One of the many issues Paul addressed in his first letter to the Corinthians was that of disunity. The church of Corinth was suffering from a spiritual malady all too common among churches today. They were split into factions, squabbling over which leader to follow, happily tolerating sin, and looking down on fellow believers. Paul’s words to them can give us guidance for finding a way out of similar problems today.
Disunity is Ridiculous
Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been reported to me concerning you, my brothers, by those who are from Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” “I follow Cephas,” and, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:10-13, WEB)
Paul is begging these people in the name of our savior to stop their contentions and divisions. His questions, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you” shine a spotlight on how ridiculous their squabbles and disagreements really are. Christ is not divided and He’s the one into whom we were baptized. There is no division when we’re in Him.
The Mind of Christ
When Paul talks about being like-minded with each other in Philippians, he follows it with “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:1-5, KJV). Our unity comes from all of us learning to think like Jesus. It is the height of arrogance to think we could come up with a better plan, interpretation, or idea than what He has given us.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brothers, that not many are wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, and not many noble; but God chose the foolish things of the world that he might put to shame those who are wise. God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong; and God chose the lowly things of the world, and the things that are despised, and the things that are not, that he might bring to nothing the things that are: that no flesh should boast before God. (1 Cor. 1:25-29, WEB)
God didn’t call you because you’re smart enough to figure things out or because you bring great wisdom and skill to the body. He doesn’t really need your help, though He does want His church involved in carrying out the work He’s doing. We are the body of Christ in the world. At least, we’re meant to be. But as Paul covers in Chapter 2, we can’t be that body if we’re thinking on our own in a fleshy, human way. We need God’s spirit in us to give us “the mind of Christ.”
Unity In God’s Temple
Even though we have the mind of Christ and should be more guided by the spirit than the flesh, the Corinthians weren’t. Paul “couldn’t speak to you as to spiritual, but as to fleshly, as to babies in Christ.” Something was blocking them from becoming spiritually mature.
For you are still fleshly. For insofar as there is jealousy, strife, and factions among you, aren’t you fleshly, and don’t you walk in the ways of men? (1 Cor. 3:3, WEB)
When our minds are caught up in squabbles and jealousies we aren’t spiritually minded. Paul then goes back to talking about how ridiculous it is to follow human beings. Church leaders are just there to plant some seeds and water the Lord’s garden. They’re nothing compared to the One who brings you to the point where you can bear fruit (1 Cor. 3:4-9).
“You are God’s farming, God’s building” (1 Cor. 3:9, WEB). You’re responsible for how you build on the foundation that is Jesus Christ as well as how you treat the other “living stones” that make up God’s house (1 Cor. 3:10-17; 1 Pet. 2:1-10). God wants an individual relationship with you, but not just with you. His temple only becomes what it’s meant to be when His people are together in unity.
It’s Time To Grow Up
Now Paul gets back to the problem which started this whole discussion — sects within the Corinthian chruch.
Now these things, brothers, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to think beyond the things which are written, that none of you be puffed up against one another. For who makes you different? And what do you have that you didn’t receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Cor. 4:6-7, WEB)
Paul has been writing as if he and Apollos headed these sects although they would never have started something like that. Whether others in Corinth set things up as if they were following Paul and Apollo or Paul just decided not to name names among the divisive leaders, his point is clear. It’s past time for the Corinthians to grow up as Christians.
We, like the Corinthians, need to learn to think with the scriptures, not add to or misinterpret them. We need to live humbly and respect each other. We’ve got to stop highlighting our differences and instead pursue unity. And we must remember that all we have from God was received as gifts, not earned or taken by us.
Don’t Go Sour
It’s time for the whole church to stand up for truth and stop tolerating divisions and sin. Tolerance is not the same thing as peace and we’re not doing anyone in the church a favor when we overlook something wrong in order to avoid confrontation. “Peace” in the Hebrew sense (which is the language Paul, as a former Pharisee, would have known the scriptures in) goes beyond the absence of strife. It means wholeness and completeness, which can only be had when we’re all living in accord with Jesus and the Father.
Paul is specifically talking about tolerating a sexual sin when he berates the Corinthians because they were “puffed up, and didn’t rather mourn, that he who had done this deed might be removed from among you” (1 Cor. 5:2, WEB). But it can apply to other things as well, including the divisions which are our topic today. Just as “a little yeast leavens the whole lump,” so a few wrongdoers in the body can sour all the others (1 Cor. 5:6, WEB). The key to fixing this is found a few chapters back in 1 Corinthians.
Even so, no one knows the things of God, except God’s Spirit. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things. Now the natural man doesn’t receive the things of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to him, and he can’t know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual discerns all things, and he himself is judged by no one. “For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him?” But we have Christ’s mind. (1 Cor. 2:11-16, WEB)
One of the key things that’s overlooked in the Matthew 7 “judge not” passage is that after you take the beam out of your own eye, you’re able to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. We’re to continually align ourselves with God’s standard and we’re also responsible for correcting, in love, our brethren if they’re going astray. We do this by using God’s spirit to learn to think as He does. The more each person in Christ’s body develops His mind, the fewer divisions there will be. And when you do have the mind of Christ, you’ll be able to offer and accept helpful correction from other believers as we all learn to walk in the spirit.
*featured image credit: Shaun Menary via Lightstock