Summary: 2nd in a series on 1 Corinthians: this sermon addresses the need for the church to be one in thought and purpose.
UNTIED OR UNITED?
Some time ago I wrote an essay using this quote: “To profess faith in Christ is to be united with him, and if we are united with him then we are united with his body, the Church.” The problem with writing a 15-20 page paper is that the little details are lost on eyes that are scanning for mistakes. We have become dependent on our “spell checker” to illuminate with red underlining the spelling mistakes we make. Even the eye can be fooled into thinking it sees a word spelled correctly when in fact it is not.
So it happened that I lost marks for a spelling mistake in this quote. You saw what I intended to write but this is how it turned out: “To profess faith in Christ is to be untied with him, and if we are untied with him then are untied with his body, the Church.” According to spell-checker “untied” is spelled correctly; spell-checker does not detect idiocy.
There is a lesson in this little glitch of mine. The difference between being united as a church or untied from the church is where you place the “I.” When “I” have the wrong attitude, when “I” want my way, when “I” consider myself to be more important than others in the church, then there is disunity. Then we are untied instead of united.
Unity is a constant concern for the Church in any time and at any place. Paul wrote to several churches passionately pleading with them to work on their unity and to avoid those things that divide. He implored the Church at Philippi to be of one mind; he encouraged the Church at Ephesus to maintain the unity of the Spirit. Now we read that the Church at Corinth was facing division over certain issues.
When we consider our own church today we could find many things to be divided over. What is there to maintain unity in a church our size? How do you nurture unity among 300 when sometimes 2 do not agree? What do we need to guard against to protect unity? Do we have enough in common to appreciate the differences and still be a church?
The Challenge to be One
This is Paul’s challenge to the church, the challenge to be one:
“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”
Among all the problems the church at Corinth was facing, division is the first Paul addresses. All the other problems flow out of a congregation that is divided. They were divided over spiritual gifts, over worship, over their ethics and more. But these were the results of a much deeper schism, a root of all the rest.
On the strength of the name of Christ, for there is no other name that commands such attention, Paul makes this appeal: be perfectly united in mind and thought.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we all thought the same way about things? Wouldn’t it be great if you all thought like me? But unfortunately some of you are stubborn and choose to be independent-thinkers. What’s up with that? Seriously, I am glad you do not all think like me because we could be in big trouble if you wise people had let me do all the things I wanted. My first mentor in the ministry, Ralph Unger, always used to say, “You could do it my way or you have the right to be wrong.” That went over well.
Being united in mind and thought is not about everybody thinking alike. What Paul said to the Philippians helps us here: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). And then he goes on to describe the mind of Christ, which is a willingness to give up rights and personal privileges and to take a lower place, the place of a servant.
This is the mind Paul speaks of to the Corinthians. When everybody decides to put the things of Christ first and are willing to suffer loss for Christ’s sake, that is what brings harmony to a church. The unifying of mind and thought is a mind that does not consider itself the most important thing.
In a congregationally run church this is a difficult thing to achieve. It would be easier to have an executive run church where the leaders make all the decisions. Congregational churches do have the advantage though in that everyone has a say and decisions are our responsibility, not the burden of only 2 or 3. There is more of a “we” this way than “what they did”. But even congregational churches face trouble unless we are unified in mind and thought, the way Paul describes it.