Over the years, I’ve grown to love the way the Holy Spirit helps me see portions of Scripture more clearly. Sometimes, I see connections within a multi-verse passage or between two different passages. Other times, a single word jumps out at me, and I realize the preconceptions I have applied to that word. Then I get to explore and determine whether those preconceptions have helped or hurt my understanding.
“Unity” is one of those words. Recently, while studying 1 Peter, I got a bit hung up on a word in 1 Peter 3:8. I was using NASB (my favorite study translation) to read through the passage each morning: “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit” (emphasis mine).
I’d read and studied the whole focal passage (1 Peter 3:8-12) over and over again for several days already, and I’d been processing through the passage as a whole. But, “harmonious” kept standing out to me. I looked it up in other translations, and I realized that other translations seemed to favor “unity” and “of one mind.” Only NASB chose “harmonious.”
And that’s where I realized my preconceptions. You see, in my mind I often equate unity and uniformity. They are not the same. But, that’s what I frequently come to the table thinking: if you want me to be unified with you, you want me to think like you. To process like you. To engage like you. But that’s not really unity. That’s uniformity.
And uniformity is not what is meant by Paul, Peter, and other New Testament writers as they presented a concept that we usually translate as “unity.” The concept they present is one that, in my mind, is more easily expressed as “harmony.” Why? Because I’m a musical person. I grasp the idea of multiple voices or instruments playing a variety of notes in a variety of ways, together producing something amazingly beautiful. They are together. They are accomplishing a united goal. But, they are each doing so in a way that reflects their own personality. Harmony.
That is the truth of unity as expressed in Scripture. Both words are correct. But one resonates more clearly with me simply because of the way my brain works.
Peter would not have thought differently of the two. I’d have to do more research to validate this thought, but I don’t believe musical harmony was much of a concept in Peter’s day. He did, however, understand that a good fishing team needed to have multiple strengths to work together and accomplish a common goal, just as Paul described the different parts of the body functioning together. That’s harmony. Unity, but not uniformity.
I’ve always known that. But, my subconscious preconception that equated unity and uniformity has still negatively colored my reading of “unity” passages in Scripture. One little translation choice to use “harmonious” instead of “unity of mind” or “like-minded” made me stop and deal with my preconception.
That, my friends, is how the Spirit works. How He grows us and teaches us and helps us dig more deeply into the Word of God. How He conforms our thoughts and our minds to more clearly reflect the mind of Christ. May we never take that teaching lightly! And may we never cling to our preconceptions more strongly than to the teaching of the Holy Spirit.