I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: Unity Comes Through Following Christ
In his book The Pursuit of God, author A.W. Tozer wrote the following:
“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So, one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”
The truth is that God wants His people to live in harmony or unity and the only way that this is possible in this sin-cursed world, is exactly the way Tozer suggests. By first of all being loyal to Christ and His Word. Further, though unity is never easy, it is always worth the effort.
There is another interesting quote that I came across a while back by an unknown author. It states:
“To live above, with saints we love, that will be glory.
To live below, with the saints we know, well that’s a different story!”
To be straightforward, those who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ should be the most unified people in this world. We all have accepted Christ as our Savior. We've each been bought with the price of Jesus' blood and have been placed in the same spiritual family. We now have a common Lord, and common task of sharing the gospel, as well as a common destiny, to name a few things. Not to mention the fact that we all have the Holy Spirit living within each of us who gives us the ability to follow Christ and to love, serve and work with one another.
However, despite all of this, there have still been an overabundance of quarrels and fights within the Church, the Body of Christ, over the centuries of its existence. So much so that a person observing from the outside would, in many cases, have no idea that we are any different than anyone else in our society. And what should be a calling-card for those who might be attracted to Christ, that is to say, our love and unity, has become a repellant to keep them away because these things are sorely lacking in our lives. Only God knows how many would-be believers have been chased away from the gospel by the infighting that often takes place amongst God's people.
In I Corinthians, we have such a problem. The people in this church just were not getting along. And the Apostle Paul felt compelled to write them and straighten things out about this and some other issues that he'd heard about.
The major problem that comes up in chapter 1 is a division over which Christian leader is best to follow within the church. Here is what the Apostle says:
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.” (1:11,12).
But the fact is that we are not following any human leader. Though Christ gives leaders within the church, our Master is Jesus Christ alone. He is the one who dictates the way we live. And true unity comes from following Him and obeying His Word.
Let's get a closer look at I Corinthians 1:1-17 and see the corrective action that Paul gives to the church in Corinth. And, hopefully, we can learn how not to go down the same path of error that they did over 2000 years ago.
But first, let's look at some background information to this letter, written by Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.
I. Background of I Corinthians
Here is a short summary that I found on a website called Bibletalk.tv. The author says this:
In 146 BC the Roman general Lucius Mummius crushed a Greek bid for independence from Roman domination by completely destroying the city of Corinth. A hundred years later, Julius Caesar sent a colony of veterans and descendants of freed men to rebuild the city that in time would grow to great importance. Corinth became the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire. It had a population of about 600,000 people and was well suited for trade and commerce because of its three seaports and its location on the isthmus between northern and southern Greece. It became the Roman capital of the Greek district of Achaiah. Because of its location, it drew a mixed population of Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Jews who had come to trade.
Corinth was a wealthy city given to commerce, art and entertainment. The Isthmus Games (second only to the Olympics) were held there (I Corinthians 9:25). The outdoor theatre located in the city seated 20,000 people, and the covered theatre could accommodate a crowd of 3000.
The population worshiped a variety of pagan deities, and many temples were located throughout the city. The two most popular gods among the people were Poseidon, god of the sea, and Venus, the goddess of love. Corinth was the central location for the worship of Venus, and the temple dedicated to her had 1000 temple prostitutes freely available to pilgrims who travelled to worship at her shrine. The Corinthian people were not given to the practice of chastity or sexual purity, and their immoral habits were a great challenge to those who were converted to Christianity. The city was well known for its immorality, to the point that during that era the term "to Corinthianize" something meant to prostitute or desecrate that person or object. Aelian, a Greek writer of that period, said that when a Corinthian was portrayed in a play, he was always shown as being drunk.
The church was established in Corinth in about 50-51 AD by Paul when he was on his second missionary journey. He was assisted by Priscilla and Aquila, a Christian couple who had fled Rome because of the persecution of Jewish people there (Acts 18:3) and settled in Corinth. Paul also travelled with Timothy and Silas. Another worker who helped build the early church there was Apollos, who was taught by Aquila and Priscilla. The story of the establishment of the church in Corinth is found in Acts 18:1-19:1.
So, from the cultural background of this church it can be easily seen how many of the problems developed that Paul had to address in his letter. Besides the divisions over leadership, there were issues about decidedly physical activities like eating meat offered to idols and being involved in sexual relationships. And they also thought about whether their experience of being in Christ made them at all responsible to other brothers and sisters in Christ, and similar issues to this.
Now let us look a little closer at the opening verses of I Corinthians and into the leadership problem.
II. The Believer's Position in Christ as a Basis for Unity (1-9)
As Paul begins his letter, he calls the Corinthians saints, or those set apart by God to live differently from the world. And he places them in the same category with all other saints who have expressed faith in Jesus Christ. He tells them:
"Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, To the church of God, which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours." (1-2).
We see as we move into verses 3-9 that as saints, they had everything that they needed to live a godly life. Paul elaborates on their position and blessings in Christ and Christ's faithfulness to confirm them until the end, meaning until Jesus returns. We see here that, even when about to rebuke the Corinthians, Paul found something to be thankful for in them. He is thankful for God's grace given to them in Christ Jesus and that in everything they were enriched in Him. He is using all of this to set up his reason for correcting them and bringing them back to unity. Their position in Christ is itself the basis for unity. It's not that they weren't capable of living a better life than they were living. God had amply supplied them with all the resources that Christ offered.
Paul makes it clear that the Corinthians, even though they might not always be showing it, are not lacking in any spiritual gift as they eagerly await the revelation or return of Christ (7). And God is faithful to keep His promise to them who have been called into fellowship with His Son that they will one day stand before God blameless. The Lord will complete what He started when He saved them and gave to them new life in Jesus Christ.
The bottom line is that we are different from the world which is lost and will never be fully unified. Because of this difference believers, by God's grace, or unmerited favor, can and should love one another and live together in a life that pleases God and grows in our unity with each other. We really have no excuse not to do this since God gives us the ability that we need to reach it.
III. Christ and Not Human Leaders is the Source of Our Unity (10-17)
Now, starting in verse 10, the Apostle Paul expands upon the fellowship and unity that we have in Christ in order to rebuke the Corinthians for their acts of disunity. The apostle exhorts them in Jesus' name to agree and stop being divided. He commands them to be 'made complete in the same mind and the same judgment.' This Greek word 'made complete' gives the idea of putting back together something that was broken or separated so it is no longer divided. The term is used in both the New Testament and in classical Greek literature of mending such things as nets, broken bones or utensils, as well as torn garments and dislocated bones.
And what caused this severe break in fellowship?
Chloe, who was a prominent person in the Corinthian church, had some followers who had told Paul that instead of exalting Christ together for what He was doing in His church, some among the believers in Corinth were holding up various leaders as being superior to others. This supposedly made those who were under their leadership think that they were more spiritual in some way because of the superior leader that they followed.
There were some who followed Paul, perhaps because he was the founder of the church. Others followed Apollos, presumably because of his eloquence. And finally, some followed Cephas or Peter, who had been with the Lord Jesus. 'Surely Peter had to be a greater leader', according to this third group.
But Paul brings them back to reality. These men are not greater than Christ. And no human leader should be given the loyalty that only belongs to the Lord. Not only is this idol worship, but this practice will also lead to contention, disputes and obviously divisions in the church.
Jesus does not belong to any-one “party.” These cliques ignored the gift of unity, which was to overshadow all diversity in the church, bringing God's people together in harmony.
Paul goes on to ask questions of those who would put following him above following Christ. He asks:
" Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was He? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?"
The reality is that Jesus is not divided, and neither is His church. It was Jesus who was crucified for the Church in order to save, sanctify and unify it and not Paul, or any other leader for that matter.
Also, apparently some who followed Paul were making a big deal out of the fact that the apostle had personally baptized them. This was becoming a dividing issue of its own. And it made Paul express his gratitude that he hadn't baptized many in Corinth lest people think that he was baptizing in his own name.
He went on to say that Christ didn't send him to baptize but to preach the gospel. It is obvious from this passage that, no matter what you may think of water baptism, it is not essential to salvation. If it were truly essential, then Paul could never thank God that he baptized so few in Corinth, and he, as an evangelist, could never say Christ did not send him to baptize.
God did not send Paul to start a private cult of people who had been personally baptized by him. He was also not there to preach the gospel with some kind of clever speech that would wow people to Christ. It's not the clever speech that saves but the cross of Christ itself. Faith in His death, burial and resurrection for your salvation is the true power and not any words that can be used to win others. Putting your trust in anyone or anything other than the cross of Christ would make belief in the cross void of its power. It is faith in the cross of Christ and what our Lord accomplished on that cross, and nothing else besides the cross, that brings salvation.
As we conclude our examination of the introduction to I Corinthians, I am reminded of an illustration that I read once on the website ministry127.com. It went like this:
"Herman Edwards is the colorful and witty coach who was with the Kansas City Chiefs. When it came to his thoughts on teamwork he said, “The players that play on this football team will play for the name on the side of the helmet and not for the name on the back of the jersey.”
The unity of the Body of Christ means that we are all on the same team. And we all play for the name that is above every other name, the name of Jesus Christ.
This world around us is marked by division, fighting and arguing. That should never be true of those who follow the Lord. We are to be different. We are a chosen people who are placed in this world to show forth the glory of God.
It is my prayer that the world will see us and be led, by our actions, to the One who loved us and gave His life for us. Let us all live a life of love and and one that is truly marked- by unity.
© 2022 Jeff Shirley