Good morning church! Hope you all are doing okay and have been able to settle back into your rhythms after the retreat last weekend. I’ve always viewed retreats like these as mountain top experiences where we enjoy deep, enriching fellowship with God and each other. But once the weekend was done and we got back to the city and Monday arrived, I’m sure we were hit with the hard reality of life and all of its struggles.
And I’m not sure how each of us are coping with that, but I just want you to know that God desires to comfort and bring you rest through our Sunday Gathering. He does that as His Word is sung, read and preached this morning.
If you’ve been tracking with us, you’re probably aware that we began a new series this year titled “The Church : God’s Dwelling Place” from the letter of 1st Corinthians. And what we’ve already seen is that when the Bible uses the term “church”, it doesn’t mean a building but rather the rescued people of God in whom God dwells – it’s His chosen residence!
In today’s passage we will begin to see how God’s dwelling place, His chosen residence – His church isn’t as perfect as one would expect it to be. There are leaks, cracks and gaping holes in the life of the church which need repairs. What is to be done? Before we proceed, I’d love to pray for us.
Some years back there was an interesting survey that blew up on social media. A lot of church leaders and members of churches decided to talk about different fights and divisions that took place in their church. Some of them were quite silly and absurd:
- One church experienced conflict over the appropriate length of the worship pastor’s beard
- Another church had a 45-minute heated argument over the type of filing cabinet to purchase: black or brown; 2, 3, or 4 drawers
- Another church had a dispute because the Lord’s Supper had cran/grape juice instead of grape juice
- Another church had a fight over whether or not to sing “Happy Birthday” each week
And these are some of the silly reasons for fights but you and I who have been around churches know that for many other serious reasons, things can get quite nasty in the church. In fact, I’d go on to say that in some cases the kind of division, infighting and quarreling that takes place among the church members is probably not seen anywhere else. And it makes us wonder if this is the case, how is church unity going to be attained? Is church unity an unattainable dream? That’s precisely why we have God’s Word because it tells us that the church in Corinth was no different than our church as well. Today’s passage will give 3 different lessons on “church unity” from the Corinthian church:
1.The appeal for unity (v10)
 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
The word “appeal” means “to ask someone urgently and fervently to do something”. Paul is pleading, earnestly asking the Corinthian church to do something. And what is he appealing them to do?
He is earnestly asking them to “agree with each other”. He’s asking them to not have “any divisions among them”. He’s asking them to be “united in the same mind and same judgment”. He is appealing for church unity!
And pay close attention – he’s not making this appeal to the Corinthians on his own authority. He’s making this appeal on behalf / as a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This should tell us something. This should tell us that church unity wasn’t originally Paul’s idea. It wasn’t originally the early church’s idea. Church unity was always God’s idea. Paul was simply a mouthpiece echoing the earnest and desperate desire of the Lord Jesus Christ to see unity in His church. This was always God’s idea!
But what does church unity actually mean? What does it mean to have the same mind and same judgment? Is he telling them that they need to talk the same way, think the same way and behave exactly the same way in order to be united?
I don’t think Paul is telling them to be identical to each other inorder to achieve unity. If that were the case, then he wouldn’t later on speak so much on different people using their different spiritual gifts to build the church.
So then what is this unity? I think what he’s talking about is unity in identity and purpose. In other words, what Paul is trying to do is remind the Corinthian church about their common identity and common purpose. When Paul writes his letter to the Ephesians, he elaborates on this theme of unity a little more. Look with me at
 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
There maybe a billion ways in which we are different from each other – from our personalities, to our cultural background, our upbringing, our age group, our stage in life, our giftings, our passions, and skills but yet because of the Gospel of Jesus and what it has done to us, we all have a common identity and common purpose. That is the uniting factor. That is the common denominator. That is the superglue that holds us all together.
One of the most helpful marriage advice that we’ve received is this – “that me and my wife are on the same team”. Many times when we get caught up in our own sinful, petty arguments, we often forget that we’re on the same team. So it’s been helpful for us as couple to give each other frequent reminders that we both are on the same team. And it helps us stop and ask ourselves this question – “does this argument make any sense if we’re on the same team?”
And as I was reading this passage, it almost felt like that it was the same thing which Paul was doing with the Corinthian church. Through his appeal, he’s basically telling them that “You’re on the same team.
You’ve got the same common identity. You’ve got the same common purpose. Do these divisions even make any sense?”
And so if we’re here today wondering why should we be concerned and work towards church unity – it’s because it’s God’s idea and it’s because we’ve got a common identity and purpose. We are on the same team.
But not only is there an appeal for unity but also there are
2.The barriers for unity (v11-12)
 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.  What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”
V11 starts by Paul addressing the elephant in the room. There was quarreling happening within the church. In other words, this wasn’t a minor disagreement. This was a bitter, heated argument that the church was engaged in over a long period of time. Relational bridges were burnt for a long time.
But what were they quarreling over? They were quarreling over which spiritual leader’s camp they belonged to. Some said they belonged to Paul’s camp. Some others said they belonged to Apollo’s camp. Some others said they belonged to Peter’s camp. Some others said they belonged to Jesus’ camp.
And I was trying to imagine why would this be something that would cause such a big issue in the church. It probably started with them idolizing and making a hero out of these spiritual leaders. The next stage could have been where they are trying to see themselves as superior compared to others as a result of the camp that they’re in. The next stage after that could have been looking down on others and also insulting their “rival” camps. And so instead of spending their time growing in the Lord and being on mission for the Lord, they were preoccupied with this rivalry and infighting within the church.
I hope you’re able to see this by now. What’s evident from here is that their main barrier for unity was the sin barrier. It wasn’t a knowledge barrier. It’s not as though they didn’t know the theory of church unity. It wasn’t a communication barrier. It was not as though they didn’t know how to communicate with each other. Their main barrier was the sin barrier.
Until and unless we call it out as “sin”, we’ll never be in a position to resolve disunity, conflict and division within the church. We have to admit that the root cause is a heart issue.
This is how James puts it in James 4:1
 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?
Jesus says this “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks”. (Luke 6:45)
One of the reasons we would rather chose to give it labels of “communication issues within the church” or “misunderstandings in the church” or “difference of opinion” than call it as “sin” is because the moment we call it as sin, we are in a way admitting our helplessness to dealing with sin. Why? Because from a biblical perspective, we know that sin can’t merely be managed on the surface. It needs to be uprooted.
Here’s the thing – calling it as sin and admitting our helplessness isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact it is a good thing because it brings us to the foot of the cross. That’s our last point.
Not only is there an appeal for unity and not only is there a barrier for unity, there’s also
3.The recipe for unity (v13-17)
 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,  so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.  (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)  For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
If you just read these few verses, you may wonder how can these verses be a recipe for unity. It just seems like Paul’s asking a few questions, talking about who he baptized and ends by stating his calling and purpose. It seems unrelated to the church division or conflict mentioned earlier.
But let me invite you to look at those verses again in context. In V13, Paul is asking the church a few rhetorical questions (questions meant to make a statement rather than investigate) to help them understand where they are going wrong and what is the solution.
First question: Is Christ divided? The answer is No. And if Christ isn’t divided, can His body (the church) be divided? Absolutely not.
Second question: Was Paul crucified for you? Obviously not. It was Jesus – God’s own Son who left His heavenly dwelling, emptied Himself and took the form of man and lived the perfect life that all of us needed to live unto God (perfect obedience). And then died the death that we all deserved to die in our place. He took the fall and thought of us while He was paying off the entire punishment and penalty for our sins. He died and was buried in a tomb and then on the Third Day rose from the dead because that was God’s stamp of approval stating that Jesus’ work was complete and now there’s nothing in the world that can stop anyone from coming to Him if they trust in Jesus.
Third question: Were you baptized in the name of Paul? One hundred percent No. They were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Their baptism was a declaration of their fidelity and loyalty to King Jesus who willingly and lovingly laid down His life for them. Last Sunday while we witnessed the baptism of Alaric, that’s what we saw. It was a declaration of his fidelity and loyalty to King Jesus who willingly and lovingly laid down His life for him.
So what was Paul trying to do by asking these rhetorical questions? He was trying to tell them “I’m not your hero. I’m not your Savior. I can’t even carry the burden to be your hero and Savior. Jesus is your hero and Savior.”
In fact in V17, as he restates his purpose to preach the gospel, he makes sure that he adds a disclaimer to say that he doesn’t use words of eloquent wisdom or that the cross of Christ be emptied of His power. In other words, Paul is saying that when he preaches to them, he intentionally and consciously tries to not sound “clever or over smart” but presents the gospel in the most simple, basic way so that people are able to experience the full power of the gospel without any contamination.
Paul is willing to move into the background and conscious to not steal the limelight. Why? Jesus is their Hero. Jesus is their Savior. Jesus is their King.
In all of the squabbling and quarreling, the Corinthian church had forgotten who their Savior is. And similarly I wonder if all conflicts and divisions we find in the church are somehow rooted in a forgetting who our Savior is.
If we go down to the root of all the conflict and division in the church, you’ll find the sin of pride and self centredness. It’s the quest of people trying to prove that they are right and to demand that they need to be served. It’s a quest of people trying to claim the position of a Savior for themselves. That’s why we need to tell each other the Gospel. We need to tell each other that Jesus already proved us right before Holy God (not because we are good and right) but by sacrificing Himself for us. And if our Savior took the humble position of a servant to save us, then shouldn’t it melt our hearts to want to serve each other just like how we were treated by Jesus?
As we remind each other of this every single day, God is uprooting the sin of pride and selfishness from our hearts. And one day He will completely eradicate your life from every hint and ounce of pride and selfishness when He returns.
He is your Hero. He is your Savior. He is your King. And He is the only recipe for unity.
Maybe you’re here today caught up in the middle of a conflict. Or maybe you know someone who is in the middle of a conflict. Or maybe you will get caught up in conflict soon. What do you need to do?
- Admit to the real barrier for unity which is sin in the heart. Don’t downplay or minimize it. Call it out as it is and admit to your helplessness in dealing with your sin.
- Repent and remember who your Savior is. Look at Jesus. He is your Hero. He is your Savior. He is your King. He is the only One who can help you address the sin issue which causes conflict.
- Pursue reconciliation knowing fully well that God desires unity and also that we all are part of the same team.