God uses individuals to lead, but He uses the church to build. There is no doubt that God specially anoints church leadership to provide vision and direct the work. But accomplishing the work requires a joint effort of the entire body. When the church family fully invests in a unified declaration of the Gospel, the results are unparalleled. But what is accomplished if God’s people are not willing to join together to do the work?
Two churches in the New Testament provide examples of both the results of division and the effects of synergy.
The church at Corinth had a lot of problems. Some of the Christians were immoral, selfish, and worldly. But one of the first issues Paul addressed was their division. They had formed cliques around personalities—leaders who never even sought or desired this man-focused devotion.
The division was a virus that perverted their time to remember the Lord’s death on the cross. Instead of provoking awe and humility before the Lord, the observance of the Lord’s Table became a shameful display of wanton selfishness.
And so, Paul told the church of Corinth, “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9). He cried out to this disjointed church, “You belong to God, and you must work together for His glory!”
What does a church look like that is unified by the Spirit of God? The church at Philippi is a model. It is impossible to read the epistle of Philippians without noticing the great unity Paul both saw and encouraged in the church. Paul encouraged this spirit when he wrote Philippians 1:27, “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
Paul had a special love, respect, and appreciation for the church at Philippi. It was one of the most mature churches described in the New Testament. Joy permeated their character. They held up the Gospel in their own community and supported missions work abroad.
In this tale of two churches, we can draw two important conclusions: nothing will destroy God’s work as quickly as carnal division, and nothing can stop God’s work when His people are striving together with one mind and spirit.
How do we encourage unity within our church? And how do we accomplish the work God has given to us? The key is found in the book of Philippians.
Live Christ’s Righteousness
Lasting unity can only come in and through Christ. The only hope we have of living lives free from sin and the discord it brings is through our righteousness in Christ. Through Christ, we live blamelessly before the world and demonstrate the power of the Gospel. Paul commanded, “Let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel….”
At the opening of the letter, he prayed this for the Philippians:
“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9–11).
Paul’s first request for the church was that they would develop abounding love—an ingredient many accuse the church of omitting. Yet sometimes those who demand more love in the church are actually calling for a false display that discards discernment. We do need love, but with a lot of discernment. The result of love without discernment has produced churches that are confused and ineffective.
Unfortunately, agnostic love is dominant in many churches. A post-modern refusal to define truth and fear of anything “judgmental” is part of most Christians’ thinking. A series of surveys conducted throughout 2010 by a Christian organization led them to this conclusion:
“Our biblical illiteracy and lack of spiritual confidence has caused Americans to avoid making discerning choices for fear of being labeled judgmental. The result is a church that has become tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies.”
What happens when Christians stop holding up the standard of Christ’s righteousness? Here is the next conclusion to last year’s research:
“The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.”
Without truth, our love has no influence. God calls us to live blamelessly so we can shine as lights and proclaim the Gospel. “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). Without truth, our lights are dimmed.
God’s plan for reaching the lost is to use Christians who are living in the power of His righteousness—those who have reckoned themselves dead to sin and alive to God. It is God shining His light through sanctified vessels that draw the lost. His Word will expose sin, but it will also show the lost the Saviour who died for those sins.
If we are all following God, how can we travel in different directions?
Follow the Holy Spirit
Living a righteous life—a becoming conversation—would be an impossible task without the next part of the verse: “...that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind….” The Holy Spirit is the single binding force.
Unity without the Spirit is impossible for any length of time. We can temporarily pull together for a common cause or a joint project, but that bond does not last. It’s simply not in our sinful, proud nature to agree with each other. We need a stronger bond than temporary goals if we will have lasting unity.
Just like an orchestra tunes itself to the pitch of a single piano, harmony comes through matching our hearts to the Holy Spirit. When we are in fellowship with the Spirit, we are in fellowship with each other. Paul wrote it this way in Philippians 2:1–2, “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”
In middle-eastern towns, the common fellowship took place at the town well. There was often one source of water—one well—from which everyone would drink. No matter their position or wealth, they drew from the same source. As Christians, we have all been made to drink from the Holy Spirit.
How important to Jesus is unity among His disciples? When He prayed to the Father before His betrayal and execution, He prayed this for them, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:21–22).
One of Christ’s greatest concerns for His followers was that they would stand in unison with the Father and Son. When we strive together in unity, the work of God goes forward. But when we stop listening to the Spirit and pursue our own agendas, the results are tragic: we actually destroy each other.
“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Galatians 5:13–15).
Instead of demonstrating the righteous freedom we have in Christ through love and service, we devour each other. This is the same word, both in English and Greek, that describes the work of Satan (1 Peter 5:8). The church becomes its own enemy through discord, and the pride of each individual destroys the whole.
It takes humility to have unity, and it takes Christlikeness to have humility. We are commanded to be “likeminded,” and to “in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” By gaining the mind of Christ, we put away pride and begin to think as God thinks. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation…” (Philippians 2:5–7).
How do we have unity? Become Christ-minded. As we get to know Christ by spending time in His Word and in prayer, we learn what it means to love and serve each other.
Ministry isn’t about us. It isn’t about preferences or personality. Ministry is built around a relationship with Christ and the purpose God has given to us. Satan will try to pull us apart, but God’s grace to walk in humility and unity is greater.
Do Not Fear the Enemy
Satan’s greatest weapon against us is fear. Fear of man stops Christians from sharing their faith. Fear of loss stops us from giving what God has generously given to us. Fear of the unknown prevents us from trusting God by faith. We can strive together, or we can fear—but we can only choose one.
We think we are avoiding pain by listening to fear. We believe we can protect ourselves against debt and loss by refusing to follow God by faith. To be sure, there are times when God says, “wait,” and we move because of impatience. But just as often, God says, “go,” and we don’t budge because of fear.
There is no upside to fear—we only hinder ourselves. This is why we are told, “And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God” (Philippians 1:28). Be prepared—the world will fight a church that stands for truth and proclaims the Gospel. Until people trust Christ, the Gospel is to them an unwelcome reminder of pending judgment.
The Christian faith is under open assault, and it has been since the first century. Christian churches have enjoyed brief times of peace, but usually they have operated under direct threat of persecution.
This persecution comes in two forms: oppression and corruption. Satan will try to silence us: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).
But if Satan cannot silence us, he will attempt to change what we are saying. We must remember our purpose—our message—that God has given to us.
If we cower in fear, we reward the efforts of the enemy. But if we strive together in faith and boldly proclaim the Gospel, we advance the truth.
Remember Our Purpose
We are at the center of the greatest purpose God has designed—the redemption of man. God has given to us, His church, the ministry of reconciliation. When we recognize that the issue at stake is not our own personal status, but the souls of men, we will shun division within our local churches.
We must unify around the faith of the Gospel. It is our standard and rallying cry. We do not compromise the message, because it is the power of God unto salvation. It is what binds the members of each local body together.
Alone, Christians are stray sheep waiting to be devoured by the adversary. Together, the church is a protected body that even the gates of Hell cannot prevail against. This is why we must strive together.
When our church built the first auditorium at our current location, we faced some huge obstacles. Half-way through the construction, our general contractor fled the state, taking our blueprints with him. As we tried to act as the general contractor ourselves and manage the bills and contracts, we received a bill for $60,000 that was not in our budget. I remember the sleepless nights pleading with God. I didn’t know what to do, and it seemed like too much for me to bear.
I called a meeting with the men of the church in the unfinished, roofless building. I told them that God had been good to provide, but we had an unexpected bill for $60,000. I felt like a failure as a pastor, and I really expected someone to call me down for my mismanagement of the project. Instead, one man raised his hand and said, “Pastor, I’ll give five hundred dollars.” Then another man gave a thousand, and another, five thousand. In just a few moments, the bill was paid.
That was the work of the Holy Spirit. He bound together the hearts of the men in a spirit of unity. The devil would have loved to laugh at our unfinished building, but instead God was glorified.
This is but a single example of what God will do through a church that is committed to striving together. Through the years, we have been privileged to rejoice together in many other spiritual victories won through striving together.
Has God given you a vision for the work He wants your church to accomplish? Do you long to see your community reached with the Gospel and your church family strengthened and growing in spiritual maturity? The answer is to strive together as a church.
What can God accomplish through a church that will “stand fast, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel?” Anything He wants.
 Barna Group, “Six Megathemes Emerge from Barna Group Research in 2010,” http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/462-six-megathemes-emerge-from-2010