Christian Unity

"Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, 'I am of Paul,' or 'I am of Apollos,' or 'I am of Cephas,' or 'I am of 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, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel." (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)

It is critical to notice whom the Holy Spirit was addressing in this epistle. The salutation is "Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours." (1 Corinthians 1:1-2) We all know that this epistle was addressed to "the church of God which is at Corinth;" but how many of us have noticed that it is also addressed to "all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord." Thus we see that this book is specifically addressed to ourselves, if we indeed "call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord." Since it is addressed to us it applies to us, and we are responsible to obey it.

It is remarkable that of all the problems in Corinth, division was the first one addressed. There was incest in the church. (chapter five) Christians were suing each other in courts of law. (chapter six) The Lord's supper had been degraded to a drunken party. (chapter eleven) But what was the first problem the Holy Spirit addressed? Divisions and contentions. These were destroying the church. The unity was gone. Some were following one charismatic leader, and some another, while others were making their commitment to the Lord himself the basis of division. Indeed, those with this evil pretension were the first rebuked. It was hypocrisy. This is equally hateful to our God, whether done two thousand years ago or today. But how common it is! How many saints of God claim that their own denomination is the only one that really follows the Lord. How many preachers warn their people not to have any fellowship with Christians who are not part of their own group? But what does the Holy Spirit say?

"And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, 'I am of Paul,' and another, 'I am of Apollos,' are you not carnal?
"Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase."
(1 Corinthians 3:1-7)

Remember that these words are addressed to "all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord." This is the group that should be "perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." It is all Christians. Not some, but all. If I sow division and contention in the group of all Christians, I sin. If I encourage Christians to separate themselves from other godly Christians, I sin. If I follow some divisive leader, I sin. Now the various divisions in Corinth were not actually following Paul or Apollos, as we see in chapter four: "Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other." (1 Corinthians 4:6) They had wonderfully gifted leaders in Corinth, even as we have in the church today, and they were aligning themselves behind these various men, even as many do today. But these leaders were only men, and following men is just as sinful today as it was two thousand years ago.

But what if it is not a man we are following, but a group? I can only answer, is that group composed of "all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord"? If the group you are a member of is smaller than this one, it does not meet the divine prescription. If your group is smaller than all Christians, it is not the one God recognizes. Do you seek the unity of all Christians, or do you seek a union of some of them?

Now I realize we cannot gather all Christians together, for some will refuse to take part. But is that an excuse to justify this state of affairs? We cannot gather all the saints of God together, but we can meet in a spirit of unity. We learn in 1 Corinthians 12:25 that "there should be no schism in the body," and we must be certain that we are not schismatic, that is, divisive, in our attitudes or in our actions.

But how is this to be accomplished? Let us hear the instruction of the Holy Spirit:

"Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself." (Romans 14:1-7)
"Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God." (Romans 15:7)

Now the subject here is not wickedness. That is treated in other Scriptures These Scriptures deal with matters of opinion. What are we to do? Receive the brethren if they agree with us? Absolutely not! We are to receive them, period! The Lord is their judge, not us. We are simply to receive them, as Christ also received us. This will glorify God. Here, brethren, is the death of denominations. In the early church they were all together as one, but there were no Catholics. They were all baptized, but there were no Baptists. They had the gifts that came down at Pentecost, but there were no Pentecostals. There were only Christians. But then, as today, personalities clashed. Strife and division came in very early, and the Holy Spirit dealt with it in words like the following:

"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:1-3)

We all need this spirit of lowliness, that is, humility. Numbers 12:3 tells us that even the great Moses was "very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth." If we want our God to use us as He used Moses, we should cultivate that same spirit. But what of the greatest of all? Jesus "humbled himself." Are we willing to humble ourselves? Are we willing to become obedient, even "to the point of death"? Are we willing to make ourselves "of no reputation"? If we are not, we are not walking in the spirit of "Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." (Philippians 2:5-8)

The Scripture immediately preceding this one shows us the real source of divisions: "Selfish ambition" and "conceit."

"Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself." (Philippians 2:1-3)

Luke 22:24-27 tells us of a dispute among the disciples, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And Jesus said to them:

"The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.' But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves."

This desire to be the greatest is the source of almost all division in the church. Sad to say, most of our divisions and contentions are matters of personality, not of principle, and most of our struggles involve no question greater than who's the boss. The greatest offenders in this sin are often leaders in the church.

These self seekers claim to rule with divine authority, and that it is a sin to disobey them. But what does the word of God say? 1 Peter 5:1-3 expressly forbids them to make such claims:

"The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock."

Godly leadership is meek and lowly, like our Lord Jesus. But those who seek a place for themselves rule with rigor, and, like Diotrephes of 3 John 9, forbid their followers to "receive the brethren."

It is our duty to reject the claims of such men, and earnestly endeavor, as we have seen in Ephesians 4, "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Why?

"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." (Ephesians 4:4-6)

This is treated in detail in first Corinthians 12, where the individual Christians are referred to as members of the body of Christ. We have already noticed that this chapter says that "there should be no schism in the body." (verse 25) Many attempt to escape the force of these words with an invention called "the mystical body." This term, which does not occur in Scripture, is used justify the dividing of the Church into various denominations. The unity of Scripture is reduced to something "mystical," that is, something theoretical, but not intended to be put into practice. But let us look at John 17. In this chapter we find our Lord's prayer to his Father just before going to the cross. It is no light thing to be thus admitted to the very counsels of the Godhead. And what do we read?

"I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me." (John 17:20-23)

Our Lord prayed for unity between his followers, even a unity such as that enjoyed by Himself and the Father. This, plainly, is a unity of mind, purpose, and action. It is a total unity, and includes no room for division. But was this unity only to be theoretical? Was it only to be a "mystical" unity, something unattainable in practice? We find the answer in two clauses of this prayer. Our Lord gave two reasons for requesting this unity. These were "that the world may believe that You sent Me," and "that the world may know that You have sent Me." This unity was intended to make the world believe. Now if the world sees nothing, it will believe nothing. The unity our Lord had in mind was something practical, something the world could see. Instead of this, when the world looks at the church it sees a thousand warring factions, many of them claiming to be the only ones truly following the Lord. And instead of believing, it mocks that Holy Name we love so well.

"Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 15:5-6)
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