As previously discussed Human unity (under God) is achieved through common nature (love), order (marriage) and form (flesh then spirit). The Bible also maintains that distinctiveness is an important part of unity requiring that these 3 fundamentals do not equate to sharing the same personality, physical body and function. However distinctiveness can and does exist without unity. Each distinctive member is different (to varying degrees), forming part of a greater whole, using their distinctiveness/individuality for the good of all rather than imposing them-self on the whole union (selfishness).

One of the most important images of distinctiveness in the union of Christ is given in 1 Corinthians 12-13. Ch12 describes the distinctiveness of the members of Christ and how their place in the whole has been determined by God. Ch13 explains how love is essential for binding distinctive individuals together in unity.

While there are many different types of gifts they all come from the same spirit, that of Christ. These gifts can be used in a variety of ways to serve the same lord (Jesus Christ). There are various different jobs and activities to be performed in building and maintaining unity in Christ, but the power to perform them all come from God (head of all) through the Holy Spirit. Therefore God uses the diversity of each member to maintain and strengthen unity in himself, as it says:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good…
…All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

(1 Corinthians 12:4-7&11 ESV)

The distinctiveness of each individual extends beyond mere ability, it encompasses everything they are. This includes (but not limited to) the family they are born into, when they are born and when they die, their abilities, wealth and membership in Christ. While there may be many people with similar abilities they are not born into the same circumstance (family, geographic, socioeconomic, etc.) or are given the same opportunities to love the same people as each other (in the same way). Therefore just as the gift should not be thought of as separate from the person to whom it was given, the person should not be thought of as separate from the time, place and circumstance of their life.

Christ: one and many
Just as it was “not good” for Adam to be alone, the union of Christ does not consist of just Christ. To each member of his union is given a different manifestation of the same spirit, so that all members work together in perfect harmony for the common good. Paul uses the body to explain how the distinct members of the human union (in Christ) work together, with different abilities and purposes, for the benefit of each individual and the whole. Just as the human body has many parts that make up a greater whole so does the body of Christ, he is many (distinctive) and he is one (united in him). As it says:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.
(1 Corinthians 12:12-14 ESV)

God gives each member to the whole as he sees fit, arranging the members of the body of Christ perfectly according to the counsel of his will. Therefore Christians must not deny the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in other, but seek to use their gifts and abilities in the time and place that God has given them. No member or person can be said to be superfluous or born at the wrong time or have no place in Christ because it is God who worked all this out since before the beginning. It is God who determined the time, place and circumstances of their birth, life and death of all his people. As such he has given each a place in the union of Christ. God has done this as head of all things according to his sovereign will, for the good of all (the good of the union) and his own glory (both are to his glory).

If after being united in the spirit of Christ a member then denies the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in them-self by seeking other gifts out of self-interest they deny the unity of the Holy Spirit who gifts all members. Unity in Christ is not contingent on any single gift (or group of gifts) that all members share, rather the Holy Spirit manifests all gifts for the sake of unity in Christ.

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
(1 Corinthians 12:12-31 ESV)

While each member must not deny the spirit that has been manifest in them-self, they must also not deny the manifestation of the spirit in others (if it is indeed the same spirit). If parts of the body were to deny one another then there would no longer be a body but rather a pile of dead body parts unable to move or operate as they were originally designed by God. All creation was were created and apart from unity (with God) all are dead.

Therefore each member must take care to treat every other member according to the purpose God intended, with the honour and care God intended. As individuals operating in unison each member must take care to know that their place is guaranteed by the death of Christ under the sovereignty of God. In this way God has given each member to one another, so that they will work together to understand their places in the whole. Therefore it is each person’s responsibility, as members of Christ (partakers in his spirit) to know and encourage one another in the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Those who have been given more have the responsibility to bear with the shortcomings of those who have been given less. In this way no one member is lacking because they have each other.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
(Romans 15:1-7 ESV)

The Church is the body of Christ, unified in his spirit. God gives each person the gifts and abilities he has given them for the years he has allotted, at the specific time in history he has determined. Our birth was no accident our life is no accident God is working all things so that at the right time all things happen according to the council of his own will. Therefore it is God’s distinctiveness (as sovereign) from us that allows for our distinctiveness from one another to manifest in unity. So we must respect and honour the positions and gifts God has given each of us (as we respect and honour his position over us) in the ordering of all things under him, using them for the good of the whole.

This is one of the most comforting things in scripture, to be told that there is a place for you/you belong. All who are united in Christ had a place prepared for them before they were born. Christ has given this assurance himself, that all members have been guaranteed a place in him in this life and in the new creation as well. These are the words that Christ comforted his disciples with when he told them that he was leaving.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”
(John 14:1-4 ESV)

Christ also promises that he will return to take all who are united in him to the there himself so that no one will miss out or get lost on your way. No matter what happens in this life (don’t deny the Holy Spirit), if you are in Christ, you have a place not only to stay but to belong forever. For anyone who has ever felt like they have no purpose, are out-of-place, are not needed or have been homeless, displaced, disowned or dispossessed they can feel completely secure in the promise that there is a purpose and a place for all in the union of Christ forever.

This good order God has given the church is not enough to achieve unity by itself, there is something more important required to bind all members in Christ.


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