The foundation of Christian unity
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
1 Corinthians 1:10 (NIVUK)
The Psalmist alerts us to the importance of unity when he reminds us: ‘How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!’ (Psalm 133:1). The thrust of the psalm is to emphasise the preciousness of harmony, oneness, like-mindedness, and unity among the people of God. This was something Paul desired for the Christians in the church at Corinth, where there was division rather than unity: “My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: one of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ ” (1 Corinthians 1:11-12). Apparently, people were beginning to polarise behind their favourite leader, not an uncommon trend in the Christian church today.
In tackling the disunity that was emerging in this church, Paul laid the foundation for Christian unity, which is Jesus Christ, and he did this in three ways:
First, he asks, ‘Is Christ divided?’ (v.13). The obvious answer is no, and Paul is drawing out a couple of lessons. The church is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12), and Christ’s body is not dismembered. Rather it is whole, fully functioning, with all its parts working in unity. To exalt one part of the body above another would be a contradiction of who Christ is. A secondary reason is that when every believer has Christ, we have all of him, so there is no reason to feel inferior to other Christians or to exalt others to superior positions – both divide Christ and the church.
Second, Paul asks, ‘Was Paul crucified for you?’ (1 Corinthians 1:13). Again, the obvious answer is no. Neither Paul nor the other church leaders had any grounds to boast or elevate themselves as they didn’t save anyone – salvation is in Christ alone. The cross not only removes the grounds for pride and boasting, undermining a major cause of disunity, but it also lays the foundation for Christian unity.
Paul’s third question to the Corinthian church is, ‘Were you baptised in the name of Paul?’ (v.13) Once again, the obvious answer is no. It is of no great significance who baptises us. The issue is in whose name are we baptised – Father, Son, and Spirit – and that in baptism we join with Christ in his death and his resurrected life. To make baptism about the person who baptised us gives rise to one-upmanship and disunity, whereas when Christ is the focus we show our dependence on him and our unity with each other.
Making church about human personalities is a recipe for disunity, while focusing on Jesus is the foundation for Christian unity. This is a message just as relevant in the 21st century as it was in the 1st century and is one that is still good and pleasant to hear.
Loving Father, may we exalt Jesus and not ourselves or other people, so that he is at the centre of our individual and collective lives. And may we live in unity, for Christ’s sake, Amen.
Study by Barry Robinson
About the writer:
Barry Robinson is a minister in Grace Communion International and Regional Pastor for Southern England.
Grace Communion International Camberwell
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