The Unity of the Spirit
"Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3). "Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity" (Psa. 133:1). God inspired the apostles by the Holy Spirit to teach us the kind of unity he desires us to have.
Outside of truth, and the privilege to teach and practice it, there is nothing more pleasant and desirable than unity among brethren. I have said many times, about as close to heaven as we will ever be in this world, is when brethren are working together for the Lord in unity and in harmony with the revealed will of God. Surely this is the way it should be, because this is the way God wants it to be.
As Jesus stood almost in the shadow of the cross, he uttered the prayer recorded in John 17. Among other things, he earnestly prayed that those who would believe on him might be united. He prayed, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 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 halt sent me" On. 17:20-21). In these verses we have revealed who is to be united. Those that "believe on me through their word" are the ones that Christ desires to dwell in unity. The word "believe" here carries with it the idea of putting one's confidence in, to trust, hence to obey. He is not praying for the unity of all religious people, or all denominations, but for his faithful and true disciples.
Also, we have revealed in these verses the kind, or degree, of unity our Lord desires among his disciples. "That they all may be one; as thou Father, art in me, and I in thee." Just as the Father and the Son were united in their efforts to save the world, even so the followers of Christ are to be united in Christ. Just as there is unity between God and Christ, in their nature, in their glory, in their mutual endearments, even so must there be unity among the disciples of Christ. The degree of unity that is to exist between Christians is emphasized in John 17:22, when Jesus said, "That they may be one, even as we are one."
Another thing that we find in these verses is, where unity can exist. Our Lord did not just pray that some how or some way we might have unity. He told where we can unite. Listen to him: "That they also may be one in us." In God and in Christ is the only place where people of this earth can have the unity Christ prayed for. To be in God and in Christ is to be in the truth that they have revealed. In this prayer our Lord petitioned the Father that he might "Sanctify them through thy truth" (v. 17). The word "sanctify" literally means "separation to God." But notice that this is accomplished by the "truth" of God's word. If we follow the "truth" it will lead us into Christ, for he said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me" (in. 14:6).
It is impossible for all people to unite upon some human creed, or some man made doctrine, church manual or some other document written by man. This has been tried from time immemorial. The Corinthian Church is an example; they were badly divided. Paul wrote condemning them for the division among them; he desired "... that ye all speak the same thing, that there be no division among you: but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.... Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ" (1 Cor. 1:10-12). They could not have the unity that God desires divided among themselves as they were. There is only one place where unity can be had and that is upon God's revealed word. For "all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Here is where unity can be had by those who want to please God.
How can we have the "unity of the Spirit"? The answer is rather simple. Since the Holy Spirit gave us the Bible and there are no contradictions in his revelation, then let us believe exactly what the Holy Spirit has said on every subject, and there will be unity of faith ("one faith," Eph. 4:5). Let each one teach exactly what the Holy Spirit teaches, "let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Pet. 4:11), and there will be "unity" of teaching. Let each one practice only that which is authorized by the Holy Spirit, "That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col. 1:10). Then there will be "unity" in practice. The Holy Spirit teaches "unity" in teaching, faith and practice! When men leave this rule, it is then that there that they depart from "the unity of the Spirit." Many members of the church have forgotten the mission of the church and the nature of the kingdom of God. It is not the mission of the church to be a social center, nor to entertain, nor to sponsor any kind of recreation, nor to support any organization. The nature of God's kingdom is spiritual, not material.
We are not now nor have we ever made a plea for "union" among the professed followers of Christ. There is a vast difference between "union" and "unity." "Union" is nothing more than an agreement to disagree and say nothing about our differences. That will accomplish nothing but eternal destruction for those who follow such a philosophy. We are pleading for the same unity that Paul was pleading for when he said, "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3). The "unity of the Spirit" is that unity which the Holy Spirit reveals through the word. This is the unity for which we plead.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 7 p. 14-15