Practical Principles for Unity

Paul exhorted the church at Ephesus to walk worthy of their calling, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. An endeavor is an exerted effort undertaken to reach a desired result. In the case that Paul sets forth, maintaining unity is that effort that we undertake that requires exertion! Unity doesn’t just happen; we must work at it in order to have it, and it is worth having. Our efforts unity must not compromise doctrinal truth, but be based upon it. Hence, we have the seven great ones of Ephesians 4:4-6. In such matters we cannot compromise truth for unity. However, in matters upon which one’s salvation doesn’t hinge, there are some principles for maintaining harmonious unity among the brethren. Let’s discuss a few of these things.

First, there is always the safe thing to do. Let’s suppose that we are discussing a doctrinal issue and there are two equally possible ways to understand a scripture. Take for example the qualification of elders to be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2). It is clear that a man that has never been married would not meet this qualification. It is also clear that a woman would not meet this qualification. However, what about the man whose spouse has died and he now has a second wife? Some say that he is qualified. Some say that the qualification means one wife for life. How ought we to resolve the matter? We ought to be willing to go with what we know can’t be wrong. In this case, a person who has only had one wife his entire life no doubt meets this qualification. The path of unity, then, is clear. We choose the path that has no doubts and cannot be wrong.

Second, we do not necessarily need to insist upon our way of things even if we know we are right. There is a principle in scripture that Paul sets down in 1 Corinthians 6:7 that sometimes we ought to accept being wrong in order to maintain unity in the body. The example that Paul uses is a brother taking another brother to court. There may definitely be someone in the right and someone who is wrong in such a situation. However, Paul teaches that it would be better to be defrauded than to engage in such shameful behavior. This principle can be applied to other situations as well. Unity trumps our right to be right in such matters. Sometimes it is better to suffer wrong than to demand satisfaction.

Third, we need to exercise plenty of patience with those who are in error on matters that would not be the source of division (James 5:10). There are some sins that individuals commit that don’t threaten the unity of the church and there are some that do. In those sins that don’t threaten our unity, we need to be patient and allow people to grow. Every Christian has an obligation to grow (2 Peter 3:18) and the fact of the matter is that we don’t learn everything about being a Christian all at once. Moreover, some learn through teaching and others through personal experience. Each of these avenues requires patience in those who are spiritually mature to allow the learning Christian to absorb the material as well as apply practical experience to the information. Patience goes a long way toward unity.

These certainly aren’t the only practical principles for unity, but a generous application of each of these principles in our lives will help us to be united. Of course, in all of our Christian life we need to coat everything with a strong layer of love. Love goes a long way toward resolving differences before they get started. Love doesn’t solve everything, but we are definitely worse off without it than with it. So on top of everything else, we need to maintain an attitude of love toward one another. With love as our attitude and a willingness to practice patience, suffer wrong, and choose the safe path, along with our efforts to base unity on truth, we can maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.

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