We read and hear the terms solidarity, unity and community often in today’s culture, however very infrequently is their provided any real instruction or means by which we can accomplish any of these worthy goals. This is not the first time in human history that a culture struggled to find the path to gain unity. The church in the decades that followed Jesus’ earthly ministry needed the same guidance we need today to gain and maintain unity. All of this instruction was directed to the church and can only be fully realized when Christ is at the center, but the principles can go a long way even for an individual who struggles to accept Christ.
The first principle I would like to propose is that of knowing one another. Romans 12:16 commands the believers to be of one mind to one another, and Paul prays for this unity in 15:5. This unity of thought and focus can only be seen when each member is seeking after God, but the command to be of one mind cannot be looked upon as an impossibility. It must be understood as well that no one of faith is to be excluded from this unity. Paul now writes in Romans 15:7 that we are to accept one another. This means that we are not to exclude from fellowship anyone who has believed. Bonhoeffer states that, “God Himself taught us to meet one another as God has met us in Christ (Bonhoeffer, 1954). To what extent am I to know others in my church? What connection is necessary to produce a unity of mind? James answers that question with this statement, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed (James 5:16).” It is hard to imagine any deeper connection then one where your weaknesses are revealed and those who understand are praying that you may be restored and strengthened. This is the goal of knowing one another. We know one another so that we can admonish (Romans 15:14) and build up (Romans 14:19) one another. This is terrifying to say the least, because openness to others often results in hurt caused by those not seeking the unity of the body. Again Scripture has the answers. We are instructed to be clothed with humility (1 Peter 5:5). If an individual seeks to approach others without trying to place them on a scale or assigning them a rank, then they may feel free to share. When secrets are revealed or hurt takes place within the body, then Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13 both state that we are to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving of others. This response to negative circumstances or actions will result in the restoration of the principle of one-mindedness that Paul commanded in 12:16.
Knowing one another is a foundational principle to everything else we try to do as we work towards solidarity, unity, and community. Loving one another is a second principle that may be the most recognizable in terms of having heard it said, but not in terms of seeing it practiced. Its importance to the church’s community cannot be understated as Christ (John 13:34–35; 15:12, 17), Paul (Romans 13:8), and John (1 John 3:11) all command the believers to love one another. Christ places special emphasis on this command by stating:
- Love as I have loved (John 13:34; 15:12)
- Love others so people will know you are mine (John 13:35)
- Love others the way you love yourself (Matthew 22:39)
The requirement placed on the follower of Christ is clear and the extent to which the believer was to love can be clearly seen. Paul adds to the extent to which we should love by stating, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (Romans 12:10). Peter also contributes to our understanding by writing, “Fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). A fervent devotion to love one another will be the identifiable mark of a church whose community is healthy and whose members understand how important the unity of the body really is. Devotion is a testimony best seen when sin creeps into the body. During these times, humility and gentleness with patience are our best tools for maintaining community within the church (Ephesians 4:2).
Understanding that we are commanded to love one another and seeing the importance placed upon this discipline is overwhelming. How can any church really practice this kind of love within their community of faith? In human strength alone it is impossible, but in Christ it can be done. In 1 Thessalonians 3:12, Paul writing to the church in Thessalonica prays that, “the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another.” This request was not for the accomplishment of an impossible feat, for Paul continued to say, “Just as we also do for you.” Paul’s desire for this church was that they carry out and experience what he himself was already practicing. Christ enables us to love in this way, but He also teaches us to do this through His Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:9).
Knowing one another and then loving one another are core principles from Scripture that if followed can go a long way with our families, friends, schools, and town.