What does the term "unity of the Spirit" really mean for Christians? Is it an ethereal sixth sense based on feelings or intuition? Is it an intellectual or symbolic type or anthropomorphic construct used to create a theological distinction between Christians and "other" beliefs? How relevant is it to the church today? Is it important to you as a believer? Why? Are we "one" today in the local church, in the "unity of the Spirit" today?
Do you care? And does it matter?
Significance of Unity of the Spirit
The term 'one' used in reference to unity in the body of Christ is used dozens of times in the New Testament.
It was the focus of Jesus' most eloquent and fervent prayer in John 17 for the entire church—every believer in Him down thru the ages—that we may all be "one". He asked for unity five times in this prayer!
Jesus said (Jn 17:21) that the entire purpose—goal—of His church here on earth would be accomplished by the (incredible) testimony of unity in His church so that the world may believe that the Father has truly sent Jesus. So yes, it matters—because when unity is demonstrated to the world, it will be the testimony that Jesus is who He is- the only Son of God, Savior. When Jesus is thus "lifted up" then all men shall be drawn to Him.
Paul continued to emphasize the importance of unity throughout his writings. Ephesians 4:3 summarizes it succinctly: "Be eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
This is the vision and purpose Christ has for His body here on earth. But to understand and to live it, we must understand:
- What does "unity" or oneness look like in the body of Christ?
- How do we know when the body of Christ is in unity? Or more to the point: What conditions are necessary for unity to exist in the church?
- What must the church do (and what must God do) to accomplish unity in the body of Christ? Or: How can the church enter in/rise to attain to this unity?
- What responsibilities do church pastors & clergy have to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in His work of unity?
What is the biblical model for unity of the Spirit in the church?
From the Greek, there are two related words used in this context of unity. One simply means "oneness"; "unanimity" (see Eph. 4:3,13). The other means "one" (see John 17).
There is a reality to the term "unity of the Spirit" that can be measurably demonstrated in the church.
It isn't just a feeling or sense, or intuition.
It isn't a symbol or intellectual construct to differentiate Christians from others.
It is real, it is tangible and it is measurable.
It is verifiable in the Scriptures describing the early church.
This 12-part series is a perspective of the real, tangible and measurable "unity of the Spirit" found in the New Testament church in the Bible.
A Real, Tangible, and Measurable Model of Unity
The perfect and highest expression of unity of the Spirit was modeled in the early church after Pentecost: "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers. Fear came to every soul. And many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common. They sold their property and goods and distributed them to all, according to their need. And continuing daily with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:42-47).
Three distinct levels of unity of the Holy Spirit are actually expressed here:
Level 1 – LCD (Lowest Common Denominator)
(v. 42) "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers."
Level 2 – Signs & Wonders
(v. 43) "Fear came to every soul. And many wonders and signs were done through the apostles."
Level 3 – A lifestyle of mutual support and sharing all things
All who believed were together and had all things in common. They sold their property and goods and distributed them to all, according to their need. And continuing daily with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).
Each of these three represents a progressively higher level of unity in the church, the body of Christ on earth. And, each of these levels is real, tangible, and measurable—just like the actual resurrected body of Jesus. Throughout this 12-part series, we will examine the four questions introduced above for each level of unity.
In the next installment, we will look at Level 1 unity and the first question: What does Level 1 unity look like in the body of Christ?
Louis Posthauer is the executive director of Hunters of the Harvest Ministry. He has been actively involved in the local church for more than 37 years and currently serves as a lay leader and teacher at Living Word Church of the Nazarene in Houston. For more information, visit huntersoftheharvest.org.
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