Updated: May 27, 2021
The “scandal” of unity
If you have been following me for any amount of time, you know that we've gone through a great trial here in Israel. No, I'm not speaking about Hamas, nor am I speaking about the persecution that we experienced when we birthed Shelanu TV. I'm speaking about an attack from within.
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About five years ago, some brothers brought some concerns about our doctrine within Tikkun (network of leaders with whom I serve). This led to accusations of dishonesty, that we preach two different messages, one in Hebrew and one in English (never entered our minds)—and even suggestions that we might be heretics.
When the entire eldership of the Messianic body came together to discuss these issues, a certain individual was invited to give a message—our main accuser (we were not invited to give a message 😃). One of his points was that truth trumps unity. He accused us of wanting unity at all costs—even at the expense of truth. Of course, this is nonsense.
Most people obsessed with heresy hunting have little patience for unity, reconciliation, or anything that can be interpreted as ecumenical. So, because we place a high value on Scripture's admonition to "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit," we were accused of not placing the correct value on truth.
Let me be clear, without the truth of God's word, we are utterly lost. It is the truth of God's word and Yeshua's work on the cross that has brought us from darkness to light. Yes, the truth has set us free! (John 8:32) One of my greatest pleasures in life is to spend hours in deep study of God's word—truth.
It seemed as if we were being accused of not loving truth sufficiently because of our love for unity and peace.
The "scandalous" story of Euodia and Syntyche
So, what does the Bible say about unity?
Let me share with you a passage that doesn't get much fanfare. I think you're going to find its deeper meaning quite powerful.
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Phil. 4:2-3)
The entire book of Philippians was written because of what we can find in this verse. What do we learn from this passage? There were two women who were leaders in the Philippian congregation. Their names were Euodia and Syntyche. There was some disagreement between them that was causing division in the Philippian congregation.
In fact, if you read this verse and understand that Paul was addressing a specific schism, and then go back and read all of Philippians, you will have a better understanding of the entire reason the book was written.
He makes a very passionate plea for unity in 2:1-2
He defines humility in 2:3 as "value others above yourselves."
He tells them in 2:4 to not only look to their own interests but help others achieve their goals.
In 2:5-11, the heart of the book, he tells them to be like Jesus. In other words, "WWJD" means being willing to go to the cross and die for the sake of other people when you deserve the exact opposite.
He then uses both Timothy and Epaphroditus as examples of faithful servants—in other words, people they should emulate.
In chapter 3, he makes it clear that status and pedigree mean nothing. Only knowing Messiah has any value. In other words, "what is all of your bickering achieving?"
He shares how anything that gets in the way of fulfilling the call of God is a waste of time in 3:12-14.
All of these statements are leading up to his public rebuke of Euodia and Syntyche. Paul has great affection for these two. When addressing one's enemies in the Ancient Near East, it would be customary to leave them nameless.
That he names them at all is evidence of friendship since one of the marks of enmity in polemical letters is that enemies are left unnamed, thus denigrated by anonymity.
But friendship should not be misconstrued as approval. Paul is clearly not happy with their behavior and is concerned that it could cause a deep division in the Philippian community. While there can be no doubt that Paul is a warrior for truth and sound doctrine, we must also acknowledge that he equally fights for unity in the body. In 1 Corinthians 1 and 3, he rebukes them for creating loyalty cliques. (1 Cor. 1:11-12, 3:4)
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Cor. 1:10)
In 1 Corinthians 3, he gives a very stern warning to anyone who would cause division in the body.
Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for God's temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Cor. 3:16-17)
Whether this is eternal destruction for the divider or a temporal punishment, scholars argue. But there can be no mistake. It is a very serious offense to cause division amongst brothers. Proverbs says that one of the six things God hates is "a person who stirs up conflict in the community."
This is why Paul is so concerned for the church (in Corinth): God is living in this community through his Spirit. It can be corrupted or harmed by strife, division, and boasting over human leaders.
Yeshua Prayed for Unity
Yeshua, who was the essence of truth, who is called the word of God, prayed for unity. If you look at John 17, he seems quite concerned that his future followers walk in unity. This is the one chapter that we have in the entire new covenant, where Jesus is giving a full, deep prayer to the Father.
Three times he prays that we would be one even as he and the Father are one. It should be no surprise that he also speaks of the importance of truth. (John 17:17)
The idea that we would pit truth against unity is a dangerous one. Even a new believer could easily understand the importance of truth in the New Testament body. But as you grow and mature in your understanding of the New Testament, you cannot avoid the constant theme throughout the New Testament: a call to unity.
To treat unity as the ugly stepchild of the always attractive truth is to miss the mark. When I studied how to interpret the Bible, we were taught the meaning of sin. In Greek, it means to miss the mark. My professor applied this term, sin, to Bible interpretation. We tend to think of sin in terms of morality. As a lover of the word of God, she saw sin as not rightly handling the word of God, thus missing the mark through sloppy exegesis.
Oh, that we would one day fulfill Yeshua's prayer of walking in unity and being one with the Father and with the Son.
Footnote: Please continue to pray for unity in. the Israeli body, as this issue is still not resolved and probably won't be until October. I can honestly say that I am glad for it. While we were not guilty of the accusations against us, it did help us see where we communicated recklessly. We did have things we needed to correct. So, whatever the outcome, I am grateful for the process, even if it was flawed.