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The Rev. William Thomas: Three enemies of unity

The Bible says that together, we have the mind of Christ. No single disciple can claim that truth. It takes a covenant community of disciples living out their lives together. But it's the "together" part that's tough. Conflicts happen. People have differing viewpoints, opinions and preferences - even different understandings of truth.

The Church of Jesus Christ is gloriously diverse. God designed it that way so that together, like pieces of a mosaic, we might present the fullness of a Savior that touches every human heart. Joined together in the bond of love through the power of the Holy Spirit, our unity is not found in uniformity of doctrine, beliefs, traditions or dress codes, but rests alone in Jesus Christ. That's why Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one. In union with God and each other, we would discover the mind of Christ through the richness of our diverse lives intersecting each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. In Jesus Christ flows the connecting life of the Spirit that unites a diverse people as one, with one passion, one mission, one purpose that is expressed and lived out in countless ways. Therefore, unity must always be on our radar screens - in committee meetings, choir rehearsals, prayer meetings, etc. - because God longs and desires for his family to be one.

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Unity battles three enemies that are too common in congregations. The first is negative talk. The Bible identifies negative talk as gossip and slander. Negative talk tears people down and maliciously ruins reputations. To summarize a multitude of scriptures: God hates it. God hates when his family uses negative talk instead of using their words to encourage, comfort and build people up. To stop it takes a three-step commitment: Don't do it. Don't receive it from others. Gently and lovingly correct those who do it. Since Satan is "the accuser of the brethren," a godly "Please don't do the devil's work" should suffice!

The second enemy: Picking up and holding on to offense. Proverbs 19:11 says it is to our credit to overlook an offense. We have the power to choose to be offended or not. When Jesus visited his hometown, the Bible records that he could do no great miracles because the people were offended in him. By choosing to be offended, they tied the hands of God and didn't receive the great miracles they needed and wanted. We have the same choice. We can pick up and hold an offense - and let go of our miracle. Or we can overlook offense, forgive and hold on to our miracle.

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The third enemy: mismanaging conflict. Conflict happens - even in the Church. The Bible says, "as iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend" (Proverbs 27:17). Properly managed, conflict can sharpen friendships, bring better decisions in meetings and help a congregation grow to be more like Christ. Properly managed, conflict can glorify God and build unity in a church. Mismanaged, it can destroy friendships, divide congregations and then ruin our collective witness for Christ.

Unity is worth pursuing, nurturing and protecting in God's family.

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