How important is it that there be unity within the Church? How important is it that there be unity in the Church where you fellowship? How important was unity to the apostle Paul, and to the Holy Spirit who moved Him to write this letter to the Church in Corinth?
This issue was so important that Paul devotes the first four chapters of I Corinthians to divisions in the church. In verses 10-17 of Chapter 1, Paul establishes the fact that there are divisions and begins to deal with them.
I. PAUL’S APPEAL FOR UNITY (verses 10-12)
In verses 10-12, Paul begins by giving an appeal for unity. In verse 10 we see both Paul’s affection for the Corinthian church, and his authority as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. He addresses them as “brethren”. They are his family in Christ. And he speaks “in the name of” or by the authority of, our Lord Jesus Christ. There are several important terms in this passage. Paul exhorts them to “agree”. The Greek word used here literally means “to say the same thing”. This doesn’t mean that they have to agree on the minutest points in areas where there is no clear teaching in Scripture. In these cases there should be freedom to “agree to disagree”. But when it comes to the clear teachings of God’s Word, there cannot be two conflicting views that are both right. God is not confused, and He does not contradict Himself. His Word does not disagree with itself. So Paul is insisting that the Corinthians, and all believers, have doctrinal unity that is clearly based on God’s Word. He appeals to them “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. In other words, there must be agreement with Christ, with His will, and with His Word. For a local church to be spiritually healthy and effective, and for there to be harmony in the local church, there must be doctrinal unity.
Paul continues in verse 10 by saying that “there be no divisions among you”. The word “divisions” comes from the Greek word “schismata”, from which we get our English word “schism”. This word was normally used to refer to a tear in a garment. What happens when you get a tear in a piece of clothing and you keep washing and wearing that piece of clothing with the tear in it? Unless it’s mended, the tear gets bigger and bigger, doesn’t it? The church in Corinth was a group of people who were tearing themselves apart!
Paul doesn’t want these divisions to continue, so he offers them an alternative. Instead of tearing themselves apart, he urges them to be “made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment”. The words “made complete” mean “to be perfectly joined together”, like a jigsaw puzzle. How many of you have ever put together a jigsaw puzzle? Every piece of that jigsaw puzzle is different, isn’t it? But when each piece is fitted together into its proper place in the puzzle, you have a beautiful and complete picture. Have you ever tried to put a jigsaw puzzle together with the pieces turned upside down so that they are all blank? Try it some time. It’s a lot harder! On a large jigsaw puzzle of a thousand pieces or more, it’s almost impossible to put it together upside down! That’s not the way a jigsaw puzzle was meant to be put together. In the same way, that’s not the way the Church was meant to be fitted together. God wants the local church congregation and the local community to see the beauty of a church that is unified and “fitted together” in love.
Unity in the chuch is something that requires cooperation with each other and with the Spirit of God. We need to be “perfectly joined together” in the love of Christ. One day in Africa, a small boy was lost. The news went out but no one had seen the little fellow. The search went on until nightfall, but no answer came to their urgent calls. The anxiety of the child’s mother contined to grow, for she knew that her boy was somewhere out in the darkness where wild animals were constantly on the prowl. When daylight again appeared, they looked for him with renewed energy but still without success. In desperation they returned and held a meeting. Perhaps, in their individual efforts, they had missed some spots; so the suggestion was made, “Let’s all join hands and go through the long grass again.” Finally the child was found, but it was too late. When the lifeless body of the little one was carried back to the anxious mother, she cried aloud, “Oh why didn’t’ you join hands before?”
When it comes to seeking the spiritually lost for Christ, we can be much more effective if we are “perfectly joined together” in an unfailing zeal for God’s glory, not our own. Believers who are joined in heart should not find it difficult to be joined in hand, working together for the common good and for the glory of Christ. This applies also to the leadership in the church. The elders should make their decisions with “the same mind and the same judgment. There should be unanimous agreement. Not even a three-fourths vote should carry a motion. There should be oneness of mind, no matter how long it takes. Because the Holy Spirit has but one will, and because a church must be in complete harmony with His will, the leaders must be in complete harmony with each other in that will. The congregation then is to submit to the elders because it has confidence that their decisions were made under the Holy Spirit’s direction and power.
The words “made complete” in verse 10 are translated from a Greek word which was used to speak of mending such things as nets, bones, dislocated joints, broken utensils, and torn garments. The basic meaning is to put back together and make one again something that was broken or separated. Paul wants the Corinthian church to mend the broken relationships that have been caused by the divisions among its members.
In her book, “The Key to a Loving Heart”, Karen Mains includes a parable about the church entitled “The Brawling Bride”. It tells about the most climactic moment in a wedding ceremony. The families have been seated. The groom and his attendants are in their places. The minister is waiting, Bible in hand. The bridesmaids have come down the aisle. The organ begins the bridal march, and everyone stands. A gasp bursts from the guests! The bride is limping! Her gown is ripped and covered with mud! Bruises show on her arm! Her nose is bloody! One eye is purple and swollen! Her hair is messed up!
In this parable, the groom in Christ. “Doesn’t He deserve better than this?” the author asks. “His bride, the Church, has been fighting again!”
Ridiculous? Not when we hear of churches with factions or cliques of people who sit on opposite sides of the aisle. Not when one part of the congregation meets in one part of the building, and the other part of the congregation meets in another spot. Not when some people in the congregation won’t look at, speak to, or even acknowledge the existence of certain other people in the congregation. These kinds of things happen when there are divisions in a church.
In verse 11, Paul gives the reason for his appeal for unity in the church at Corinth. He had received a report from the household of Cloe that there were quarrels among the members of the Corinthian church. We do not know who the people were who belonged to “the house of Cloe”, but we must commend them for their courage and devotion. They did not try to hide the problems. They were burdened about them, and they went to the right person with them. They were also not afraid to be mentioned in Paul’s letter to the church.
Verse 12 tells us the source of this problem. Four groups had formed in the Corinthan church. There were: the followers of Paul, the followers of Apollos, the followers of Cephas or Peter, and the followers of Christ. The content of their messages were in agreement, but the followers of these men probably focused on personality differences and distorted their teachings. Paul was the apostle to the gentiles. They may have carried Paul’s teachings of justification by faith and freedom from the Law to an extreme and felt free to do whatever they wanted. Apollos was an intellectual. Acts 18:24 says that Apollos was “an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man”. Alexandria was a center for learning and philosophy. His followers in the Corinthian church may have viewed Christianity as a philosophy rather than a relationship with a Person – Jesus Christ. Peter was an uneducated, common man and may have appealed to that group of people in Corinth. The followers of Jesus may have believed in Jesus’ words only, and did not believe that the writings of Peter, Paul, and the other apostles were really Scripture. We have “Jesus only” groups even today.
II. PAUL’S CONDEMNATION (verse 13)
Paul condemns their behavior in verse 13 by saying, “Has Christ been divided?” In other words, have different amounts of Christ been given to different people? In Matthew 12:25 the Lord Jesus says, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself shall not stand.”
Only the Lord Jesus Christ could pay the penalty for our sins because only He is the Son of God. Luke says in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.” The ground is level at the cross. We are all equally undeserving of salvation and a relationship with Jesus Christ. Anyone who claims that he or she has an exclusive part in Christ is wrong. Christ belongs fully to every believer in His spiritual body, the Church. I Corinthians 12:12,13 says, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, and whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” You and I can’t have more of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we can give Him more of ourselves, and experience more fully what is already ours as children of God.
III. PAUL’S EXAMPLE (verses 14-16)
In verrses 14 to 16, Paul uses himself as an example. In this passage of Scripture, Paul is very careful to focus the attention on Christ and not on himself. There was nothing wrong with Paul baptizing people, but Paul didn’t want people to boast in the fact that he baptized them. In Philippians 2:9 Paul said of Christ, “Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” No Christian, no Christian minister, is to put himself in Christ’s place, or allow himself to be put in Christ’s place, and take the authority and honor that is due to Christ alone.
IV. PAUL’S CALLING (verse 17)
In verse 17, Paul says that his calling of God was to “preach the Gospel”, and the focus of the Gospel is the cross of Christ. Paul says that he does not preach “in cleverness of speech” because the power of the gospel lies in the facts of the gospel, nnd not in any man’s presentation of them.
We’ve seen how important unity was to the apostle Paul. How important was unity to our Lord Jesus Christ? If you will turn in your Bibles with me to John 17:20-23, I will read the passage to you. The Lord Jesus is praying to the Father, and this is part of His prayer for us:
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one; even as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (NKJV)
Having listened to Paul’s words and the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ, how important is unity to each of us today? Are we willing and ready to pray for unity in His Church, and work at building a stronger unity among fellow-members of the congregations where we fellowship and serve? Will we do so by the strength which God alone can and will supply? Are we willing to love each other as Christ loved us? If we are, all our differences and difficulties would soon come to an end. Remember, a believer who is at war with his brother or sister in Christ cannot be at peace with our heavenly Father.