Main Point: We must pursue Christ-centered unity.
In our sermon last week I appealed to Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21. There Jesus is praying for all those who will believe in him through the apostle’s preaching. In John 21 Jesus is praying for us. And Jesus prayed, “That they may all be one, just as you Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Unity in the church was one of Jesus’ priorities. I wonder if we have the mind of Christ concerning true unity among the body?
The reason I ask this question is because our passage today, 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, is a call to put aside selfish pride in order to pursue Christ-centered unity. It is a call for the body of Christ to act like Christ. Therefore, the call to pursue unity is one that includes but goes deeper than surface issues to the heart. Unity is not the mutual agreement to tolerate one another’s differences. No, the unity you and I are to pursue as members of the body of Christ is a unity of words, of thinking, and even opinion. You see, true unity as defined by Scripture is deep, costly, satisfying, and fruitful.
This morning what I want to do is define unity and make it clear to you that this biblical unity must be your goal and mine. I then want to illustrate how easily schisms and division can erupt by looking at the division in the Corinthian church. And then finally I want to show you the way out of division and into unity.
Together, as those sanctified in Christ Jesus, let us pursue unity.
Read 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
I. Your goal must be unity (10).
The authority and presence of Jesus Christ is for unity
In Matthew 28 Jesus declared that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him and he promised that he would be with his church forever. In 1 Corinthians Paul writes to the church of Jesus Christ as the Apostle of Jesus Christ with the authority of Jesus Christ. This appeal for unity comes with the full backing of Christ; it is as if Christ himself is making the appeal. And in fact, Christ is making the appeal. What Christ prayed for in John 17 He is calling his church to pursue in 1 Corinthians 1. Therefore, true unity must be our desire because it is the desire of Christ.
And because we have the presence of Jesus Christ unity is possible. We have been sanctified in Christ Jesus. We are given grace and peace in Christ Jesus. We are enriched in every way in Christ Jesus. We are waiting for Christ Jesus. We are sustained guiltless by Christ Jesus. And we have been called into the fellowship of Christ Jesus. The Apostle Paul can plead with the church to be united because they have been given Christ Jesus and have been called into the fellowship of Christ Jesus.
True unity is outward and inward
In verse 10 the Spirit does a thorough job of explaining what unity in Christ is and is not. We get our explanation of unity through the prescription of three goals.
1. The first goal is that we all speak the same.
That is the literal translation of the phrase “that all of you agree” in verse 10. Speaking the same is not a call to share a common accent or that all of life be lived as an ongoing responsive reading where we speak the same thing at the same time. Verse 12 tells us they were all speaking different things. One said, “I am of Paul”, another said, “I am of Apollos”, another “I am of Cephas”, and still another, “I am of Christ.” This division is not God’s goal for the church that is called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (1:2). Remember, the testimony of Christ had been confirmed as true among them (1:6). In 1:18 Paul writes about “the word of the cross.”
The point that I am making is that everyone speaking the same is an appeal for everyone to be in agreement concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ. Everyone is to share the same confession concerning who Christ is and what he has done. When Christians get biblical and agree on what it means to call upon the name of the Lord then there is great potential for unity.
It has been said that the church is called to be a harmonious group singing from the same sheet of music. We have not been given the freedom to be a herd of cats howling his or her own cacophonous tune (Robertson and Plummer, referenced by Garland, 42). Our sheet music is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the word of the cross, the testimony about Christ. So being on the same gospel-page speaking the same thing is our first goal.
2. The second goal in verse 10 is no divisions.
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you.”
A division is a schism, a tearing, or a rift. If I were to open the hood of your car and rip out all of your spark plug wires then one could say that your car had just experienced a division or schism. What was once together is now torn apart. Paul pleads with the church that there be no divisions in it.
Now we hear these two phrases, “that all of you say the same thing” and “no divisions” then add to it “be united in the same mind and the same judgment” and some might say that would be boring. Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “Total agreement on all matters is terribly dull, it is good to disagree, and if two people are identical then one is not necessary.”
God would thoroughly disagree. The Father, Son, and Spirit are in total agreement. They say the same things (John 7:16; 8:28; 12:49; 14:26; 16:13). They are perfectly one. There is no division among them. They are united in the same mind and judgment. And would any who truly knows our Triune God dare say that God is boring? Has God from eternity past only wanted one thing: for someone to disagree with him? In your relationships do you long for heated arguments with lots of strife? Do you go to work every day hoping for more division and jealousy among your co-workers? If you like division then you do not have the mind of Christ (2:16). Our instructions concerning you are these: “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful” (Titus 3:10-11).
Our second goal is that there would be no divisions among us. We will achieve this by agreeing on the gospel and dealing appropriately with divisive people.
3. The third goal is that we would be united in the same mind and judgment
If unity is demonstrated in everyone speaking the same in our first phrase then unity is demonstrated in everyone thinking the same in our third phrase. We are to have the same mindset; the mind of Christ. What is urged here is explained in Philippians 2:5-8:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
We are to share the same attitude; the attitude of humble grateful servants who love to see others advancing. And we are to be united in the same judgment. Sharing the same judgment means together we value the proper things. This is getting into the arena of opinions. Are you surprised that God would call us to be united even at the level of opinions? We are called to value the wisdom of God over the wisdom of man (1:18-25). We are called to boast in the Lord not in the ability of man (1:31). We are called to value others over self (Phil 2:4).
Do you want to be united with this church at such a level? Do you want to be united with any church at this level?
If division is illustrated by tearing apart than unity is illustrated by knitting together; division is the creation of two pieces out of one while unity is the creation of one piece out of two. This level of unity is what God expects of us.
Don’t be naïve (1 Cor 11:18-19)
“When you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”
Our goal is complete unity of word, heart, and deed around the gospel. There should be outward unity as we speak the same gospel and there should be inward unity as we think alike and value the same things because of the gospel. But we also realize that there will be people among us who will attempt to be a part of the church while denying the gospel. There will be people who only want to exploit the church for personal gain. There will be those who yearn for power and applause. An unshakeable clear proclamation of the gospel will eventually flush these people out. A refusal to sugar-coat the gospel or white-wash over the crucifixion is not allowable in Christ’s church.
Some will grow tired of the gospel and we go seeking after something better. Some will be offended by the message of the cross. Some will think it is foolish. Divisions over the gospel demonstrate who is genuine and who is not.
Let us pursue unity but do not be naïve. As we rally around, preach, celebrate, and live in step with the gospel division and factions will come. Let us commit ourselves right now to never compromise the gospel. It is our only source of true unity.
Let’s transition now to the problems in the church of God at Corinth. How did they lose their focus? Where did things go wrong?
II. Division in the Corinthian church
There were cliques formed around gifted leaders (1:11-12)
The report came to Paul from trustworthy sources that the church was no longer saying the same thing. Verse 12, “each one of you says, “I am of Paul”, or “I am of Apollos”, or “I am of Cephas”, or “I am of Christ.” They were claiming more than just that they followed these men. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul will urge the entire church to follow him, to imitate him as he imitates Christ. No, this was more than a healthy appreciation for gifted teachers who all agreed on the gospel. There were rivalries in the church. It is similar to two men who love football being in full agreement and enjoying one another’s shared love for the game until it comes out that one loves the Redskins and the other loves the Cowboys. It is no longer about the shared game but about trying to establish whose team is better.
This appears to be what it had come to in Corinth. Each one was trying to get a leg up on the other by establishing whose preacher is the best. Finally it seems that one group decided to withdraw from the Paul, Apollos, and Cephas groups by claiming attachment to Christ.
Paul cannot believe it has come to this point and so he writes in verse 13, “Is Christ divided?” Is it possible to be the body of Christ while you tear one another apart? Is it possible to be united under one head while each member seeks to cut-down, demean, or undermine another?
When your physical body joins together to fight a common intruder, an infection or virus, then that is good unity. In the same sense it is good when the church body joins together to fight against those who would attempt to change or devalue the gospel. But when a group of cells goes haywire and begins to attack the healthy members of the physical body that is a bad thing. Cancer is to the physical body what selfish division is to the church body.
The Corinthian church was suffering from the cancer of personality-cults, individual preferences, and cliques.
Their problem centered on preference not doctrine
It is right to divide over the truth. But that wasn’t the issue. All throughout the New Testament we see that the Apostle Paul has no trouble whatsoever calling out people who disagree with him on doctrine (1 Cor 16:22; Gal 1:8-9; 2:11-14). There is no hint that Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ differ concerning doctrine. The issue had become one of preference.
Oh you like Apollos? Then we can’t be friends. You like Cephas!?! Well we cannot get along. No friend of Paul can be a friend of mine! Each had begun to see personal benefit and possibly even personal worth from being attached to a particular man. This grew so deep and divided that it appears another group had to form in order to separate itself from the others. This group claimed to be of Christ. “We’re not with them. We are with Jesus.” But is Christ divided? “Massive fail” on the part of the Corinthians. Their problem was fundamentally worldly and immature. This was the situation in Corinth.
Now let’s turn our attention to the way out of division. What is the cure?
III. The way toward true unity
Understand the nature of Christ and his church
Paul’s first question in verse 12 is this: “Is Christ divided?” The Corinthian church was claiming to be the body of Christ. Did their claim of being the body of Christ match the reality of what it means to be the body of Christ? No. In chapter 3 verse 3 Paul writes, “you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way. For when one says, ‘I am of Paul’, and another, ‘I am of Apollos’, are you not being merely human?”
When the body of Christ divides into opposing camps in areas of preference then that church is denying its very nature. Our nature is one of unity with one another because of our unity with Christ. When a church divides over each person’s preferences concerning preaching styles and music styles you can rest assured that you are looking at an unspiritual immature group. They are behaving in merely human ways.
I want you to see that our nature, when we are being spiritual and mature, is to look not only after our own interests but also after the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). This is the mind of Christ; giving for the gospel-good of others.
Church it is okay to like certain styles of music over another. Due to our varying gifts and needs one person will value one gospel-driven program over another. One person likes more guitar while another likes more organ. One person likes his small group on Sunday morning while another likes his on Wednesday night. One person wants to invest the gospel in children while another wants to invest in adults. That is great! We are not all the same. One is a hand and one is a foot. One is an eye and another is an ear. The hands like gloves and the feet like socks. The eye likes rays of light while the ear likes waves of sound.
What is not okay is when we begin to divide over these issues of style, preference, and programs. Turf-wars and divisions over taste are nothing more than clear indications of a lack of spirituality and maturity. If I or a deacon or an angel from heaven begins to try and gain your support in order to elevate one style, or preference, or program over another let him be called to repentance. He has forgotten the very nature of Christ and his church and is seeking to bring others into his sin.
The church is united. We are united around the gospel. Beware of those who would elevate preference to the place of the gospel. And next, on our way to true unity, we must
Understand the way of salvation
The next question in verse 13 is this: “Was Paul crucified for you?” You who want to claim that you are of Paul, was Paul crucified for you? Do you now walk in the newness of life because Paul died in your place? It is ridiculous to elevate any teacher or preacher no matter how good or godly to the same level of Christ.
I’m sure the Corinthians would respond by saying, “That’s not what we’re doing. We know we’re saved by Christ.” But since they had begun to separate along party lines they were claiming a greater loyalty to a teacher than to Christ. Concerning this unhealthy division the reformer Martin Luther wrote, “What is Luther? The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone…How did I, poor stinking bag of maggots that I am, come to the point where people call the children of Christ by my evil name” (Garland, 49).
Forgiveness is ours through Christ alone. We have been sanctified in Him (1:2). Every gift that we have and enjoy is the product of being enriched in Him (1:5-7). We have been joined to Christ. Every good gospel-driven thing that you appreciate about that teacher or preacher is solely the product of the work of Christ. The good you see is the product of Christ. Beware of elevating good pastors and teachers to the functional saving place of Jesus.
Understand the nature of salvation and the role God-called men have to play in it. There is more to come on this in chapter 3, but for today make the clear commitment to follow Christ and be numbered among his own.
After establishing the fact that Paul wasn’t crucified for anyone he asks the question in verse 13, “Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Verses 14-16 make it clear that the individual that performs your baptism is not the most important issue. The issue is whether you have heard the gospel, believed the gospel, and been sanctified in Christ. The issue is whether you were incorporated into Christ? To be baptized into the name of Christ is to be under his authority and owned by him. What is true of Christ is true of all those who are baptized into his name.
Why would anyone want to claim anyone other than Christ? It is dangerously close to denying the One who saved you.
When you were baptized you refused any alliances with any master or Lord other than Jesus Christ. The Corinthians had begun to go back on their confession! You see, the issue was first about preferences and style but because they could not master the sin that was seeking to master them even the gospel was at stake. We must understand baptism, understand proper allegiances, and we must
Understand the gospel
In verse 17 Paul write, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel,” to preach the cross of Christ. You see, the gospel cuts across the grain of every culture. It is folly to those who are perishing. The sinfulness of man, the righteousness of God, the necessity of Christ’s righteous life and atoning death, the inability of man, the resurrection, judgment, and the power of the Spirit, all these are a mockery to the wise and worldly of this age. Paul was not sent to baptize but to preach the gospel.
What is the gospel? The gospel is the good news that God himself as come to rescue, reconcile, redeem, and renew his creation through the person and work of his Son.
Where the gospel is fuzzy opportunities to divide will abound. When the gospel is forgotten the church will scramble to find another cause or doctrine to unite around. Church we must strive to understand the gospel. Nothing less than the salvation of souls is at stake(1 Timothy 4:16).
There will be much more on this to come. For today, let us be in agreement that the highest priority for us in the church must be to get the gospel right. We must understand the gospel and we must
In verse 17 Paul wrote, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
In Corinth there was a dangerous love for rhetoric; the art of speaking persuasively. It would later grow to the point that it didn’t matter if what you said was true as long as you said it well and convincingly. People stopped judging arguments on content and began to look only to delivery. The best speaker was then credited with the truth. The apostle Paul vehemently refused to practice such things. He intentionally kept himself and his abilities from being the focus of his preaching and their listening. What is needed is a self-denying proclamation of a humbling gospel which calls for nothing less than the death of self.
Preachers must make the word of the cross the clear focus of their preaching and never allow the power of personality to interfere. I would love for us to remain together until Christ returns but history proves that God will move some of us from the body and unite us with another. When you are called from this body seek a church where the gospel is the obvious focus. Make the pastor’s content the highest priority. Do this knowing that a pastor who chooses to make his personality or abilities the draw is a pastor who is introducing division into the body.
Church, understand preachers and seek out only those who make the preaching of the gospel the priority of the church.
IV. One practical way to begin pursuing unity
Pursue unity by talking more about the gospel
It is my goal to sit down with every new member and ask them to define the gospel. I want to encourage you to do the same. Invite people into your home and ask them to tell you their story. Focus on the ways that Christ has changed them. When we do this, when we clearly see the work of the Triune God in one another’s lives, it will unite us. Seeing Christ in one another will make it much easier to show honor to one another’s preferences and even gladly give way to the desires of another.
Commit with me today to talking more about the gospel.