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A-Z of Paul: Unity

Thursday, September 04, 2008
Paul is remembered for his argumentativeness (see Paul A-Z: Quarreling) and at the same time a concern with unity is found all through his writings. We can imagine him then experiencing a certain amount of anxiety about his own temperament in this regard.

The foundation for the unity of Christians is their union with Christ through baptism. They have been made one with him in his dying and rising (Rom 6:5) and so he prays that God will help them to live in such harmony with one another, in Christ, that they will be able to glorify God with one voice (Rom 15:5-6). The community of Corinth was the most divided of Paul's churches. Not surprisingly, then, he appeals to them to be united in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Cor 1:10). The Eucharist is the sign and realization of their unity with Christ (communion in his body and blood) and with each other (we who are many are one body for we all partake of the one bread - 1 Cor 10:17). There has to be variety in gifts, service and activity but it is the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God who inspires all these different things in different individuals for the sake of the unity of the body (1 Cor 12).

Christians ought to be 'knit together in love' (Col 2:2), a unity possible because they all hold fast to the one Head (Col 2:19). The terms 'Christ' and 'love' seem perfectly interchangeable in the letter to the Colossians: over everything else, to keep it all together, put on love (put on Christ), which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Col 3:14).

The unity of the community is a particular concern of the Letter to the Ephesians. God's eternal plan was to unite all things in Christ (Eph 1:10) and this has been achieved through the death of Jesus on the cross. In his body, on the cross, Christ has made peace, reconciling all to God in one body (Eph 2:13-16). So they must live a life worthy of the gift they have received, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3). There is only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all (Eph 4:4-5). Although in principle our unity and reconciliation have been achieved by Christ, we still have a distance to go as the body builds itself up in love, a unity and diversity that is growing towards mature humanity, the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (Eph 4:12-16). Marriage is a fitting symbol of this union between Christ and his body the Church, two that become one in a union of love (Eph 5:31).

For Paul the unity of the community is founded on the unity into which Christ calls us, a unity in the Spirit of God's love. 'So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind' (Philippians 2:1-2).


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