United In Christ

Studies in First Corinthians

by Bob Burridge ©2016

Lesson 3
United In Christ

1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (ESV)

We’ve all heard of the old military tactic called “divide and conquer”.

One of the principles of strategic warfare uses psychological operations to weaken the enemy’s will to fight. Part of that is to shift their attention to their differences rather than to what unites them. Soldiers who are bickering among themselves lack determination and commitment. It breaks down their loyalty to their cause and to their leaders. Their divided goals make them more easily defeated and often willing to give up the fight.

It’s reasonable to expect the spiritual enemy of Christ’s Kingdom to do the same thing. In his delusional view of things Satan might believe he can actually conquer Christ’s church. He can’t. But quarreling does divide her and weaken the brightness of her light.

Divisions among true Christians undermine the gospel. Of course there are some who call themselves “Christian” but are not. They promote “another gospel”. We are not to be united with them. There can be no tolerance for those denying the authority of God’s word. But within the body of true believers, quarreling confuses God’s truth, and contradicts the union we should have in Christ.

Sadly, many Christians who bicker and quarrel believe they are doing what’s right. They think they are being strong and faithful to some particular thing they believe. But they are not handling their differences obediently, the way God teaches us in his word.

In his priestly prayer in John 17 Jesus asked several times that his church might be one.
John 17:11, “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”

John 17:20-23, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 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. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 Paul deals with
tragic divisions in the church at Corinth.

10. 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, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

There were divisive attitudes among the Christians there. But it was wrong. It should not be that way.

It does not mean they had already divided into different congregations or presbyteries. But their bickering made them create groups like political parties in the church. Factions have no place in the church of Christ. That’s not how our Lord set up his church on earth to deal with things.

Paul called on them as a wise and loving counselor to end their arguing. But he did not cite his own authority, or his past history with them. He admonished them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ — their Lord, and his. The word translated “divisions” is originally the Greek word “schisma” (σχίσμα) which means a rip or a tear. A schism is when churches are torn apart by a party spirit.

Instead of tearing apart, they should be weaving themselves together. The word translated as “complete” is “katartizo” (καταρτίζω). Here it is a perfect passive participle meaning having been woven together. It’s the same word used in Mark 1:19 when Jesus “… saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.” Their fishing nets had been torn and needed to be woven together again. This is the exact picture these words of Paul drew for the original readers in Corinth. Their differences were not being handled right. By bickering they were ripping apart the church. The people needed to be woven together once more.

The various elements each one championed needed to be studied in light of Scripture, and joined in a harmonic relationship that better represented what God had made known.

This is how we should approach our differences: We get busy as a family with different points of view. Out of respect for one another, and for the Lord we serve, we carefully repair the damage by prayerfully, lovingly studying God’s word.

Rather than arguing, they needed to discover why they were not saying the same things. There should be agreement among believers. They should be made complete with the same mind and the same judgment. As a unified covenant community, a family of God, we work with the same basic set of facts. If we search them out, apply biblical principles with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can mend the nets, weave back together the broken strands.

It takes time and commitment. Immature, lazy, and misguided people would often rather adopt a label, and reject those who see things differently. Instead, they ought to spend the time it takes to diligently study God’s word together.

It took the Pastors and Elders over 5 years to compose the Westminster Standards. Yet after a few hours of debate, some assemblies today call for a vote to decide an issue as soon as they think they have the majority, or individuals turn away from each other to form a “party” and condemn the others.

This is what happened in Corinth.

Paul begins to answer the concerns of Chloe’s people.

11. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.
12. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”

There were people associated with Chloe, a mutual friend of Paul and the Corinthians. They were deeply concerned about these factions in the church and reported them to Paul. The believers had divided into parties claiming the names of Paul, Apollos, Peter (his Aramaic name was Cephas), and Christ.

We can only guess as to why these particular names were chosen. Probably each was resting their arguments on particular statements by these men, or maybe they just like their individual style of teaching. Rather than fitting it all together, they rejected what the others saw in God’s word.

They were like the old parable of India of the blind men and the elephant.

  • The one who felt the leg thought an elephant was like a tree.
  • The one touching the trunk insisted an elephant was like a snake.
  • The one at the tail thought of an elephant as a rope like creature.
  • The one touching his side saw the elephant as a wall.
  • And the one who felt along his ear imagined elephants as large broad leaves.
  • They argued rather than taking the time to fit it all together.

Paul, Apollos and Peter never founded sects. And those in the group who claimed to be the “true followers of Christ” were no better. They formed still another party rather than being peacemakers in the church. There was pride and condescension where there ought to have been mutual concern and love.

There are good reasons why divisions have no place in the church.

13-17, Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 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.

By his question Paul means that Christ is not divided. The same Messiah was crucified for all believers. Paul was not the one who secured their salvation.

Later, while Paul was a prisoner in Rome, he wrote in Ephesians 4:1-6, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call– one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

In the Apostles’ Creed we say we believe in “the holy catholic church; the communion of saints;”. This does not mean the Roman Catholic Church. The word “catholic” means universal. Jesus Christ has but one true church. Though it is divided into denominations, synods, presbyteries and congregations, there is but one covenant body of believers invisibly joined by God’s grace.

Of course some who call themselves churches of Christ are not at all what they say. They reject the teachings and work of the Messiah himself. But those who receive the Bible as God’s complete and inerrant word have a lot to learn yet before the net can be mended.

Our duty is not to abandon what we believe God’s word teaches for the sake of unity. It is to strive together diligently and in love with mutual respect to subject our every belief and practice to the Scriptures alone.

There are always some, who piously refuse to belong to any group as if they are superior. Admit it or not, they are a party to themselves and are schismatic and divisive just like the Corinthians and those who dared to say they alone were of Christ. Disobedience to God’s revealed plan for his church on earth is a serious sin.

We are to do the best we can to join together where we believe the truth is taught, and to lovingly work together as best as we can to heal our differences biblically. Probably until the return of Christ when sin will be no more, these differences will continue.

But among ourselves, in our own families, friends and congregations we should keep busy mending the tears, and keeping them from making the net useless.

Paul briefly listed the baptisms he remembered performing among them. They were but a few and certainly didn’t constitute a party. Apollos and Peter would say the same, and Jesus clearly didn’t encourage a party that rejected his own Apostles.

Divisions and quarrels show spiritual immaturity, lingering sinful attitudes and values. James 4:1-3 reminds us where these kinds of things come from. There it says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

Arguments and divisions are the way of the spiritually immature. Their goal is their own comfort and for their own feeling of superiority and greater wisdom. They neglect the harder job of staying together to work out their differences.

So Paul reminds them that he came not with words of eloquent wisdom. Literally, he says that he did not come in “word-wisdom”, but with the wisdom of God. It was God’s word, not human words, that should unite us.

If it’s the eloquent words of men that mark us out then we void the cross of Christ. It was his death for our sins, his atonement in our place, that makes us children of God.

It’s not our baptism into some distinct group of Christians, but the gospel of Christ that unites us in the Kingdom of God. That was the message of Paul to the Corinthians and to all those he taught.

The remedy is for us to restore the centrality of the Lordship of Christ over his church. It’s not to reject the church, but to correct the church, to reform her. His lordship is among us by means of the word he gave us in the Bible. It’s applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit and studied and taught by those called, gifted and ordained to bear his truths to his church. That is what the Scriptures plainly teach.

Differences will always come up in our
yet imperfect hearts and imperfect churches.

How we deal with those differences either unites us together as bright lights of Christ’s Kingdom, or tears us apart into bickering factions that undermine the whole gospel message, and hurts our loved ones and neighbors.

So when we have differences in our families, between friends, in our church or community, or even large differences in the community of churches, It’s time for caution, prayer, and careful study together of God’s word. We need patiently to take whatever time might be required to show respect for one another, to study the Bible honestly and diligently together, to disagree in love while we work to see how it all fits together as God says it should. And let the little issues not covered in God’s word take a minor place in our homes and lives, while we unite around the central things in life: the glory of God through Jesus Christ.

The enemy must not be allowed to divide and conquer our families, friendships, churches, or communities. He will never give up trying. Rather we should fulfill the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we should be one, united in truth and love.

(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)

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