Christian unity, like so many other grand doctrines of the Bible, is something none of us would repudiate. Just as all of us are for love, joy, peace, patience, and self-control—just as all of us would lift up the ideas of mercy, grace, or forgiveness—all of us, if asked, would agree we’re for unity.
But deciding to discuss unity is something else. When I talk about unity, my notions of it are challenged. I must sit across the table from a fellow believer who disagrees with me and yet acknowledge that I want unity with him. I am confronted by someone who worships Christ as God’s only Son but who does not understand Christ’s commands as I do. He does not submit to some boundaries I believe are from Christ, but he smiles at me and asks for unity. And I stammer before I can reply.
And then actually putting unity into action is the greatest challenge of all. We’ve seen this with all of the values and virtues commanded by Scripture. Which of us hasn’t talked about love but ignored someone unlovely? How often do we sing of joy but whine about our troubles? How many have extolled the virtues of peace and patience but nursed grudges against ill-mannered neighbors or unreasonable bosses?
And how often have we actually stood in the trenches to serve beside a fellow believer whose whole experience of Christianity is completely different from our own?
I met this fall with Christ followers who follow him differently than I do. All of us have consented to unity. All of us have spoken of it. And these believers in this city decided actually to experience and express unity by meeting needs in Christ’s name as one body.
By so doing, they were imitating the One who is our only hope for unity. Paul spoke of him when he urged the Philippian Christians to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” but to “value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests.” He prodded them to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” who “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.”
Maybe I should not seek first to agree with another believer. Maybe I will experience the first sweet tastes of unity if I will serve him, or at least serve someone else’s needs with him.
Believers in more than one place are breaking down barriers to unity by following the simple example of Christ. And we’re beginning to see what can happen when our first initiative is to serve others in his name.