What is unity? Does it mean that everyone thinks the same way? This is the assumption of many, including religious cults. All their people must believe exactly the same. If they think outside of what they are told to think, they cannot be a member of that group. This unity would be like an orchestra that had only violins, or only saxophones.
Christian unity is not like that. It is oneness based on faith in one Person, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our unity, our orchestra leader. We may not have the same ideas, gifts, plans, and way of doing things, but when we are filled with His Spirit and following His direction, everything we do will fit the plan of God and be in harmony. This is an orchestra with all the instruments, each doing their part and following their score for the same piece of music. Together, the sound is incredible.
The Bible says the church is “the household of God” and “the Body of Christ.” It is a “whole structure” that is “joined together” with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. It grows by addition but also grows spiritually and is becoming “a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19–21)
But God does not build His church the same way we would build an orchestra or a house. We talk about His ‘mysterious ways’ without thinking how truly mysterious they are! One of those mysteries is that He builds the church through the blood of the martyrs.
Stephen was the first. When he was stoned for preaching Christ, the rest of them scattered, but they continued “preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.” (Acts 8:4–8) Because of persecution, Samaria heard the music.
If I was forming a group and wanted unity, persecution would be considered a setback, not a catalyst, but God used persecution for His purposes. Jesus even told the disciples this mysterious and outlandish truth about persecution: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:12)
If the church today was dispersed and threatened, I might be more than worried. How would I react? Jesus anticipated how His followers would fear opposition and be concerned about their response. He also anticipated what would become their priority; they would have such a strong desire to tell others that opposition would not stop them, but they would be worried about what to say when it happened.
For that, Jesus said, “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:17–20)
This too is mysterious. God put such a desire in the hearts of His people to share the Gospel that they were more worried about loss of words than they were about loss of comfort, even loss of life. They were prepared to die for Jesus rather than freeze over at the mouth and stop telling others who He is and what He had done.
Paul had this incredible focus also. He went through non-stop trials because he wanted the good news known. He said, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect (those God picked so they could tell others), that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:10–13)
The key to such endurance is dying to self, not caring what happens to me because I’m not concerned about my own destiny. Because of that assurance, I can love others so much that I am willing to endure anything so they can be saved. This is about having the mind of Christ and being motivated by the heart of God.
When it happens to a group called the church, God uses the resulting unity as incredible music, drawing others to its sound.