By Vernon Mathews
The cultural moment in which we find ourselves has provided us with numerous opportunities for conflict and division. This is true not only across society, but specifically within the context of the church. Whether discussing COVID-19, racial injustice, or the upcoming presidential election, these conversations can quickly lead to anger, hostility, and division. Of course there are always threats to unity, but it does seem in this particular cultural climate, there are increased pressures on us as followers of Jesus as we attempt to maintain unity with one another.

It’s worth noting that conflict is not inherently wrong. Author Ken Sande defines conflict as, “a difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires.” As humans, we all have different experiences which shape our understanding of reality. It is a normal and healthy thing for Christians to disagree over all kinds of issues. The danger comes into play when we allow disunity over a given issue to threaten our unity in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 4:1-3, we receive a mandate to actively strive for unity with other believers in Jesus.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

We notice a few characteristics of Christian unity in these verses. First, we learn that we are to actively strive for unity. In doing this, our attitude ought to be one not of duty, but rather eagerness. Our love for the Lord Jesus and desire for God to be glorified, serves as the motivation for unity. In the process of striving for unity, we are to be marked by humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another.

Here are a few practical suggestions for obeying these verses as we seek unity in Christ:

1. Listen more, talk less. If you find yourself in a disagreement with a great fellow believer, it’s a great opportunity to obey James 1:19. Be slow to speak and quick to listen. Ensure that you are not listening simply to respond but rather that you are listening in order to truly understand the other’s point of view.

2. Be mindful of your sin. However sharp your disagreement with someone may be, it’s important to remember how prone your own heart and mind are to sin. When we remember our fallenness, it produces a measure of humility in us. No one has perfect theology, philosophy, or politics.

3. Be humble. Exercising humility in a conversation in some ways involves both of the points above. Embrace the fact that you may have something to learn in the conversation.

4. Consider others more significant than yourselves. This includes valuing the thoughts and opinions of others more than your own. While it’s not always wrong to want to persuade others to adopt your point of view, sometimes the most loving thing is to show the other person that you value their thoughts and opinions, even if you do not agree with them.

5. Trust the Holy Spirit. We can do our best to argue with and persuade others, but ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit who must bring conviction and clarity to the heart and mind. Leave room for the Spirit to work and perhaps you will find that the Holy Spirit has some work to do on you too.

6. Celebrate your fellowship in the gospel of Jesus. As Christians we can differ on how we understand certain points of theology, politics, economics, and various social issues. Instead of letting this drive a wedge of disunity between ourselves and other Christians, let us instead celebrate the good news of Jesus which has brought us all into the family of God. If we give ourselves to the pursuit of unity, diversity of thought in the kingdom of God is not a threat but a gift.

Recommended Resources: Christ-Centered Conflict Resolution, Tony Merida
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