Unity Is Not Optional

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Mt. 13:41 π Jn. 14:16 π Acts 1:14 π Acts 2:1 π Acts 2:46 π Acts 4:24 π Acts 5:12 π Rom. 12:16 π Rom. 15:5-6 π Rom. 15:6 π 1 Cor. 1:3 π 1 Cor. 1:10; 2nd π 1 Cor. 3:1-4 π 1 Cor. 11:18 π 1 Cor. 11:19 π 1 Cor. 12:24-25 π 2 Cor. 13:11 π Gal. 3:28 π Gal. 5:22-23; 2nd π Gal. 6:1 π Eph. 2:14-18 π Eph. 4:1-3 π Eph. 4:3 π Eph. 4:7 π Eph. 4:8-10 π Eph. 4:11-13 π Eph. 4:13; 2nd π Eph. 4:13-16; 2nd; 3rd π Phlp. 2:2; 2nd π Phlp. 3:16 π Phlp. 3:18-19 π Phlp. 4:2 π Col. 1:27 π 1 Ths. 5:21

There are several words the New Testament uses to convey the idea of the unity of the body of Christ. They are used rather rarely and have very precise meanings. In my ongoing studies of the Bible, I have been finding that whenever a word appears only a few times in the Greek, it is usually a word of precise, specialized meaning and often deserves a little extra attention.

The Unity of the Spirit

There is an interesting progression that occurs in Paul's letter to the Ephesians. And this progression is made even more interesting by the fact that it involves a word that is only used twice in the New Testament. This word is "henotes" and it means "oneness" or "unity." "Henotes" [1775] occurs first when Paul writes, "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." ( Eph. 4:1-3 - emphasis added) Here Paul is beseeching the Ephesians to live a life worthy of the calling of the Lord. He then gives five characteristics of what that walk would look like. The fifth one is that of " endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (v. 3; top )

"Endeavoring" means "to make every effort." So, he is saying that those who would live worthily must be diligent, making effort at something. But notice here he does not say, "Be diligent to become unified." No. He says that there already is unity for he says we are to "keep the unity of the Spirit." You cannot keep something if you never had it. Paul's admonition is to keep the unity of the Spirit, not to obtain it in some new way. And he says we are to keep this unity of the Spirit in or through the bond of peace.

What is this bond of peace wherein we will find this unity of the Spirit? It is in Christ Himself. Paul had already said to the Ephesians, " For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father." ( Eph. 2:14-18; top )

Here Paul is talking about the humanly recognized distinction of Jew and Gentile and he is saying that that distinction is not recognized by God. Paul even went so far as to say to the Galatians, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." ( Gal. 3:28; top ) Distinctions that men consider important simply do not exist in God's view of things - especially when it comes to the body of Christ.

It has truly been said that God views all mankind as being in one of two races: the human race and the holy race. The human race is all those who trace their lineage to Adam and who have never experienced the new birth given by the Spirit of God. The holy race is all those who trace their spiritual lineage to Christ and who have experienced the new birth given by the Spirit of God. The human race is profane and wicked. The holy race is a chosen people possessed by God for His purposes and for His glory.

This is the unity of the Spirit. We are one people under one God, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are held together by the bond of peace, that is, His body which was sacrificed to abolish the enmity between God and man and between men and men. We are to endeavor, that is, make every effort, to keep this unity in our lives. We are to be, as much as it depends upon us, at peace with all men, but especially those who are of the body of Christ.

The Unity of the Faith

The word "henotes" appears for the second and last time in the New Testament when Paul says, "till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God." ( Eph. 4:13; top ) There is only a short distance separating these two occurrences of this word "henotes," and I'm certain that the things Paul has to say in between are related.

In the context of the first occurrence, Paul is begging the Ephesians to have a walk worthy of the Lord. In the second occurrence, only a dozen or so verses later, the context is still the same but he has ventured into the topic of the "doma" gifts that are to equip and build up the body of Christ. As he speaks about these gifts we can see that he still has this thought in mind, walking worthy of the Lord. The body Paul describes in vv. 13-16 is a mature body, glorifying to Christ in every way. In fact, vv. 13-16 can be said to be an amplification of what Paul means when he says in v. 13 , "the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God." He goes on to say:

...to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ - from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. ( Eph. 4:13-16; top )

This is what the "unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God" will look like. But let's look a little more closely at the progression Paul goes through to arrive at this description.

First, after he begs the Ephesians to keep the unity of the faith in the bond of peace, he lists off seven factors of true Christianity. Watchman Nee gives a wonderful explanation of each of these factors. Nee writes:

1) One Body. The question of unity begins with the question of membership of the Body of Christ. The sphere of our fellowship is the sphere of the Body. Those who are outside that sphere have no spiritual relationship with us, but those who are inside that sphere are all in fellowship with us. We cannot make any choice of fellowship in the Body, accepting some members and rejecting others. We are all part of the one Body, and nothing can possibly separate us from it, or from one another. Anyone who has received Christ belongs to the Body, and he and we are one.

2) One Spirit. If anyone seeks fellowship with us, however he may differ from us in experience or outlook, provided he has the same Spirit as we have, he is entitled to be received as a brother. If he has received the Spirit of Christ, and we have received the Spirit of Christ, then we are one in the Lord, and nothing must divide us.

3) One Hope. This hope, which is common to all the children of God, is not a general hope, but the hope of our calling, which is to be with the Lord for ever in glory. There is not a single soul who is truly the Lord's in whose heart there is not this hope, for to have Christ in us is to have "the hope of glory" in us. ( Col. 1:27; top ) All who share this one hope are one, and since we have this hope of being together in glory for all eternity, how can we be divided in time?

4) One Lord. There is only one Lord, the Lord Jesus, and all who recognize that God has made Jesus of Nazareth to be both Lord and Christ are one in Him. If anyone confesses Jesus to be Lord, then his Lord is our Lord, and since we serve the same Lord, nothing whatever can separate us.

5) One Faith. The faith here spoken of is the faith - not our beliefs in regard to the interpretation of Scripture, but the faith through which we have been saved, which is the common possession of all believers, that is, the faith that Jesus is the Son of God (who died for the salvation of sinners and lives again to give life to the dead). The children of God may follow many different lines of Scriptural interpretation, but in regard to this fundamental faith they are one.

6) One Baptism. Is it by immersion or by sprinkling? Is it single or triune? There are various modes of baptism accepted by the children of God, so if we make the form of baptism the dividing line between those who belong to the church and those who do not, we shall exclude many true believers from our fellowship. There are children of God who even believe that a material baptism is not necessary, but since they are the children of God, we dare not on that account exclude them from our fellowship. What then is the significance of the "one baptism" mentioned in this passage? Paul throws light on the subject in his first letter to the Corinthians. "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? or were you baptized into the name of Paul?" ( 1 Cor. 1:3; top ) The emphasis is not on the mode of baptism, but on the name into which we are baptized. If anyone is baptized into the Name of the Lord, I welcome him as my brother, whatever be the mode of his baptism. By this we do not imply that it is of no consequence whether we are sprinkled or immersed, or whether our baptism is spiritual or literal. The Word of God teaches that baptism is literal, and is by immersion, but the point here is that the mode of baptism is not the ground of our fellowship, but the Name into which we are baptized. All who are baptized into the Name of the Lord are one in Him.

7) One God. Do we believe in the same personal, supernatural God as our Father? If so, then we belong to one family, and there is no adequate reason for our being divided.

The above seven points are the seven factors in that divine unity which is the possession of all the members of the divine family, and they constitute the only test of Christian profession. If we impose any conditions of fellowship beyond these seven - which are but the outcome of the one spiritual life - then we are guilty of sectarianism, for we are making a division between those who are manifestly children of God. If we apply any test but these seven, we are imposing conditions other than those stipulated in the Word of God. All who have these seven points in common with us are our brothers, whatever their spiritual experience, or doctrinal views, or "church" relationships. Our unity is based upon the actual fact of our oneness, which is made real in our experience by the indwelling Spirit of Christ. (The Normal Christian Church Life)

After Paul has listed off these seven factors, he then begins to discuss the grace, that is the power of God at work in us to complete us according to His design, that is given to each of us "according to the measure of Christ's gift." (v. 7 ) From there he goes on to mention the gifts Christ gave to men when He ascended on high and he explains just what it means to ascend and descend. (vv. 8-10 ) From there Paul launches directly into a list of the five gifts that God gave to the ekklesia to equip the saints for ministry and to edify the body of Christ until such time as we all reach the unity of the faith. (vv. 11-13; top )

Whatever else we might glean from this passage, it is certain that, if we will not endeavor to keep the unity already provided by the Spirit of God and we will not receive the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers that Christ gave to His body, then we can be certain that we will never see with our own eyes what the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God looks like. The progression is there because there is a causal relationship involved. Until we recognize the unity of the Spirit and walk in it, and until we recognize the fivefold giftings of Christ and receive them, we simply will not experience the mature unity of the faith.

But let us look at some other words the writers of the New Testament used to describe the attitude we should have towards one another.

One Accord

This phrase is one that appears often in the book of Acts as a descriptive of the response of the people who put their faith in Christ. The believers were "in one accord" on several occasions. ( Acts 1:14 ; 2:1 , 46 ; 4:24 ; 5:12; top ) The Greek word is "homothumadon" [3661] and means "with one mind, with one accord, with one passion." Strong's says:

A unique Greek word, used 11 of its 12 New Testament occurrences in the Book of Acts, helps us understand the uniqueness of the Christian community. "Homothumadon" is a compound of two words meaning to "rush along" and "in unison." The image is almost musical; a number of notes are sounded which, while different, harmonize in pitch and tone. As the instruments of a great concert under the direction of a concert master, so the Holy Spirit blends together the lives of members of Christ's church. (Strong's Greek Dictionary)

Paul later uses this same Greek word to call on his readers to "with one mind [3661] and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." ( Rom. 15:6; top ) In concert, he says, glorify God with one unified heart of praise.

Paul later uses another Greek word, "sumpsuchos" [4861] when he writes to the Philippians, "fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord [4861], of one mind." ( Phlp. 2:2; top ) Of this word, Wayne Steury writes:

This word is made up of two words "sum" (together with) and "psuchos" (soul, self, inner life, or the seat of the feelings, desires, affections). So the word refers to being united in spirit or harmonious. Paul desired the Philippians to be united in their affections - one in Christ in all desires! Used only here in the New Testament. (Wayne Steury, quoted in Strong's Greek Dictionary)

The unity of the body of Christ is not some goal toward which we are to strive and strain. It is a spiritual reality which, when we walk in the Spirit of God, will be manifested among us. When we live by the Spirit, we will be in one accord with all others who live by the Spirit. There is no other option.

Like Minded

Paul uses the words "phroneo" [5426] and "autos" [846] together and this phrase is rendered "like minded" in many English versions. This phrase means "to be of the same mind, agreed together, cherish the same views, be harmonious." To the Romans, Paul writes, "Be of the same [846] mind [5426] toward one another. Do not set your mind [5426] on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion." ( Rom. 12:16; top ) Be united in humility, Paul says. This is the same humility Christ exhibited because the unity of the body of Christ is found only in the Spirit of Christ.

Paul also wrote to the Romans, "Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like- minded [846] [5426] toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind [3661] and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." ( Rom. 15:5-6; top ) It is so important to notice that our like-mindedness is "according to Christ Jesus." It is not according to Catholic or Lutheran or Methodist or even "non-denominational" doctrines. It is according to the Person and Spirit of Christ, the mind of Christ, that we are to be like minded.

In his farewell remarks to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, "Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one [846] mind [5426], live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you." ( 2 Cor. 13:11 ) Unity, comfort, love and peace, other fruits and works of the Spirit ( Gal. 5:22-23 ; Jn. 14:16; top ), are inter-connected.

In Paul's letter to the Philippians, Paul uses this phrase several times in ways that gives us great insight into the unity we are to preserve. He writes, "fulfill my joy by being like-minded [846] [5426], having the same love, being of one accord [4861], of one mind [5426]." ( Phlp. 2:2 ) We have already seen this verse but look again at the unity he is calling for from his readers. A chapter later he writes, "Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same [846] rule, let us be of the same [846] mind [5426]." ( Phlp. 3:16; top ) Look at how the words intertwine to call for an observable bond of unity.

A few verses later, Paul speaks of the other side of the coin, when men don't walk in the unity of the Spirit of God. He writes, "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame - who set their mind [5426] on earthly things." ( Phlp. 3:18-19; top ) They are enemies of the cross (not of Christ, but of His cross) because they refuse to set aside their own selfish desires and walk in the oneness of the Spirit. They serve their own appetites and pursue earthly goals at the expense of the spiritual oneness of the body of Christ, thereby proclaiming with their lives and actions that the cross of Christ has had no effect in their own lives.

Paul uses this phrase as he nears the end of his letter to the Philippians when he writes, "I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same [846] mind [5426] in the Lord." ( Phlp. 4:2 ) Again it is so important to notice that our like-mindedness comes from being "in the Lord." We cannot hope to embrace the doctrines that some man has devised and then hope to experience spiritual unity. (see 1 Cor. 3:1-4; top ) The unity of the Spirit transcends doctrinal unity. When we walk in the Spirit we will agree with God - and when we agree with God, we will be in agreement with all others who agree with God.

This word "phroneo" [5426] comes from the Greek word "phren" [5424] which refers to "the midriff or diaphragm, the parts of the heart; the mind; the faculty of perceiving and judging. Both of these two words derive from the word "phrasso" [5420] which means "to fence in, block up, stop up, close up, to put to silence." What a word picture! We are to close our minds around the truth of God and refuse to be moved from that position. But we must be careful of what we close our minds upon. It has been the downfall of the "church" to close its minds around the doctrines men have made after reading the Scriptures. It will be the glory of the ekklesia, the called-out people of Christ, to close their minds around Christ's revelations of Himself by His Spirit.

This idea of close-mindedness does not mean ignorance or stupidity or stubborn denial of the truth. It is quite the opposite. It refers to one who has "tested all things and holds fast to that which is good." ( 1 Ths. 5:21; top ) It is the picture of one who has received a revelation from God and holds fast to that revelation, knowing that God may reveal more details later that alter to some degree the understanding that one has at this time. It is not close-mindedness that refuses to explore - rather it is close-mindedness that refuses to act or rely on any knowledge that is not part of God's revelation to that individual.

It is the lack of a four-dimensional understanding of revelation that keeps many people from reaching out for the deeper things of God. The first three dimensions are length, width, and depth. The fourth dimension is time. As we progress further into our walk with God, our understanding takes on greater depth - and as time passes, if we fervently pursue God, our understanding of God undergoes many horizon-expanding changes. Once that has occurred, we cannot return to yesterday's vision of God. Whereas we may have been introduced to Christ in the midst of a legalistic, religious/soulish expression of following Christ, progressed from there to a hyper- charismatic, religious/soulish expression of following Christ, progressed from there to an intellectual religious/soulish expression of following Christ, now that we have a revelation of the unity of the body of Christ, we cannot return to any of those religious/soulish expressions where we met Christ before. We have outgrown those things and we dare not return at the risk of offending the Spirit of truth who resides within us.


To understand what the New Testament considers unity, it is also helpful to understand its opposite: division. The Greek word is "schisma" [4978] and refers to a rent or tear as of a fabric. Paul uses this word in three very strong places in his letter to the Corinthians. He writes, "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions [4978] among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." ( 1 Cor. 1:10; top ) There are to be no divisions among us! It is not alright to "agree to disagree" and go our separate ways! We are called upon to walk in the unity of the Spirit - speaking the same thing, having the same attitudes and opinions. Today's denominations have completely ignored this truth - and the body is weak and sick and some have even died because of it.

Paul also writes, "For first of all, when you come together as an ekklesia, I hear that there are divisions [4978] among you, and in part I believe it." ( 1 Cor. 11:18 ) How does he know there are divisions among the Corinthians? He goes on to say, "For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you." ( 1 Cor. 11:19; top ) In other words he is saying, "You have to be schismatics because your leaders are vying for position and jockeying against one another to show which one 'has God's favor.' But you're all greatly mistaken." What a tragedy!

Paul uses this word again when he writes, "But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism [4978] in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another." ( 1 Cor. 12:24-25; top ) One of God's primary purposes in building the body was "that there should be no schism in the body"! That the modern "church" is so divided - and no one sees anything wrong with those divisions - is only another evidence that the "church" is being designed and built by someone other than God.

When Paul pleads with the Corinthians to not be divided, he calls upon them to be perfectly joined together. The Greek word is "katartizo" [2675] and means to render fit, sound, or complete; to mend what has been broken or rent, to repair. It is the picture of restoring a garment to wholeness through careful stitching and repair. Paul wrote, "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions [4978] among you, but that you be perfectly joined together [2675] in the same mind and in the same judgment." ( 1 Cor. 1:10; top ) Don't be divided, he says, but rather mend the tears between you and be united. How are we to be united in the body of Christ? We are to have the same attitudes and opinions. How are we to accomplish this? By everyone adhering to a list of creeds and doctrines? No! Rather we can enter into this spiritual unity only by submitting our thoughts, attitudes and opinions to the mind of Christ which is controlled by the Spirit of truth.

Paul uses this word "katartizo" in another letter in a very interesting place. He writes, "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore [2675] such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted." ( Gal. 6:1 ) Again, it is the picture of carefully mending a tear in a garment. As we recognize the truth about the divisions of today's "church," we must be careful to mend the tears and not make them worse. It is not enough that we have been given a clearer revelation of God's body so therefore we separate ourselves from every other believer who hasn't received this revelation yet to go be God's body. No, no, no! We are to work to restore the body of Christ to its oneness. Those who oppose this unity or oppose the work of God will be taken care of when Jesus sends the angels to remove from His kingdom "all things that cause sin and all those who practice lawlessness." ( Mt. 13:41; top ) Leave the Pharisees alone - they will only take their own willfully blind followers into the ditch after themselves. Those who truly hear the Shepherd's voice will not follow after them. All of your efforts to turn them around, unless guided and enabled by the Holy Spirit, will only harden their hearts further.

The unity of the body of Christ is not some feel-good theory. It is not some unattainable goal, some unreachable ideal. It is the reality of life in the Spirit. If you are not in unity with those who are walking in the Spirit of God - that is, those whose lives exhibit genuine evidences of the real fruit of the Spirit in their lives ( Gal. 5:22-23; top ) - it is time to consider what spirit is controlling your life. Unity within the body of Christ is not an option we can choose or discard. Rather, unity among spiritual brethren is the clear evidence that Christ is in control of our lives and the absence of spiritual unity is the evidence that we are on another path in life and controlled by something or someone other than Christ. It is really that simple and we will do well not to be confused on this matter.

I'd love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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