How to Keep the Unity of the Spirit
Keeping the unity of the Spirit is a hot topic these days. It has almost become a “buzz word” in Christian circles. If you as an individual or a ministry are not promoting it, you are considered “out of sink” with the times. But, be that as it may, I do not know, that if questioned, a believer would have solid Biblical answers for: what is unity? How should it be based? How does one promote it? These are the questions addressed in this article.
What is unity? I love to study the Eastern languages, Hebrew and Aramaic, because abstract concepts (such as unity) are usually based on an action verb as the root of the word family. In other words, we can learn what the concept means by identifying the root verb and its action. The abstract concept is linked with this action and can be understood more thoroughly by looking at the root action. Unity comes from a verb root in Aramaic that means simply “to turn towards a place or person with interest or affection.” An intensive form of the verb means, “to cause to turn towards, or reconcile.” An example of this verb usage is in Matthew 5.
Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
The Aramaic root verb, aoa, is the word “agree.” Obviously, if the man in this verse agreed already, it would not call his opponent an adversary and they would not be on the way to the court. Agree here means “to settle or reconcile, to make an alliance.” The way that is done can be seen in this verse. Stop on the road, sit down, turn towards one another, talk things out and cause an alliance to be made. (One note here--probably not all the differences are completely worked out, but enough to be a settling of the dispute.)
The noun unity is used in Ephesians 4:3 where we are to “be diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Keeping in mind that there is an action base in the word for unity, let us briefly examine this verse. “Be diligent” implies that this takes effort. “Keep” means to guard or watch over. We are to guard our lives so that this unity is maintained. The unity is “of the Spirit.” When a believer turns to another believer with interest and affection, what should happen is an instant recognition that the other has THE SAME HOLY SPIRIT in them!
For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
That same Holy Spirit is the touchpoint, if you will, that stirs our interest and desire to form some kind of bond.
The bond is the “bond of peace.” Ephesians 2 tells us how we have peace in verses 13 and 14, “in Jesus Christ,” “for he is our peace,” because he broke down the separations between Jew and Gentile, bond and free, male and female (see also Galatians 3:28.) Ephesians 2:17 says that “he came and declared peace to you” – for through him we both have access by one Spirit. There is peace because of the one Spirit! The Aramaic word for peace in Ephesians 2 is not the normal word for peace, but it means peace treaty. Sound like the word for unity? I believe it has the same idea or picture. Jesus Christ formed a peace treaty between the Jews and Gentiles because he gave the same gift to each one – Holy Spirit.
Peace in the New Testament also is used in the context of the body of Christ and living the mystery. The gospel or glad tidings of peace are that each believer has Holy Spirit born in them, but also that they have a special place in a body. They are members in particular. It brings peace to know that your particular place is unique in the body of Christ. There is no competition or vying for position, because the head, the Lord Jesus Christ, directs your unique function.
So the answer to our question posed at the beginning of how should unity be based is simple. It is based on the fact that each believer has the same gift of Holy Spirit that is the measure of Christ (see also Ephesians 4:7) AND each believer is a member in particular in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27).
The last question is how do we promote unity. The word for bond in Ephesians 4:3 can be translated girdle or band. The only other place in the New Testament where this word girdle is used is in Colossians 3:14: “And with all these [things], [put on] love, which is the girdle of maturity.” [Aramaic translation] Maturity characterizes a person who puts on love as a girdle. Now we have a different picture in America for girdle than they did in the East, but I believe it is appropriate to think about for a moment here. A lady who is somewhat overweight will wear a girdle to “hold it all in” or to have a more slimming appearance. Isn’t that what love does? It “holds it all in” and definitely makes for a more pleasing presentation! In the East, a girdle tied the robe around the waist so it would not come loose and fall off and one could walk and carry on business without trying to continually hold the robe closed. Love is like that: it enables us to walk and carry on our own business. Love binds people together. Love is the mark of a mature Christian.
When we “turn to someone with interest or affection” and realize he is a believer, we have an instant recognition that he has the same gift of Holy Spirit and the same Lord we do. That gives us a touchpoint that helps us to hurdle any of the other differences. Then we rejoice because we can also recognize the “Christ in” the other person and how we each have a special place and function in the body of Christ. We can then promote that unity with love, tying relationships together and developing in maturity, promoting a peace treaty. This is keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
One last comment I want to make has to do with what I have heard many times. If I turn to another, but they turn away from me and do not want to have anything to do with me, neither recognizing the Holy Spirit or Christ in me or my function in the body of Christ, should I not turn away from them also and avoid any contact? First of all, Ephesians 4:3 is the last half of a sentence that begins, “walk worthy of the calling….” That means YOU walk worthy of the calling by being diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit. It is not talking about anybody else doing this but you. That means me, also. I have to obey the commandment of the Word of God and practice this. It does not depend on the response of others. Of course, relationships cannot be forced to happen unless two parties are willing to “turn to one another.” However, I can, whenever another believer comes into my path, “turn towards him with affection” and still recognize that he has the same gift of Holy Spirit and a unique function in the body of Christ. I can do this, no matter what his response is. Have fun being diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace!