THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH

By

Shelby G. Floyd

This evening I am reading to you one verse from Psalms 133 which will serve as a basis of our remarks. David said,

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!
(Psalms 133:1 NKJV)

Now notice from that statement that there is something good and there is something pleasant about unity among God’s people.

SOME THINGS ARE GOOD, BUT NOT PLEASANT

But, in a lot of other ways, some things that are good are not pleasant, and some things that are pleasant are not good. You might go to the doctor and he would say, “Now you have a terrible sickness and I can give you some medicine that will cure you.” He might give you a prescription and you would go to the drugstore and have it filled and come home and read the label, “Take two tablespoons twice a day.” And then you would open up the bottle and pour out a big tablespoon of that medicine and take it and it would taste awful. It would not be very pleasant, would it? But you would continue to do that for two or three weeks and the first thing that you would know, the sickness that you had contracted would be over, you would be cured, and you could truthfully say, “That medicine was unpleasant, but oh my, it was good because it cured the sickness that I had.”

SOME THINGS ARE PLEASANT, BUT NOT GOOD

On the other hand, it might be that there are some things that are pleasant but that are not good. For instance, the writer of Hebrews says that there is pleasure in sin:

“By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26).

So we might indulge ourselves in all kinds of sinful activities and it might be pleasant. We might derive pleasure and satisfaction from it, but who is their among God’s people that would stand up and affirm that such is good?

But, you know, there is something about unity that is both good and pleasant. And I love that remark of David’s when he said, “behold.” The word “behold” means, stop! Take a look! Give your attention. Focus your mind upon this thing. So he is saying, “Stop, look, listen, behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”

This evening we will be talking about unity under five or six points, all of which will start with P. and I hope that will help you to remember the remarks that I prepared for our study tonight.

PRAY FOR UNITY

The first thing that I want to point out is that Jesus Christ prayed for unity. And if we are going to have unity today in the religious world and the church, I believe we ought to pray for unity. Last Sunday evening I talked to you about the importance of prayer and what I said then will apply to our subject tonight.

You know, Jesus Christ was the divine Son of God, but he prayed for the unity of his people. In John 17 we have what we call the intercessory prayer of Jesus Christ just before he was taken and crucified upon the cross. Near the end of that prayer Jesus said,

John 17:20-21
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
KJV

Now notice here that Jesus was praying for unity, not union. He was praying for unity throughout the entire world on the part of those who would believe on ham. Therefore, the scope reaches out to all who would believe on Christ through the apostle’s word. He was praying for unity, not union; that is, oneness of mind and purpose, in attitude, thought and action.

And we notice in the next place, that he was praying for the kind of unity that exists between him and his Father. As the Father was in him and he was in the Father, which is the kind of unity he wants his followers to have. He and his Father is not one person, but they were united in their work and their purpose.

In the next place, we notice the reason he prayed for this unity—in order that they might believe that God had sent him. Someone has said that the price that has been paid for a divided church is an unbelieving world. We know that the division in the religious world today contributes to more religious division. So Jesus is praying for the unity of all who might believe on him.

And I ask you tonight, how long has it been since you prayed for religious unity? How long has it been since you prayed for the unity of this church of which you are a member? You know, we need to get down on our knees and with tears pour out our hearts in prayer that God might help us to be united in service to him and in the congregation of which we are members. Therefore, we ought to pray for unity like Jesus Christ did.

PRACTICE UNITY

The Early Church Practiced Unity

But it is not enough to only pray for unity. In the second place, we ought to practice unity. And, you know, to pray for something and then not try to practice it is the very definition of hypocrisy. Jesus would not want us to pray for something and then not seek to practice it. The early church both prayed for and practiced religious unity. On the birthday of the church in Acts 2, we find that 3000 people received the word of God gladly and were baptized, and they were added unto the apostles and, therefore, formed the nucleus of the New Testament church (Acts 2:36-47). But shortly after that, the Bible says, they “continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers” (Acts 2:42). There was unity being practiced. Not only that, but they were of one heart and one soul. Neither did any of them say that the things that they had were their own, but on this occasion they even sold their property and their possessions and laid the price at the apostles feet that distribution might be made among all who were in need. Was not that a wonderful spirit of unity in Jerusalem church? They practiced religious unity. They practiced what they preached and what they prayed for! And so must we.

PROBLEM OF RELIGIOUS DIVISION

But it is not enough just to pray for unity and practice unity, but we must deal with the problem of division. There is religious division today and there was religious division then! In Matthew 12, Jesus had just cast out some evil spirits and they had charged that he was casting these evil spirits out by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Then Jesus replied with a fourfold argumentation in answer to their charge.

He pointed out in the first place, that every house divided cannot stand. Every kingdom divided cannot stand. And he said, “If Satan is casting out Satan, then his kingdom is divided and therefore his kingdom will fall.” Well, of course, the kingdom of Satan is going to fall. It will not stand forever. But it is not true that Satan is casting out Satan. Satan would never work against himself. Everything Satan does is in harmony with his purpose and his goal to destroy the soul of man and thwart the purpose of Almighty God in the kingdom of God. And so, it was erroneous, to even think that Satan would be working against himself.

But sometimes God’s people do that and I think Jesus was right when he said that the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the sons of light. Sometimes the people of the world use more wisdom and practical commonsense than the children of light in their generation. But, we know there is religious division in the world and we need to do something about it. It will not go away unless we fight against it. It is not enough to preach and to pray for religious unity, but we have got to fight against the religious division that is in the world. There are over 300 religious denominations today. They preach different doctrines, they wear different religious names, and they worship in many diverse manners. And who is willing to stand up and say that all these religious divisions are pleasing to Almighty God? Who is willing to rise up and affirm that all these denominations equal the New Testament church? They are not. There is no way that anybody on the face of God’s green earth can prove that they are. And I will stand behind that statement. So there is the problem of religious division.

In Acts 20:28-31 Paul met with the Ephesian elders and said,

“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:28-31 KJV).


And so there was the danger of religious division even in the church of Christ at Ephesus. And shortly thereafter Paul had to instruct young Timothy to stop by Ephesus and shut up the mouths of the gainsayers. False teachers had already crept into the church and were tearing the churches apart when Paul wrote his letters to young Timothy. So there is religious division in the world today and we must recognize it, we must analyze it, find out what its causes are, and then look in the Bible for the solutions that God has given.

Why is their religious division? In the first place, we have religious division because mankind loves the doctrines of men more than they do the doctrine of Christ. In Matthew 15: 9, Jesus had to meet head on the Pharisees who were teaching for doctrines the commandments of men, and Jesus said that their worship was vain. A little later they were offended in what he said and the disciples tried to get him to soften what he had said to them and he said, “Leave them alone.” “If the blind lead the blind,” he said, “they’ll both fall in the ditch.” So it is true today that men still love the doctrines and the philosophies and theologies of men more than they do the word of God.

But my Bible says that the solution to that is that we must abide in the doctrine of Christ. The apostle John in one of his short letters said,

“Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11NKJV).

When we give greeting to, when we lend endorsement to, when we condone, when we tolerate anybody who would create religious division or promote division in the body of Christ, then we have fellowship with these people and we are partakers with them of their evil deeds. And since they do not have God, those who go along with them do not have God. That is, they are out of fellowship with God. So if we expect to be in fellowship with God and his people, we must be out of fellowship with all who promote religious division by going beyond the doctrine of Christ. So that is the problem of religious division and the answer to that is the word of God versus the dogmas of man.

PLEA FOR RELIGIOUS UNITY

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

We have talked about prayer for unity. We have mentioned the fact that we must practice unity. We have also mentioned the problem of religious division. Now I want to point out that we have got to make a plea for religious unity.

Paul poured out his heart and prayed for the New Testament church at Corinth to be united. His words were very strong:

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13 NKJV).

The word plead is a strong word. It means, almost in our language, “I beg of you.” Paul was down on his knees—so to speak, begging those brethren to be united in the name of Jesus Christ. His rhetorical questions were, “is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” Of course, the answer is within the question. No, they were not baptized into Paul’s name; therefore, they cannot wear Paul’s name. No, Paul did not die for them upon a cross in order that their sins should be forgiven; and, therefore, they should not wear Paul’s name. No, Christ is not to be divided up into little pieces. So the answer is “No, Christ is not divided.”

Someone said one time, “I had rather be the soldier that took the spear and pierced the side of Jesus on the cross, than the person who would divide the spiritual body of Christ—the church!” When the soldiers who crucified Christ drove the nails through his hands and pierced his side, there came forth water and blood. But what about those who open up the side of the spiritual body of Christ? The precious blood of Christ is running through the veins of the spiritual body of Christ? Of course, I am using that figuratively. The blood of Christ is still flowing from Calvary. And those who would openly tear apart the spiritual body of Christ, I believe, are as guilty as the man who cast the spear into his side. Therefore, Paul was pleading for these brethren to overcome their dissensions, contentions, and be united even in their judgments and in their mind.

So that shows us how much God wants us to be united together and working together, so that our plea will always be the same plea that Paul made. Therefore, let us stand united; fulfilling the purpose of the work that Christ gave us here on the earth.

PLATFORM FOR UNITY

But in the next place, I want to give you a platform for unity. You know, about this time of the year, every four years, the political conventions, regardless of how much division they have had, all close ranks, join hands, and present a solid front, a united front when the election rolls around. Again, the children of this world manifest more wisdom than the children of light in their generations. If this is true in the worldly and political realm, how much more should it be true in the spiritual and religious world? God’s people ought to overcome their differences and join ranks, close in, and stand united against the enemy. That is the only way we can win the great battle for the minds of man.

So in Ephesians 4 we have Paul’s platform for unity! It is not a political platform; it is a spiritual platform:

Ephesians 4:3-6
Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
NKJV

Unity of Organization

First, there is unity of organization. Paul said there is one body. What is this one body? Our answer is found in the same book of Ephesians:

Ephesians 1:22-23
And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,
Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
KJV

Here the apostle is talking about the power that God worked when he raised the Christ from the dead and seated him at his own right hand, far above all principality and power. And then he said that the one body is the church. Christ is the head of the church—the body. Any true religious unity must be based upon the fact that there is just one body or one church recognized by Christ.

Now, in view of the fact that there is one body and the body is the church, therefore there is just one church. And how can people say today that “one church is as good as another” or “join the church of your choice” or “it doesn’t make any difference what church you are a member of—because we all are going to heaven”? I cannot reconcile that with the statement—the emphatic statement of the apostle Paul. The divine platform for unity is that every person that obeys the gospel is a member of the one church and the one body. In all of my reading of the New Testament I have never read of more than one church or one body. When Paul said that there is one body or one church he was talking about the unity of organization.

Unity of Spirit

Paul said there is one body and one Spirit. So in the second place, there is unity of Spirit. Your body has a spirit and when your spirit leaves your body, your body is dead. The Holy Spirit dwells in the spiritual body—the church. To the Corinthian church Paul wrote about those who were destroying the church under the figure of the temple. And he said that those who destroy the temple of God—God will destroy them:

1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.
NKJV

Now, if God’s Spirit dwells in his temple which is the church, or if you look at it from the figure of a body or a human organism to which the church is compared, the Holy Spirit in the church is like our spirit in our body. Now, some people have quenched the Spirit by quenching the word until they have got a church without the Spirit in it. A church without the Holy Spirit, he is a dead church. The Holy Spirit operates in the spiritual body of Christ through the word of God, which is his instrument. And this is how there can be unity of Spirit.

Unity of Hope

The apostle says that there is one body and one Spirit even as we are called in one hope of our calling. Next we look at the unity of aspiration or hope. Hope stands for the Christian faith and the Christian system. In other words, there is one hope that stands above all of our hopes and that stands for the Christian system. What is that hope? To Titus, Paul explained what is that one hope of our calling:

Titus 1:2
In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;
KJV

What is the hope that is above all hopes? It is the hope of eternal life. And so the fact that all of us have within our breasts that aspiration, that desire, that expectation, that longing for eternal life, it should draw us together in the spirit of our lives together in the service of God. Unity of aspiration! One body, one spirit, one hope! Unity of organization! Unity of spirit! Unity of aspiration!

Unity of Authority

But there are four more planks in this divine platform of unity. There is one body and one Spirit even as we are called in the one hope of our calling. There is also one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. Therefore, we look at the unity of authority.

The word “Lord” comes from a word which means ruler, King, lawmaker. So Christ is our Lord. He is Lord of lords and King of kings. And that means that he is our Monarch. In order to have true unity, every member of the body of Christ must submit to the authority of the King. Sometimes the spirit of a labor union creeps into the church of our Lord. That spirit is this: if I don’t get my way I will give an ultimatum and then strike against the leaders of the church. That spirit is wrong and sinful. That is not the spirit that should characterize the body of Christ.

We live in a democratic society. But strictly speaking, America is not a democracy—we are a republic. A democracy is where the majority rules, but a republic is where the people are governed not by the majority, but by elected representatives. So in America we do not have a democracy strictly speaking. Only do we have a democracy in the sense that the majority elects the representatives of the republic. That is the basic difference between a republic and a democracy. The church is not governed by majority rule. Some have the idea that whatever the majority wants, the majority ought to have. But the majority is not always right. The majority wanted to crucify Jesus Christ. Throughout Old Testament history many times the majority wanted to do the wrong thing, and that is the reason Moses said, “You shall not follow a multitude to do the evil.” Christ is the head of the church and he also reigns as Monarch over his kingdom. He is the supreme ruler and head over this organism called the church. And there will only be unity when one submits to his ultimate authority.

Unity of Teaching

There is one faith. One faith means that there must be unity of teaching. I have no authority to expound my opinions or to give you my judgments. But I am authorized to preach the gospel. I am also authorized to contend for the faith that has been once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). And that means that we must contend for the unity of teaching or doctrine. The one faith comprehends and incorporates everything that has been legislated in this divine creed book—the New Testament.

Unity of Salvation

There is one baptism. I read in the New Testament of several baptisms. I read about the baptism of suffering. This is a metaphor. Jesus said to some apostles, “Are you able to be baptized with the baptism with which I shall be baptized? Are you able to drink the cup that I shall drink?” Of course, he was figuratively saying, “are you able to be overwhelmed in the suffering that I am going to endure?” Baptism as used here is in the tropical or figurative sense. I read in the Bible where John’s baptism is mentioned. John did preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4). I also read in my Bible of Holy Spirit baptism (Mark 1: 6-8). We also read that some were baptized for the dead (1 Corinthians 15: 29). But most of time when we read about baptism it is a reference to water baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 8:36-38; Acts 10:47-48). Now, out of the five or six baptisms, about which we read in the New Testament, which one was Paul talking about when he said, “There is one baptism?” When Paul wrote the book of the Ephesians he said, “There is one baptism.” What was the one baptism?

Obviously, Paul was talking about the unity of salvation in the church. He was talking about water baptism, because it is by one Spirit that we were all baptized into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13). Therefore the one baptism is the baptism of the great commission where Jesus gave instructions to the apostles to preach the message of salvation to the whole world:

Mark 16:15-16
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
NKJV

Therefore, water baptism is the one baptism by which we enter into this one body, where we find the one hope, and where we recognize and submit to the one Lord, and where we follow and obey and learn the one faith. And so, they all go together, just like a glove on the fingers of the hand. You can’t take one away without destroying the others.

Unity of Worship

Finally, Paul says that there is “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” This is unity of worship. Paul did not say that God is one person, but that there is one God and Father. The word God is here used specifically rather than comprehensively. The word God is used here to designate the first person of the godhead which is the Father. And he even explains it to us in that way: “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:6). There must be unity in worship. Who are we to worship? We worship God. And those who worship God must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4: 24). + *

+ Copyright © 2020 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved

*Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon Sunday evening, August 1, 1976, at Indianapolis, Indiana. At that time I was 39 years old. I still believe what I proclaimed then. And now I am 83 years old. God is good!

Shelby G. Floyd
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, Indiana 46142

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