The saints are to bring the world unto Christ by teaching, by power, by example. The whole world will be One under Christ and ready to be delivered up to God. Our lives today are a learning experience for the greater work ahead.

The Big Picture

Unity or oneness is not a natural characteristic of human beings. It is something which is desirable but always elusive. A measure of it is only achieved by diligent application of principles—Divine principles—to one’s life. Yet from the very beginning God has indicated His great desire for unity. His first command in relation to human existence was, “Let us make man in our image and our likeness”. This expresses the Father’s intention of creating and developing a race of people who are to be like Him. They are to all have the shape and form of the angels, perhaps even of the Deity Himself, but more importantly they are all to have a Divine likeness—a unity based on the Divine character. The chief principle of Yahweh’s character is to always, of His own volition, choose righteousness and never anything to the contrary—as the Psalmist says, “He loves righteousness and hates iniquity” (Psa 45:7).

Commencing with the failure of Adam and Eve to conform to that principle, all men and women have failed to measure up to the Divine ideal and there has been a lack of unity, not only between the human race and God, but between each other. It was exhibited in the jealousy between Cain and Abel and led to hatred and the first death in the family that God was creating. One of the first lessons in the Divine story is that sin causes dissention, and only in godliness is there unity and harmony. The detailed relationship and inter-dependence between everything in God’s creation speaks of the harmony which permeates His character and work.

Despite human failure God has declared that in due time His intention will be accomplished and His means of doing so was revealed through the gospel. It was firstly announced to Eve and then elaborated on throughout the Scriptures. Eventually the gospel, or good news of God’s guaranteed ultimate triumph, was promulgated through the life and death and resurrection of His only begotten son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That assurance has come down to us through the work of the apostles and other faithful men and women who have followed in their footsteps to further their work.

Unity in the First Century

In these far off days as we contemplate that broad sweep of God’s plan nearing completion, we are still very much aware of our desire for unity with the Father and the impossibility of our fully attaining it alone. But as aspiring members of God’s family, we try to conform to His character and likeness, and we get encouragement from the lives and the inspired writing of the apostles. It is quite apparent from the New Testament that unity was a quality that Christ’s disciples struggled to manifest and which they later exhorted the first century believers to develop. In their first enthusiasm following the resurrection they were “all of one accord” (Acts 1:14; 2:1). Unity was a hallmark of the initial believers and they went so far as to have “all things in common”.

But it was not long before that unity was disturbed. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to keep some back and lied about it. Differences arose between the believers of Jewish background and those from non-Jewish backgrounds. There was racial and cultural discrimination within and between ecclesias when the preaching expanded beyond Jerusalem. At the Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15) the apostles decided how the issues then raised should be settled, but as the gospel spread wider and wider unity was more difficult to maintain. In all the ecclesias personal human feelings asserted themselves and much of the apostles’ writings were to correct a lack of unity. Particular issues were extensively dealt with in Galatians and in I Corinthians.

All Made One in Christ

The letter to the Ephesians, thought by many to be a circular letter to all the ecclesias established by Paul from Ephesus, has the need to strive for unity as its central theme. Paul there emphasizes that unity is of God. All believers have received the same call of God to be members of His one family. He is the Father of us all. This relationship has been created through the “spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Eph 1:17). Before receiving that call, all were “dead in trespasses and sins”; but now, having accepted the Lord Jesus Christ, the many have been made one—even Jews and Gentiles have been united in Christ to become the one temple of the living God (Eph 2). There was always only one temple, one place, chosen by God, where men ought to worship. The tabernacle and temple in Jerusalem were illustrations of that principle and it will again be illustrated by the House of Prayer for all nations to be built at Jerusalem. Psalm 122 summarises the unity thus manifest to which all tribes and tongues and nations will flow. Now we do not have a physical house but we are building a spiritual one, incorporating all true believers, of which Jesus Christ is both the foundation and the head stone. To be acceptable to God we must all be part of that one spiritual temple—united through our identification with Christ.

In chapter four of Ephesians Paul reminds his readers of the oneness that pervades all God’s dealings. God is one—it is the first thing he requires us to understand of Him. He has a perfectly balanced and unified character, blending all righteous attributes together—even strict justice with mercy and loving kindness—and he expects his family to strive to do likewise. There is only one saviour, Jesus Christ, and we can only be saved if we are baptised into a belief and understanding of what his life, death and resurrection comprehend.

The Answer for Schisms

God’s family cannot consist of different groups all going down different pathways and hoping they will all end up in the same place. We are to be one body—the body of Christ. It is based on the Truth and it is to grow together so there is no imbalance between the varying individual parts, no tensions or lop-sidedness, with the result that every member of the Christ body is strengthened and edified in the faith and in love.

How can such unity between individual brethren and sisters, often from very diverse backgrounds, be achieved? The apostles in all their writings tell us that it can only be achieved by adopting and exhibiting Godly principles and by a love of one another. The Lord himself summarized it this way—“Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength and thy neighbour as thyself.” This is the essence of discipleship. It is precisely what Christ did throughout his life, and in his death; and we are called on to follow in his steps.

One Mind, One Behaviour

Then unity of belief is to lead to unifying behaviour. Paul follows his emphasis on the oneness of all God’s ordinances by saying that we cannot be at one with Christ if we practise thoughts and actions which are contrary to his ways. He says we have never learned of Christ if we are immoral or greedy, or if we steal or use unedifying talk, or be bitter and angry against others. Men and women who claim to be Christ’s disciples must struggle against their strong human tendencies to do such things. We know it is a battle which will continue till the end of mortal life, but we must continue the struggle. There can be no surrender to the enemy, although we may feel tempted to do so. This would be forsaking Christ, and his promise of redemption, and our hope of eternal life when he returns.

Learning the Behaviour that Unites in the Workplace

There are a number of circumstances which give divinely provided opportunities for us to practice oneness with others in preparation for the Kingdom. The apostle exhorts on them in his Ephesian epistle, and no matter what our individual circumstances, each of us is given some of these opportunities. The first is daily employment (Eph 6:5–9). We have to work for our living and to enable us to care for others. This is God’s requirement and is for our benefit. Occupation gives the opportunity to develop diligence in service of God. It is not always easy to have harmony in the workplace, as employers and employees—masters and servants—can have very different perspectives. The apostle tells us that whichever position we occupy we must consider others who may have a different outlook. Employers are to remember that they also have a master—the Lord Jesus Christ; and employees are to practise wholehearted and honest service to God by exhibiting those characteristics in their day to day work for their employer. In the first century, when many employees were slaves, work could be very difficult. Nevertheless all are called upon to practise godliness in their own circumstances, remembering the example of their master, who never complained at the humiliating injustice that he had to endure, for he trusted that a true reward and justice would be manifest in God’s good time.

In Marriage and the Family

Another example Paul gives is that of husband and wife (Eph 5:22–33). The marriage relationship provides many opportunities to practise discipleship. The husband and wife have different roles to play but each has a responsibility to not only develop godliness themselves but to encourage the other for their good. The husband is to love his wife in the same unselfish way that Christ loved his Bride, the ecclesia. He has not to be primarily thinking of his own needs but of his wife’s, and in particular her need for salvation. The wife is to reciprocate that love and respond to her husband’s leadership as an example of how all believers—the ecclesia—should respond to the love of Christ. Sacrificial love is to be shown so that both husband and wife are united as a demonstration of the unity that should exist between Christ and his ecclesia. Marriage is a wonderful opportunity to practise discipleship, and if we are unable to do it with the person who is closest and dearest to us, how can we claim to do it with Christ?

Marriage is often followed by the need to nurture and care for children. Here is another opportunity to develop and practise godly ways. How can we teach right behaviour to our children if we do not act rightly and justly ourselves? As parents we ought to act towards our children as we have seen our Heavenly Father act towards us, with fairness, equity and caring discipline, so they learn to respond to our ways and be integrated members of our family, just as we have to be integrated members of God’s family. And when our children do things which we disapprove of, and we feel disappointment and hurt, we should remember and reflect on how often we cause our Heavenly Father even greater disappointment.

In the Ecclesia

The final, and probably most difficult, area of activity where we have to learn unity is in ecclesial life. As in other matters the apostle’s command is to “submit ourselves to one another in the fear of God” (Eph 5:21). God has drawn all manner of people into the gospel net and directed them to learn to live together in unity. As in another Scriptural analogy, all types of stones have been selected and have to submit to being smoothed and fitted together to grow unitedly into one temple in the Lord.

Because of differing temperaments, and varying degrees of comprehension, human beings do not find this easy and we are prone to ignore that we have each been called by God to become one united family, not a series of differing schismatic groups in an uneasy relationship with one another. We have received one calling and have all espoused the one great hope of eternal life in God’s kingdom. We have all been baptised into the life, death and resurrection of Christ and we have declared at that time that we have a united faith and belief in the Word of God which has been summarized in our Statement of Faith. We have declared that we have joined and will hold to this united belief. Why then has the brotherhood been wracked throughout its existence with divisions and threats of division? Surely it is because of our weak selfish human nature and disobedience to the two great commands Christ left for us. We have not shown sufficient love of God and respect and reverence for His word, and we have not been prepared to make sufficient sacrifice to love one another.

We need to value our calling more, and be more diligent to give united service to our Heavenly Father. Of course, we have to be zealous for the Truth and apply ourselves to correctly understand and apply ourselves to Scripture. Unity will only come if we allow the Scripture, and the Scripture alone, to rule our lives, and all brethren and sisters will freely acknowledge this is a continuing challenge. But always we should be able to call on our fellow disciples to help, and this should be freely given with humility and love.

The Value of the ‘Ecclesial Guide’

A valuable help when ecclesial problems and difficulties arise is the set of guidelines set out in the booklet known as The Ecclesial Guide. Here Brother Roberts has set out some Scriptural and common-sense guidelines for dealing with both personal and inter-ecclesial difficulties which may arise. Many of the ruptures in ecclesial harmony and relationships have arisen, and been allowed to fester, through ignoring or refusing to be guided by the principles which have been set out in its pages. Ecclesial problems and disturbances are not new; they were experienced in most ecclesias of the first century. The Ecclesial Guide is based on the way in which they were confronted and dealt with by Christ and his apostles, and it should not be neglected today as we strive to manifest truth and faithfulness in our ecclesias. The opening sentence of Section 15 provides a keynote of its advice: “Much can be done by the loving co-operation of divinely enlightened intelligence.”

Greater Things to Come

We have received the promise of a wonderful heritage. We have the hope of entrance into God’s united worldwide family and Kingdom. War, conflict or jealousy will not be tolerated in that wonderful, peaceful environment. Today is our time of probation and opportunity to develop as a united people waiting for the fulfilment of the promise of our Heavenly Father. In the words of the Apostle Paul, let us endeavour earnestly “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3).