Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! Psalms 133:1

by Steven Chan

During the recently concluded Chinese Asian Bible Lectureship (CABL) held at the Avani Sepang Gold Coast, it was indeed good and pleasant to see “brethren dwelling together in unity” as they sought to encourage one another to “trust in God during times of sufferings”. The theme was appropriate as many face challenging times in their lives.

When brethren are united, much can be done. In Gen 11:6 the LORD said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.” Unfortunately, in Gen 11, what the people were united to do, was not pleasing to God, and He “confused their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech, so that they can then be scattered over the face of the earth (Gen 11:7-9).

Jesus taught that “division” will weaken a kingdom or a house. He declared in Mark 3:24-25: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”  His concern just before he was to be betrayed by Judas and handed over to be tried and crucified, was for the unity of His disciples after He was no longer with them as recorded in John 17:20-24:

20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”

In Phil 4:2-3, mindful of the need to be united and be of one mind, our beloved apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi made a specific plea to two sisters there to “be of the same mind in the Lord”:

“I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.”

The two women, Euodia and Syntyche, were among the women who worked with Paul in the gospel along with Clement and others.  Their names are all in the book of life.  Paul was nonetheless concerned that the differences between the two ladies ought not to continue, and so he pleaded with them to be of the same mind. We do not know whether the two women heeded the plea of the apostle Paul but we do know that workers in the Lord ought to be of the same mind “in the Lord”, ie with regards matters of the Lord as well as the fact that they are both in the Lord.

Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus as recorded in Eph 4:1-3:

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

We need to make every effort to keep the unity of the brethren (for we are all baptized into One body by One Spirit – I Cor 12:13) and we are directed to live in peace with one another (Rom 12:18) as we preach the gospel of peace (Rom 10:15; Eph 6:15). It will not look good to outsiders to see disunity among those who preach the gospel of peace as it would appear to them that the preachers of peace do not practice the principles of peace themselves! (Matt 23:3; Rom 2:1).

The wisdom of God as revealed through the writings of the apostle Paul tells us that we need to have the attitude of “all lowliness, gentleness, longsuffering” as we “bear with one another in love”.

The first phrase emphasizes the need for “humility, not being harsh or loud, and not short-fused or not prone to react without restraint – either in anger like Cain in Gen 4:5-8, or in deep disappointment so as to be deeply depressed like Elijah in I Kings 19 ” to what our brethren may have done to us. The last phrase means that we need to “put up” with one another on matters of indifference, matters of opinion, matters of personal preferences – subject at all times to the principle of expediency as motivated by love for the brethren and the desire to win souls – Rom 14:15; I Cor 6:12; 8:12-13; 10:23-24, 31-33.

It does not mean that we “put up” or tolerate any sinful practice in our midst. Paul exhorted the brethren in Corinth: –

”Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened….For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”  (I Cor 5:7, 12-13)

If seek to follow Christ, then we must heed what He said in Luke 9:23: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Denial of self means: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”(Gal 2:20) There’s no reason to react without restraint or self control as we belong to Christ and seek only to please Him – the evil darts directed at us would be quenched by our shield of faith in God who judges righteously; He is the one who will avenge all wrongs (Eph 6:16; Rom 12:19-21). Why are we so angry!? As God said to Cain in Gen 4:6-7:-

”So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”

Brethren, let’s heed the prayer of our Lord, and seek to be of one mind in the Lord (John 17:21; I Cor 1:10; Phil 4:1-3; Eph 4:1-3) and so dwell in unity in the bond of peace. We need to study the Word of God so that we can be renewed in our mind and put on the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5) as taught in Eph 4:23-24:

“and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”

And also in Rom 12:2:

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”