You can describe this unity doctrinally - but it's meaningless if it's just a formal unity. It needs to be experienced relationally. I've been reflecting on the way I fail to do this. I'm probably known as someone who unites of people - I love to introduce people to one another. Yet so many times I screw it up.
As a wise friend has said: "some of us are prone to be broader than the gospel when it comes to unity and some to be narrower." I'm sure I do both....
I know I've definitely been overly narrow... which given how dodgy some people probably think I am would almost be amusing if it wasn't so painful and sinful. Truth is, I've approached others with suspicion and defensiveness rather than with generosity and joy.
I am, as Paul Tripp notes, a man in the middle of my sanctification so I hope I'm progressing in this as I follow Christ but I'm flawed, I stumble, I sin...
Last week I went to seek forgiveness from a gospel minister, who did the same in turn. It was a wonderful moment of healing and I hope the beginnings of renewed brotherly affection and partnership in the gospel. It'll be a slow road to recovery but I look forward to the opportunities, forged in the fires of forgiveness, to labour together to make Christ known.
There is a wonderful liberty in having the Holy Spirit show me that I screwed up, and to know him turning me to repentance. I wish it happened quicker. Too many relationships just grow cold. Too many hearts are hardened. Too many partnerships that could be cultivated are disregarded.
We can't necessarily work with everyone, but we can be friendly. We can't necessarily unite with everyone - but we can often unite with more people than we think we can. And when we do finally have to say no to some that no is clearer for the yes's we've been able to say to others.
A unity that is rooted in shared dwelling in the life of God has room for vast differences, transcending cultures and class, rising above differences in practice and even important Biblical convictions on more disputable matters. A unity in God is a unity that can express in prayer together, and can learn what it means to bear with one another.
The battle for unity rages not over the ministry of women or the continuation of charismatic gifts, the battle for unity rages in the hearts of men and women as the desires of the flesh fight with the desires of the Spirit. Unity is a battle won with weapons of love and kindness, of patience, of preferring others ahead of myself and of rathering to be wronged than to insist on my own way. Those are Biblical convictions to die for, because Christ has died for me and for you and for the people we're not reaching when we're fighting one another.
Christian Unity hurts because its a word to describe the mutual relationships between those who follow Christ. We're weak people on the way. We're people who hurt one another. People who know that even as we do harm to one another Christ keeps hold of us. So when I sin against you, please bear with me and pray I'll do the same for you when you sin against me. Our repentance is good soil for beautiful gospel plants to grow in. And when we disagree on important but disputable matters or differ in so many others ways, it's Christ who breaks down the walls and liberates us to make the first move towards another as he has to us.
What's your story? Where does the battle rage for you?