The Unity of the Spirit

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard; that went down to the skirts of his garments.” —Psalm 133:1,2

ON THE EVE of Jesus’ crucifixion he prayed for the unity of his followers. He prayed that they might be ‘at one’ with each other, even as he and his Heavenly Father were ‘at one’. (John 17:20,21) The oneness that has always existed between the Heavenly Father and his beloved Son is a complete unity of purpose and objective resulting from the unreserved dedication of Jesus to do his Heavenly Father’s will. Of Jesus it was prophesied, “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.”—Ps. 40:8

The oneness of the Father and the Son is not the outgrowth of a mutual agreement between the two, but is the result of Jesus’ humble obedience to his Heavenly Father. And this is also the basis of our unity with the Father, with Jesus, and with one another. It is described in Ephesians 4:3 as a unity of the Spirit—a unity produced by the Holy Spirit of God. It was this that was illustrated by the holy anointing oil poured upon the head of Israel’s High Priest.

The Spirit of God is the power of God, and in this association we may think of it as the power of his mind, his thoughts, his will, as these reach us through his written Word of truth. Every part of the Word of God is a product of the Holy Spirit. The prophets of the Old Testament wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ teachings are the setting forth of truths revealed by the Holy Spirit at the River Jordan, when the ‘heavens’ were opened to him. The teachings of the apostles reflect the truths revealed to them by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and later by a special dispensation to Paul.

Thus when the fully consecrated children of God humbly search the Scriptures, they find the will of God expressed therein—and if they are obedient to what they find, they will be at one with the Heavenly Father, with his Beloved Son, and with the brethren. Thus the formula for true unity of the Spirit is a simple one, and the real test of its workability depends upon the genuineness of our full and humble devotion to the Heavenly Father’s will.

Every follower of the Master from Pentecost until now has been afflicted by human imperfections which have hindered, in varying degrees, a complete subjection to the molding influences of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to note the large degree that the Spirit’s influence in the hearts of God’s people has brought them together, and enables them to work harmoniously in a common cause, which is the service of the Lord.

In worldly circles, people are brought together by similarities of taste, nationality, or background in life, as well as other factors which make it congenial for them to be associated with one another. But this is not true with the followers of the Master, and apparently this is by divine design. For example, the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus were of differing temperaments and social backgrounds. Certainly Peter would never have chosen Matthew, the publican and tax collector, to be his partner in the fishing business. Nor can we imagine Matthew inviting Peter to assist him’ in the collection of taxes!

But these two, and the remainder of the twelve—all different—were fused into a working unit by the power of the Holy Spirit, this being made possible by each one’s dedication to the Heavenly Father, and to the doing of his will. The outworking of the Heavenly Father’s plan became the common cause of all, and they rejoiced in that ‘good and pleasant’ experience of dwelling together in unity.


A severe test of unity came upon the Early Church when the time came for believing Gentiles to be accepted as fellow-heirs of the promises with believing Jews. It is difficult to imagine two groups of people who by nature had so little in common, and at the same time entertained so many prejudices against each other. Yet, through the Gospel, individuals from these two groups were brought together into one fellowship.

This was not accomplished without difficulty. There is much in the Book of Acts and in Paul’s epistles concerning the problems created in the church by the incoming Gentile converts. But we can be confident that the fully consecrated among them successfully scaled the hurdles, and found the way to a true unity of the Spirit.

Paul’s admonitions were a great help along this line. To the church at Galatia he wrote: “Ye are all the children of God [his household] by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”—Gal. 3:26-29

What a wonderful family—God’s family! They are all drawn to him by his love, the power of which is operative through their faith in his promises, a faith that leads to the full dedication of themselves to the doing of his will. Thus they are accepted into his family as ‘children’—accepted in and through our beloved Christ Jesus.

It matters not who or what they may have been when the truth of the Word first touched their hearts, for they are now New Creatures in Christ Jesus. They all have one Father—the Heavenly Father—whose will they delight to do. They also have an Elder Brother—Christ Jesus—whose precepts and example they follow. They are all one in him, and brought into this blessed unity by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul makes a general reference to Jews and Gentiles; males and females; the bond and the free. In these general categories we think of individuals. There was the Gentile, Cornelius, a centurion of an Italian troop. There was the wealthy Philemon, and his runaway bond slave, Onesimus. There was Lydia, the seller of purple, who evidently was also a woman of means. There was the young disciple, Timothy.

We might continue mentioning the names of faithful disciples in the Early Church. What we know of the characteristics of each of them suggests how unlikely it would be that any of them would have sought out the companionship of the others, yet they all became brethren in Christ Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.


But not all who attached themselves to the Early Church were at one with the brethren. Paul warned the elders at Ephesus that grievous “wolves” would come in among them, not sparing the flock; also that of their own number men would arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.—Acts 20:28-30

One of the prevalent causes of disunity among the Lord’s people in every part of the Gospel Age has been the desire to have a following. This is a clear manifestation of failure to recognize the basic principle of Christian unity, which is a recognition of the will of God that Jesus Christ alone is to be the Head and Leader of the church.

There are those among the human race who are not happy unless they are leading somebody or directing something. If perchance a person of this nature is attracted by the Gospel and associates himself with the Lord’s people, he has difficulty overcoming this desire to be a leader. If he fails to overcome it, then sooner or later he is likely to be found teaching “perverse things”—things, either of doctrine or practice—hoping thus to attract a following.

As Paul indicated, there were such in the Early Church, and it is the same now. But this does not imply that the Lord’s truly consecrated and humble people are not at one. God may permit some of these to be influenced temporarily by false teachers so that they might learn needed lessons. However, if their hearts are perfect before him, he will draw them back to himself, and to that blessed oneness with his people which is a part of their present heritage of joy.


In the church at Corinth a state of immaturity existed among the brethren, which Paul described as carnality, meaning that the viewpoints and desires of the flesh were not being fully yielded up in preference to the will of God. Paul explained how this spirit of carnality manifested itself. We quote:

“I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions [Margin, ‘factions’], are ye not carnal, and walk as men [Margin, according to man]? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planted any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that gave the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are laborers together with God.”—I Cor. 3:1-9

This admonition is not addressed to those who desired to attract a following, nor to ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’, but to the sincere, fully consecrated, albeit, immature followers of the Master. Instead of seeking a following, they desired to be followers of men rather than the Lord. And with this immature viewpoint, there was naturally envying and strife among them.

This viewpoint also has prevailed throughout the age, and exists here and there today. It reflects a state of immaturity that is due to a lack of full faith and confidence in the Lord and in his leadership. One reason some of the brethren in Corinth wanted to be ‘Paulites’ and others ‘Apollosites’ is that these brethren seemed nearer to them than the Lord, and were more tangible.

This lack of faith has led, in all periods of the Gospel Age, to the setting up of human leaders, with the claim that they spoke with equal authority in the church to our Lord Jesus, himself. Paul hoped that the brethren in Corinth would outgrow this lack of faith, and learn to look directly to the Lord and to his Word for authoritative leadership, and he continually endeavored to help them toward this end.

And in this connection, what humility and nobility of character Paul manifested! Actually, Paul did speak with authority in the church, for he was not “a whit behind” the other apostles as an infallibly inspired servant of the church. (II Cor. 11:5) Nevertheless, he was determined to point the Corinthian brethren to their true Head and Leader, Jesus; and to do this he emphasized that in his personal ministry to the brethren in Corinth he was merely one of the laborers together with God. He also put Apollos in the same category.


One of the evidences of growth in grace is the ability to discern the true position of the Lord’s servants in the church, and the ability to give proper honor where honor is due. The mature follower of the Master knows that there is only one Head of the Church, who is Christ Jesus. He also knows that the holy prophets of the Old Testament, the twelve apostles of the New Testament, and our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only infallible guides of the church. These are the ones who have been used by the Lord to fill his great storehouse of truth with the precious doctrines of the divine plan which constitute the true basis of our unity in Christ.

And then there are the pastors, teachers, and evangelists whom the Lord uses to help us understand the doctrines of the divine plan. Jesus spoke of “that servant” who, at the end of the age, and the time of his second presence, would be used as a “steward” to take from the “storehouse” and serve those glorious gems of truth placed there by God’s infallible servants of the past.—Eph. 4:11,12; Matt. 24:45-47

Wisely and faithfully, that servant emphasized and reemphasized the vital need of proving all things by the inspired Word, and of looking to Jesus as the true Head and Leader of his people. Human nature has not changed since the days of the Early Church, and we need to be reminded over and over again that it is not God’s will to be ‘of’ Paul, or ‘of’ Apollos, or ‘of’ Peter, or ‘of’ any beloved and greatly used servant in the church. We honor them most when we take heed to their instructions—instructions in keeping with Jesus’ statement, “One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.”—Matt. 23:8


Considering the lessons and examples of unity we find in the Word of God and bringing them down to our day, we find that God’s Spirit is working among God’s people now, even as then; for it continues to hold the brethren together despite their differences of background and characteristics. This is a great encouragement, for it is one of the evidences that God is dealing with us, even as his blessing was upon the brethren in the Early Church.

Actually, conditions are not too different among the brethren now than they were at the beginning of the age. True, we do not have the Jews/Gentiles problem as a deterrent to unity, but we do have brethren of many nationalities, races, and former faiths. By the power of the Holy Spirit these have been brought into a blessed unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace. If Paul were writing to us now he might well say, “There is neither Greek nor Italian; there is neither German nor French; there is neither British nor American; there is neither Polish nor Scandinavian; there is neither black nor white; there is neither Spanish nor Indian, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Before coming into the truth, some of these were Catholics, some were Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, or members of one or another of the many other denominations. Some were associated with non-Christian groups, and some were unbelievers. In the Early Church there were both young and old, and that also is true today. All these factors make for diversification of temperament which would tend to separate rather than draw together. But the power of the Holy Spirit overcomes these differences, and blends the hearts of the Lord’s people into that ‘good and pleasant’ unity of the Spirit.

Regardless of nationality, race, or former religious affiliations, or lack of them, each of the Lord’s truth-enlightened, Spirit-filled people has something to contribute toward the spiritual upbuilding of the brethren with whom he may come in contact. This is also true regardless of age. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Let no man despise thy youth.” To this he added, “But be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation [Greek, ‘conduct’], in charity, in faith, and in purity.” (I Tim. 4:12) In other words, if Timothy displayed from the heart these genuine qualities of a mature New Creature in Christ Jesus, which we have every reason to think he did, he would continue to be accepted by those of ‘like precious faith’, and by his ministry be a blessing to them.


We are to use every possible opportunity to minister the glorious Gospel of Christ. As we grow in grace we will rejoice to cooperate with the brethren in that ministry, and thus enjoy this aspect of the blessed unity of the Spirit. Our increasing faith will enable us to discern that the Spirit of the Lord would not be leading his people in different directions.

Faith is a tremendously important adjunct to the unity of the Spirit, both as it is related to our fellowship in the meetings and to our ministry of the truth. If we truly believe that God is dealing with us, and teaching us through his Word, there will be little danger of our doing and saying things which may tend to disrupt the blessed unity of the Spirit which we enjoy with his people. If we lack faith, any slight spirit of ambition might well cause us to go contrary to the Holy Spirit, and thus fail, temporarily, at least, to enjoy the blessings which belong to those who are at one with Christ Jesus and with his people.

Our faith should enable us to believe that God is caring for his people today, even as he has in the past. By faith we accept the divine commission of the Spirit to be heralds of the kingdom message, and thereby bind up the brokenhearted, comfort the mourning, proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. We also have the privilege of proclaiming “the day of vengeance of our God” against sin, and Satan, and all his works.—Isa. 61:1-3

Faith will accept the instructions of the Word of God as to how this is to be done—that Jesus is to be the hub around which our message is proclaimed—for we are to be his witnesses. By faith we will rejoice in the knowledge that it is those who are beheaded for “the witness of Jesus and for the Word of God” (Rev. 20:4), who will live and reign with Christ a thousand years. Faith in the Word of God should help us to realize that we are not commissioned to proclaim any other message.

Thus we will continue to rejoice in the privilege of “together lifting up the voice” of truth in proclaiming the glorious Gospel of the kingdom. (Isa. 52:8) Truly our partnership in the ministry of the truth is one of the blessed aspects of our unity in Christ.


We should not underestimate the power of God’s Spirit in keeping his people together. Some years ago a brother from another part of the world attended one of the general conventions of the brethren in America. He observed the harmony that existed, not only in the many discourses which were given from the platform, but also in the general fellowship of the brethren. In reporting his experience, he implied that in his opinion there must have been some form of dictatorship that was holding the brethren in line. He seemed unable to believe that the Spirit of God could be working so fully among the brethren in these last days.

How blessed it is to realize that the Spirit of the Lord is still in the midst of his people! We believe that we have been begotten by the Spirit, and have received the Spirit’s anointing. We are assured of our sonship by the witness of the Spirit. By the seal of the Spirit our victory of faith is guaranteed, if we continue faithful. Shall we doubt that the same Holy Spirit of God that has come on down from Jesus, the Head, even to the ‘feet’ members of the body, functions to hold us together in a sweet and blessed oneness, even as it did in the Early Church?

Outwardly, it is not a perfect unity now, even as it was not a perfect unity at the beginning of the age. ‘Wolves’ appear among us now, even as then. From time to time there are those who seem more interested in a following than in the spiritual prosperity of Zion. There are also those whose faith is not yet quite strong enough to let go of the arm of flesh and lean wholly on the Lord. But we are all maturing into a deeper spiritual life, and into a more precious and fuller unity with our Lord and with one another. And we are rejoicing in the hope of that perfect oneness beyond the veil, when the Master’s prayer for unity will be fully and gloriously answered.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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