A plea for unity in the church
The title for today’s message is church unity from I Corinthians 1:10-17. It will be very practical because it is something we can all relate to for if you have been involved in a church long enough you will experience disunity, bickering, arguments, and strife. We can all attest to the importance of our subject matter for today.
Why is there disunity in the church? James 4:1 says, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is it not the source of your pleasure that you wage war on your members? You lust and do not have so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.” Disunity occurs because we all have in our fallen nature’s selfish, independent desires. We all have this competitive nature.
For example: two babies will fight over one bottle, two children will fight over one toy, two teens will fight over another girl or boy, two college students will fight over institutional policies, married couples will fight over whatever, or two countries will go to war.
All of those conflicts spawn out of selfish desires. Even though disunity is forbidden by God, even though it is totally out of character for transformed people, even though it is the exact opposite of what our Lord prayed for in John 17, it still exists. The results are that Christ is dishonored, the church is disgraced, and Christians are discredited.
It is a prevalent problem and Paul treats it as such. In 1:10-4:21 Paul speaks of the error of divisions. In 5:1-6:20 he speaks of the error of immorality. In 7:1-40 he speaks of the errors concerning marriage. In 8:1 -11:1 he speaks of the errors regarding Christian liberty. In 11:2-34 he speaks of the errors regarding the Lord’s Table. In 12-14 he speaks of the errors related to spiritual gifts. In chapter 15 he speaks of the errors regarding the resurrection.
And in chapter 16 he speaks of the error regarding money. But of all of those errors, the number one error is the disunity of the church for there lies the credibility of our testimony and the joy of our ministry together. So Paul begins with this subject of disunity. To help you understand his premise better I broke it into 4 sections. In v.10 you have the plea, in v.11-13 you have the parties, in v.13 the principle, and in v.14-17 you have the priority. The Plea v.10. The word ‘now’ is a transitional word that links the text to the previous passage. The word ‘exhort’ comes from the word that is translated comforter in the gospel of John which means to come alongside. So Paul is saying I am not coming down on you with a club trying to force unity, I am coming alongside to encourage you to be united.
You see, law demands, grace loves and beseeches. What is the premise on which he exhorts them? V.9 The premise is that God sovereignly calls us to join the fellowship of His Son, J.C.. The point being that if you were called by God into a common-bond of fellowship with Christ, then you ought to be one in practice. So the plea for unity comes in the name of Jesus.
It is what Jesus desires because unity is consistent with who Jesus is and what he wills. Your behavior has its most direct bearing not on your relationship to me, not on your relationship to the elders of this church. Not even to the people in this church, but to Jesus Christ himself. So when you talk derogatory about the church, or your pastor or your church leaders to others, it reflects first and foremost on the Christ whom you claim to love.
We have all been around someone who talks despairingly about their wife or husband and we walk away thinking that they must not think much of their spouse, we question their love. So it is when we speak negatively about the church, its leaders, and its people.
Notice in the middle of v.9 he says I want you ALL to agree. Sounds impossible but that is the standard. What kind of agreements is he talking about? First, He is talking about doctrinal agreement. In Romans 16:17 he wrote, “I urge you brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned and turn away for them.”
There are some basic, cardinal, substantiated, foundational doctrines that must be agreed upon by everyone in the church. I am talking about the basic truths of the Bible, not a viewpoint over an individual passage in the Bible. Truths like how one gets to heaven, Jesus was God’s Son co-equal with God, Jesus was resurrected, etc. If you don’t agree on the basics there can be no unity. Secondly, He is also talking about agreement in the decision making process of the church.
He has appointed deacons and elders to lead the church. They are microcosms, or the small group that pictures the larger group. And since I have been here we do not run by a majority decision, every decision brought to the congregation has been unanimously approved by the board of elders and deacons. Thirdly, He is also talking about the godly pattern of those who lead the church. If you are in a church that does not have godly leadership all else falls apart. But if you have that then the congregation is called upon to agree with what they say.
Why? Because according to Heb.13:17 they are accountable to God for you. When you submit and agree it brings them joy and when you argue and bicker about their decisions it causes them to lose that joy. Paul says in v.9 let there be no disagreement among you. Have the same mind and the same judgment. The word divisions used in that verse means literally to tear a garment.
Metaphorically it means a split opinion or a difference of opinion. So Paul is saying let there be no differences of opinion. Does that mean we are to be like a bunch of ducks that all quack at the same time? No, because we are all different and unique. Then how can we have the same opinion? Well, when you believe in the godly leadership God has entrusted to this church, when you believe that God only has one opinion on every two-sided issue, once the decision is made you are to simply submit to that decision as if it was God’s decision.
And it is a present tense verb, be continually agreeing, continually stop all disagreements. There are only four elements that God gives to the church to continually foster unity. The headship of Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit, a plurality of godly leaders, and a submissive congregation. Those four ingredients make up unity. So he says be made complete in the same mind and same judgment.
What does that mean? Complete means to mend the nets, to fix a dislocated bone, to sew a garment. To put together something that was torn apart. We are to have the same mind (that’s internal), and to have the same judgment (those are the decisions one makes from the mind). That is a big order but it is God’s will and it goes way back to Psalm 131:1 where it says, “How blessed it is when brethren learn to dwell together in unity.” Romans 15:5 says, “May the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another in Christ Jesus.”
Why? So that with one mind (internal) you may have one voice (external) so that God the Father and our Lord Jesus might be glorified. You can’t create unity in the church, God already gave it, all we can do is maintain it, right? The catalyst for disunity is always when someone places their own interests above everyone else’s. Unity is created by humility which says the opinion of others is more important than mind. I praise God when I hear of a church intent on unity. Now, Look at the parties involved v.11-12.
They were splitting into factions and there four of them based various teachers: Paul the founder of the church, Apollos the second pastor of the church, Cephas or Peter, and Christ the head of the church. What was that all about? Personalities, some liked Paul better, some Peter, some Apollos and others would say I don’t care for any of them. I am a follower of Christ. So in I Cor. 3:6 Paul asks them who causes the church to grow, is it built on personalities, or does God cause the growth.
Then he reminds them that what they are doing, dividing around people is but flesh not the spirit. So what is the principle? V.13 The principle is that church disunity violates a basic principle. If we are all one in Christ, and he is not divided, then we are all one with each other. The church is one because Christ is one because God is one. Deut. 6:4 says the Lord our God is one Lord. Your unity isn’t with people, it’s with God and He is one. So what is the priority v.14-17. Paul says I recall baptizing one household and I don’t recall any others.
But I choose not to baptize others so as not to create a following. My priority is to preach. My commission was to preach the gospel to make all men one, not to baptize and create a following. That was how important unity was to Paul. What should be our priority? It should be to honor Christ and to preach the truth. If that is our priority then we will see a blessed unity that will magnify our Lord. My prayer in church is that they are one with him, in what they say, what they think, and what they do. Then our Lord Jesus will be magnified.
The Rev. Dr. James Barnes is currently the pastor of White Memorial Church in Milroy.