My favorite word in the English language is together. Together means to gather or to pull into unity.
Still, there is a word I like even more: the ancient Greek word that is sometimes translated together in the New Testament. The word is homothumadon.
I know, it sounds like a dinosaur from the early Jurassic period.
Homothumadon is one of the coolest words in the biblical languages. It’s the result of two words coming together in a most creative way.
Homo means one or the same. Thumos means to snort with passion, usually a passionate rage, or an intense fury. This kind of anger goes beyond orge, the usual Greek word for anger. Thumos is an emotional outburst of anger, an almost violent eruption of wrath.
And when these two words get married, their beautiful love child is homothumadon: an aggressive passion for oneness.
Luke uses this word to describe the disposition of the early church a few times in the book of Acts. And the apostle Paul uses it once, when he says, “Now may the God of endurance and comfort give you unity with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:5-6).
Unity. One voice. Together. A raging passion for oneness. This should be us!
Acceptance Versus Agreement
There are probably many reasons why Christians throughout history have lost sight of living the homothumadon life.
I think one reason may be that sometimes Christians confuse acceptance and agreement.
When we start to equate these two values as nearly synonymous, we will tend to only fully accept someone when we agree with them. Or, put another way, we will tend to withhold acceptance in order to communicate our disagreement.
Dear Christian brothers and sisters, we can fully accept, embrace, and live in unity with those Christians with whom we disagree! As long as we follow Jesus as our Lord we are saved (Rom. 10:9), and therefore, we are family.
Look at what the apostle Paul says in the very next verse: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7).
The Greek word translated accept here — proslambano — means to take someone to yourself, to receive or welcome someone into your home, your world, your space, your life. And because Christ welcomed us into his love life with the Father, we are to welcome others into our lives together.
In fact, this kind of acceptance can happen in the midst of strong disagreement, and it shouldn’t threaten our unity.
This same word for acceptance (proslambano) is used in the Bible for how we are to accept specifically those Christians with whom we disagree, because this is how God has accepted us.
For example: “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted (proslambano) them” (Rom. 14:3).
And even when Peter misunderstood Christ’s mission to die and decided to rebuke or argue with him, the text says: “Peter took him aside (proslambano) and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’” (Matt. 16:22; Mark 8:22).
We know Peter was wrong about the mission of Christ, but he was right about the unity of Christ. Even in the midst of this sharp disagreement, he was pulling Jesus closer, not pushing him away.
When Should We Divide?
“Now wait a minute!” I can hear some of you talking back already. “There have to be some situations where division is necessary.” Absolutely. And those occasions are laid out for us in the Bible. We can gather them together into four categories of reasons to divide from others who claim to be Christians:
- When they preach a different Jesus (1 John 2:18-23; 2 John 7-11)
- When they preach a different gospel (Gal. 1:6-9; Rev. 1:8-9)
- When they abuse grace to assert their own will over God’s (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; Jude 3-7)
- When they have an ongoing divisive disposition (Rom. 16:17; Titus 3:10; 3 John 9-11; Jude 16)
I like that last one.
We are called to divide from divisive people.
Forced unity with them while they fight to divide the church will create a kind of ongoing internal damage to the body of Christ. As Paul writes to Titus: “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them” (Titus 3:10). Three strikes and you’re out, divisive people.
So there you have it.
Is someone you know who claims to be a Christian actually promoting a different Jesus than the Jesus of Scripture? Separate. They aren’t family.
Is someone you know who claims to be a Christian promoting a different gospel than the one preached by Jesus? Divide. They aren’t part of the same body.
Is someone you know who claims to be a Christian also claiming special license to sin because God is gracious, so how we live doesn’t matter? Revoke their license to sin. They should not go unchallenged.
And is someone you know who claims to be a Christian continually manufacturing reasons to divide from other Christians, accusing, slandering, and creating suspicion? In the words of Jesus and the apostle Paul: “Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matt. 15:14), and “come out from them and be separate” (2 Cor. 6:17).
Yes, there are occasions to divide with other “Christians.”
And when that occasion comes about, we should be clear and unreserved.
But — and this is one big but! — we must be cautious not to lump a brother or sister into any one of these categories too quickly. These categories don’t describe one-off mistakes or theological confusion that simply needs correction. These categories refer to people who are bent on a certain direction, away from the way of Jesus, while trying to retain the moniker of a “Christ-follower.” So be careful not to judge too quickly.
One of the sins the apostle Paul says will bar us from the kingdom of God is the sin of being a reviler or slanderer (2 Cor. 6:10). A reviler (Greek, loidoros) is someone who tends to use his or her words to denigrate, demoralize, or simply injure someone else’s reputation. It is division through insult, and falls under the category of being a divisive person that is worth dividing from (1 Cor. 5:11). Don’t be that person.
Aside from these four and very serious situations when it is right to divide, our disposition as parts together in the body of Christ should be a snorting, snarling passion for unity, a vehement rage for oneness.
Dear Christians, our unity is worth fighting for.
- Our unity will bring God’s blessing (Psalm 133).
- Our unity bears witness to the truth of Jesus (John 13:34-35; 17:20-23; Gal. 5:13-15).
- Our unity is in tune with the reality that is the one, unified body of Christ (Eph. 2:14-18; 1 Cor. 1:10-17; 12:12-13)
So, brothers and sisters, let’s raise a glass together and cheer — homothumadon!
Originally published for the spring 2017 issue of Shalom: A Journal for the Practice of Reconciliation.