Why are Christians called to unity? It’s often painful, and requires such a lot of work. People are selfish, sensitive and stubborn. Why not just let us all continue in our own homes, with our own boundaries? What can be the good of letting other people into your personal emotional, spiritual and physical space all the time?
Paul himself was not shy to confront error, false teaching and heresy. He was not afraid to recommend strict discipline for churches or individuals who threatened the stability of the wider church. If pursuing unity is so important, how can confrontation ever be justified? What about schism?
Unity is our goal, and it has a cost. Some things need to be compromised if unity is to be achieved. But what things are we right to let go of, and what things must we contend for at all costs?
Ephesians does not directly answer these questions, but it encourages Christians to a certain way of thinking (a doctrine) that means that unity will be possible. In Chapter 4, when the readers are urged to walk in unity, this exhortation is founded on good reasons, shared in the first 3 chapters. We have good reason to be unified. We have good reason for wives to submit to husbands, and husbands to love their wives, for example. The reason is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is what successfully deals with human pride, selfishness and sin. Only once those things are out of the way can unity ever be approached. We cannot barter for unity by compromising the very thing which deals with our sin. Sin is the ultimate impediment to unity, because sin is selfishness. Unity is not simply a passive “live and let live” mentality, but a thing to actively pursue, with a solid, unshakeable motivation.
Unity is a worthwhile goal. Our ultimate aim is unity with God, with our brothers and sisters and the rest of creation. This kind of harmony of purpose and desire is a beautiful thing, and as we practise unity, we get a glimpse of what that eternal harmony will look like. The way God goes about making all things new is through the gospel of Jesus Christ, so this must also be our own motivation.
These are some of my thoughts on the nature of unity. Please feel free to add your own in the comments section!