May God Give Us One Mind
4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. 5 Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: 6 That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
One of our Savior’s many “greater works” (John 14:12) is the unifying of his people in one mind and heart. His mighty power alone can subdue us in this way, for by fallen nature we are stubbornly wedded to our own opinions and would rather rule over our brothers than submit to them. The apostles argued over who would be greatest, so it is not surprising that we find it hard to “take the lowest seat.” Thus, any unity among us is a gift from heaven. It is particularly the fruit of union with him who “humbled himself unto death.” By his Spirit, he teaches us to follow his example and not please ourselves but delight in the Father’s will (v. 3). Now we see that unity is the fruit of common submission to God’s Scriptures, for they alone are the light that scatters our darkness and the power that subdues our hearts to teachableness. The unity Scripture produces is in truth and feeling. We enjoy unity as we learn God’s word and love one another. Both aspects of this unity are necessary if we are to glorify God with one mind and mouth. They are also necessary if the church is to live in such a way that our Savior’s prayer may be answered: “That they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:22).
The church has gone through various “unification” movements over the past two hundred years. While the desire is commendable, the methods are often at the expense of the very Scriptures that are the source of true, gospel unity. Some say that the church will enjoy unity when the doctrines of Scripture are not insisted upon so stringently. Howling wolves boldly affirm that the Scriptures themselves are the source of the disunity, and the apostles never envisioned that their writings would become “Scripture.” Still others would ground the unity of the church in a lowest common denominator confession of truth, so that anything beyond commitment to Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead is considered superfluous. Strange unities these would be! The first would ignore our Savior’s command to “hold fast to the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me” (Matt. 28:19; John 8:31; 2 Thess. 2:15; 2 Tim. 1:13; Tit. 1:9). The second ignores God’s word and treats it as but a vague pointer to a murky truth that each believer must define for himself. Did not the apostle say, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37)? The third version of unity ignores that while the apostles focused upon what Paul described as truths of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3), their letters address other important doctrines upon which depend the glory of God and our enjoyment of salvation through Jesus Christ.
However difficult or lengthy the process required to achieve gospel unity, we do better to understand that our unity depends upon commitment to “whatsoever things were written aforetime” (v. 4). In other words, the entirety of Scripture, believed and confessed, is the basis of our unity. Some of its teachings are difficult to understand, as Peter confessed (2 Pet. 3:15). What are we to do? The foundation of gospel unity is a common humility before the word of the Lord. The best of us is but a humble beginner in sacred truth. The beauty, power, unity, interconnectedness, and majesty of Scripture are the adoring study of angels! Who among us would dare claim to be masters? Yet, if the Spirit has written God’s law upon our hearts and joined us to Jesus Christ in a living union, we shall have a teachable heart before God. We shall confess that the written Scriptures are the very word of God, hunger and thirst for it as newborn babes, and maintain a patient teachableness under God’s living and searching word. Then, since the Lord gives grace to the lowly, we may expect for him to teach those who cry to him for understanding (Prov. 2:3-5). We have the “mind of Christ” and his “Spirit of truth” (John 15:26; 1 Cor. 2:16). His word is not a chaotic symphony or a contradictory collection of man’s thoughts, but “holy men of old spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). Thus, the things that most disturb and the break the unity of the Spirit among us are pride, stubbornness, laziness, and indifference to the Scriptures. If the church today enjoys less unity than in earlier periods, it is due in no small part to giddy spirits who like the Athenians constantly want to hear some new thing (Acts 17:21), refuse to walk in the old paths of God’s eternal truth, and insist upon making Scripture conform to the reigning fads and tastes of unbelieving men. Man’s foolishness, prayerlessness, and fear, not any fault in Scripture, are the cause of our disunity.
The Scriptures for Our Learning (v. 4)
We must come humbly, therefore, to be taught by God through his word. Everything written in the Scriptures is for our learning. This justifies the quotation from Psalm 69:9. Now that Jesus Christ is glorified, the things that were written of him are clearer (John 12:16). Even without the New Testament Scriptures, the law and the prophets testify to him (John 5:39). But since we now have the New Testament, these writings are also to be received as Scripture, by the imprimatur of the apostles (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 3:16), who were the living voice of Jesus Christ in the church (Luke 10:16). “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:30). The life we have through faith in his name includes the way we are to treat one another. How may we have unity? It is through humility before God’s word. Rather than thinking that we have arrived at full maturity, we must become like children before the word of God, desiring only for him to teach us. As we do, he will guide us into the truth by his Spirit so that we grow in understanding and practice, without belittling those of weaker understanding or judging those of stronger. How can this be? Grace overcomes pride. A sense of urgent need for God to teach us quenches ambition and fear. “He must increase, but we must decrease” (John 3:30). If a stronger brother understands God’s truth better, the weaker should be willing to learn. As the weaker learn, the strong must be patient and remember God’s grace to them (1 Cor. 4:7).
For this to be true of us and for unity to increase, we must pore over the Scriptures. This has become too much the career of specialists rather than the meat of every disciple. It is no wonder that we often seem as “sheep without a shepherd.” The Lord shepherds us through his word. He is a speaking God and Savior. We do not relate to him primarily at the level of emotion but through the word of his mouth. Then, taught by him, we delight to do God’s will, as he did. And what is God’s will? His word. Thus, there is no other way for us to enter into life or to love one another in unity than for each disciple to take seriously the call to learn. He said, “Learn of me.” “Follow me.” “Ye are my friends if ye keep my commandments” (John 14:12). Our uncertainty and groping in the dark after an elusive “principle” that would solve our “problems” will be seen as child’s play if we would but take up this command to learn. Then, with our nose in God’s book and our voices raised in prayer to God, he will teach us. And as he does, we shall learn what is truth and what is not, what is of supreme importance and what of lesser importance. And we shall love one another, for as fellow-disciples of our one Master, there should be no ambition for eminence over our brothers but only to hear his voice and learn from his holy word.
Patience and Comfort from the Scriptures (v. 4)
He brings forward “patience” as one of the chief virtues of learning the Scriptures. All who have seriously set themselves to the study of God’s word have seen themselves as sinful and needy. The power of God’s living word enables us to endure steadfastly to the end of our course. The same is true of “comfort” or encouragement. Have not God’s promises, the sufferings and perseverance of the saints, and the example of our Savior encouraged us to “continue patiently in well doing” (Rom. 2:7)? We do not arrive at earthly perfection and certainly not at heavenly glory after an hour of learning, or even after ten thousand hours. We find it true that “when we would do good, evil is present with us” (Rom. 7:19,21). When we have been tempted to give up the race or to give in to temptation, God has held on to us and breathed fresh life and hope into our hearts. This is part of the “hiddenness” of the heavenly manna that only God’s children know (Rev. 2:17). God’s word is strange food, like the manna that sustained God’s people of old in their wilderness wanderings. We have a better manna, Jesus Christ and his living word, but it works nonetheless strangely. What is it about the Scriptures that seem to feed us when we are famishing, give us strength for the next leg of our course, and sometimes fills us with such joy that we forget our troubles for the happiness of walking with God? It is God’s living, searching word. His voice sustains and satisfies us as nothing else, for we were made to hear him, to live by his word.
Should not the patience and comfort we receive from the Scriptures directly impact our feelings and expectations of our brothers? Control the way we treat them? Fill our hearts with compassion toward our fellow-travelers to God’s eternal city? Make us patient with their many faults? If we have received comfort from the Scriptures, it is so that we might comfort others (2 Cor. 1:4-7). Have we learned that God is patient with us, so much so that we confess that the longsuffering of the Lord is salvation (2 Pet. 3:15)? God reveals his patience toward us and gives endurance to us so that we might be patient with others. In this way, becoming ardent students of Scripture directly contributes to the unity of the body. We can never judge meanly those whom we know are just as much in need of God’s patience as we are. We shall have no stomach to belittle those who need our encouragement, at least if we know ourselves at all. And this, in turn, makes us hopeful, not only of arriving at our final blessedness but that the Lord will preserve his church so that not one of his sheep is lost. Thus, when we see the church struggling, whether with weak-strong brother issues or other conflicts, the Scriptures give us hope that God’s purposes will not be disappointed. With him, nothing is impossible. He will perfect that which concerns us and bring his church to unity in the truth, even as the Father and Son are one.
May God Give Us One Mind (v. 5)
This is because he is the “God of patience and consolation.” To know him is to partake of these twin graces. His is long-suffering toward us and tender toward our weaknesses. If we are born of him, these love-fruits will be manifested in the way we treat one another. This makes Paul’s “wish” more than a wish. It is not simply that the Lord might make us likeminded; he will make us to share a common teachableness toward his word and an increasing unity of understanding and affection. Since our Savior prayed for this, we may never think such unity to be impossible. It is already a fact, for all of God’s children, past, present, and future, are one in Christ the Head. Our practical unity will increase in tandem with his kingdom (Isa. 9:6-7) throughout the course of history until it is perfected when he returns. The ignorance and fragmentation of the church in any age often produces in his children such concern for his glory and truth that they are led back to his word with greater fervency. What else is a true revival but a greater than usual seriousness about God’s word and prayer? What else is a reformation but when each of Christ’s disciples hunger so intently for God’s truth that they are willing to lay down their lives and go to any lengths in order to possess it? Hungering for the righteousness of his word increases the church’s unity. That we may lack such fervency at the present hour does not preclude God from accomplishing his purpose to “gather all things into one under Christ” (Eph. 1:10). Through his apostle, the Holy Spirit here indicates his own intention to make us likeminded toward one another. We have the responsibility to pray and labor for this unity by practicing the very love and meekness commanded throughout this section. Coming to Scripture as humble learners has this tendency, as do being patient with one another and seeking every occasion to encourage one another toward holiness.
When he adds “according to Jesus Christ,” he means that the church’s unity in understanding and heart affection is by the power of our Savior. No bland unity is envisioned here, but oneness among believers as rich and magnificent as the unity between the Father and the Son. It is a unity based upon common love for our Savior, humility before his word, and gratitude for his grace that makes us tolerant and forgiving of one another. In every way, the church’s true unity is a Christ-unity. He will gather all his members unto himself. In vital union with him, we shall grow in practical unity with one another. If we are not experiencing some measure of this, we need to examine ourselves and repent of pride, standoffishness, suspicious attitudes toward our fellow-disciples, meanness and coldness of heart, and a failure to imbibe personally the life-changing power of his Scriptures. This “wish” will be realized, over time and increasingly so as we draw near the end. The Father never tells his Son, “No.” His powerful word that called Lazarus from his tomb continues to call men out of the tombs of pride and unbelief. Our Savior is living, reigning, and working. He walks among the candlesticks. We shall be one.
That We May Glorify Him with One Mind and Mouth (v. 6)
God has tied his glory in the salvation of the world to this unity. The world will believe that the Father has sent the Son as the church is made one in truth and love (John 17:21). How, then, can we refuse to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God? Neglect the transforming Scriptures that promote true unity? Judge the strong? Argue with the weak? Our hideous pride is one of the leading hindrances to the greater unity of the church, and thus to the salvation of the world. Jesus Christ died to save us from our sins. He died and rose again so that the “whole earth would be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the seas” (Hab. 2:14). Our glorifying of the Lord with one mind and mouth is part of that glory. Our forgiving one another, overlooking minor offenses, loving one another, bearing patiently and encouraging one another toward godliness is part of that glory. We often look around like scared children at the condition of the world, forgetting that when Christians love and learn together, the ancient prophesies are being fulfilled before our very eyes. God’s glory is marching, transforming.
As we seek greater unity of mind and heart, God will reveal more of his glory to the wondering eyes and languishing hearts of lost men. They will say, “See, how these Christians love one another! They are not divorcing, squabbling over minor matters, holding grudges, judging harshly, or gossiping. There is forgiveness in the church, hope in eternal life, true love and unity among men.” When the world sees unity in the church, they will flock to Zion to be taught God’s truth. Thus, if the glory of God the Father and of his Son, Jesus Christ, matters to us as it should, we shall humble ourselves before his truth, sit at the feet of our Savior, and kiss them. Then, we shall gladly kiss one another. The world will then believe that the Father has sent his Son.