Summary: Paul urged the Corinthian church to preserve their unity in Christ at all costs. We learn from him to work quickly through conflict, appreciate our differences, and know what unites us.
Preserving the Union
If you ever find a perfect church, join it, and it will no longer be perfect! And if you ever feel bad about the state of your church or the state of the church in America today, just read the Bible book of 1 Corinthians! These folks had lots of problems, and Paul wrote them a letter to be able to work through their problems and grow healthy again. And the very first problem Paul addressed with them was conflict.
As I thought about conflict, I thought of Abraham Lincoln’s goal in the Civil War: to “preserve the Union.” As horrible as that war was—brother fighting against brother—the outcome was determined to be vital, to keep these states united. The Apostle Paul likewise considered the unity of the church in Corinth as vital. As I read through his advice to First Church, Corinth, I came up with two or three points for us today. First, Paul might say to us,
1. Work quickly through conflict
Verse 10 starts off with Paul saying, “I appeal to you.” Other translations use the words, “I beseech you,” or “I exhort you,” “I beg of you,” “I urge you,” “I plead with you.” He means serious business here!
So what is his appeal? It’s later in the verse: “That all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you.” The original Greek word for “divisions” is “schisma,” from which we get our English word “schism.” When Paul says no division or no schism, he means there should be no verbal fighting among these believers, no gossip, no back-biting, no hatred, or unforgiveness, or bitterness.
Then look at verse 11. Paul tells them why he’s addressing this…
“My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.”
Ha! We have some inside informants, some whistle blowers! Now we don’t know exactly who they were, but what’s commendable is, that they didn’t try to cover up their problems. They didn’t try to sweep the conflict under the rug. They were bothered enough to go to the right person for help. Paul was their spiritual father, the one who introduced them all to Jesus. And Paul urges them to resolve these squabbles quickly. One way we can do that is to...
2. Learn to appreciate diversity
This past Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We remember Dr. King as one who urged for a greater appreciation of diversity in our country, that people with different skin colors could be treated equally. What a wonderful, biblical principle! God made them all, thus all people carry the image of God within. If God loves them, then maybe we should, too.
However, in First Church Corinth, the diversity of leaders was causing problems in the ranks. Paul says in verse 12, “What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos;’ another, ‘I follow Cephas’ [that’s Peter]; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’”
So this church had some personality cults going, some cliques forming around different leaders. We know a lot about Paul from the Bible. He was well schooled, a brilliant and courageous writer and leader, but apparently—from his own description—he wasn’t much to look at, and not a very eloquent speaker. Then there was Peter, a fiery leader from the working class. He started off weak—you know, denying Christ three times to save his own hide. But later, when the Holy Spirit filled him, he became a radical on-fire preacher of the gospel, plain speaking and full of boldness. And then there was Apollos, a very eloquent speaker, a very popular, polished orator.
All three of these guys had strong personalities, but they didn’t cause the divisions. They were all about unity in Christ. It was the people following them that got off track and started caring more for their favorite earthly leader than for the unity they had in Christ.
Someone once wrote:
To live above, with saints we love, will certainly be glory!
To live below, with saints we know; well, that’s a different story!
David exclaimed, in Psalm 133:1, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”
Paul urged the church in Rome, in Romans 14:19: “Let us make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” [building up one another]. And…
Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
A great example of this is George Whitefield, a famous revival preacher in the last century. Although Whitefield disagreed with John Wesley, another great preacher, on some theological matters, he was careful not to speak about it in public where it could hinder the spread of the gospel. One time someone who was aware of this asked Whitefield if he thought he would see Wesley in heaven. Whitefield replied, “I fear not ... for he will be so near the eternal throne and we at such a distance, we shall hardly get sight of him!”