By Christopher VanDusen
In my last article, I showed that the New Testament teaches that the apostles’ teaching and practice is the standard for Christian living, that Christlikeness is the goal of discipleship, and that there are several necessary things to understand before a Christian can grow significantly in Christlikeness. Now, I want to survey some of the New Testament commands given to churches that tell Christians what their relationships are to be like with one another.
In this study, we’ll focus on the commands that promote unity among Christians. The reason for starting with the subject of unity is that this is one of the most important characteristics of churches. Without unity, Christians can’t help each other effectively to be like Christ, and to become more like Him. As a result, they’ll be less equipped to share the gospel with unbelievers, and few, if any, people will likely be saved through their witness. Besides this, Christ will be less glorified, and Christians will be more vulnerable to temptation and falling into sin. Put simply, the Lord hates disunity among churches, since it doesn’t glorify God.
We’ll begin with Romans 12:10a, where the apostle Paul commands the church in Rome to
“Love one another with brotherly affection.” (ESV)
The Greek word translated “love” here is philostorgoi, which literally means “be devoted to family”. Hence, a better translation would be “be devoted to one another”.
And how does Paul say to do this? “With brotherly affection.” This means that not only are believers to resolve to treat other believers like family, but they are to do so with actual affection for them — as if they actually are family. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE! All Christians are brothers and sisters because they have one Father who made them into Christians — God. And only Christians have this relationship to God. Everyone else on earth is a spiritual child of Satan, since they are offspring of the first sinner, Adam, and share his fallen, sinful, and ungodly nature.
Second, Paul commands the Romans in verse 7 of chapter 15 to
“. . . welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (ESV)
The Greek word translated “welcome” is proslambanesthe, and literally means “take to yourselves”. That is, Paul is commanding them to accept one another.
And how does Paul say to do this? “As Christ has welcomed you.” And how did Christ welcome them? With love and delight.
And what is the purpose of doing this? “For the glory of God”, or to put God’s character on display through their Christlike accepting of one another.
Third, Paul gives these commands to the Ephesians in Ephesians 4:1-3:
“I . . . 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.” (ESV)
Here, Paul begins the practical section of his letter by commanding the Ephesians to walk, or live everyday life, in a way that’s worthy of God’s calling of them. And how are they to do this?
First, with humility and gentleness. “Humility” is the attitude of recognizing that everything you are is only because God has made you that way, and you are a hell-deserving sinner whom He has graciously saved. “Gentleness” is the quality of dealing with people in just the right way, so as to effectively promote their spiritual well-being. In Greek culture, it was sometimes viewed as “power under control”. It isn’t just sensitivity, but the practical outworking of humility towards others, recognizing that one isn’t more important than them, and that they deserve respect and consideration.
Second, Paul tells the Ephesians to walk “with patience”. This means being able to endure repeated offenses against oneself, and to not retaliate in any way whatsoever.
Third, Paul tells them to walk by “bearing with one another in love”. This literally means “to put up with” others. In other words, it means to endure being sinned against, and even to endure non-sinful things that are simply annoying or frustrating. And how are the Ephesians to do this? “In love” or “through love”. This tells us that the motive for putting up with one another in the church ought to be the spiritual well-being and growth of others. To put it another way, this putting up with sins and burdens ought to be done in order to help the offender to become more like Christ.
Finally, all of these characteristics ought to be practiced because the Ephesians are “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. Do you notice something interesting about this command? Paul doesn’t say “eager to create the unity of the Spirit”, but “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit”. Why does he say this? Because the unity that the Ephesians have has already been created by the Spirit. That’s why it’s called “the unity of the Spirit“. It’s the unity that God the Holy Spirit produces. However, the Ephesians are to humbly, gently, and patiently put up with one another in love in order to maintain the unity that the Spirit has already given them.
A fourth passage that commands Christians to be unified is Philippians 1:27, where Paul says,
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel . . .” (ESV)
Here, Paul begins by commanding the Philippians to live “worthy of the gospel of Christ”, or to live in a way that is consistent and complimentary with the good news of Christ. And if they do this, what will be the result? Paul will “hear of [them] that [they] are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel”.
So, how are they to live “worthy of the gospel of Christ”? First, by “standing firm in one spirit”. Here, Paul says that they are to share “one spirit”, or “one attitude”, and that they are to “stand firm” in it. That is, they are to all have the same attitude of treasuring living “worthy of the gospel of Christ”, and to avoid letting anything hinder them from doing that.
Second, they are to live “worthy of the gospel of Christ” by “with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel”. The Greek word translated “striving” is an athletic term that could literally be translated “competing”, as if they’re competing in the Olympics. And how are they do this? “With one mind”. Whereas Paul has just said they are to share “one spirit” or attitude, here he tells them that they are to have “one mind”, or way of thinking and determination. They are all to determine to help one another to strive “side by side for the faith of the gospel”.
But what does Paul mean that they are to strive “for the faith of the gospel”? When he says “the faith of the gospel”, he basically means “the faith that is the gospel”. That is, he’s implying that the Philippians are to strive “side by side” in order to preach, teach, defend, and promote the gospel, so that Christians will understand and apply the gospel better, and more unbelievers will come to believe the gospel.
A fifth passage that promotes Christian unity is Philippians 2:2-4, where Paul commands the Philippians to
“. . . complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (ESV)
First, Paul again commands them to be “of the same mind”. Again, this refers to thinking in the same way.
Second, Paul commands them to have “the same love”. Really, Paul literally says “maintaining” the same love, as the NASB translates it. Thus, they are to keep loving one another.
Third, Paul commands them to be “in full accord”. Paul is here repeating the idea of sharing “one spirit”, or attitude”.
Fourth, he commands them to be “of one mind”, or as the NASB translates it, “intent on one purpose”. They are all to have the same goal — glorifying God by making disciples.
In Paul’s second sentence, he prohibits them from doing anything “from self ambition or conceit”. Instead, he commands them to “in humility count others more significant than yourselves”. Here, Paul gives us one of the inevitable results of humility, which is others-centeredness. If everyone in the church does this, then no one will be treated as insignificant or unimportant.
Finally, Paul tells the Philippians how they are to count others as more significant — by “looking out for” “the interests of others”. In other words, the Philippians are to always consider their brethren’s needs when making decisions.
A sixth passage that promotes Christian unity is 1 Corinthians 1:10, where Paul tells the Corinthians this:
“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 judgement.” (ESV)
Now, is Paul telling them that they are to agree on everything? Of course not! Later in this letter, he says that some of them think that eating food sacrificed to idols is sinful, and some think that it’s fine. In the context, Paul’s speaking of their attitude toward other Christians — they are to not regard other Christians as superior to others, but to agree about their common value in Christ. If they do that, there will be “no divisions” among them, and they will be “united in the same mind and the same judgement”.
A seventh passage that promotes Christian unity is 1 Peter 3:8, where the apostle Peter commands Christians to
“. . . have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (ESV)
Here, Peter, like Paul, commands Christians in Asia Minor to “have unity of mind”, or thinking. He adds to this “sympathy”, or compassion; “brotherly love”, or brotherly affection; “a tender heart”, or sensitivity toward others’ needs and problems; and “a humble mind”, or humility.
So, are you devoting yourself to your brethren in brotherly love?
Are you accepting brethren as Christ accepted you?
Are you humbly, gently, and patiently putting up with brethren out of love because you’re eager to maintain your unity by promoting peace?
Are you striving side by side with your brethren for the faith of the gospel?
Are you maintaining your love for your brethren?
Do you have the same attitude as your brethren?
Are you intent on the same purpose as your brethren?
Do you regard brethren as more important than yourself?
Are you looking out for the interests of your brethren?
Do you agree with brethren about essential things?
Are you harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble toward brethren?
If you’re not doing any of these things, than you most likely have never changed your mind about Christ and trusted in him as your Lord and Savior. Please make sure you understand and believe the gospel:
God sent His eternal and divine Son to earth to become a man, Jesus of Nazareth, to live the perfect life, and to willingly let Himself be hung on a cross to suffer God’s wrath and punishment that we deserve for our crimes against Him. By nature, we are all haters of God, and fail to love, obey, and worship Him as He deserves. Therefore, we all deserve eternal punishment. This is why God sent His Son in order to punish Him for our sins against Him through His suffering and death. But God also raised Him from the dead, and He appeared to the apostles and hundreds of people. Then, God took Him into heaven as the King of the universe. He’s now commanding everyone to change their minds about Him and themselves, and to trust in the Lord Jesus, His death for our sins, and resurrection, as the only grounds of His forgiveness of our sins. He promises to completely forgive everyone who repents and trusts in the Lord Jesus for His forgiveness. Please make sure that you’ve done this by examining yourself.
If you believe this gospel, then you will love the Lord Jesus, and obey Him because He’s your King and Savior. If your only hope is in Him, His death, and resurrection for God’s forgiveness of your sins, and your very life, then He commands you to be baptized by one of His people as a public profession of your faith in Him.
NEXT WEEK: How to Serve Our Brethren in Christ
Most Scripture passages are taken from the
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Some Scripture is taken from the
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
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