A PCA church in Lake Suzy, Florida

True Unity

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:5-7).

I have been to too many orchestral concerts to count. In fact, the number one song on my playlist, and one that moves me to tears every time I hear it, is Camille Saint-Saens’ “Organ Symphony #3.” My fondness for 19th-century orchestral music is second to none.

One of the things that I most like about hearing an orchestra happens moments before they begin to play. Usually, the principal oboist will play a sustained note to which the rest of the orchestra will tune. It is an essential prerequisite to a good concert. If the music being played is not in “harmony” with itself, it becomes nothing more than fingernails on a chalkboard.

The apostle Paul concludes his long letter to the church at Rome with the exhortation above. But Paul is not concerned about the singing being in harmony. Rather, he desires that the entire congregation, and by extension, the entire church of Jesus Christ, “live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus.”

In our post-modern world, it is fashionable to live life with only the thought of what I believe, with little concern for what others in the church think. Certainly, you have your beliefs, and so do I. About all manner of subjects. That is perfectly normal. God has made each of us uniquely.

However, I can easily get trapped in my own thoughts and beliefs without ever bothering to “tune my heart” to the proper frequency. God did not design the Body of Christ to function this way. God designed us to be a thick community that lives the Christian life together. The many “one another” commands of the NT give us a picture of what that common life is meant to look like. And it includes a common life of the mind. When Paul says we are “to live in harmony with one another,” he is saying that we are to be “like-minded toward one another.” About what?

Paul has just discussed the disagreements in Rome about eating clean and unclean foods (Rom 14:14-23). Although all foods were, in fact, clean, not every believer had reached the point of eating with a clear conscience. The “weak” still struggled with self-imposed dietary rules, and Paul urged the “strong” to bear with them. So, despite those disagreements, they needed to work towards like-mindedness.

First, Paul called for like-mindedness in conformity to (“in accord with”) Jesus. Some say this might mean according to Jesus’ example, or perhaps his will. That’s unimportant, though, for Jesus’ example perfectly reflected his will. The key is, Jesus is the foundation of our unity. We want to agree with him. Any agreement on the human level will not amount to much if it means disagreeing with Jesus. We must seek to have his mind, not just on our own, but with one another, that is, with the whole church.

Second, the purpose of having the same mind is for the church body to glorify God with “one voice.” Of course, that worship presupposes “a unity about what we believe about the one whom we worship” (Cottrell, Romans, p. 518). The Romans may disagree over what foods we can eat (for a time) —but they must agree to glorify God together.

Jesus prayed for the unity of the church. “I do not ask for these only (the disciples), but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).

What is the hallmark of this unity? It is an unwavering commitment to the truth of the Scriptures. As Jesus prayed just prior to the above passage, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Without truth, true unity is impossible. A unity founded on a winsome manner but divorced from a concern for the infinitely precious truth of God is a false unity and a perversion of God’s plan for his church. Paul’s priority was being “straightforward about the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14), his zeal for “laying aside falsehood” (Eph. 4:25), and his direct exhortation to Timothy to “retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13).

“Let us hold fast our confession” (Heb. 4:14) as we love, learn, and live God’s Word. May God tune our hearts to sing his grace!