Unique & United
Ever heard of the Dutch word “eenheidsworst”? Literally translated, this would be sausage-unity. It’s a type of unity where you have to lose your uniqueness in. This is not the type of unity the Bible calls us to. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul compares the church to a body, where all the unique parts contribute in a uniquely valuable way to form a well-functioning unity.
In this message, I want to talk about a tension we may experience sometimes in a church. It is a tension of uniqueness and unity. God has created all of us uniquely – with our own personality, strengths, weaknesses and some of us with a special manual. God has also created us to live intimately connected to others.
So, how can we be united with people that are so unlike us? It’s easy to be united when everyone thinks the same, feels the same and does the same. But our experience of church community is often so different. In relationships with others – and especially in an international church, we encounter people that believe in the same Lord, but have very different ideas and experiences than our own.
Unity is not similarity. In Dutch we have such a beautiful way to refer to similarity: 'eenheidsworst'. A unity like a sausage. In a sausage, different meats are squashed in together, often after being put through a mincer. In the sausage, each unique part loses its identity in the end product. The unity that the Bible calls us to, though, is not a unity like a sausage, but unity like a body.
The Body of Christ
The New Testament offers us a very powerful metaphor for the Christian community: The Body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NLT)
The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.
When church is understood in terms of a body with many parts, the call to unity is never a call to lose your uniqueness, but an invitation to fully embrace your unique part. It helps us to understand that only in connection to others, can we be fully unique.
Three reasons why the church should be united in its diversity
Before we continue reading about what Paul has to say about the church as the body of Christ, I want to explore three reasons why the church should be united in diversity.
1) Unity in diversity is God’s design
When you look at nature, you see unity in diversity. Just think of all the colours, shapes and forms of life. Think of the animals, flowers, trees, the mountains, the seas and the way it all forms a beautiful piece of art.
God is a creative God and so, as He has created so much diversity in all of creation – so He has created every human being to be unique. Every human being has a unique DNA, a unique finger print and a unique appearance. Did you know that even the sound of your voice is absolutely unique?
All of that diversity is intentional and tells us that God would like to see that diversity in His church as well. If the church is the house of God – every person should be welcome, because we are all God’s creatures.
God gathers all of us in His house to form one family together. You know, you can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your family. Yet, family bonds are usually stronger than friendships. Church is more like a family than a group of friends.
You don’t get to choose everyone, and there is always a strange uncle and a weird cousin – but your connection to them goes beyond mutual interests, like in friendships. It’s a connectedness that is more like that connection most of us feel with family.
2) Unity in diversity is a testimony
Humans worldwide and in all times have always wrestled with accepting each other’s differences. It is why children get bullied in school, why people can end up living isolated and lonely and it causes segregation in societies. Ultimately, it can even lead to war!
What a great testimony can we send out in to this world when a church forms a true unity in its diversity. What if we can form such an intimate unity, it would truly feel like becoming part of a family?
John 13:34 (NLT)
Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.
By being united in our diversity, we testify what it means to be followers of Jesus. It’s not by our love for the world, but first of all, by our love for each other, that we are a testimony. If we can truly pull this off, the world will be amazed.
And let’s be honest, unity is not necessarily been the hallmark of church history. So many denominational disagreements have harmed the testimony of the church. And so many church conflicts have harmed the lives of Christians. Jesus calls us to unity, even in our diversity.
3) Unity in diversity leads to effectiveness
1 Corinthians 12:14-20 (NLT)
Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?
But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body.
Diversity is a strength, not a weakness! I’m convinced that, only when we embrace that diversity, we can fulfil all that God has called us to be. Because we are such a diverse group of people, we can reach a great variety of people.
Paul’s point in this passage is that, when everyone actually plays their unique part, there is no limit to what is possible for the body!
Three ways we can be united in diversity
So, after exploring the reasons why unity in diversity is so important, now let’s explore how we can do this.
1 Corinthians 12:21-27 (NLT)
The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.
1) We are united when we care for each other
One day, a man went to the doctor and said: “doctor, I’m in pain”. “Where?” said the doctor. “Everywhere!” the man said. “When I press here, it hurts. And there. And there…” “Ah”, said the doctor, “I see what is going on. Your finger is broken.”
When something in your body hurts, you hurt. You are in pain. It is not just your arm that hurts, or tooth or your head that hurts – you hurt. Pain affects you completely.
This is what Paul is referring to when he said: If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it,
The church is called to be a place where people look after each other. The people that need help and care, should receive it – within the scope of what we can offer.
This is one of the reasons why I encourage everyone to become part of a Home Group. Because, in that group, you are connected to other people who can look out for you and know what is going on in your life. They will be the first to jump in to help you when life gets tough.
The church is the ‘place to be’ in every season of life.
The church is the ‘place to be’ in every season of life.
All is going well? You can share from your overflow. Are you in a season of doubt and truth seeking? It’s a place to ask questions and face the struggle together. Are you going through something painful? Let this be a place of healing, hope and comfort. Are you currently in a spiritually dry place? Let this place become a wellspring of living water.
2) We are united when we have a shared purpose
The unity in a church doesn’t lie in everyone being the same, but in a shared purpose. That’s also why we encourage you to contribute in your unique way. 1 Peter 2:5 says: “you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.” We see every person that is being added to our church community as uniquely valuable, carrying a unique calling and a unique contribution to the rest of the body.
I love how Paul uses this whole metaphor to point us both to our own unique contribution, and to our dependency on one another. A hand cannot function without being connected to the rest of a body – except in the Adams Family…
Only when we are connected to our church family, can we fulfil God’s full purpose for us.
Check out the picture above. This is not what the Body of Christ is supposed to be like!
3) We are united when we follow the same direction
As a church, it is our vision that, wherever you are from and whatever your life looks like right now, you will feel welcome in the house of the Lord. That’s the type of church we want to be.
As a church, the direction we are going in, is drawing closer to Jesus and growing in following Him closely. There is a shared desire to become more like Jesus, every day. The direction is falling more and more in love with Jesus and growing to resemble Him in our daily lives.
We are united in a shared direction, not in a shared pace or place on the journey. Some will run faster than others. Some have already made more progress in this journey than others. Some of us may even feel stuck or lost. Some are still wondering if they actually want to continue following that direction.
Unity is not found in the speed or in the progress on the journey of following Christ, but in sharing the same direction.
My invitation to you, today, is to draw closer into community. I believe that you will become more fully alive as a Christian when you are connected to others – through worshiping together, through being part of a home group, and through playing your unique part.