On nearly every denomination of bills and coins within the United States, the motto “E PLURIBUS UNUM” appears. Roughly translated from Latin, this means “from many, one”. This is a fitting motto for a country that was assembled from 13 distinct colonies, and has grown into 50 individual states.
However, the balance between individuality (the rights of each state in the union), and unity (the common good of all of the united states) is challenging. When the balance moves too far to one side, the well-being of different states collide, or – in the extreme case – some threaten to leave the union. On the other extreme, trying to treat the entire country as a uniform, homogeneous entity ignores the unique needs and contributions of specific groups and regions.
The body of Christ – the church – shares some attributes with this complicated union. Each follower of Jesus is uniquely created, and has a God-given purpose. We are as different as one can imagine – spanning combinations of homeland, age, ethnicity, skills, language, culture, and style. On the other hand, following Jesus gives us a common purpose (even if our roles to implement God’s overall plan differ), a common faith, and an obligation to seek harmony with others – especially other believers.
Paul, writing in a letter to the church in Ephesus, makes this clear.
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:1-6 NASB
(See also Ephesians 4:7-13, for more about the church’s simultaneous diversity and unity; how it has strength through each uniquely-gifted member working towards a common goal.)
However, as politicians, analysts, and lawyers sort out how to run a country made of individual states, the church has a “secret weapon” to help it succeed: its one fundamental intersection point – its ultimate common ground – is also the source of its strength.
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Ephesians 4:14-16 NASB
Jesus is the head of the church, no matter where or when His followers live, or how different they are from each other. As a result, if we love Jesus, but are really having some challenges with some of His other followers, perhaps the first step is not to confront them. Rather than accost a fellow believer, or ignore them, maybe there is another way. The next time you struggle with unity among your brothers and sisters, try this instead of just gritting your teeth and willing yourself to be nice:
Invest – with all your might – in your own personal relationship with Jesus.
The more that we seek to be like Jesus – our ultimate example – and seek His perfect blend of grace and truth, the more that we will be able to relate to others like He did. The more that we exemplify His love for others, the more that others can follow our quiet example (where we emulate Jesus’ example – see 1 Corinthians 11:1), rather than fighting for their own point of view.
In the physical body, the hands and feet need to work together for complex tasks (like texting while walking down the sidewalk, but don’t do that). Rather than working on their own, and just “trying” to work together, they achieve great things by being simultaneously controlled by the brain. In the same way, we can best get along with others in the body of Christ when we are all connected to the Head of the church: Jesus the Messiah.
Yes, we’ll still have to interact with other Christians in our walk with Jesus. God directs us how to lovingly help those who are getting off-track, and restore them to truth. But, the best way to know how to work with other Christians is to grow even closer to Jesus, becoming more like Him (with the help of the Holy Spirit) each day.