Unity: A Word Study

9 04 2013

Unity is a word that gets bandied about quite often in our (modern day) church culture.  It is also a word that is misunderstood, misused, and abused in that same culture.  The misunderstanding comes when we think it means 100% agreement on all things.  Misuse is evidenced by unhealthy compromises made in the name of unity.  And abuse occurs when others are accused of divisiveness if that don’t agree with everything a leader says.

Since the word is not that well understood, I thought a brief study of the word might be helpful.  The word comes from the Latin word unitatem (oneness) which comes from the Latin unus one.  The Latin unitatem combines the word unus (one) and tatem (as a state of being).  Therefore, unity means the state of being one which is a pretty abstract concept.  What is oneness? What does oneness look like? Who has seen oneness?

Perhaps, perspective is important when considering unity or oneness.  No single human, apart from Christ, was/is complete unto his/herself.  As a matter of fact, we were designed for relationship.  This is often seen in marriages: one spouse will have strengths in the other spouse’s weaknesses, and vice-versa.  Look at the body of Christ as well, each church could be looked at as carrying out a particular function for the body of Christ.  Some churches are really great a developing mature believers, and others carry a heavy evangelistic anointing.  Still others believe and expect God to perform miracles while some believe those gifts died with the apostles.  Taken as a whole, these churches have one mandate, one goal, one head, and one faith.  Their goal is to glorify God by praising His Son, Jesus and proclaiming the good news to those who haven’t heard it.

Jesus is the head. The goal of the body is to uphold the head, which will occur through unity.  Ephesians chapter four talks of this unity.  Starting in verse 11, “And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (emphasis mine)

There is so much packed into these verses, but  I want to focus primarily verses 13 and 15-16.  From verse 13, the phrase “unity of the faith” in the Greek has the connotation of an agreement of faith in Christ.  The idea being that when we operate in the gifts and offices that Papa God has given us, we will, together, have a complete faith in and complete understanding of Christ.  Without each part, the body is incomplete, and therefore, our understanding is incomplete.  In short, we need each other.  This idea is explicitly expressed in verses 15 and 16, and it uses the relational word love for how we are to communicate with each other.  Furthermore, the healthy function of each part is integral to growth in love (see verse 16, “so that it builds itself up in love).

An application from this passage is to stop ignoring the rest of the body because our doctrines tell us some of them are no longer necessary.  Even if your denomination or church doctrines don’t recognize the gifts in their assembly, you can still honor their presence in other assemblies. Those churches that still recognize those offices can love those churches that don’t.   And through the healthy function with love and respect, we can begin to grow in love toward one another.  As we grow in love, the world will know that we are Christ disciples (see John 13:34 & 35).

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