need that flow of oil to not just be on the head, but to overflow to the very edge of the garment.
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
The Hebrew for commanded is SAWA, which literally means to order and expect it to be done. Commanders don’t give suggestions, they speak and expect it to be done. If we have Unity, we can expect miracles and blessing, right our to the hem of the garment. If you are associated with Ignite, the blessings are going to overflow you too. But notice I don’t command them, you don’t command them, the Lord commands blessings. All we need to do is maintain unity, and He does the rest!
Ephesians 4:3-6 (ESV)
eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
1 Peter 3:8 (ESV)
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
LET’S GET PRACTICAL
Remember, unity is not just the absence of conflict. It’s a powerful spiritual force that most churches are yet to appropriate! Within our church we must celebrate unity, and be intolerate of disunity.
Unity is not agreeing on everything, it is agreeing to disagree agreeably. If you find yourself criticising others, repent and start love them. And I pledge to you that we here at Ignite will join with other churches and believers in unity across this area, and across denominations.
What price unity? The price is often not agitating to get your own way, your own preferences. The price for unity is giving up your rights.
We can have unity as long as the principles of God’s Word are not violated. We must never sacrifice true unity on the altar of our preferences or pet doctrines.
But we are also called to stand strong on Biblical principles that still matter to God. We must not compromise God clear commands in Scripture or water them down to try and be in unity with those who do not value God’s Word.
And the best example of our unity, is our faith. God’s blessing is poured out according to Psalm 133, when we pray together. If you have a need for a job, for a home, for a healing, we are going to join together in unity to pray for you and believe that the Lord commands a blessing, even life for evermore.
Life forever more is salvation, it’s fellowship, it’s life and life to the full as Jesus promised. The blessing of God is not suggested, prayed for or talked about, in unity it is commanded!
And unity is like the oil, poured to excess over the head of the church, the pastor, over the shoulders and across the breastplate, the leaders, onto the garment, the church members and right out to the fringes, the first time or intermittent attendees.
If we have unity, we will see the Holy Spirit active right to the edges of the church. People right on the edge of our church will see Holy Spirit anointing and power in their lives, if we are in unity. They will pray for the sick and see healing. They will lead people to Christ.
WHAT STOPS UNITY IN THE CHURCH?
WHAT CAN YOU NOT BE IN UNITY WITH OTHER BELIEVERS ABOUT?
HOW CAN YOU PROMOTE UNITY IN THE BODY OF CHRIST?