Perhaps no part of Jehovah’s revelation of Himself to Israel was better understood, and yet more poorly maintained practically, than the truth that “there is one God”. The declaration of His unity prefaced the summary of the Law that declared Jehovah’s exclusive right to His people’s devotion: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”¹ But Satan, the father of lies, is always hard at work to detract from or destroy, by all means, the testimony and the effect of revealed truth on the souls of those who are responsible for holding and keeping that truth. Because of that evil principle, Israel and Judah fell into idolatry time and again throughout their history up until they were taken captive by ignorantly idolatrous nations, so that the testimony of the one true God seemed all but snuffed out on the earth. However, the story did not end in that decadent state of things, for God always prevails in defending and displaying His own glory before all created things.
In sending His Son into the world to manifest His heart and to accomplish His eternal purpose, God revealed Himself as one God in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This doctrine came to be known as the “trinity” in historical Christianity. Now, in this dispensation (the “administration of the mystery”²), the triune God has according to His counsel wrought a unity that could not have been foreseen by men or angels before Christ came, for it was “hid in God”. The church (assembly) of God was formed into one body by the baptism of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost; there had never been anything like it in past ages, nor will it be simulated in the age to come, in the “administration of the fullness of times” (Ephesians 1:10).
The incarnate Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, declared that by His death and resurrection He would accomplish His desire to form into a unity all the scattered children of God, Jew and Gentile. “I lay down My life for the sheep. And I have other sheep which are not of this fold: those also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one flock, one Shepherd. On this account the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again” (John 10:15-17). The high priest Caiaphas, though an enemy of Christ, prophesied accurately “that Jesus was going to die for the nation; and not for the nation only, but that he should also gather together into one the children of God who were scattered abroad” (John 11:49-52).
The inspired epistles give us further teaching on this wonderful subject in retrospect. The work of Christ allowed for the creation of a corporate unity between Jew and Gentile that would have been impossible without that work, because of ancient national prejudices. Paul writes to the Ephesians that Christ giving His life, flesh and blood, was in order to “make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that He might reconcile both [circumcision and uncircumcision] unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby” (Ephesians 2:13-18). Equally true and precious is the fact that individual believers in Christ, without respect to any group they had been a part of, are “in the power of one Spirit . . . baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bondmen or free” (I Corinthians 12:13).
The Father also has a supreme interest in the oneness of those whom He gave to the Son for redemption. In John 17, we see the Lord Jesus ask His Father, in several contexts, to keep His own in unity — “that they all may be one”. This communion between the Father and the Son is particularly precious and holy ground, and is given so that we might have Jesus’ joy fulfilled in us. Here he asks for oneness for His disciples in their mission of testifying to the truth of the Father’s name and of His word (v. 11). He also asks for all that would believe on Himself through the apostles’ word, that there might be unity in testimony to the world as to God’s revelation of Himself in His Son (v. 20-21), so that world might believe. Jesus then asks that the glory He received from the Father and gives to His own would make them one — one in the glory of the privilege of eternal life and sanctification,³ that which makes the children of God like Christ in this world (v. 22). Finally, Jesus asks the Father that His own “may be made perfect in one”, and this ultimate perfection will occur when His people are on display with Himself, reigning together over a world that will be made to know what so many now refuse to believe (v. 23): that the Father sent the Son to bring many sons to glory, and they will forever be objects of the Father’s love, as well as of the Son’s. The Father is not at all hindered, and will certainly not fail, in meeting the Son’s demands*, even though the church appears to be all broken up in this world because of our failure as Christians.
What then is the failure of Christians with respect to the unity of the Christian testimony? If the work of Christ, the Son of God, guaranteed the formation of a perfect, inviolable unity of believers, and if God the Father fulfills the Son’s request that believers be one in privilege and in the testimony of the Father sending the Son, what could be the enemy’s point of attack? For Satan seeks to destroy the testimony of the “one body” in this world as much as he sought to destroy Israel’s testimony to the one true God.
The enemy attacks where the responsibility of man meets the activity of the Spirit of God — at the point where the word of God commits to saints the responsibility of “using diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The ascended Christ sent the Holy Spirit to baptize believers into one body, as seen in Acts 2. The balance of that book of the Acts of the Apostles gives us much teaching, by example and illustration, on how the followers of Christ answered to the Spirit in the keeping of that unity which He had formed at Pentecost in Jerusalem. We read there of several threats to the maintenance of the Spirit’s unity, and how that the apostles and elders were led of the Spirit to avoid early failure in the collective testimony to the unity of the body of Christ, for they were keeping “the unity of the Spirit” practically. In the epistles, we find accounts and warnings of deviations from that unity. These are written for our learning, of course, and in a future article, as the Lord allows, some of these lessons may be addressed for the benefit of those who esteem highly that unity which is according to the Spirit of God, and who desire to keep it with diligence.
There is a thing of wonder on the earth that is the work of the triune God. It is the unity of believers in Christ, formed into one flock and one body, and intimately associated with Him who is both their Shepherd and Head.° This unity exists for the glory of the Father, for the fulfillment of the Son, and according to the model of the “one Spirit”. While this brief summary falls short of presenting “all the counsel of God” concerning His purposes in this dispensation, we who believe have the blessed right to rejoice as we grow in the knowledge of the mystery of Christ, who will soon display us with Himself in glory.
¹ Mark 12:29-32; James 2:19; Deuteronomy 6:4; Malachi 2:10
² Ephesians 3:9 (J. N. Darby translation and NASB)
³ I John 1:1-2; John 17:1-3; Hebrews 2:10-11
* See J. N. Darby’s rendering of erótaó as “demand” — (“to ask on special footing, intimacy”) requests from a “preferred position” (E. Abbot, Johannine Grammar, 467,8). Such requesting receives special consideration because of the special relationship involved.
° John 10:16 (J. N. Darby trans.); Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 2:19
(Numerous quotations from the scriptures in this article are from the New Translation, by J. N. Darby.)