Next Sunday, all over the world, saints will gather. That’s so good. They will gather around a common opinion on doctrine, or common preference in how to worship, or a common commitment to a particular leader, or a common ethnicity. That’s not good. In some cities, there will actually be bubbling anger and bad blood between these groups, while in other cities they will just politely ignore one another. Either way, they will say to the rest of the body of Christ in their city, “We don’t need you in order to follow Jesus. We can do this without you.” That is unbiblical and simply not true. It’s very bad.
When we talk about the unity of the Spirit, sometimes contrast can be helpful. Paul tells us to protect the unity of the Spirit.
Not the unity of a common code of doctrine (though doctrine is important).
Not the unity of preference (though we all have preferences for style of worship or teaching).
Not unity around leadership (though we might like some leaders better than others).
Not the unity of philosophy of ministry (though anyone who begins to actively serve Jesus inevitably develops some kind of thoughts about how it should be done).
Not the unity of relationship (though we all have circles of relationship, and unity must be expressed through real relationships).
None of these things can be the basis of our practice of unity, because the unity we’ve been commanded to guard is the unity of the Spirit.
But what does that mean in real life?
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body Jews or Greeks, slaves or free and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
Paul borrows the two images the church would be most familiar with: baptism and the Lord’s Table. He says that every single believer – regardless of ethnicity and socioeconomic status, and we might add denomination – has been immersed by one Spirit into one body. All of us into one body. And we have all – regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, denomination, etc. – ALL been made to drink of the one Spirit.
Which believers are in the same body as you? All of them. Do you practice life in a way that reflects your commitment to that fact? Are you committed to all of them, or only the ones you agree with?
Which believers have inside them the same Holy Spirit as you? All of them. Is that fact more important to you than what makes you different, or do you use your differences as an excuse not to love people who arenâ€™t part of your little group?
The language in this passage is interesting. Both movements – immersion and drinking – find us in the passive voice. That is, they are things that happen to us. Our opinion is not asked on the matter, and we are not asked to volunteer. Whatever your persuasion is on election and predestination – once you’ve chosen Christ, or responded to his choice of you – there is no longer any choice as to which body you’ll belong to. You have been baptized by him into the one body. As have I, as have we all. And we all have been made to drink (he made us do it) the one Spirit.
You don’t get to choose who you’ll practice unity with. The choice was made for you by God himself, and he chose that you will practice unity with all the saints.
How to do this
I have a friend named Richard Nelson. He taught me to say, “Amen, Lord.” When I encounter something plainly written in the Scriptures, before I start offering a hundred reasons why obeying that would be impossible, or practicing that would be too hard, now, I should say, “Amen, Lord.”
Before I start the cascade of practical questions about how to work something out, I should say, “Amen, Lord.” Before I try to figure it out, I should agree with Jesus that he is right, and commit that I will obey, then I can start working with the Holy Spirit to hammer out how to do it in the real life I’m living now. If I wait to agree, if I wait to commit until I understand all the details, then my obedience will only be as complete as I am clever, and it will be obedience to my reasoning, and not obedience to His voice.
First, friends, say amen.
First, commit to hold ALL of God’s people in your heart. All of us. Commit to the Lord that you won’t only love the people in your little group. You will serve all the saints however he asks you to. Commit to not allow those few relationships that have gone bad to remain that way. Commit that, since you have the same Spirit, you will forgive and love them no matter what, with all your heart, even if they never ask. Choose now.
Second, think about the church in your city. In 1Corinthians 12:27, Paul goes on to tell the believers in Corinth that they are the body of Christ. Not part of the body, but the whole thing. Does that mean that believers in other cities are not part of the body? Of course not. It suggests that Paul thinks that the way we practice being one body is at the city level. Or, more plainly, geographically. When we intentionally separate ourselves from each other, we’re saying to other parts of the body of Christ, “I have no need of you,” and that’s exactly what Paul says we can’t do (1Corinthians 12:21).
Before we bog down in arguments over that idea, just try something. Decide that you’re going hold in your prayers the well-being of all the believers in the city you live in. You’re going to pray not only for your Sunday gathering, but for all the gatherings. You’re going to pray for the imperfect spiritual leaders who look out for you, and for all the other imperfect spiritual leaders in your city. You’re going to pray for all the believing households in the city – and all the single believers whose households haven’t believed yet – remembering by name those you know, and especially those not part of your Sunday gathering. Choose that, and then practice that, maybe with your family or a few friends, for one month. Just try that and see where your heart goes.
Our unity is ontological – that is, it’s down in the core of what we are. We ARE one. It is not based on our dogma or our convictions, but on the One Spirit. It is not something we must invent or build. He won it on the cross already. It is time we started living in the truth, and keeping what our King has won at so high a price.
Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to all the believers in Corinth. They had broken the church into warring groups, and he told them they were one. If he were to write to the saints in Narnya, or in your city, I have a feeling he’d say, “Some of you say, ‘I am with this leader,’ while others say, ‘I am with that leader.’ Some say, ‘I’m with this brand of Christians,’ and others say, ‘I’m with that other brand.’ But this is not right. There is one church in your city, and you are all part of it. You all drank of the same Spirit, and you have all been immersed into one body. So, I beg you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to stop living like many little clubs or fiefdoms, and live like one church. I beg you to find one mind, and to tolerate no divisions among you.â€
That, I’m pretty sure, is what he would say. And the question he would ask is the same question he asked the saints at Corinth – Is Christ divided?