“What is the source of quarrels and conflict among you?”
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. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 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.” 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.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
- The first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 1, verses 10-18, English Standard Version.
The lion was proud of his mastery of the animal kingdom. One day he decided to make sure all the other animals knew he was the king of the jungle. He was so confident that he by-passed the smaller animals and went straight to the bear. “Who is the king of the jungle?” the lion asked. The bear replied, “Why you are, of course” The lion gave a mighty roar of approval. Next he asked the tiger, “Who is the king of the jungle?” The tiger quickly responded, “Everyone knows that you are, mighty lion ” Next on the list was the elephant. The lion faced the elephant and addressed his question, “Who is the king of the jungle?” The elephant immediately grabbed the lion with his trunk, whirled him around in the air five or six times and slammed him into a tree. Then he pounded him onto the ground several times, dunked him under water in a nearby lake, and finally dumped him out on the shore. The lion–beaten, bruised, and battered–struggled to his feet. He looked at the elephant through sad and bloody eyes and said, “Look, just because you don’t know the answer is no reason for to get mean about it!”
A young woman asked for an appointment with her priest to talk with him about a besetting sin about which she was worried. When she saw him, she said, “Father, I have become aware of a sin in my life which I cannot control. Every time I am at church I begin to look around at the other women, and I realize that I am the prettiest one in the whole congregation. None of the others can compare with my beauty. What can I do about this sin?” The priest replied, “Mary, that’s not a sin, why that’s just a mistake!”
None of us like it when our worldview is shifted, or when cherished beliefs about ourselves are challenged. Yet those are things that, virtually by definition, are going to happen if we are seeking to conform our mind to the mind of Christ. In the Epistle to the Corinthians that is above we find that Paul is addressing an issue which is very near and dear to his heart, namely, Christian unity. For Paul, and for Jesus himself, Christian unity in no small side issue. It is of utmost importance. That’s why Paul, with Christ’s authority to back him up, speaks to the Corinthian Christians in the form of an urgent exhortation.
As an apostle, he is giving the Corinthians strong advice and recommendations. He is urging them to act upon the preaching and teaching that he had already given them. In a very serious manner, Paul says: “Now I appeal (exhort, beseech) to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ALL OF YOU BE IN AGREEMENT and that there be NO DIVISIONS AMONG YOU, but that YOU BE UNITED (be knit together, be completely united, be perfectly united) in the SAME MIND and the SAME PURPOSE (that is in your belief and practice).”
Unfortunately, what many people experience in so many churches is not a singleness of purpose and a unity of the Spirit. What many people experience is an uncertainty of purpose, an ambiguity of basic faith, and a disunity which comes from conflicting desires.
Many of us have either been in churches or have known of churches where there was a split or some serious quarrel. This problem is nothing new –it has existed from New Testament times right up until ours. It is a serious problem however. The work of Christ is always hindered where there is disunity. This is why Paul, when writing to a church beset by many problems, chooses to address the issue of unity first.
In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul deals with the issues of unity (1:10-4:21), immorality (5:1-6:20), marriage (7:1-40), Christian liberty (8:1-11:1], the Lord’s Table (11:2-34), spiritual gifts (12:1-14:40), the resurrection of the dead (15:1-58), and money (16:1-24). It is significant that he puts unity first. I believe it is because unity is the foundation from which all other problems can be addressed and the environment in which the church can effectively minister and move forward in penetrating the world.
In the early part of the passage we read of the quarrels which had emerged because the people were dividing into factions. People were aligning themselves with various personalities. Four camps were emerging. There was the camp of Paul, the camp of Apollos, the camp of Cephas, and the camp of Christ.
Both Paul and then Apollos had ministered in Corinth. Undoubtedly a group of Jews in the church had been saved under Cephas (Peter). Apparently people were attached to these gifted leaders and had a strong loyalty to them. Perhaps it was the attractiveness of their teaching or their style of ministry, but in any case these three groups identified themselves by their teacher. A fourth group had also arisen which seemed to think that they had a special claim on Christ. Perhaps they did not think they needed any human teacher. Even though they used the name of Christ, they were nonetheless just as guilty of a party spirit as the other groups. This was the problem at Corinth.
The source of their problem though is the source of most church conflict today. It is really a problem of selfishness. It is a problem of “what I like,” of “my opinion.” Listen to what it says in James 4:1: “What is the source of quarrels and conflict among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” James identifies our own sinful selfish desires as the source of quarrels and conflicts. And when you think of it, selfishness is really at the root of every sin. Selfishness never brings people together; it only drives them apart.
But Christ’s desire for us is that we become one. John 17:1 records these words of Jesus who prayed: “. . . that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they may also be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me.”
In light of the desire of Jesus, Paul issues this plea for unity. Paul pleads with them in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that they come together and agree. He asks them to eliminate divisions, and to be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. . . . This is a very powerful plea indeed.
The phrase from the Greek, “that you all agree” translated literally is, “that you all speak the same thing.” This is quite an amazing statement! Is it really possible for us to all speak the same thing?
It becomes even more of a challenging command when we read it from the Amplified Bible which makes an attempt to give us the sense of the original language. “But I urge and entreat you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in perfect harmony, and full agreement in what you say, and that there be no dissensions or factions or divisions among you; but that you be perfectly united in your common understanding and in your opinions and judgments.”
Is it possible that we “all speak the same thing,” and that we can be “perfectly united” in our “opinions” and “judgments?” Surely it would seem somehow un-American for us all to have the same mind, the same opinions. But this is precisely what Paul is pleading for.
He calls for no divisions. The Greek word for divisions is schismata, from which we get schism. The figurative meaning is “to tear or rip.” As it would be applied in this passage, it means to have a difference of opinion, or a division of judgment. This was the kind of thing that Paul was arguing against. As Christians, our opinions ought to be subservient to Christ’s opinion, and so we ought to be seeking to find out what is God’s opinion and conform our opinions to His.
Without this kind of unity, the cause of Christ suffers. Many young Christians have been confused and seriously hindered in their walk with God by supposedly mature believers who are propagating conflicting views about the Gospel, the Bible, or the central truths of the faith. This does not mean that we should uncritically accept one narrow human ideology. It does mean, however, that we must give a clear and certain sound when we speak concerning the truth of God. We must, for the sake of the Gospel, seek to speak the same thing. We must take the time to find out what the central truths are and agree on them together.
Paul argues for our unity on the principle that all believers are one in Christ. As believers we should never do anything that would disrupt that unity. Paul’s rhetorical question, Has Christ been divided?, is answered with a resounding NO! Since Christ has not been divided, neither should we be divided.
Paul goes on to disavow any faction named for him. He declares that he was not crucified for any of them. He asked whether any were baptized in his name. Obviously none had been. Paul wanted their loyalty to be to Christ and Christ alone. Christ is not divided.
Additionally we are not only one with Christ, we are also one with one another. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 says, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” In Romans 12:5 we read, “We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” The principle for unity in the local church is that we are one with Christ and one with each other. To violate that unity is to violate the nature of the body of Christ and the will of God.
Our lack of unity will also severely hinder us in our mission to the world. People will not be drawn to any church where there is disunity reflected in many competing agendas. If there are people all going in different directions with no common mission which they share together, people will be put off. Conversely, people are attracted to a place where there is a common vision, where people sacrifice for the shared goals.