When I was about nine years old, I remember getting one of those science kits from my Dad. We worked together to get it assembled. It was the coolest thing, a model V-8 engine complete with moving parts, fan belts, and a transparent engine block. It was an excellent tool to demonstrate how a V-8 engine runs. I enjoyed watching those pistons run up and down and run everything else in a car. I'm not sure what ever happened to that engine, but it was one of my favorite projects I did with my Dad.
All the parts fit together and worked together as one unit. If something did not fit or work properly, the whole thing might not work. If the distributor cap were not fastened down properly, if the coil were not hooked up in the right way, it would not run. Each part fit together with the whole and provided the power to transport a family where they needed to go.
This is how it is with the church. Each part fits together for a specific purpose, which is to provide power, in this case for an automobile. In order for this to happen, each part needs to fit together properly and contribute to the whole.
This is one reason why Jesus prayed for unity in John 17. He was about to depart from this world, and in order for the church to continue his mission of bringing people to God through the Gospel, they needed to be unified. This unity involves several things.
It involves love. The model for this unity is the relationship between Jesus and his Father. The Father loves the Son. Indeed, God is love. Love was part of the answer to the problems that plagued the fragmented Corinthian church. In fact, Paul devotes a whole chapter to it in chapter 13.
Love is closely related to grace. In John 17:22, Jesus says he has given us the glory of God. John 1:14 says that His glory is full of grace and truth. Because of the grace bestowed on us by God, we can also be gracious to others and preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Balanced with grace is truth. Unity in Christ is not unity at all costs. If it were, the engine might wind up being something other than an engine. The engineering blueprints say this is to be an engine for a specific purpose. Charles Spurgeon once said that, "Unity without truth is hazardous." Christ built His church for a specific, God-given purpose, which brings us to another ingredient in unity
Purpose is another ingredient for unity. Once again, the model for this is the relationship between Jesus as his Father. In John 5:19-20, Jesus declares that he only does what the Father does. It is all about carrying out the mission and purpose of God. So, the church is unified behind the missional purpose of God, which is bringing the lost to Christ. This, according to John 17, is what Jesus ultimately desires the church to do.
With all of this, there can be true unity. Merely being in the same location is not unity. There can be union without unity. Tie two cats together by their tails and throw them over a clothesline. The result would demonstrate the union and unity are not the same thing. Unity is unity in love, grace, truth, and mission, or purpose.