Reason for unity : An overflow of God’s essential nature [“Essense” is a technical term].
The very person of God necessitates unity, because God Himself is said to be “essentially triune.”
We understand God is a Trinitarian God (Father, Son, and Spirit).
There’s much mystery in this, but He is 1 God, but in 3 persons.
Ontological - Every person of the Trinity is the fullness of God Himself.
We’ll get into this in detail when we do the episode on the Trinity.
But every person of the Trinity isn’t ⅓ part of God, but the 100% fullness of God. This is a mystery (and we’ll try to unfold some of it in the Trinity episode).
Economical - How the different persons of the Trinity work out their roles.
The Father didn’t die on the Cross.
The Son doesn’t indwell the Church.
The Spirit doesn’t send forth the Son into the world.
So God is a Trinitarian God, but He is also triune.
That is to say, no person of the Trinity acts on their own accord apart from any other person of the Trinity. They function in complete unity and harmony.
There is One God, One mission, One purpose, One glory. And this last part is key, the one God does all that He does for the ultimate purpose of bring Himself a singular glory.
Gen. 1:1-3 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light.”
So, here, we see all three persons of the Godhead working in complete unity to carry out the single purpose of creation.
God (The Father) creates (v.1), by the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 2), by means of the Son (v. 3).
We know the Word of God (“God said…”) to be the Son of God.
John 1:1; 1:14 [The Word becomes flesh].
Col. 1:15-16 [For by Him (speaking of the Son) all things were created]. The Son is the divine means through which the Father carried out His creative work.
So this one God’s eternal plan and purposes, was agreed upon by all person’s of the Trinity, as this One God determined and purposed His One mission from eternity past. So there’s Triunity within the Trinity.
Again, we’ll flesh more of this out one we talk about the nature of the Trinity, but for our purposes, the point to understand is that unity is a function (or necessary result/overflow) of God’s eternal nature (i.e., essence).
For this reason, then, the people of God are brought into unity with each other. They’re brought into unity with God, and so by the very necessity of that, they’re brought into unity with each other.
Just consider the words of Jesus: “If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (Matt. 5:23-24)
The Apostle Paul consistently urges the various churches to be of one mind. That they would labor together, building one another up in the faith and growing in love for one another.
In 1 Timothy he wants the men to pray with holy hands, not having wrath or dissension. He has a very, very low view of those who harm the unity of the church:
Romans 16:17-18 "Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting."
Titus 3:10-11 "Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned."
So pursuing and maintaining proper unity is not optional for the Christian.
The High Priestly Prayer
Jesus prays in John 17 for the unity of God’s people.
This is a commonly misunderstood and misapplied passage.
Many use it argue for why Christians and various locals churches must strive to come into unity with one another.
Combined worship services.
Combined social works within the city.
Combined youth events.
Combined gatherings for prayer.
If churches choose not to be part of these types of things, they’re then often accused of being divisive, or walking in disobedience to John 17.
But this produces questions; what was Jesus actually doing in this prayer? Are these indictments legitimate against these other churches who choose not to partner with other local churches?
Well, it’s important to begin by understanding that Jesus wasn’t revealing a hopeful desire.
This wasn’t sentimental (or wishfulness sentiments) on Jesus’ part.
He’s not simply revealing His heart (or emotional passion) for what He hopes will happen.
Rather, in the context, Jesus was making a request of the Father to bring about some things, but through what He would soon accomplish on the cross.
So remember, this was the night of Jesus’ arrest.
This was his final prayer and request of the Father before His crucifixion.
He’d be on the cross the very next day, and so He knew that the hour had come for why He even came into the world.
So what Jesus is doing, is He’s now praying that the Father would actually bring into being the actually reason for which Jesus was sent.
And vss. 20-24 is clear that one of these reason, was to accomplish the unity of those for whom He was about to die.
Not only would they be the unified people of God, but they’d also be unified in His mission.
They’re being incorporated into the eternal purposes of the Trinity, which (Acc. to 17:24) is the glorification of God Himself.
So how should we understand this prayer?
Among other things, Jesus is praying for unity, but in light of what He was about to accomplish in His cross-work.
It’s through this work, that unity would be accomplished and brought into being.
This is one of the great reasons for the cross of Christ.
So this unity would would then manifest itself in Acts 2 with the outpouring of the Spirit.
[c.f., episode on Spirit-baptism. Spirit-baptism is the means through which all believers come into unity].
This was the beginning of the Church, and therefore, the beginning of the realized unity of the Church.
The point to understand is John 17 should not be used to argue that Christians should strive for unity because the prayer is somehow revealing the wishful heart of Jesus.
Rather, it reveals what would happen due to what Jesus was about to accomplish on the cross.
So in Acts 2, this is explicitly seen in the many different people groups/languages that were present.
In fact, this was the function of tongues in this passage.
It was a sign that there would be no more boundaries between the various languages and people.
Rather, they’re all coming into unity at the outpouring of the spirit, and being arranged as a new, singular people. [This is the reverse of Babel.]
In other words, unity is a great indicative, not imperative.
Unity is something that was actually accomplished.
Jesus prayed for it. The Father then accomplished it through the work of the Son, and then brought it into being by the outpouring of the Spirit.
The Church now becomes one with the Triune God.
The Church now joins this Triune God in His purpose and mission to bring Himself glory.
So let’s see the theology and application of this fleshed out by Paul.
A Paradigm for Unity Ephesian 4:1-6 and 11-16.
There are two types of unity within the church.
There is a present, existing one that we must be diligent to protect.
And there is a imperfect, growing one that we must be diligent to promote.
In our passage Paul commands us to preserve the unity of the Spirit.
And he tells us that we are to continue to grow and work within the Body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith.
Paul “entreats” them to be diligent about preserving the unity of the Spirit.
This is an appeal in light of all that he taught in chapters 1-3.
He is now making application to that material.
Note that he is not telling us to get this unity, but to maintain it. All Christians have this by virtue of their standing before God “in Christ.”
How do we maintain this unity?
First by understanding our calling.
This calling is a work of God where He calls people to be saved. He draws them to His Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit gives them new life and a new heart, out of which they believe and are saved.
The calling is defined for us in Ephesians 1:4-5.
This is the great goal of our Father in Heaven–to conform us into the image of His Son.
This is the passion of God our Father, and it should be our passion. All of us should yearn and strive to be made more fully into the image of Christ.
This calling is not an individual calling. It is a corporate, or collective calling. He is saying to them and to us, that we as a church need to walk in a manner that is proper and fitting according to the one calling that all of us participate in. It is a group thing, not a private, individual effort.
And if this is not understood, then you will see little need for the Body of Christ, much less the need to preserve the unity within the Body.
But if you see that this is our calling, to grow into fullness of Christ and to display it to the world, then you and I can become much more focused on what we do and why we do it.
Second by living in humility.
Humility is the grease that moves the church along. In this list of godly attitudes it is the root attitude out of which the others flower and come into being.
It is a common command and expectation of all believers. Pride has no place in the church and yet it is found at the root of all sin and foolishness that the church finds herself in.
Third by showing gentleness.
Perhaps your translation has the word “meekness.”
This word is a wonderful one. And it is the surest indication that a person is walking in humility.
Wherever humility is present, meekness is present as well.
Fourth by being patient.
When you have a person who is humble and meek, you will find a person who is growing in patience.
A patient believer is one who has been humbled through the trials of life that God has brought about in his life (cf. James 1:2-4).
If you are patient, then you recognize that God’s will for you is a constantly unfolding work, in which there are no mistakes by Him.
So, what is the unity of the Spirit? Paul describes it in the verses that follow: The unity of the Spirit (4--6).
The word that jumps out in this list is the term “one.” And it is this word that brings out the idea of the unity of the Spirit.
There are many who will try to have unity with others, but if they don’t understand the “why” of unity then the unity they will pursue or strive after will only be a worldly substitute.
The unity of the faith.
Notice verse 13 for a moment. Notice that there is a time issue here, we see this with the word “until.”
There is a task that needs the church is to be busy doing and it is not finished doing that task until two specific events have occurred:
The first is that the church attain to the unity of the faith.
The second is that the church as a whole attain to the knowledge of the Son of God.
Unity of the Faith.
The term, “the faith” is a technical word in the New Testament. It occasionally refers to a person’s faith in God. But that is rare.
The most common way this phrase is used is to refer to doctrinal truth. The term, “the faith” speaks of that body of truth that is gospel truth.
Knowledge of the Son of God.
Twice Paul has mentioned in this letter about him praying that they would grow in the knowledge of Christ (1:17-19; 3:16-19).
Note the supernatural work of God that is required for us to grow in this knowledge.
It comes through a growth in sound doctrine, but it is not merely a knowledge of sound doctrine.
You can know the Word and not have a sound nor deep knowledge of Christ.
How can the Church grow in this unity?
Through gifted teachers of various types (vs 7) “But to each one of us grace was given . . . .”
Specifically he speaks of specific people: The list is of four types of people given to the church.
What was the purpose of giving the church these people? Verse 12 gives us the answer. “For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”
Christ said in Matthew 16 that He would build His church. And this passage describes how it is done.
The purpose of the giving of these people to the church is so that the church can be equipped to do the work they have been called to do.
To equip means to make complete, to train to maturity.
This is the work of any pastor. This is the first and foremost job, to be in the business of training the people to go and do the work of the Lord.
(Take them now through vss 13c (mature man) to the end.)
There is a contrast that is being made in these verses.
Mature man (singular) versus children (plural).
The knowledge, wisdom and stability of an adult versus the ignorance, foolishness, and instability of childhood.
The way to grow into this mature man is through speaking the truth in love. And as we do so we can begin to grow into the likeness of Christ.
It’s important to note that the unity that's described here is such that there is no reason to see a problem in denominations and such. It is often said, especially in the RCC, that the fact that there are so many denominations that it is evidence that these churches and denominations don’t belong to the true church.
But this is not the type of unity that’s discussed in vss 1-6. There can be serious differences in points of doctrine and yet a genuine unity of the Spirit IF we are diligent to maintain it. As brothers and sisters in Christ gather in the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, independent Baptist, Brethren, and Community churches there is an essential unity that’s occurring.
What happens to this unity is that it tends to go out the window as we seek to come into greater unity of the second type.
Most of us have had that experience of having someone hold to a specific doctrine so strongly that they run roughshod over you.
The conversation started out strong, and ended poorly, with one of two lying on the ground under a pile of emotion, accusations, and name-calling.
An application of this is that you can even leave a church w/o being divisive - if you’re leaving for reasons of the faith.
Most churches who refuse to talk doctrine for the sake of keeping “unity,” aren't really unified. They’re just ignorant.
This is why many doctrinally shallow churches may not split over doctrine, but they’ll certainly split over the color of the carpet.
And why? Because they’re unified over something other than the Faith.
They may have Christ in common, but that doesn’t say much about their maturity. So the moment any real issue comes up, there’s disunity all over the place.
But if they’re unified in the Spirit and in the faith, there’s a wonderful maturity that can happen. And it’s something Christ desires and intended.
So the challenge is to preserve this unity all believers have in the Spirit, all the while growing in a unity of the faith and a knowledge of Jesus Christ.