Shortly before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed for unity among His followers: “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one” (John 17:11).
The Reasons for Unity
Jesus not only prayed for unity, but He gave the reasons that Christian unity is important: He asked that all believers may be one with the Father and the Son, “so that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (John 17:21). And then Jesus prayed for believers to be unified so that “the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You loved Me” (verse 23). When Christians are united in Christ, the world sees two things clearly: Jesus was sent by the Father, and Jesus loves His church.
In Romans 15:5–6, we see another, more general reason that Christian unity is important: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The bottom line is God’s glory. God’s people should be speaking with one voice in glorifying God.
The Pursuit of Unity
Christian unity comes with Christian maturity, and it is always something that we strive to attain. Paul instructs us to make every effort to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Helping us toward that unity are the gifts of the Spirit. God has given each Christian different spiritual gifts, and their exercise in the edification of the church leads to more and more unity. One purpose of the gifts is that “we all attain to the unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13).
To promote Christian unity, God presents the church in 1 Corinthians 12:12–27 as a living body. The body has many members, each with specialized work to do, but all the parts are united under the Head of the Body, which is Christ (see Ephesians 4:15). Christians naturally form local communities in which no one needs to rejoice or suffer alone (Romans 12:15; 1 Cor. 12:26). Christians from many different backgrounds working in unity display the power of the gospel and the universality of its saving message (Galatians 3:26–28). Christians bring honor to God’s name by pursuing unity in the power of the Holy Spirit who brings us together as one through faith in Christ.
Limits of Unity
Christian unity is a virtue, but there are some things that can and should limit unity. We don’t pursue unity simply for the sake of unity; it is Christ and His truth that unite us. Scripturally, we are to separate from professed brothers and sisters in Christ who live in persistent, unrepentant sin (Matthew 18:15–17; 1 Cor. 5:1–2) and from those who teach false doctrine (Revelation 2:14–15). “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17).
As Ephesians 4:13 implies, we won’t reach full Christian unity until we attain “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” So we probably won’t fully realize Christian unity in this world. But we strive for it. The unity that faith in Christ brings extends God’s love on earth and demonstrates the truth of who Jesus is. Unity in the church also foreshadows the worship in Heaven, where a great multitude “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” stands before God and cries out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9–10).
—GotQuestions.org, used by permission