Oneness vs Unity

By Linsley Hartenstein
“With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift […] And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”
Ephesians 4:1-7

Imagine you are standing on the shoreline of the sea. Before you lies a massive, beautiful body of blue water. Holding countless discovered and undiscovered living things. As far as you can see, waves are dancing alongside one another. Crashing onto the shore; covering your feet and ankles. While the smell of the sea salt air reminds you where you are, the wind and sunlight hold you here in this moment as you inhale and exhale. Everything is one. Moving and living around you in their individual, created purpose.

Now, imagine you are on the same shoreline. The sea is blue and pristine, but the waves are entirely uniform. Straight, perfectly tailored, duplicated waves cover your feet repeatedly, and perfectly in time. While the wind and sunlight surround you, you notice there is no distinction of temperature in either one. Nor in the waves wrapping around your ankles. Seagulls fly overhead in a single file line; talking in sync in a sky where the clouds look stamped in place with no variation. Your heart is beating in time with the waves and the seagulls talking overhead. Everything is united in perfect order and wholly unified.  

These two examples depict the difference between living completely “unified” as Christians and living in “oneness” with one another. Language and the details of word definitions matter. They affect our posture and shape our perspective and actions. Unity is defined as: “the state of being united or joined as a whole.” Whereas oneness is defined as: “the fact or state of being unified or whole, though comprised of two or more parts.” If we, as friends of Christ, lived in oneness with each other vs. being focused on the unity of everyone, How could our relationships with other Christians as a whole change?

Ephesians four talks about the “unity” of the body of Christ. It also speaks into how every part of the “body” has a purpose. We are a powerful body of talented, skilled, destined souls; intertwined by faith and held together by perfect love. Unfortunately, we tend to live like everyone should be a face or a foot in the name of “unity.” There is a little part of us that wants everyone to agree in all areas of life. This desire creates division in the church and can cause legalism and resentment to manifest itself within our hearts and communities. When we only choose “unity” we will, consequently, hurt each other and lose opportunities to grow, be effective, and love each other well. When, in fact, we are already unified as a part of the family of God; adopted into one body. Everyone has been created uniquely equipped and destined for our own journeys, with our own giftings.

Oneness is unity taken a step farther. It calls us into a posture of humility and allows Christ to increase in our lives and ourselves, decrease. By taking our ego and opinions out of the equation, there is room for each part of the body of Christ to move freely as they were created. At the same time, we will find peace amidst differences and an increase of love and compassion in our own hearts towards our brothers and sisters in Christ. “Bearing all things with one another;” while keeping their spiritual gifting and callings in mind.

Ephesians 4
John 17

- Do you ever get caught up in wanting everyone to be just like you? Has this drive for unity driven you apart from anyone?
- Can you think of another brother or sister in Christ that you don’t understand? How can you have a posture of oneness towards them?
- What parts of your ego keep you from living in oneness with others?
- What is a situation where you need to let Christ have your lack of understanding so you can love another member of the body of Christ?
- Can you think of an example of Jesus living a life of oneness instead of unity here on this earth?

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