|CHRISTIAN LIFE AND DOCTRINE||October 2000|
Unity and Diversity
UNITY AND DIVERSITY EXIST in the church of God. The two words express widely different thoughts.
1.) Oneness (or unity) in the church is called to our attention in the Psalms, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”—Ps. 133:1
2.) Diversity approved likewise exists in the church, as mentioned by the Apostle Paul: “Now there are diversities of gifts.”—I Cor. 12:4
GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT
The Apostle Paul, in commenting on this diversity, says: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”—Rom. 12:6-8, Revised Standard Version
From this passage it is clear that diversity in the church is not related to the doctrines of the truth, nor the spirit of love in which those doctrines are held; but rather to the activities of the brethren. The maintenance of a unity of spirit and purpose where these diversities exist may in some instances be difficult. Paul realized this, so he exhorts us to manifest love in our cooperation with the brethren. We quote:
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly, never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”—Rom. 12:9-21, RSV
The great importance of unity or oneness is also stressed by the Apostle Paul. He says, “Walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with all humility and gentleness; with patience, sustaining each other in love; using diligence to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the uniting bond of peace; there being one body and one Spirit, as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one immersion; one God and Father of all, he who is over all, and through all, and in all.”—Eph. 4:1-6, Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott
The ‘body’ illustration of the manner in which the various members of the church are related to one another, as Paul uses it later in this chapter and in I Corinthians 12:12-27, reveals clearly both the unity and the diversity which exist among the Lord’s people. In this illustration Jesus is the Head. The head is the controlling power in the human body, and all the members of the body serve one another in obedience to the head. So it is with Jesus and the church, which is his body.
Our identification and oneness with Christ should be our constant meditation. We should endeavor to yield ourselves in humble obedience to him, allowing his mind to control us. We should hold firmly to our Head, as Paul admonishes, “from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.”—Col. 2:19
What a close and blessed relationship! This unity with Christ means that his love “constraineth us.” (II Cor. 5:14) The Greek word for ‘constrain’—sunecho—means ‘holds us together.’ There should be no schism or division in the body of Christ, and will not be when the members have a proper and loving care one for another. Paul wrote: “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”—Rom. 12:4,5, RSV
True unity can exist in the body of Christ only in proportion to the degree of Christlikeness controlling each of its members. In Colossians 3:16, Paul admonishes us to let the word of Christ—his commands—dwell in us richly in all wisdom. We are also to note well the example of his life—his loving, compassionate heart, his humility, gentleness, patience, faithfulness, and his self-sacrificing spirit. We should note especially the loving zeal with which he always sought to know and do his Father’s will—“I delight to do thy will, O my God.”—Ps. 40:8
As with Jesus, so with his consecrated followers—the full testimony of God revealed by the Holy Spirit through the Word guides and instructs. To the extent that all are heeding these instructions there is sure to be unity, both of faith and of practice. The Scriptures clearly teach that the present mission of the church is the perfecting of the saints for the future work of service; to develop in herself every grace; to be God’s witnesses in the world; and to prepare to be kings and priests in the next age.
WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL
While there are diversities of opportunities for serving one another in the body of Christ, and for cooperatively proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom, all are to ‘speak the same thing.’ There cannot properly be diversities of doctrines. Paul wrote: “Faithful is God, by whom you were invited into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. Now I entreat you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye may be knit together in the same mind and in the same sentiment.”—I Cor. 1:9,10, WED
Writing to the church at Philippi from his prison home in Rome, Paul urged the brethren to stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together [vigorously cooperating] for the faith of the Gospel. He exhorted them further to noble conduct and dauntless courage, saying:
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear omen to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict which you saw and now hear to be mine.”—Phil. 1:27-30, RSV
LIGHT OF THE WORLD
Jesus, and Paul, and others in the Early Church suffered because they faithfully bore witness to the truth. As members of the one body we should be responsive to the will of the Head, who declared of his body members that they were to be the “light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14) Concerning this end of the age, Jesus said that “this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matt. 24:14) Through the vigorous cooperation of the body members everywhere, and Bible Society activity, the Master’s prophecy is now being fulfilled. And how we praise the Lord for the diversified methods and opportunities which are now ours for the proclamation of his glorious Gospel.
In his infinite wisdom, the Lord is still graciously and lovingly permitting the true Gospel to be preached in all the world—for a testimony. But for how long? The period yet allowed in the Divine plan for this work to continue may be very short: we do not know. What we do know is that as long as we have breath we should remember our beloved Master’s words, ‘Ye are the light of the world.’
Thus, while giving ‘all diligence’ to make our calling and election sure, let us be mindful of our privileges of serving the fellow members in the body of Christ. And as Paul also wrote, let us “do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the Word of life.”—Phil. 2:14-16
Diversities of activities, yet a oneness with Christ, who said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5) A variety of operations, but one loving motive engendered by the Holy Spirit. Differing labors of love, yet with one mind and with one mouth glorifying God. This is indeed the ‘good fight of faith.’ And how encouraging it is to realize that Jesus was in the forefront of this battle, that he has shown us the way. As he was faithful in all things, including his activity in bearing witness to the truth, let us also be faithful—even unto death—and our Heavenly Father will give the increase according to the riches of his grace.