The Goodness of God’s People (2)
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity! Psalm 133.1
Unity is good
David could hardly be clearer: For God’s people to dwell together in unity is one of the ways His goodness comes to light in the land of the living.
David should know. After all, he spent a good deal of his life experiencing the hardships of disunity. When, as a young man, he fell out of favor with King Saul, the disunity of that period was a source of much fear, uncertainty, want, and sorrow for David. Later, because of his own sins and negligence, David provoked his son, Absalom, to revolt against him, and disunity once again became his lot. The nation was rent into opposing camps, and David was on the run and scheming to save his life and his throne.
Disunity is what everybody experiences naturally. As individuals, corporations, or nations, we don’t automatically bond with people in collaborations of mutual good will. We are naturally selfish, suspicious, and inclined to think about our own wellbeing more than that of others. And this is true even among the followers of Jesus Christ. The unity that David declared to be so good only comes with conscious and diligent effort. We have to work hard, Paul said, to maintain as believers the unity we have in Jesus Christ (Eph. 4.3).
But working hard at unity is worth it, because unity among the followers of Jesus Christ proves that Jesus has come to us from God, and attracts the watching world to the message of His forgiveness and grace (Jn. 17.21).
On the brink of disunity
The opening chapters of the book of Acts show us a community of believers who were basking in the goodness of the Spirit’s unity. They opened their homes to one another; shared of their possessions according to the needs of the community; eagerly learned together; bore animated witness to their neighbors; and deepened their life together in worship and prayer. As we read about these first believers in Jerusalem, we can see why David insisted that brethren living together in unity is such a good thing.
But the unity of the faith which manifests the goodness of God must be diligently maintained (Eph. 4.3). And this was so even among those first Christians.
By Acts 6 the Church in Jerusalem had grown by multiplied thousands. Perhaps as many as 20,000 believers now made up the community of the faithful, and these people were not all from the same background or social strata. Many of them had needs which they looked to the community of brethren to meet, especially those who were widows and without family to care for them.
For some undisclosed reason, one ethnic group’s widows began to be overlooked in the regular distribution. These were not local widows, but Greek-speaking Hebrew women, perhaps transplanted to Jerusalem from the region of Galilee or beyond. We can see how this neglect could introduce a discordant note into the community, and threaten the precious unity that had made the Jerusalem Church such a strong witness for the Lord.
The people, to their credit, did not allow the situation to fester. Instead, they brought the problem to the apostles, who, understanding the value of unity, acted decisively and wisely to redress the situation in a way that maintained the unity of the Spirit among the members of Christ’s Body in Jerusalem.
The attracting power of unity
The results of this successful effort at reinforcing the unity of the Body of Christ were dramatic: “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6.7). Not only were all the indicators of robust unity restored and enhanced, but within the surrounding community, many people, observing this great work, became open to the Gospel. The Word of the Lord increased within the community of faith, as the love of Christ overcame the threat of disunity; and the Word of the Lord increased within the surrounding community, as people saw the power of love at work among disparate social groups, who possessed in common only their faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord.
And even among the priests who were enemies of the Gospel, the impact of this situation was profound. Many of those priests who heard Jesus, and crucified Him; who listened to the apostles, and threatened, detained, and beat them; and who excommunicated from their synagogues those who professed faith in Christ – many of those same priests now became obedient to the Gospel as well.
When brethren live together in unity, it is a very good thing, so good, that even those who have no faith may begin to reconsider their position and beliefs about Jesus. How many opportunities do local churches have – individually and working with other churches – to show the goodness of God by the unity they experience and express together? Undoubtedly, more than we have ever stopped to consider.
1. What are some things that threaten the unity of a local church? What is our duty as individual believers in working hard to maintain the unity we have in Christ?
2. What are some ways local churches might work together to experience and express the unity they have in Christ?
3. Without unity, can we expect the watching world to believe the Gospel? Explain.
Next steps – Conversation: What opportunities for enhancing Christian unity are available to you? Talk with some Christian friends about this question.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.