I’m a harmonizer. I want everyone to feel loved and seen, so I enjoy bringing people together. But a lot of times, in my pursuit of unity, I’ve prioritized emotions over truth. I’ve found it difficult to challenge fellow believers with truth that I know will make them angry or uncomfortable. And their often strong, negative responses have caused me to question whether my words are promoting unity at all, because somewhere in my understanding of the gospel, I’ve internalized the belief that unity should always evoke positive emotions. And I know I’m not the only one.
The Discomfort of Unity
Our gospel is one that promotes unity and love, which seems to make conflict and division antithetical to those ends. But that comes from a shallow understanding of both truth and love. Individualism has caused us to move the focus of the gospel from God to ourselves. We have created a “new” gospel that, according to J.I. Packer, is “too exclusively concerned to be ‘helpful’ to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, and satisfaction—and too little concerned to glorify God.” Unity requires a disruption of that which fosters disunity. But since disruptions can cause us to feel uncomfortable, our “new” gospel makes the pursuit of unity difficult because we tend to reject anything that jeopardizes our comfort.
But a biblical view of truth and love should never leave us believing that our comfort is key or that God only calls us to obedience that fits within what we have determined to be an acceptable level of discomfort. Otherwise, when we experience something that feels bad, we’ll naturally assume it must be bad for us. But God’s truth aims to push us beyond our limits, and we dare not reject it or label it unloving or unkind.
A Biblical View of Truth and Love
1 Corinthians 13 is an iconic passage that describes a biblical view of love, which is the foundation of unity. In verses 1–13, Paul lists several descriptions that characterize love. He says that love is kind, patient, does not envy, does not boast, holds no record of wrong, bears all things and so on. But in verse 6, he lists a characteristic that is not quoted as frequently as those I previously mentioned. He says that love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth.” Commenting on this passage in The Letters to the Corinthians, William Barclay wrote, “Christian love has no wish to veil the truth; it is brave enough to face the truth; it has nothing to conceal so is glad when the truth prevails.”
As believers, we should be brave enough to face the truth because its goal is to align us with the character and nature of our God. The love of God is not merely an emotion, but a way of being that characterizes His actions toward humanity. His actions always seek our best interests, even when they allow pain or discomfort in our lives. His goal is that we would leave our lives of sin and be transformed to properly image Him to all of creation. It is only then that we are able to have true unity with Him and one another. Rather than relying on our emotions, we ought to measure the words of others with God’s love in mind as a means to determine whether or not they are actually loving. Our litmus test should be whether or not the intent behind their words is seeking to mold us into the likeness of Christ, regardless of how it makes us feel.
As we work toward unity, sometimes the truth will hurt, provoke anger and even cause division. We won’t naturally always agree with God’s standard of truth. But, in the midst of these visceral responses, we should have an even stronger desire to hear and be transformed by truth. Real love seeks to align us with the character and nature of the One who is love itself—our triune God. When the truth we hear is rooted in making us one in Christ, we ought to be a people who fight to accept it, especially when it makes us uncomfortable.