Virtuous unity is both identifiable and achievable, and the Lord makes both possible. A part of Jesus prayer as recorded in John 17 sets forth principles that are applicable. A part of this prayer pertains to “believers” (verses 20-23), with unity being the principal subject. A study of expressions used should convince that here is both a pattern for unity and a process for achieving it.
1. The unity prayed for is one of agreement. “. . . . that they may be one, even as we (Christ and the Father) are one” (verse 22). Harmony of positions characterizes the relations of Christ and the Father (Jn 10:30). Neither the Son nor the Father holds views that are in conflict with those of the other. The unity here endorsed and prayed for is a unity in which genuine agreement, not artificial tolerance is evidenced.
2. The unity (agreement) prayed for is one in which the agreement is with God. “As you, Father, are in me, and I in you that they also may be one in us” (verse 21). The Lord prayed, not just that all believers be in agreement with one another, but also that they be in agreement with Christ and the Father. The only meaningful unity pertaining to spiritual relationships is that which has to do with acceptance of, and accommodation to arrangements of God. Thus, attempts to arrive at unity among believers while disparaging or ignoring unity with God cannot be that to which the Lord is here referring. Any “fellowship” that is arranged for by contrived compromise of men, while depreciating complete compliance with the Lord’s will cannot be the unity for which the Lord prayed. For such effort refuses to take into consideration the part that God plays in the matter of unity.
3. The unity prayed for is one that stems from provisions of Christ. “The glory which you gave me I have given them; (so) that they may be one, even as we are one” (Verse 22). The exaltation experienced by Christ, with the blessings and authority – connected therewith, has as its design, among other things, unity of believers. Every divinely authorized endeavor for Christians is thus a divine provision that encourages unity. By its very nature, the gospel is promoter of proper unity. Nothing else can encourage the unity for which Christ prayed. Additions to, deletions from, or an ignoring of any of the Lord’s provisions do not promote this unity. Participation in all and only such provisions does.
These general principles pertaining to unity are particularized in Ephesians 4:3-6. Here the “divine chain of unity” is presented, every “link” vitally involved in the process of attaining and maintaining the “unity of the Spirit.” They are:
1. One body (church – Eph. 1:22-23; 2:16): one “fellowship” in which all Christians are partners;
2. One Spirit: one Life to animate all who are of that one body;
3. One hope: one ultimate aspiration and objective to be held by all;
4. One Lord: one Master to be served by all;
5. One faith: one system of truth (the gospel) to be accepted by all (Jude 3 f; Rom. 1: 16) and in which that one Lord is to be served by all (Rom. 1:9);
6. One baptism: one means by which entrance is obtained by all into that new relationship;
7. One God: one source of blessing and object of worship for all.
These “ones,” so essential to virtuous unity, are fully adequate for such unity, and all are adequately revealed in the Scriptures. Thus the Scriptures are essential to obtaining and maintaining virtuous unity