There is always a balance that Christians must seek to maintain. On the one hand, we are to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 6:1-4). On the other hand, we are to deal plainly with sin, whether personal or congregational, and this has the potential to create tension. The balance can be delicate. Yet two things are clear in Scripture: 1) Christ wants a united body, and 2) We are all guilty of sin (Rom 3:23), and sinners sometimes try to work around what they know they ought to do. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out how to make this work. Please think through this with me.
Christ wants a united body. Jesus prayed for His disciples who would believe through the teaching of the apostles (which includes us), “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21). That is clear enough, so if Christ’s disciples are going to be faithful to Him, then they, too, will be seeking the unity for which the Lord prayed. We call for unity because Christ did. We pray for unity because Jesus did. It’s a matter of being faithful disciples to the expressed will of the Lord and seeking to follow His example.
There is something else to consider. Calls for unity are not calls for keeping silent about sin. We are not to teach unity of the Lord’s body in order to control a particular narrative and keep others from standing for the oppressed, for example (see, for example, Acts 6:1). Rather, Christ’s disciples are to be united together in their opposition to all wrongs. A united body addresses the problems that keep division alive; it does not sweep the problems under the rug then seek to keep others from talking about what is not comfortable or difficult. That actually promotes division and stands in opposition to Christ. Instead, as with Paul, we are to strive to declare “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:17). That’s not always easy, but it is necessary.
While Christians are to walk in love, walk as children of light, and walk carefully (Eph 5:1, 8, 15), they are also told in the same context, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them…” (Eph 5:11-14). If a particular sin is plaguing God’s people, then we do ourselves no favors by ignoring it. Repentance requires the recognition that Isaiah saw in himself: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…” (Isa 6:5). I surely have to raise my hand here and join in Isaiah’s cry. Thank God He wants to forgive or there would be no hope for me. Yet by recognizing our sin and the sins of those around us, we are then in a position to receive forgiveness and tell others the good news. “Here am I, send me.”
In other words, the Lord, by wanting us to be united, is not saying never to expose evil for what it is. Sin stands against the unity of God’s people. If we are to stand united, then we must do so together in opposition to what is wrong as well as in support of what is right. If we find that we are complicit in sin, then we must repent and seek forgiveness. We are to do so personally, but we are also to do so even as congregations. Think Revelation 2 and 3, where the Lord addressed the problems of the congregations while still commending those who were doing right. These are not mutually exclusive.
The devil need not be the topic of discussion for him to be happy. If we ignore the devil and what he stands for, then we will be silent about that which separates us from God, and the devil wins. This we cannot afford. We need to see him as that roaring lion seeking to devour so that we can actively resist him (1 Pet 5:8-9).
The issue here, then, is not about grumbling and complaining, as we are clearly taught not to do (Phil 2:14). Nor is the issue here about pointing fingers and fighting over who is to blame for what problems may exist. The issue is that we must recognize sin for what it is and stand together against it. This takes humility, personal repentance, sometimes congregational repentance, and a desire to build others up so that all may be saved.
Let us stand together for all that is right and against all that is wrong. This starts with personal commitments to sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts (1 Pet 3:15).