By Kevin Guigou –Associate Pastor
When someone commits to Christ, they are also pledging to help maintain unity among God’s family. But a call to unity must be more than: “If only folks would agree with me, then we’d all be unified!”
We enter the body of Christ with a variety of life experiences, giftings and passions that are at the core of who we are. Because of that, even dedicated believers often have differing perspectives and beliefs.
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:2-3 NIV
In the very next verses, the Apostle Paul proceeded to call them back to some essential doctrines that he hoped would help “keep the unity.”
There is one body, one Spirit, as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV
Biblical doctrines can be a common area of disagreement among believers. Healthy study of Scripture involves clarifying what we believe (doctrine) while also allowing it to reprove and correct us in the process.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV
We shouldn’t doubt what we believe, but we should enjoy confirming our understanding, deepening our convictions and making adjustments along the way.
The Bereans were “more noble” because they searched the Scriptures every day to see if what they were being taught was true (Acts 17:11). That can also be our habit as we verify even long-held beliefs.
As pastor Bill Johnson has commented, “God will never contradict his Word; but he may contradict our understanding of his Word.” We should be confident in what we believe yet humble in our “absolutes.”
Love Prevents Offense
Deciding what each of us believes about the meaning of Scripture involves many resources: prayerful meditation, diligent biblical study, the voice of the Spirit, gifted ministers, and interaction with fellow members of the body of Christ.
If we overemphasize one of these avenues over the others, conclusions may become skewed. These methods of interpretation act as checks and balances to keep us from being “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).
In the process, we mustn’t “take the bait” of being offended when someone believes differently than we do. Love prevents offense.
“Anyone who loves their fellow believer stays in the light, and there is no trap laid for [skandalon] them.” 1 John 2:10 The Source NT.
If we love fellow seekers, we won’t easily stumble into angry feelings at points of disagreement.
“Be devoted to one another in love.one another above yourselves…it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:10, 18 NIV
Working through conflicts not only involves having faith in our own convictions, but also being a good listener, considering potential value within opposing viewpoints, being yielding on insignificant matters, and yes, remembering that we ourselves are sometimes wrong. As Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand; then to be understood.”
The Apostle Paul admonished the Corinthian believers for being quarrelsome, judgmental and divisive (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). He and Peter butted heads in how they acted among Jews and Gentiles (Galatians 2). Paul and Barnabas parted ways over a sharp disagreement as to who to take along in their travels (Acts 15).
And Paul’s letter to the Romans includes the amazing chapter 14, which confirms how believers should respect each other as we build our personal consciences by faith. In Acts 21, author Luke along with Philip’s family begged Paul not to travel to Jerusalem. The Apostle disagreed which led to difficulties.
Paul also warned servant leaders some pitfalls to avoid: false doctrines, myths, meaningless unprofitable talk, unhealthy interest in controversies, quarrels about words, worldly godless chatter, foolish questions, speculations and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge.” To maintain cohesive unity, we do our best to keep our hearts compatible and complementary with each other. In fact, working through discord can be a conduit to deeper relationships.
In his letter to Philippi (Philippians 4:1-3), Paul pleads with faithful women Euodia and Syntyche that they would “settle your disagreement” (Passion translation) because they “belong to the Lord.” Paul implored them to get back into harmony with each other (to “be of one mind” or “agree”). Ann Nyland translates the exhortation: that they would “think along the same lines.”
That desire for like-mindedness sets the context for the familiar verses that follow (4:4-7) … “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness [“fairness”] be known to everyone…” Christians shouldn’t compromise on the truth, yet we should magnify what we share in common so we can move ahead without distraction.
I used to think that spiritual knowledge was more a matter of a sudden grasp of new information… as if it was signing onto a self-supporting “package” of interpretations and doctrines from one particular theology, church or teacher. But more and more, I see learning as an unfolding journey of hunger, discovery and adjustment; a blend of confidence and humility; a balance of understanding yet “seeing through a glass darkly” and “knowing in part.” And along the way, we glean and apply every piece of God’s truth in our grip.
Our experience of God grows and evolves across our lifetime. The Greek term ginōskō refers to knowledge that’s acquired through relationship. It means “to learn to know; to come to know; to recognize or realize.”
“and you will come to know [ginōskō] the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32 Mounce
“So we have come to know [ginōskō] and to believe the love that God has for us…” 1 John 4:16 ESV
Unity Not Uniformity
Jesus was full of both grace and truth (John 1:14, 17). Truth without grace is rigid and heartless. Grace without truth believes every new doctrine that blows through town. Neither produce fruit without the other.
Jesus shows us a life of equilibrium between both great realities. That wise balance neutralizes many disagreements.
True like-mindedness strives for unity, not uniformity. The body of Christ operates with a harmony that applauds its diversity.
“… Bring your thinking into line with one another. Here’s how to do it. Hold on to the same love; bring your innermost lives into harmony; fix your minds on the same object. Never act out of selfish ambition or vanity; instead, regard everybody else as your superior. Look after each other’s best interests, not your own. This is how you should think among yourselves– with the mind that you have because you belong to the Messiah, Jesus:” Philippians 2:2-5 NTE
When each member of a spirit-filled community builds the habit of thinking like
Jesus, then each follower will find themselves more and more like-minded with each other.
“Now, this is the goal: to live in harmony [“one-mindedness”] with one another and demonstrate affectionate love, sympathy, and kindness toward other believers. Let humility describe who you are as you dearly love one another.” 1 Peter 3:8 TPT
We should be convinced of the truth that we believe, while also honoring each other in our unique journeys of learning, growth and change.
When we have differences of opinion, let’s think like Jesus and invest the love and understanding required to preserve the unity that God has called us to.
To dive more into this subject, watch Kevin Guigou’s Sunday morning teaching, “When Seekers Disagree.”