Unity is a big deal, but are there biblical expectations for our unity? Is some unity bad? Join AMBrewster as he teaches Christian parents to equip their children to be diverse and unified in ways that glorify God.
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There are definitely a lot of mixed messages in our world when it comes to unity. We’re told that the highest virtue of all is tolerance . . . unless — obviously — the other opinion believes itself to be the only right opinion. Then it’s completely okay to be intolerant of their intolerance.
Whether it’s a Christian concert or a secular rally, they’re all calling us to be “unified” . . . but they rarely mention around what or in what we’re to be unified.
So what is unity? Are we even allowed to be diverse anymore? Can diverse individuals even be unified, and — if so — around what can they unify if they are — in fact — so diverse?
And to what conclusions are your kids going to come when thy interact with the potpourri of Failure Philosophies the World is pandering?
Now, please understand that today’s episode may seem more immediately applicable to older children and young adults, but it’s just as necessary for toddlers and elementary schoolers.
Each member of your family is distinct. They all respond to circumstances differently, they all have different preferences, and though each of you is diverse in so many ways, there’s a level of unity you want your family to have. Well, how do you hope to accomplish that?
My name is Aaron, and I believe’s today’s topic and the show I’m planning to do two episodes from now are absolutely vital to rearing followers of Christ.
Recent generations have either ignored or forgotten the information we’re going to discuss, and they have done so not only to their detriment, but the detriment of their families and the world.
Let me illustrate this with a silly, personal example. In the 90’s and early 2000’s I was in an alternative rock band I started back in 1995.
In those days — much like today — people categorized themselves according to the kind of music they liked. Rockers didn’t generally enjoy pop music, and they pretty much hated rap, and they used that minor distinction to justify disliking people who liked those forms of music.
But they weren’t the only ones who did it. Most people who really loved Country didn’t have much tolerance for smooth jazz.
The same was true for skiers and snowboarders back then. They disliked each other on principle. By the way, I’ve always been a skier myself, even though my musical demographic would have suggested I should have been a snowboarder.
Yeah, it was hard for me to find unity on the slopes.
Of course, neither I nor the people with whom I associated were very interested in living according to biblical principles, so we shouldn’t be surprised that such petty divisions were caused by innocuous differences.
But in the same way that division over differences is often destructive, unity for the wrong reasons can cause even more damage.
Now, if you’re folding laundry or driving right now, you can always access our free episodes notes and transcripts at TakingBackTheFamily.com. And — as always — I’ve included a unique link for you in the description of today’s show.
What does the Bible say about unity and diversity?
The Bible deals with and illustrates these topics from cover to cover. There are so many examples we could highlight, but allow me to focus on some specific expectations.
There’s a whole Psalm written about unity. Did you know that? Psalm 133:1-3 reads, “1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity! 2 It is like the precious oil upon the head, Coming down upon the beard, Even Aaron’s beard, Coming down upon the edge of his robes. 3 It is like the dew of Hermon Coming down upon the mountains of Zion; For there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever.”
Wow. Even if you do’t appreciate the imagery, you can easy tell that brothers dwelling together in unity is supposed to be a very important thing.
What about Ecclesiastes 4:9-12? “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. 10 For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. 11 Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? 12 And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”
Now, let’s move to the New Testament. How many times did Paul exhort people to unity?
In I Corinthians 1:10 we read, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
In Philippians 4:2 he gets really specific and mentions two ladies who need to have more unity in their lives, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.”
And then there’s the example of Jesus Himself. In His High Priestly Prayer in John 17, Jesus calls to the Father on our behalf in verses 20-22 and says, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one.”
On the other hand, the Bible also has a lot to say about diversity. In Ephesians 4 we read about God equipping apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. Each of those roles is unique.
Then I Corinthians explains that there is a diversity of spiritual gifts.
And, of course, we easily acknowledge that people come in all different shapes, shades, and sizes.
So, what I want to do is focus in on a couple extended passages so that we can appreciate the biblical tension of diversity and unity.
And, as we do this, hopefully we’ll also get a better understanding what should be the root of unity.
Let’s begin with I Corinthians 12. I’m going to read and comment along the way. “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.”
We are not going to burden ourselves with a discussion of spiritual gifts today, but I am going to read them. I’m stopping now, though, primarily because Paul has already made it clear that there is unity on both sides of the cross. No unbeliever can truly, genuinely confess that Jesus is Lord, and no believer can ever truly confess that Jesus is accursed.
Notice that there is unity in each group. That doesn’t mean that both groups are noble, however. Therefore, we can easily deduce that unity cannot be the end goal. If it’s possible to be unified in the wrong way, unity won’t redeem us.
Moving on . . . “4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. 12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many.”
Paul has just demonstrated that it doesn’t matter how diverse our spiritual gifting, and it doesn’t matter how diverse our ethnic background, we can have unity in the one body whose head is Christ.
Paul continues the metaphor: “15 If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”
We could camp out here all day. The deep significance of this passage is beautiful and important for our family life. Not only is there diversity within unity, but God created it that way . . . it needs to be that way.
Unity is not every organ of the body being the same organ. Unity is every unique organ of the body working together the unique way God created them to work. The body needs that diversity in order to exist.
I’m going to read Paul’s closing comments from this chapter in a moment, but I must first warn us. There are those who have spoken and written and preached that if our church is primarily white or primarily black or primarily brown, we’re lacking necessary diversity.
First, allow me to say that I love multi-ethnic churches, but there’s a problem making the application from a passage like this that the local body of believers needs to be multi-ethnic.
Do you remember on our previous episodes when we learned that the key question will always be “Who gets to decide what right is? Who gets to decide what justice is? Who gets to decide what love is? Who gets to decide what unity is?”
Before the end of today’s show we’re going to consider the necessary diversity and the necessary unity. But I’ll give you a little teaser . . . nowhere in Scripture are we lead to believe that ethnicity is necessary diversity.
Yes, people have diverse ethnic backgrounds. Yes, the eternal kingdom will be filled with people from every tribe and tongue and nation. Yes, having a multi-ethnic congregation can have its blessings, but though ethnic diversity does exist in the people of God, nowhere in Scripture are we lead to believe that the local body of believers is somehow incomplete if they all look the same on the outside. That’s akin to saying, “The church is full of nothing but eyes because everyone’s white!”
But — again — we’re going to learn that the diversity God requires in the church has nothing to do with skin color.
Now, here are Paul’s closing statements from I Corinthians 12: “27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.”
About five years after penning those words to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote this to the believers at Ephesus. Ephesians 4 starts out, “1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Important side note, the word translated tolerance has to do with putting up with something, enduring, bearing up with someone, and persevering. But we’re not simply to put up with each other, we’re to do so with agape love and unity. I’m not simply to turn a blind eye as you do your thing or make the proclamation that your way is good even if though it runs opposite of God’s way.
Remember, to love is to want and work toward God’s best interest in someone’s life. This will become very important later on, but the point — for now — is you aren’t loving someone by allowing them to continue in sin.
Anyway, moving on . . . “4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
There’s the unity. Now comes the diversity.
“7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, ‘When HE ascended on high, HE led captive A host of captives, And HE gave gifts to men . . . .’ 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
A few of those verses are TLP’s theme verses, and we’ve talked about them a lot. But I want to point out that once again we’re being told that diversity is necessary to the health of the unity. We will not be equipped to do the work of the ministry without diversity. We won’t be be able to build the body up in love if we don’t have that necessary diversity.
Now, what comes next is so important. Bread crumbs have been dropped all over the place, but here Paul is going to present us with the whole loaf. It’s going to sound like all of a sudden unity is being eschewed and diversity is being discussed as if it’s a very bad thing.
Starting in verse 17 he says, “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. 25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. 26 BE angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” And the next few verses we unpacked in great detail in our Parenting Angry Children series, “31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
So, unity is good, and it needs diversity to thrive, but there is also diversity and unity that is to be rejected. And this is what the world doesn’t understand.
The world says, “You need to take me as I am.” God says, “You need to change who you are.”
But allow me to read one more verse before we tie this all together.
Philippians 1:27 says, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
Let me sum up the basic teaching of these passages in three points.
1. We’re commanded to be unified in our submission to God’s Truth.
The world calls us to unity. “Unity” as they define it means that we all accepts each other as we are. We allow each other to live however we want to live, and we don’t bother each other concerning our differences. Unless of course you’re different because you refuse to accept that we can all just do whatever we want. Then, you’re wrong and are to be rejected.
But God sets a clear expectation for our unity.
Jesus said that we are to be one as He and the Father are one. The implications of that are massive.
Philippians calls us to be unified in the Gospel.
I Corinthians 12 revealed that we are to be unified in the Spirit.
Ephesians 4 demands that we be unified in Christ.
There is no unity that glorifies God outside of God. The second half of Ephesians 4 was full of commands to put off the old man — which are the sinful behaviors that run contrary to God’s character.
True, Christ-honoring unity will only be achieved as we all submit to God and His revealed Word. As we know Him and believe Him and obey Him, we will be unified.
So, where does diversity come in? All of that submission and obedience makes it sound like we’re all going to be doing and saying all the same things.
2. We’re allowed to be diverse in our application of God’s Truth as long as the application submits to God’s Truth.
To “apply” means “to put to use especially for some practical purpose, to bring into action, to lay or spread, to put into operation or effect, and to employ diligently or with close attention.”
Applying God’s Truth simply means that we’re not relegating it to mere head knowledge, but that we’re seeking to use that Truth in our lives.
There are two important points wrapped up in one.
The first is that we must understand what I mean by “our application of God’s Truth” lest we find ourselves in a lot of trouble, and the second is that we must judge our application of God’s Truth by God’s Truth.
Let me give you a couple examples of what I don’t mean and what I do mean.
It would be biblically wrong to say, “God commands us to love, therefore I’m going to apply that to my homosexual brothers and sisters in Christ by welcoming them into the church and showing tolerance toward their preferences.”
It would be equally sinful to proclaim, “God commands that we be holy, therefore, I’m going to beat my children until they instantly comply with every command I give.”
Both of those “applications” vastly miss the mark because they ignore Scripture in order to — supposedly — follow Scripture.
Here’s one more less extreme version of this. Many people love to quote Philippians 4:13,” I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” as if it’s a promise that I will win my sporting event or lose those 50 pounds.
But — contextually — Paul is making the observation that we can do whatever God wants us to do because He will always strengthen us to accomplish His will.
If God doesn’t want us to win our softball game, there’s no way on earth we’re going to win. And He absolutely will not strengthen us to do otherwise.
Biblical diversity allows us to apply Truth in different ways. The Truth never changes, God’s expectation for holiness never changes, God’s standard of righteousness never changes, God’s commands stand in every situation, and we are always required to interpret Scripture by Scripture, not by our opinions, experiences, or feelings.
So, what does this look like? Well, we already saw some examples. Pastors, evangelists, and apostles, were all charged with very similar responsibilities. They were called by God to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Apostles did so by laying the necessary authorial foundation stones for the church and equipping pastors. Evangelists were those who focused their ministry specifically on heralding the Gospel, and pastors preached truth and equipped the saints by engaging in the broader care of souls.
Some individuals glorify God by exercising their gift of service while others glorify God by using their gift of teaching. Are those who teach required to serve and are those who serve expected to teach? Yes, but their unique gifting focuses how they teach and serve.
The Bible commands us to bring our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Well, that’s very specific and yet also very vague. There are no step-by-step instructions, there are no scripts. So, as I apply God’s Word to my parenting, I’m going to focus on different things and say them in different ways than you will. Since I’m human and limited, I can only invest in one activity at a time. So, with my child, I emphasize the importance of turning to God’s Word for guidance, but her Sunday School teacher equips her by focusing on Christ-honoring relationships. At the same time, her aunt is speaking Truth into her life concerning the stewardship of her time. And her grandparents help her apply the Word by seeing new ways to serve her family.
The diversity is like a tool box. All of the tools were designed to make a car function as it was designed to function, but each of them address a different part of the vehicle. In the same way, every believer has been called by God to unify in the task of helping other believers function the way they were designed to function in Christ. That requires evangelists and preachers and teachers and parents and friends and other disciplers who aren’t all going to speak the exact same words, but who are going to apply God’s Truth to the body of Christ so that it’s strengthened and built up in love.
When it’s working correctly, all of those people will be thinking God’s thoughts after Him, and speaking as He would speak, and acting as He would act, but it will be different because each moment calls for a different emphasis.
God is infinite, therefore — in order to say everything there is to say about God — it would take an infinite number of people to speak one Truth about Him. Each of them would say something different, but they would all be speaking truthfully about Him, and none of them would contradict.
Back to a previous observation I made — skin color and ethnic experiences are not identified in Scripture as being a unique gifting of the Holy Spirit necessary for the building up the local church. It would be untrue to say that unless your church has representatives from every nation in the world that you cannot grow they way you should.
That is not to say that our ethnic experiences don’t make us diverse and equip us to minister in capacities where others would struggle, I’m simply saying that every church needs evangelists and pastors and teachers. Every church needs people exercising all of the gifts of the Spirit. Every church needs people emphasizing the whole counsel of God. And though a white Christian can definitely do any number of those things, it is wrong to suggest that a church is not biblically diverse enough because there are no white people in it. You can’t claim that the whole church is a leg or an ear simply because it lacks diversity in melanin. And that goes for everyone, not just white people.
Now, we have one more point to make, and I don’t want to belabor this current point, but people are like pendulums, and we so often swing to extremes in our understanding.
I am not saying that God has chosen you to only speak one facet of Truth and you can leave the rest up to someone else. No, we all need to grow in our knowledge, understanding, and usage of the whole counsel of God. We need to rightly divide the Word of Truth. We must — like the Bereans — examine the Scriptures daily.
What I am saying is that — in any given moment — when you surrender to God’s Truth and submit to His Word, you’re still going to live your life differently than I will. That’s not a license to sin, it’s just a reality that you wear different clothes and live in a different house and adopt different traditions and speak with a different language and emphasize different aspects of being a child of God than I normally do. You will also emphasize necessary biblical truth while I tend to emphasize others. They won’t contradict, but they also will be different.
This should be the goal for our families as well. You shouldn’t want everyone to dress identically and provide scripts for every family member so that you all talk identically. You may not have unity in your preferred sports teams, music styles, clothing choices, or food preferences, but you absolutely must be unified in Christ. If you are believers, then you are in Christ, and it’s impossible for people who are all in Christ not to be unified on that front.
If you have any specific questions that are hitherto unanswered, please feel free to write to counseor@TruthLoveParent.com. Hopefully we can clarify any confusion.
1. We’re commanded to be unified in our submission to God’s Truth.
2. We’re allowed to be diverse in our application of God’s Truth as long as the application submits to God’s Truth.
And lastly . . .
3. However, we are not allowed to be unified if we are not unified in our submission to God’s Truth.
Truth trumps unity. Truth trumps diversity. Truth demands disunity in the case of sinful diversity.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this point because we’re going to talk about it in much more detail later, but — suffice it to say — if we are unified in Christ, how could we be unified with that which He rejects?
II Corinthians 6:14-18 reads, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 ‘Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. ‘and do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. 18 ‘And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ Says the Lord Almighty.”
We must not embrace unity for the sake of unity. There must be a Christ-honoring center to our unification.
We must not reject diversity simply because someone else is different than we are. As long as our differences are equally Christ-honoring, then that should enhance our unity.
Man’s natural predisposition is to reject anything that is different than they are and accept anything that fits their mold. But that is an adulterated view.
We need to teach our kids to unify around that which the Lord commands. We need to help them learn how God has created them to function in the body of Christ — and yes, that will look different than how’s He’s specifically called you to function in the same body.
But we also need to teach them that God is not glorified by unity around sin.
Your whole family needs to learn to ask these questions:
1. Around what are we really being asked to unify?
You have to do your homework on this. The Women’s March will tell you they’re all united in standing for women, but the actual, practical outworking of that movement is not Christ-honoring.
Black Lives Matter will tell you that they are all united around the fact that black lives matter. That is a wonderful truth around which to unify. However, the majority of their beliefs and causes and goals run counter to the Scriptures.
Learn to identify the roots of unity.
The obvious second question is . . .
2. Is God glorified by the cause, belief, or activity around which we’re being asked to unify?
This is going to require homework on the other side of things. You need to investigate the claim to unity, but then you have to know God’s thoughts on the subject.
You may look at the early church and believe they adopted a socialistic way of life, but you also have to grapple with the fact that God says that if people refuse to work and care for their families, there must be consequences because they are worse than an infidel.
The more robust our knowledge is of Scripture, the more accurate our interpretation, the fewer heresies we’ll adopt.
With those basic questions in your family arsenal, you’ll be much more likely to use discernment and not be swayed by empty claims.
And remember, children will not naturally understand God’s expectations for unity and diversity. Therefore, if we want our children to grow up into Christ, we must parent in truth and love.
Please share this episode on your favorite social media outlets so others can learn to equip their children for life and godliness.
And join us next time as we discuss “How Your Children Should Think about the Government.”
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