Seven Keys to Maintaining Christian Unity (Jan-Apr 2006)

By Matt Dabbs

by Peggy Park
January – April, 2006

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity” (Psalm 133:1 NIV).

“for there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133:3b NIV).

It can be a challenge to maintain unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ; however, unity is possible even in the face of disagreement. It is important to note that for Christians agreement is not the basis for unity. Even in the midst of a disagreement we can make a decision to not let it divide us.

As I have experienced unity and disunity in the body of Christ, I want to reflect on seven keys to maintaining Christian unity.

1. Expectations
It is helpful to let go of the expectations that everyone else will understand, embrace, and support our individual area of ministry. We will not all be on the same “spiritual band wagon” but we do have the same director. We share a common purpose as we love and serve our Lord and Savior; however, we are involved in a diversity of ministries.

Where possible we can encourage each other and make room for the unique gifting and calling of others. Sometimes just the slightest word of affirmation to someone struggling in a ministry is like water poured out on parched ground. “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others,” (Philippians 2:16 NIV).

Key2. Acceptance of personalities & spiritual gifts
We respect other’s preferences and do not compare them with our own choices. There is a huge difference in trying to copy others out of insecurity as opposed to seeking change because we are inspired by the deeper walk of another believer.

I have especially found in fellowshipping across racial lines that it is important to accept individual approaches to God. I participated in a service where an African-American brother preached. He preached a powerful message and was pacing, wet with perspiration, jumping up and down. I loved his passion and enthusiasm in delivering the gospel of Christ.

I am learning that some turn the “volume” all the way up in prayer, music, dance, lifting hands, worship, and approach to spirituality. Others find God’s presence through a quieter more liturgical, approach to worship. Some need deep quietness while others can experience God in the midst of activity.

Key3. Levels of maturity
We practice patience with others we may subtly view as not as “advanced” spiritually as we deem ourselves to be. We are all in varying stages of being trained in righteousness. An area in which the Lord has walked us through and taught us may still be an area of struggle for another. It is helpful to remind ourselves that there are areas where we are still in need of His training. We guard against a superior attitude and extend grace to our fellow believer. Just as physical exercise builds physical muscle so our spiritual core is strengthened as we over look areas of possible conflict and perceived immaturity in fellow believers.

Key4. Accountability relationships
Each of us needs to have an inner circle of believers where we can be transparent and to whom we are accountable. This may be a small group, a prayer partner, a pastor, a spiritually mature person, or a ministry board. These are those we have given permission to speak into our lives and whom we expect to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). They can be used mightily of the Lord to help keep us “on track’ and to call forth the best in us. My partner in prayer and I have a commitment to point out to each other if we are harboring wrong attitudes or ungodly behaviors.

We listen as the other one vents their pain and frustration over life situations after which we gently point to scriptural guidelines. We may struggle with hearing exhortation in a straight forward manner; never the less, we are committed to carefully consider what is said. We are also aware we may be tempted to take offense but we have God’s words of instruction, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV).

Key5. Respecting authority
We take our pain and grievances to the Lord in prayer when we face challenges with those in authority over us. This may happen when we believe we are mistreated and misunderstood. It is very difficult when a ministry the Lord has called us to is not given a place of expression in our church. When I experienced this I first had a catharsis with the Lord in prayer and then moved to try to resolve the problem with the person in authority.

This discussion is done in love, without finger pointing, in a straight forward, non -emotional approach. The situation may not change (in my case, the situation itself did not change), but God honors His children as they stay under the authority where He has placed them. This also provides a measure of safety from the attacks of Satan. We guard against an attitude of rebellion, complaining, speaking ill of the leadership, or indulging in self-pity. It is possible to disagree and still not let it separate us.

Disagreements are handled openly and through proper channels in the body where He has placed us. We do not “cut and run” unless He clearly directs us to another fellowship. Even then we take a Godly approach and leave with a clear conscience.

Key6. Basis of unity
We have to free others to listen or not to listen to our words of caution and exhortation. It is not our responsibility to correct every wrong. Hold each person with an open hand for the Lord to shape and mold. Ultimately each individual is responsible and answerable to Him.

Our unity is built around the commonality of our faith as well as our respect and acceptance of each other in our varying stages of learning to live the Christian life. This is not a touchy, feely, permissive love that overlooks gross sin and wrong behavior. Several Bible texts—Matthew 18:15-18; Galatians 6:1; I Corinthians 5:1-3—give instructions on dealing with others who have offended the cause of Christ or who are sinning. We are to go in love. If this fails we take others with us. If the person refuses to heed scriptural correction and counsel the end result is to break fellowship for the purpose of showing the person how serious the sin and ultimately to bring them back to Christ.

Keep sight of the fact that Christ lives in each believer in the form of the Holy Spirit. The Christ in me certainly can’t be divided from the Christ in a fellow believer. “Great peace have they who love your law, nothing shall offend or make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165 AMP).

If we find ourselves in conflict with a fellow believer one or both of us is operating out of the flesh.

Key7. Resisting conflict and the rewards of resisting
When conflicts arise our eyes should immediately focus on our Savior and pleasing Him.
We keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2 NIV). He never told us to nurse grievances. Instead he instructed us to take our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:4). Our thoughts should not be how to serve, defend, and justify our purposes and agenda. Rather we practice self-control which we know to be a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). If we train ourselves to pray before we speak hastily, a potentially hostile situation can be diffused. Recall of pertinent scripture is also very helpful as we check our attitude against God’s word.

Discord drains energy and affects ministry. It separates us from brothers and sisters in the Lord. The turmoil we inevitably experience causes a barrier in our relationship with the Lord as we put our focus on the grievance and not the Lord. It is a wise person who comes to the conclusion that no amount of one-up-manship or “getting even” or putting another believer in their place is worth breaking, even temporarily, our sweet fellowship with the Lord.

When the challenges come we remind ourselves that we will eventually have to repent for wrong attitudes and behavior if we are serious about our Christian walk. We spare ourselves grief and pain if we think of the brewing conflict as a ball of dirt Satan is dangling before us. This helps us make the decision to refuse it. If we accept the temptation and allow ourselves to engage in conflict we will get dirty spiritually. Then we will have to deal with the “clean up.” It helps to remember we want our bridal gown to stay as clean as possible while awaiting the return of the heavenly bridegroom.

It is freeing to let God right the injustices done to us rather than experiencing battle fatigue in trying to right every wrong. We are reminded that the Lord bestows His blessings on those in unity. I am confident that we all desire an abundance of His blessings.
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3 NIV).

* Some of these keys will work in preventing discord with non-Christians.New Wineskins

Peggy ParkPeggy Park is a freelance writer and registered nurse living in Lexington, KY.
The 18 Spiritual Life Series discipleship brochures she has written may be viewed
at www.parkpraisepublications.com.

Peggy’s book, The Power of the Lamb’s Blood was published in 2004. Her writings have appeared in a number of magazines including Wineskins (both print and web), Pray!, Christian Standard, Horizons, Woman Alive (England), The Encourager (New Zealand), and Christian Communicator as well as Woman’s World.

Reach her at [peggypark@insightbb.com].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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