Our world is full of division. People choosing sides and being unwilling to negotiate, forgive and reconcile. Just turn on the news or check the news app on your phone and you’ll see reports of what’s happening in Syria, Sudan, Egypt, the US, Ukraine, etc. And yet, when you step back and think about it, it kind of makes sense. If there isn’t a higher purpose and value to actively pursuing unity, why make the effort?
Some of you may have seen this image this week. (showed image of Ukranian clergy standing between sides). This is a beautiful image of what we are called to be in our world. Standing in the midst of the division, the brokenness, the violence, the injustice and holding high the symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation and unity. And not just the symbol, but more importantly the One to whom the symbol points. So, today, I want us to continue our journey in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth with the theme of Gospel Unity.
In all truthiness, we don’t usually make a quick mental association between the words “unity” and “church.” And that’s where this letter continues to speak to us today. A couple weeks ago, we spent some time looking at Paul’s opening words to the church in Corinth. What was so amazing was that even though this church was causing Paul headaches, he opened by thanking God for them. We talked about this new Gospel Community that was being re-shaped according to the rhythms of the gospel – Creation; Fall; Redemption and Renewal
In our reading for today, Paul now turns to the main issue at hand. There is quarreling and jealousy that is leading to division in the community. We have to keep in mind that his main concern throughout this letter is the integrity of this newly formed community who is re-orienting their lives around the gospel – this Gospel Community. And we must remember that this new community was as diverse as they come – made up of people from all walks of life, education, status, socioeconomic positions, religious beliefs, etc. So, this was no small task. Imagine a scenario where the person leading worship on Sunday goes home as a slave on Monday. Or the preacher is homeless. Or a former prostitute helps serve communion. Come on! Now that’s church!!!
So, let’s pick up in v.10 of chapter 1…verse 10 is the filter through which we should read the rest of the letter, so let’s really dive into this one.
“I appeal (beg, urge) to you brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
He is appealing to them with the full weight of his position as an apostle, but he is not demanding because unity cannot be commanded or forced. It must be cultivated.
So, he urges them as brothers and sisters by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. His appeal is based on Jesus and the grace and gifts they have as a family because of Him.
So, the first point is that Gospel unity begins with Jesus – we cannot find unity anywhere else.
Paul continues “…that all of you be in agreement (say the same thing) and that there be no divisions among you…”
Paul is saying, “Be in agreement about the fundamentals of the gospel message!” Like the famous quote: “In Essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.” In a moment, he will go on to point out the foolishness of the things that they are divided over, but for now he’s concerned about what unites them.
His appeal continues with “And that you not be divided” the term for divided is one used to describe tearing a garment or plowing up a field. Does it ever feel like that when there’s division? Like everything just got torn and turned up and is now exposed? The good news is that now there’s the potential for mending and sowing new seeds of healing and forgiveness.
The second point is that Gospel unity majors on the majors
This is what we at City Hope describe as Commission, Commandment, Covenant and Creed. The majors are the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, which we obey as we fulfill the Great Commandment to love God, ourselves, and others. And all along the way, we’re guided by the creedal confession of our historic faith in the context of a covenantal relationship with God.
Paul finishes v.10 with “…but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose”
The word Paul chooses in his appeal for unity means “to be knit together” as in the mending or restoring of a net in Mark 1:19 = perfect unity. His desire is that they not just learn to get along, but that they actually be mended and restored to their original purpose. Do you see the gospel rhythms of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration here? There was a new creation of this Gospel community, they quickly fell into disunity through quarreling and jealousy, Paul points them back to the redeemer, and he ultimately holds out before them the hope of full restoration.
Paul is saying I want you to be unified in your understanding of the gospel and its power, and I want you to be unified in the purpose to which God has called you as a Gospel community.
This is unity, not uniformity. He is not calling them to be automotons that think, and eat, and dress, and act exactly the same. This is important because I think what gets promoted as unity often times really means, “As long as you think and act and believe and live just like me and don’t disagree with me in any way…then we can be unified.” That’s not what Paul is saying. He’s calling them to focus on the One who called them together in the first place and to pattern their lives after Him. As we come to the cross together, we find true unity while still maintaining our uniqueness.
The third point is that Gospel unity keeps the end in mind – restoration is the goal
So, what was the nature of the problem?
verses 11- 16 spell it out:
Paul got a report from Chloe’s people, Chloe the head of a household…just saying…that there was quarrelling among them. And the quarrel was about which “group” or “party” each of them belonged to.
This might seem silly to us, but then again, how many of our petty divisions would someone look back on and wonder why it was a fight in the first place?
And so, they said “I belong to Paul,” and “I belong to Apollos,” and “I belong to Cephas (Peter),” and “I belong to Jesus.” They were wearing these around as badges declaring who was most “spiritual.” You can imagine it right? “I was baptized by Paul.” Well, “I’m subscribed to Apollos’ podcast.” Oh yeah, “Well, I get a prayer cloth from Peter once a month.” “Oh really, well, I have some special revelation from Jesus and that’s all I need.”
Once again, these might not strike home. But what does cause division? Is it propping yourself up on outward appearances? Is it drawing hard and fast lines about who’s in and who’s out based on non-essentials? Is it finding your identity in who you’re not rather than who you are?
Paul’s answer to the problem is a series of rhetorical questions in v.13.
“Is Jesus a commodity to be divided up and parceled out? Was I, Paul, crucified for your salvation? Were you baptized into new life in my name?” His point here is to get at the absurdity of the things that are causing division. And he does so by reminding them of this: Jesus is Lord. He is not something to be possessed. And not only is He Lord, but He is crucified Lord in whose name they have now been baptized into a whole new way of life. It is in and through the cross their new community is to be shaped. The cross confronts me with my sin. I envision it like this. In our fallenness, and brokeness, we journey to the cross. At the cross, we find redemption. And through the power of the cross we find restoration and renewal.
This is Paul’s final point in verse 17: “Jesus sent me to proclaim the gospel…the good news that in Jesus, God is reconciling all things back to Himself. And I’m not doing it with any fancy rhetoric or “secret knowledge.” I am simply holding up the cross of Christ and letting it’s power do the work.” Paul does not want to “empty” the cross of its power by getting into debates and quarrels with fancy rhetoric…which he could have done quite well, mind you.
Okay, so what does this mean for us today? Lots of things actually! The most promising is that through the work and person of Jesus true reconciliation, renewal and unity are possible. They’re not just nice things to sing about or put on our bumper stickers. True Gospel Unity is attainable and I can say that because I’ve seen it in my marriage and in other relationships.
City Hope, my prayer is that we would be a cruciform community. That as we share life together (one of our highest values) we would be shaped by the cross and resurrection so that we actually have permission to bring each other into Jesus’ presence to hear His voice and find unity. That we would together journey toward the cross to recognize our sin and brokenness, find redemption, and that we would journey together from there in renewal power. Do we believe this? Are we committed to community even when we find division, and quarreling and jealousy? Dr. Chris Green says, “The sign of true Christian maturity is your capacity to live with people who are not like you.” Are we up for the challenge?
So, how do we find Gospel Unity (wholeness, integrity, soundness)…remember it’s unity not uniformity. I’m borrowing these from concepts found in the Freedom Class Manual.
First, we identify the problem – We Recognize – which usually begins by asking God “What did I do?”
Second, we confess the problem – We Repent – which usually begins by saying “God I did…”
Third, we go to the cross – We Receive – we say “God forgive me for…”
Fourth, we look for habits, patterns or strongholds – We Rebuke the enemy – we say “God protect us and open our eyes to blind spots and footholds in our lives.” The Corinthians primary stronghold was pride (they were jockeying for position) which leads to being independent and self-sufficient and argumentative…not things that typically lay the ground for unity 🙂
And lastly, we cling to God’s Truth – We Restore what was broken – we say “Jesus thank you for mending and making new. Help me to continue to walk in unity or wholeness in this area.”
So, just to repeat…We Recognize; Repent; Receive; Rebuke and Restore.
These steps have been so helpful to me…especially that one time I messed up as a husband 🙂
Seriously though, the truth is that I need to walk through these quite often in relationships. With Christy just a couple weeks ago, I had to do this. I did something really stupid and was causing division between us. At first, I dug in my heals and said “I follow Jeremy…and I’m pretty sure Jesus is with me too!” But after some time, I asked God to help me recognize what I had done…which He was happy to do. Then, the really fun part, I had to go confess to Christy what I had done to cause the problem. I received her forgiveness and together we agreed that this wouldn’t be an ongoing issue in our marriage…no strongholds…and then the relationship was restored because we were in agreement.
I had it happen in another relationship this week too: a friend helped me recognize something wrong I had done…I asked for forgiveness…received it…and things were mended.
It’s like what Jesus commands us to do in the sermon on the mount actually works. What do ya know?
This also happens on a personal level between me and the Lord.
Gospel unity lays the ground for Gospel Community Maturity – that’s why this matters! We’ll talk about this in a couple of weeks. Paul’s goal for the Corinthians was that they would grow up in their faith.
So, here’s what I’d like us to do as we prepare our hearts to come to the Lord’s Table. Let’s walk through these steps in prayer asking the Lord to prepare our hearts, minds, souls and bodies to receive His perfect sacrifice.
This is the table –
Not of the church, but of the Lord
It is made ready for those who love him
And for those who want to love him more
So come –
You who have much faith
And you who have little
You who have been here often
And you who have not been here long
You who have tried to follow
And you who have failed
Because it is the Lord who invites you
It is his will that those who want him
Should meet him here