Mark Alan Williams
3 Keys To Maintain Unity
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I loved the church I grew up in. But at age 18, I saw the whole thing crumble before my eyes.
This is the church I grew up in and loved.
After a contentious business meeting, about half the church literally got up and left, never to come back again.
This was a gut-wrenching, life-changing experience, both for those who left and those who stayed. For some, it was a faith-shattering experience which they never recovered from.
The issues were complex, and many mistakes were made.
Rather than talking about mistakes, let’s consider what we can do to help preserve unity, based on Philippians 2:1-8.
Here are 3 keys to maintain unity in a church, which can also help any ministry, family and other organization:
01. Make unity a major focus.
“Live in harmony by showing love for each other. Be united in what you think, as if you were only one person.” (Philippians 2:2 CEV)
It’s been interesting to watch the recent presidential debates, especially in the large Republican field. Two candidates will bicker with each other over a subject, each one claiming that the other is wrong. No common voter can truly say who is right and who is wrong.
Then other candidates will chime in criticizing them for criticizing each other. It’s almost comical.
While bickering may be entertaining in politics and perhaps elsewhere, it is NOT appealing in the church.
In fact, many people see the quarreling and are turned away from Christ and His church.
Bickering and strife nullifies what Jesus said should be a great attraction to Him:
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35 KJV)
Unity in the church is not just nice, it is necessary.
However, that does not mean we should never speak up. Jesus was gentle at the right times, but also tough at the right times.
He cleared the Temple of the moneychangersHe called religious leaders a “brood of vipers, hypocrites, blind guides, whitewashed tombs, and children of hell.” (Read Matthew 23 and check out my article “Jesus Wasn’t Always Seeker Sensitive”)
There is a time to be tough and a time to be tender. Discerning these takes great maturity and a mastery of the next two keys.
02. Desperately avoid two unity killers: “strife and vainglory.”
The next verse in this passage says “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory” (Philippians 2:3a KJV)
This statement addresses the heart of problems which cause so much disunity in churches, ministries and families.
a. The first unity killer is “strife.”
Various translations render this word “selfish ambition, self-interest, selfishness, rivalry, contention, a spirit of factitiousness.”
This unity killer is manifested in actions such as:
“It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling.” (Proverbs 20:3 ESV)
b.The second unity killer is “vainglory.”
Some seek glory in the church and elsewhere. They want attention, recognition, honor, position, flattery, praise, honor. But it is vainglory, which means empty glory.
This unity killer is manifested in actions such as:
Wanting to be acknowledged as a leader
Overestimating one’s importance
Wanting to be on the right committees and perhaps the chairman, for the purpose of honor instead of service
Concern about being overlooked or neglected
But Jesus said “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12 ESV)
03. Make it your goal to lift others up.
“In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3b-5 KJV)
This is the heart of the solution to disunity. Why? Because most disunity comes from people wanting their own way, wanting to be the big leader, and wanting to look good as explained in point #2 above.
Instead, we are to:
Regard others as better than ourselves
Lift others up
Return insult with blessing
In short, we are to strive to be like Jesus when He humbled Himself: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)
This does NOT mean we are to:
Become just a doormat
Be abused without response
Never stand up for anything
No, it means we are to determine the right time to speak up, to fight for what is right, and decide whether to disagree agreeably or to be assertive.
To help determine when it is right to fight, we must determine our motivations. Wrong motivations are outlined in point #2 above.
Some right motivations for disagreeing are:
When Scripture is being compromised
When we should defend someone who is being mistreated
When we can lovingly correct someone who is walking in sin
When we can lovingly correct someone who is misunderstanding or misusing Scripture
When a ministry is being used for personal gain
When certain that your goal is not personal gain, but helping others
In general, if I’m just fighting for “me” I better be very careful. But if I am standing for Christ and the greater good, I’m on much more solid ground.
I am not saying all this is easy and neither does Scripture. In fact, it is often extremely difficult to practice these 3 keys to maintain unity.
It is everyone’s responsibility to work for unity, regardless of how difficult it may be.
Here’s an encouraging thought about the church around the world: The church is filled with humble servants, incredible sacrifice, remarkable giving, and anonymous service, all motivated by the love of the Lord.
Sure, occasions of disunity happen. However, that is not the norm. In fact, part of the reason we shake our heads when we hear of church splits is because they are uncommon.
Put a drop of red dye in a jar of pure water and everything appears to change and starts to turn red. So it is with disunity.
Let’s celebrate the majority of time there is unity, and do our very best to follow these 3 keys to maintain unity.
If you found this article helpful, you might want to check out these articles on resolving conflict: