“Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you. Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.” (Hebrews 13:23–24, AV)
The phrase, “United we stand, divided we fall,” has had a place of prominence in the history of the United States. According to Wikipedia, its earliest mention in our country came in a pre-revolutionary War song, “The Liberty Song,” in which John Dickenson coined the lyrics, “Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all! By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!” It has been used in a more modern song, titled “United We Stand,” introduced by Brotherhood of Man, a contemporary group in 1970.
Today, politicians are using the lyrics to stress they are seeking to unite the country. However, the attempts at unity continue to fail because merely playing a song will never resolve the deep ideological issues that divide us. My point is not to get political, but to bring up a point. Without unity, any community will fail. This is not a modern era principle. When the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the devil, the Lord stated, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (Matthew 12:25, AV).
Unity is vital for any institution to stand. It is a universal principle, vital for the church. Here, the author writes words of final greetings to his audience. In these he mentions Timothy, the leaders and believers to whom he wrote, and the believers in Italy. This points to the special bond that connects every true believer to each other. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that makes all of us one in Christ. Paul wrote, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13, AV).
This unity of believers crosses geographical, cultural, racial and every other division. The Holy Spirit has made all true believers one in Christ. The issue is that believers need to live in the unity that they have. This is accomplished only when we give up on our own fleshly desires and yield to the leading of the Spirit. Then the church will be united in “one body, and one Spirit,” in “one hope . . . One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:4–6, AV).
Believers united in Christ think and respond differently to one another. In the final greetings we see three examples. First, the church must have understood something of Timothy’s condition and carried concern for him, as the author sends word that Timothy had been released. Second, the author sends his greetings to every leader and parishioner in the congregation, which once again indicated his personal connection with them. Third, all the believers in Italy sent their greetings to the congregation, demonstrating the world-wide perspective of the unity of those in the faith. All believers have a vital connection and should have a concern for others.
Unfortunately, in many churches, believers are not united but divided. Division in a local congregation creates an unhealthy situation. It is always created by people who are not filled with the Spirit and walking by Spirit. If these unhealthy situations remain, we will normally find numerical decline, church splits, ineffective ministry and, in some cases, eventual closure of the local congregation. This should never be. The solution is confession, repentance, and restoration. This will bring renewal and health to an unhealthy church. As a result, the church will once again experience unity and blessing.