Ever notice the rhythmic unison displayed by a school of fish? There’s no other viable alternative than to swim individually, while together. A biblical design of identity is both individual and corporate. If I want to know you, I must know who you’re with. The beauty of our corporate identity builds across Scripture and culminates in a complete family worshiping in one voice (Rev 5:9-10). In Philippians, Paul emphasizes the high priority of our corporate identity with a feverish repetition that’s almost peculiar (Phil 1: 27; 2:2). Over and over, he insists we have one mind, one Spirit, full accord, are the same.
God’s people reflect His harmonious communal nature (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). Division conveys a fractured God. It implies that sin’s power to tear us apart exceeds Christ’s power to hold us together. Our unity reflects the very nature of God and signals that He’s moving among us (Phil 1:28).
We will suffer (Phil 1:28-30). God’s people have suffered for centuries because we move within a broken world, and we’re continual targets for being His. We’ve been designed to grow together and to endure suffering together, which is a promised inevitability to life in Christ (Phil 2:2). We need one another.
What hinders unity?
We may be fearful that maintaining unity may compromise truth. Yet, while Paul insists that unity be a higher priority, he does not suggest that it becomes our ultimate priority – God’s holy glory is. If we replace the supremacy of holiness with unity, we’ll allow unbiblical doctrine to loosen the gospel and weaken our identity. Unity is not at the expense of good doctrine but rooted in good doctrine (1:9; 4:9). Books like Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage (Gavin Ortland) offer a thoughtful theological framework to process tough unity questions with greater specificity.
We may also see God’s people divide over hurt feelings – trite issues often morphing into bigger ones. When we look at our spiritual family history, we don’t see a spectacle of heroes but a spectacle of sinners. We can strive for greater normalcy in fostering a culture of forbearance and forgiveness among God’s people. While we don’t want to normalize sin, we do want to normalize grace. A willingness – an insistence – to not prioritize our individual identity over our corporate one.
May we never value our individuality higher than our togetherness.
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