Notice the word encouragement in Acts 15.31. It’s a strong word in the Greek, which means great consolation. It is a word used of the Holy Spirit when He is called the Comforter – the One who comes alongside of us and fills us with courage and confidence. The Holy Spirit is One upon whom we depend! Judas and Silas, as true prophets of God, exhorted (same word for comfort) and strengthened the brethren with many words (15.32). The letter from the Jerusalem church brought comfort; the prophets Judas and Silas brought comfort. Not only were Judas and Silas able to tell the church what would happen in the future; they were also able to give the true meaning of Scripture. This is what they do for the Gentiles in Acts 15. That is why we have Acts 15 in the first place!
The glory of God and purity of doctrine are maintained through proper unity within a local church. Ministry continues in the midst of conflict because of the encouragement we garner from one another as each of us is led by the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. It is good and pleasant when we dwell together in this kind of unity (Psalm 133.1).
How are we to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (see Ephesians 4)?
- We must walk worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4.1).
- We walk with all lowliness, gentleness, and longsuffering because that is how we will learn from Jesus together (Ephesians 4.2a).
- We walk by bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4.2b).
- We endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4.3). It’s not the unity of ecumenism to which we are called. It’s not unity at all costs to which we are called. It is the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The peace spoken of here is a peace that reconciles us to God.
- We must have pastors who preach and teach the Word of God to equip the saints and edify the Body of Christ until we all come to the unity of the faith (the body of God’s truth and Word illumined by the Spirit) and the knowledge of the Son of God (Ephesians 4.12-13).
- We must realize that unity will remain elusive until we mature in our relationship with God and grow in the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4.13).
- Unity is kept by speaking truth in love not speaking humiliating and denigrating words to one another (Ephesians 4.15).
- Unity comes to a church when she matures and draws from the head of the Church – Christ. He joins and knits together our assembly, according to the effective working by which every part does its share. If we fail to carry out our responsibilities and exercise our gifts in this church, then we will not grow or find the elusive edification and love we are missing (Ephesians 4.16).
The glory of God and purity of doctrine are maintained through biblical separation AND biblical unity. Conflict is inevitable for a church that seeks to do both. But conflict is inevitable, even deserved, for a church which never bothers to consult God’s will and way either.