In 1 Kings 18:31, when the prophet Elijah repaired the broken altar, we are told he used 12 stones, “according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come . . .” This is an interesting statement, because at the time of this account the children of Israel were splintered into various groups, fragmented and backslidden in heart. Yet despite their condition, God still referred to them as one, together chosen as His children. It was on that restored altar, with the stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel, that God made His great power known by defeating the prophets of Baal. 1
But consider this: Would that altar have been complete with only 11 of the stones or 8 of the stones representing the tribes of Israel? No, it would not have been. It was all 12 stones that were recognized by God and all 12 through which He made His power known.
We can learn a lot from this Old Testament example. Another beautiful illustration of how we are to be united as one is found in the temple Solomon built in Jerusalem. It is said that each stone used in its building was chipped at and carved away until it fit perfectly with the stones around it—so perfectly that no mortar was even needed to hold them together. Each individual stone fit perfectly with the others, becoming one beautiful temple for the Lord. This is what the Lord desires for us today.
You see, rather than dwelling in a temple made with human hands as in the days of old, God has now chosen instead to dwell within us, His temple made with living stones—you and I (see 1 Peter 2:5). Like the stones used to build the temple, God desires His living stones to fit together perfectly by the unity of His Spirit and the bond of love.