Unity…three virtues that make it possible

Written by Schalk_and_Elsa on. Posted in Training in righteousness

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puzzle_sThere is much talk about unity in the Messianic community and rightly so. The Messianic community is known for diverseness of ideas and doctrine. This can lead to discord and often does. This is normal in a fallen world, but is there anything we could do to have more unity. We believe that it is possible to have some unity even in our diversity.

Here is our experience. We recently came back from Israel and were privileged to spend time with friends from all over the world. The amazing part is that all of us have differences in some areas of doctrine. Some follow the sighted moon calendar while others are on other calendars, some start their day in the morning while others at sunset, some women wear head coverings, while some don’t. These are just a few examples of the differences between us, there are many more. You may wonder how it is possible to experience any form of unity, especially during the feast times, if people have these differences. Well, it is possible, and we have experienced it for four years now, since going up to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festivals. Our explanation for this can be summed up in one word “LOVE.” Please don’t misunderstand, we are not blowing our own trumpet here; it is not about us. It is about Y’shua being the center, the foundation. We are united through love, in Him. You see; all these things that we differ in, are non-salvation issues. Our foundation, which is Y’shua is the same and that makes it possible for us to dwell together in unity.

This said, would it be possible to have such unity if we were to live together in the same town? Maybe…maybe not. We live in a sinful world, and none of us are perfect; we sin, and sin is what brings disunity, not different doctrine.

However, don’t just take our word for it, let’s look at what is taught in Scripture about unity.

What is unity?

Scripture teaches that it is good and pleasant when brothers dwell together in unity.

Psalm 133:1
1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity!

How are we to define this unity?

The Hebrew word “yahad” is translated as “together in unity” in this verse.

3480 יַחַד (yǎ·ḥǎḏ): adv. [see also 3480.5]; ≡ Str 3162; TWOT 858b—
1. LN 63.1–63.4 together, wholly, in unity, with each other, i.e., pertaining to being whole and in a state of oneness (Ps 133:1), note: often a strengthened position;
2. LN 92.26 each other, i.e., a marker of reciprocation between two persons or groups (1Sa 17:10);
3. LN 59.23–59.34 both, alike, i.e., a unity and totality of exactly two of class, kind, or entity (2Sa 14:16); 4. LN 67.17–67.64 at the same time, now, all at once, i.e., a period of time exactly or virtually the same as another period of time (Isa 42:14);
5. LN 34.1–34.21 united, i.e., pertaining to joining in an association (1Ch 12:18[EB 17]);
6. LN 78.44–78.50 completely, i.e., pertaining to a degree of completeness and fullness (Ps 74:8);
7. LN 69.2–69.6 unit:
לֹא יַחַד (lō(ʾ) yǎ·ḥǎḏ) by no means, surely not, certainly not, i.e., a marker of emphatic negation (Hos 11:7)2

Here is a definition of unity as per the Holman Bible Dictionary:

UNITY State of being undivided; having oneness; a condition of harmony.

Old Testament Central to the faith of Israel is the confession of the unity of God: “Listen, Israel: YHVH our Elohim, YHVH is One” (Deut. 6:4 HCSB). Because God is one, one set of laws was to apply to both Israelites and foreigners (Num. 15:16). Human history is a story of sin’s disruption of God’s ordained unity. God’s ideal for marriage is for husband and wife to experience unity of life, “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Sin in the garden bred mistrust and accusation (3:12). Stubbornness of will (“hardness” of heart, Mark 10:5) continues to disrupt God’s desired unity in marriage. God’s ideal for the larger human family is again unity. The primeval unity of humanity (“same language” Gen. 11:1) was likewise disrupted as a result of sinful pride (11:4–8). The prophetic vision of God’s future anticipates the day when God will reunite the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, bringing back all the scattered exiles (Ezek. 37:15–23). Indeed, the prophetic hope includes the reuniting of all the peoples of the world under the sovereignty of the one Lord (Zech. 14:9).3

This quote defines the situation we are in. When sin came into the world, unity as YHVH ordained it was disrupted. So, in other words, to put it simplistically, if we could take sin out of the equation, perfect unity would be restored. That makes logical sense doesn’t it? We know that it is impossible for us to remove all sin from this world, so perfect unity in this fallen world is an illusion, a dream. Our statement is also confirmed by Scripture as perfect unity would only be restored when Y’shua returns. So, what are we to do in the meantime? Are we to accept the disunity that exists or are we to strive to bring unity through our own means, or is there something else? Before we answer this question, let’s look at how unity is defined through the Apostolic Scriptures as per the Holman Bible Dictionary:

New Testament Y’shua prayed that His disciples would experience unity modeled on the unity that Y’shua experienced with the Father (John 17:11, 21–23). Such unity verifies Y’shua’ God-sent mission and the Father’s love for the world. Y’shua’s prayer for unity was realized in the life of the earliest church. The first believers were together in one place; they shared their possessions and were of one heart and soul (Acts 2:1, 43; 4:32). As in the OT, sin threatened the God-ordained unity. The selfishness of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11), the prejudice of those who neglected the Greek-speaking widows (6:1), the rigidness of those who demanded that Gentiles become Jews before becoming disciples (15:1)—all threatened the unity of the church. In every circumstance, however, the Holy Spirit led the church in working out creative solutions that challenged the church to go beyond dissension to ministry (Acts 6:2–7; 15:6–35). Paul spoke repeatedly of believers as “one body in Christ,” which transcends varieties of giftedness (Rom. 12:5–8; 1 Cor. 12:13, 27–30) and human labels (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14–15; 3:6). For Paul the unity of the church reflects the unity of the Godhead: one Elohim (1 Cor. 12:6), one Master(Rom. 10:12; 1 Cor. 12:5; Eph. 4:5), and one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4, 11; Acts 11:17). Christian unity has various aspects: the shared experience of Messiah as Master and confession of Messiah in baptism (Eph. 4:5, 13); the shared sense of mission (“thinking the same way,” Phil. 2:2 HCSB); the shared concern for one another (1 Cor. 12:25; “same love,” Phil. 2:2; 1 Pet. 3:8); and the shared experience of suffering for Y’shua’s sake (2 Cor. 1:6; Phil. 1:29–30; 1 Thess. 2:14; 1 Pet. 5:9).3

We see from this quote that disunity also existed in the early assembly. The disunity we are experiencing now, is not unique. However, Paul gave some teaching and practical advice on how unity can be obtained and we should do our best to achieve this. Let’s see what Paul taught.

Three virtues and practical advice

Ephesians 4:1–7
1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Master, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Master, one faith, one baptism, 6 one Elohim and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Messiah’s gift.

Paul names three virtues that will promote unity:

The first and most important is humility, second gentleness, and third patience. He also taught that we are to show tolerance for one another in love and to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit.

Considering history and the current situation, it seems to be something we are to consistently strive for. It is hard work.

Let’s have a look at each of these

Humility

How is humility defined? The Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary defines it as follows:

hum•bler \-b(ə-)lər\; hum•blest \-b(ə-)ləst\ [Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin humilis low, humble, from humus earth; akin to Greek chthōn earth, chamai on the ground] 13th century

1 : not proud or haughty : not arrogant or assertive

2 : reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission a humble apology

3 a : ranking low in a hierarchy or scale : INSIGNIFICANT, UNPRETENTIOUS

b : not costly or luxurious a humble contraption — hum•ble•ness \-bəl-nəs\ noun — hum•bly \-blē\ adverb4

And here is what the Bible Knowledge commentary has to say.

In Greek culture, humility was thought of as a vice, to be practiced only by slaves. But Paul stated that saints should be completely humble in their daily walks. This is the opposite of pride. On the other hand Christians should not promote false humility, but should recognize who they are in God’s program (cf. John 3:30; Rom. 12:3). This virtue is listed first because of Paul’s emphasis on unity (pride promotes disunity; humility promotes unity) and to counteract their past pride, so as to facilitate obedience to and dependence on God. Christ was the supreme example of humility (Phil. 2:6–8).5

This gives us a good indication of what being humble is all about. We can test ourselves on this. The lack of humility, or pride is certainly the greatest problem we have when it comes to unity. Whenever differences are debated, there is a change that disunity may result. Why? Because people get angry if their position is questioned. This anger is usually stirred up because of pride. Who wants to be wrong? However, not wanting to be wrong is not an excuse. We are to constrain ourselves and except that we are not always right; we all know in part. Sometimes, even if we believe we are right, we just have to have the humility to agree to disagree before anyone gets upset.

Proverbs 15:18
18 A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, But the slow to anger calms a dispute.

We will not get angry if we do not think more hightly of ourselves than we ought to.

Romans 12:2–3
2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of Elohim is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. 3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as Elohim has allotted to each a measure of faith.

King Solomon summed it up well! hands reaching out

Proverbs 16:18
18 Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling.

We are to humble ourselves because that which has been revealed to us is a gift from YHVH, and none of us know it all. We may after all be wrong.

Y’shua must increase in us and we must decrease. That is true humility.

John 3:30
30 “He must increase, but I must decrease.

Gentleness

The next virtue is gentleness. Here is the definition of gentleness as per the Merriam Webster’s dictionary:

gen•tler \ˈjent-lər, -təl-ər\; gen•tlest \ˈjent-ləst, -təl-əst\ [Middle English gentil, from Anglo-French, from Latin gentilis of a gens, of one’s family, from gent-, gens gens, nation; akin to Latin gignere to beget — more at KIN] 13th century

1 a : belonging to a family of high social station

b archaic : CHIVALROUS

c : HONORABLE, DISTINGUISHED specifically : of or relating to a gentleman

d : KIND, AMIABLE — used especially in address as a complimentary epithet gentle reader

e : suited to a person of high social station

2 a : TRACTABLE, DOCILE

b : free from harshness, sternness, or violence

3 : SOFT, DELICATE

4 : MODERATE — gent•ly \ˈjent-lē\ adverb4

Here is the commentary on the verse. Very wise words…

A believer is to be gentle or “meek” (prautētos; cf. the adverb of this word in Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:25 and the noun in Gal. 5:23; Col. 3:12; 1 Peter 3:16). This is the opposite of self-assertion, rudeness, and harshness. It suggests having one’s emotions under control. But it does not suggest weakness. It is the mean between one who is angry all the time and one who is never angry. One who is controlled by God is angry at the right time but never angry at the wrong time. Moses was known as the meekest of all men (Num. 12:3, KJV). Yet he got angry when Israel sinned against God (Ex. 32). Christ was meek and humble in heart (Matt. 11:29). Yet He became angry because some Jews were using the temple as a place for thieves (Matt. 21:12–13).5

Gentleness can not be emphisized enough.

Proverbs 15:1
1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.

Paul described this gentleness very well…

1 Thessalonians 2:7
7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.

Patience

The third virtue is patience. Here is the definition:

pa•tient \ˈpā-shənt\ adjective

[Middle English pacient, from Anglo-French, from Latin patient-, patiens, from present participle of pati to suffer; perhaps akin to Greek pēma suffering] 14th century

1 : bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint

2 : manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain

3 : not hasty or impetuous

4 : steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity

5 a : able or willing to bear — used with of

b : SUSCEPTIBLE, ADMITTING patient of one interpretation — pa•tient•ly adverb4

Believers should exhibit patience (makrothymias). Patience is the spirit which never gives up for it endures to the end even in times of adversity (James 5:10). It is the self-restraint which does not hastily retaliate a wrong (cf. Gal. 5:22; Col. 1:11; 3:12; 2 Tim. 4:2).5

We have to be patient with each other as YHVH is still patient with us.

Proverbs 25:15
15 By forbearance a ruler may be persuaded, And a soft tongue breaks the bone.

1 Thessalonians 5:14
14 We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

Paul adds that we are to show tolerance in love and preserve the unity in Spirit.

Showing tolerance in love and be diligent in preserving the unity in Spirit

What is tolerance? We have previously written an article about tolerance, here is the link: “How tolerant should we be, if at all?”

Here is the Merriam Webster’s definition:

tol•er•ance \ˈtä-lə-rən(t)s, ˈtäl-rən(t)s\ noun

15th century

1 : capacity to endure pain or hardship : ENDURANCE, FORTITUDE, STAMINA

2 a : sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own

b : the act of allowing something : TOLERATION4

What does it mean to have unity in spirit?

John 17:20–21
20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even 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 sent Me.

Unity in Spirit is unity in belief and this is where love comes in. Love is the perfect bond of unity!

Colossians 3:12–14
12 So, as those who have been chosen of Elohim, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as YHVH forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

Conclusion

Perfect unity is almost unattainable due to sin in the world. However, we as believers in Y’shua should strive to be in unity with our brothers and sisters in the faith. Pride, harsh words or impatience can quickly disrupt any unity that exists. Practicing humility, gentleness and patience makes unity possible even when we don’t agree on everything. We are to focus on what unite us, or better said on Who unites us, Y’shua our Messiah. Our salvation is through Him, and if we focus on Him, we could indeed have unity. We are united in our love for Y’shua and our salvation through Him as well as our love for each other.

The last quoted verse sums it up well. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

Some people believe that we need to compromise our convictions in order to have unity. That is a new trend we are seeing in the messianic community. In the following article, we will show you that you don’t need to and should not compromise in order to be in unity with others. So, think about this and look out for the next article. We will show you that YHVH even honors our convictions, if we steadfastly live according to it. Please subscribe to make sure you don’t miss the next article about how not to achieve unity.

References

  1. All quoted passages are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. We have substituted YHVH for LORD and Y’shua for Jesus.
  2. Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  3. Church, C. (2003). Unity. In (C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler, Eds.)Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
  4. Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
  5. Hoehner, H. W. (1985). Ephesians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 632). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
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Comments (2)

  • Kraig

    |

    I just wanted to say great job on this post. I really appreciated it and thought it very insightful. I thought the verses you brought out and the attributes of unity that you expounded upon were excellent. One passage that I have always enjoyed that just shows Paul’s continuity through all his letters is Philippians 2:1-5. It fits so well with Eph. 4 and Col. 3. We miss being able to meet up with you on a regular basis. Hope you are doing well. Many blessings in Yeshua!

    Reply

    • Schalk_and_Elsa

      |

      Thanks Kraig! We miss you too, maybe we can skype this week on shabbat?

      Shalom

      Reply

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