A cappella may not be everyone’s first choice when it comes to style of music, but I am often amazed at how a cappella groups can use different tones and modulation to create an affect of a full band. A good a cappella group finds and emphasizes harmonies that captivate audiences.
I think that was the effect Paul had in mind when emphasizing the importance of harmony within the church. Paul desired that the church be of one mind and one voice, emphasizing and lifting up the name of ‘Jesus’. He zeroes in on this thought to the Church of Corinth:
I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. (1 Corinthians 1:10)
In a church that had members from all different backgrounds and walks of life, there were bound to be, and were in fact, preferences that tended to cloud and bring division among the church. Paul knew that in order for the church to be effective, it needed to not only have the appearance of unity but actual unity around that which mattered most—the pursuit of Jesus.
That sounds easy enough, but all people have preferences that are sometimes difficult to lay aside in the pursuit of unity around Jesus. The author of Romans gives insight in the approach we should have when dealing with one another. The author makes it clear that unity over preference is key to bringing the type of praise and glory that God desires from the church. He says,
May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6)
As the author of Romans indicates, pursuing unity over preference requires patience and encouragement in order to achieve perfect harmony within the church—patience with yourself as well as for others. Living in harmony takes supernatural intervention on the part of all parties, and often is a slow refining process because the process of achieving harmony requires grace on all sides. Each member must give and take in order to hit the perfect note in bringing honor to God.
This is also why encouragement within the church is so important. It is no secret the church consists of an odd collection of folks, but each serves a unique and vital purpose. Romans 12 says, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” It would be foolish to expect everyone to function identically, and rather than try to get everyone to sing in the same tone and note, look for ways that you can patiently encourage others.
Our first priority should always be centered around Jesus and then to do what He says. He calls us to love one another; to guide people to the Person that desires to be at the center of their lives in order to unify the church. This means that we need to strive to “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly…. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:16, 18)
The question is, will you allow preferences to disrupt the unity and harmony within the church?