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A Plea For Unity Part 1

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1)      God’s Faithfulness

a)      What is the explanation for such wonderful works in our lives? How can all of this be true in our lives? How can we be certain that what God has promised to do will come to pass? The explanation is given in verse nine. God is faithful.

i)        In fact, in the Greek when the author wants to emphasize something, he puts the word first in the sentence. If you were to look at this verse in the Greek, faithful comes first. It literally says, faithful is God.

ii)       Paul doesn’t want us to miss his explanation. Earlier we talked about God’s providence, that providence added with God’s faithfulness makes for a wondrous combination! Not only has God promised to do it, he will do it. You can count on it because he is faithful.

iii)     Consider also the connection made here between God’s faithfulness and his calling of us into the fellowship of his son Jesus Christ.

(1)    This is the third time we have encountered God’s calling in the first nine verses, and it is not the last time we will encounter it in the book of 1 Corinthians.

(a)    God called Paul to be an apostle

(b)   God has called us to be holy

(c)    God has called us into fellowship with his son Jesus Christ.

(2)    Why this emphasis on God’s calling and God’s faithfulness? Remember, the church is composed of a called out assembly of believers. God is passionate about his church; he will not abandon it or go back on his promises. He will not let it fall. Quite the contrary, he will build it.

(a)    David Prior says, “We can totally depend on God: he is not a man, he cannot deny himself, he will keep his word. The church is his responsibility, he is committed to the perfecting of the saints” (Prior, 26).

(b)   Consider the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-34 – “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.”

(c)    David Prior – “Not only is Paul very positive about the present resources of the church of God at Corinth; he is also full of confidence in the Lord for its future. Whatever ups and downs it might face, Paul is sure of the faithfulness of God: he has called them into the fellowship of his Son, he will sustain them to the end” (Prior, 25).

b)      We can never doubt the faithfulness of God to those who have been called into fellowship. There may be many things in this world you doubt, but the faithfulness of God is not one of them. God is faithful. It is part of his character.

c)       Having now considered the promise and faithfulness of God to sustain you so you will be blameless on that day, having briefly considered the riches of the fellowship we share in Christ, may I press you, urge you to be unreservedly committed to the church of God where he has placed you just as God is unreservedly committed to it. May I urge and press you to be unhesitatingly confident about God’s desire and ability to make his church like Christ Jesus because he is faithful, and may I urge and press you to be uncompromisingly faithful in your pursuit to be holy as he is holy. God has not called you into the fellowship of Son so you can be successful. He has called you to be faithful.

d)      When the storms of life encompass you, when you feel like giving in, when you feel overcome and overburdened, keep your eyes on Jesus Christ. Endure! Persevere! Remember the fellowship you have in him, how you are enriched in every way in Him, how he has confirmed you and will sustain you until that day. God will sustain you in Him. God is faithful. God is in control. He will keep you blameless. Your heart and your flesh may fail, but not God. May I urge you and press you to persevere in his promise and faithfulness. Pursue God, strive to be more like him.

The Race

“Quit!” “Give up, you’re beaten,” they shout and plead
there’s just too much against you now, this time you can’t succeed.
And as I start to hang my head in front of failure’s face,
my downward fall is broken by the memory of a race.

And hope refills my weakened will as I recall that scene,
for just the thought of that short race rejuvenates my being.
A children’s race, young boys, young men; how I remember well,
excitement sure, but also fear, it wasn’t hard to tell.

They all lined up so full of hope, each thought to win that race
or tie for first, or if not that, at least take second place.
Their fathers watched from off the side, each cheering for his son,
and each boy hoped to show his dad that he would be the one.

The whistle blew and off they went, young hearts and hopes of fire,
to win, to be the hero there, was each young boy’s desire.
One boy in particular, his dad was in the crowd,
was running near the lead and thought “My dad will be so proud.”

But as he speeded down the field across a shallow dip,
the little boy who thought to win, lost his step and slipped.
Trying hard to catch himself, his hands, flew out to brace,
and mid the laughter of the crowd he fell flat on his face.

So, down he fell and with him hope, he couldn’t win it now.
Embarrassed, sad, he only wished to disappear somehow.
But as he fell his dad stood up and showed his anxious face,
which to the boy so clearly said, “Get up and win that race!”

He quickly rose, no damage done, behind a bit that’s all,
and ran with all his mind and might to make up for his fall.
So anxious to restore himself, to catch up and to win,
his mind went faster than his legs, he slipped and fell again.

He wished that he had quit before with one disgrace.
“I’m hopeless as a runner now, I shouldn’t try to race.”
But, in the laughing crowd he searched and found his father’s face,
that steady look that said again, “Get up and win that race!”

So he jumped up to try again, ten yards behind the last,
if I’m going to gain those yards, he thought, I’ve got to run real fast.
Exceeding everything he had, he regained eight or ten,
but trying so hard to catch the lead, he slipped and fell again.

Defeat! He lay there silently, a tear dropped from his eye,
there’s no sense running anymore—three strikes I’m out—why try'
The will to rise had disappeared, all hope had fled away,
so far behind, so error prone, closer all the way.

“I’ve lost, so what’s the use,” he thought, “I’ll live with my disgrace.”
But then he thought about his dad, who soon he’d have to face.
“Get up,” an echo sounded low. “Get up and take your place.
You were not meant for failure here, get up and win that race.”

With borrowed will, “Get up,” it said, “you haven’t lost at all,
for winning is not more than this; to rise each time you fall.”
So, up he rose to run once more, and with a new commit,
he resolved that win or lose, at least he wouldn’t quit.

So far behind the others now, the most he’d ever been,
still he gave it all he had and ran as though to win.
Three times he’d fallen stumbling, three times he rose again.
Too far behind to hope to win, he still ran to the end.

They cheered the winning runner as he crossed, first place;
head high and proud and happy—no falling, no disgrace.
but, when the fallen youngster crossed the line, last place,
the crowd gave him the greater cheer for finishing the race.

And even though he came in last with head bowed low, unproud,
you would have thought he’d won the race, to listen to the crowd.
And to his dad he sadly said, “I didn’t do so well.”
To me, you won,” his father said. “You rose each time you fell.”

And now when things seem dark and hard and difficult to face,
the memory of that little boy helps me in my own race.
For all of life is like that race, with ups and downs and all.
And all you have to do to win is rise each time you fall.

“Quit!” “Give up, you’re beaten,” they still shout in my face,
but another voice within me says, “Get up and win that race.”

Family Times

e)      There will be times in life when you will fall down and Satan will say, “stay down. Don’t bother getting back up. Just quit.” It is during these times you must remember the faithfulness of God who has called you into fellowship with his son Jesus Christ. It is at this time you must be strong not in your strength, but in his power and might.

1 Corinthians 1:10

We have come to a passage of scripture that urges awesome unity of speech, mind, and thought. One cannot help but think to himself as he reads and ponders what Paul has written and God has spoken in this verse if it is even possible. Is it possible? Is unity in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ like this possible?

Humanly speaking, no. It is impossible to achieve such unity in our humanness. Our humanity is by nature selfish, egotistical, and proud. Those are not exactly key components in a recipe for successful unity are they? In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, however, this unity is quite possible. It is not just a far out dream but it is a real possibility.  

Unfortunately, we have all been touched in one way or another by churches that have failed to heed this encouragement and have splintered. One can only imagine how deeply it must have been affecting Paul to know that this body of believers was struggling so with unity. In fact, we get a glimpse into it with his reference to “brothers.” A word he will use no less than 30x in this book, far more than any NT letter.

Central to the faith of Israel is the confession of the unity of God: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord your God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4). Human history is a story of sin’s disruption of God’s ordained unity. God’s idea for marriage is unity. God’s ideal for family is unity. God’s ideal for the people of Israel is unity and God’s ideal for all of his people from every tribe, tongue, and nation is unity for we read in Zechariah 14:9, “And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one.”

Jesus prayed that his disciples would experience unity modeled on the unity Jesus experienced with the Father, “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one(John 17:11).” Again we read in that same chapter in vv. 20-23, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” Such unity verifies the truth of Jesus God sent mission and the Father’s love for his people. When unity is not achieved, God is dishonored and laughed at and doubted.

Jesus prayer for unity was achieved in the early church. We read in Acts 2:42-44, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. Again we read in Acts 4:32, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”

Again, just as before, human history is a story of sin’s disruption of God’s ordained unity and the early church was not exempt. Unity in the earliest church was threatened by the lies and deception by Ananias and Sapphira, the prejudice of those who neglected the widows, and by the rigidness of those who demanded Gentiles must become Jews before becoming disciples.

Will there continue to be strife and dissension in the church? Yes, until the day of the LORD this will be so, but we are supposed to be living now like we are going to be then. We are to be working toward perfect unity on earth between all the people of God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

None of this is to say that there will not be bumps, trials, hardships, disagreements it is to say that we are to do all we can to work out all things in a good and godly manner and so that the church does not result in splintering and fracturing.

In other words there is only one true faith. But in the reality of daily living, Christians are not always one in the faith. They do not always agree on what they believe, nor are they always agreed on what it means to trust Christ. The existence of so many denominations and religious organizations dramatizes that disagreement. But the goal of true believers is ever and always unity of the faith. Their goal should be to agree. The aim of believers should be to highlight their areas of agreement without compromising any clearly revealed truth.

The Context –

With verse 10, we begin a new section of the letter. This new section is 1:10-4:21

David E. Garland makes a great summary of this entire section on pages 38-39: “In developing his argument in these chapters, Paul takes up a concluding affirmation in one unit and then amplifies it in the next unit. He concludes the thanksgiving section in 1:9 by asserting that God called them into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. In the next unit (1:10-17) he criticizes them for allowing divisions to arise in the church. The conclusion in 1:17 that he does not preach with eloquent wisdom so as to empty the cross of Christ of its power becomes the subject of the next unit in 1:18-25 about the foolishness of the cross versus human wisdom. The theme of the foolishness and weakness of God (1:25) is developed in 1:26-31 in God’s choice of the foolish and weak. Its conclusion that one can boast only in the Lord (1:31) is developed in 2:1-5, where Paul recalls his first preaching to them in weakness, fear and trembling, and with unadorned speech; yet the power of God created their faith. The concluding contrast between human wisdom and the power of God (2:5) is developed in 2:6-16 with the contrast between the discernment of the spiritual and unspiritual persons. In 3:1-4, Paul characterizes the Corinthians as carnal rather than spiritual people, and cites the party slogans (‘I belong to Paul’ and ‘I belong to Apollos’), derided in 1:12, as proof that they are carnal. This leads into his comparison between himself and Apollos as servants of God, and he uses three metaphors to characterize the church: God’s field (3:5-9a), God’s building (3:9b-15), and God’s temple (3:16-17). In 3:18-23, he recaps his argument about the foolishness of the wisdom of the world, which leads to foolish boasting about leaders. This, in turn, leads to his exhortation on how properly to appraise apostles. They are only servants of Christ. Paul summarizes his argument in 4:6-13 and concludes in 4:14-21 with an exhortation for them to imitate the cruciform existence of apostles. The entire section (1:10-4:21) is set off by the phrase ‘I exhort you’ (1:10; 4:16).”

The Problem –

Paul is struggling with a church divided against him and a church that is full of cliques and factions . That it is divided over and against him is evident from the whole of chapter four, especially 4:6 and 4:18. That it also struggles to some degree with inner strife among the members is evident from 1:12. The church of Corinth is full of quarreling (1:11), boasting (3:21, 4:7), pride (4:6), worldliness (3:3), and jealousy (3:3). The quarreling, boasting, pride, worldliness, and jealousy are not the causes of division but rather symptoms of a difficult issue. Why is this? What is causing such things? While we cannot be dogmatic and say this is why they were divided, we can at least say we know these are some of the reasons why, though perhaps they are not all the reasons why. There are at least two obvious causes. First, they have serious misunderstanding and confusion over the gospel. A gospel that is righty grasped and appropriated does not lead to quarrelling and division. Second, they have serious misunderstanding and confusion over the nature of the church and its leaders, and the leader’s relationship to that church. A true understanding of this will lead to a stronger, united church.

So, in this passage of Scripture, 1:10-4:21, we learn something concerning the nature of the gospel, what it is and what it is not, how it encompasses all of life, and not just part of it. We learn about the nature of the church and church leadership, and the relationship of the leaders to the church, and we learn about the nature of Paul’s ministry and servant like authority. This is a rich section of scripture that today’s church has much to learn from. It deserves close study and examination because today’s church seriously fails to appropriate the full gospel in its doctrine and in its lifestyle, and today’s church seriously fails to understand its true nature and the role and relationship of its church leaders and as a result the church of God is hurting. There is still some Corinth in today’s church.

There are two words used in verses 10 and 11 that open up a window for us to look into the heart of the problem at Corinth, the first word is “scismata” from which the NIV gets “division.” The word literally rendered means “rent,” or “tear” but metaphorically speaking it refers to a “division,” or “dissension” in people groups. We see this word used in its literal sense in Matthew 9:16 where Christ says, “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made.” It is used in its metaphorical sense in John 7:40-43 – “When they heard these words, some of the people said, ‘This really is the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But some said, ‘Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?’ So there was a division among the people over him.” In John 9:16 we read, “Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?’ And there was division among them.” In 1 Corinthians 11:18 we read that there are divisions among them and in 1 Corinthians 1:12 we come across what those divisions are. Here in 1 Corinthians 1:10 when we read “division” we have the metaphorical usage. Paul says he does not want there to be “divisions” among the Corinthian believers. He says the same in 1 Corinthians 12:25, “there should be no division in the body.” However, the most significant thing to realize about this word scismata is it does not mean “break.” It is not as strong as the English word “schism.” It means a division, not a break. There is a tear in the fabric of the church, but it is not completely broken up yet. That is the first word. There are divisions and dissensions between some people in the church, but the church as a whole is not completely broken. The church is still holding together. We would be wrong to think of the church in Corinth as deeply divided with warring factions and irreconcilable differences. There was no break-up yet, just some nasty quarreling and strife about leaders.

            The second word that gives us a glimpse into some of the problems at the church is found in verse 11 and it is “erides” from which the NIV gets “quarrels.” This word literally rendered means “strife,” “debate,” “contention” and “wrangling.”  We find this word used in Romans 1:29 to describe the works of the unrighteous! It says starting in Romans 1:28, “And since they did not  see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” In 1 Corinthians 3:3 Paul says to these very same Corinthians, “you are still of the flesh, for while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” In Galatians 5:19-21 Paul lists the works of the flesh and includes “strife” as one of them. In Titus 3:9 Paul says to “avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” We know from verse 12 that this quarreling is over church leadership. Some members of the church have divided with factions forming around favorite leaders. Thus again, let me be clear of the situation that is presented in Corinth. There does not seem to be an actual breakup of the congregation along party lines. They are not split into many different little groups that have nothing to do with each other. Rather, they are a divided congregation in the sense of having factions forming around favorite leaders. Should all of this continue, they are well on their way to a complete break, but as of right now the fabric of the church is torn, but not completely ripped apart.

So we see that the Corinthians are in hot water. Instead of demonstrating the gospel in their lives, they are demonstrating works of the flesh that are unprofitable and worthless, which God says those who practice such things “deserve to die.” Something has gone terribly wrong at the Corinthian church with these hot contentions and strife. They are failing to live Christ like lives. They are failing to live cruciform lifestyles and it is this that Paul is going to lay into them for later in chapters two through four with his discussion of wisdom and church leadership. This quarreling stems from  jealousy, boasting, and undue pride. This quarreling does not come from a proper understanding of the gospel. It is obvious then that the  numero uno problem is the Corinthians failure to understand the full implications of the gospel! Why is there such division and strife and jealousy and pride and boasting? Because they have failed to appropriate the gospel as the center of their lives! The fruit of the spirit, the fruit of a life that is cross centered and Christ exalting and Christ boasting is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If the Corinthians were living this kind of a life, Paul would have no need to urge them toward reconciliation and the letter of Corinthians would be significantly shorter. Unfortunately, it is clear from a reading of 2 Corinthians that they still did not get the point. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:20 – “For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish – that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.”

The Plea

Paul urges the believers in Corinth to get along with each other, to have harmony as opposed to discord. He urges two things; that they all agree with one another and that they be perfectly united in mind and thought.

There are two things to point out concerning Paul’s appeal to the Corinthian believers. First, notice his strong emphasis on unity. Three times in the verse it says “same.” Now I realize if you have the NIV and other translations in front of you, it does not have this word once, the KJV does a good job translating this verse, but in any case, in the Greek it is quite clear. It says we should all have the same “speech,” “mind,” and “thought.” What are we to understand by such an emphasis on unity and sameness? Is it saying we are all to be carbon copies of each other, all saying and doing and thinking the same thing? Is that what it means? Does Christian faith demand uniformity? No, that is quite the opposite of what Paul is saying. In fact, as we have discussed before, we are all unique and in chapter 12 we learn there is good reason for that diversity. What then is Paul urging? The answer to this is found in the phrase “be perfectly united.” Another way to say this is “restored” or “mended” or “knit together.” It is the same word used in the gospels to describe the fishermen mending their nets. As one can imagine, the nets used for fishing often would tear from constant use and when they would tear they would need to be mended. Paul here says be mended, be restored, be knit together. You are all unique and diverse, but in that uniqueness and diversity be knit together. Be as one. “He does not mean that they are to think alike on all issues but rather that they are to share the same basic Christian conviction and to be at one with the purposes and goals of the congregation” (Polhill, REVEXP, Summer 1983, 327).

*Romans 12:16 – “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”

Romans 15:5-6 – “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

**1 Corinthians 11:18-19 – “In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.”

** Philippians 1:27 – “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel…”

Philippians 2:1-2 – “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being likeminded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”

1 Peter 3:8 – “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.”

Second, I want you to notice the manner in which urges them. He urges them as a brother and he urges them in the authority of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt that the quarreling and division at Corinth were heavy on Paul’s heart. He wants them to know that he is suffering with them and that he is talking to them as a brother in Christ. He uses the word “brother” 39x in this letter, far and away the most frequent use in any of his letters. It is a tender appeal. He also urges them to harmony in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is significant for several reasons. First, remember in verse nine he has just reminded them of their fellowship with Jesus Christ. Now he appeals to them in that same name, Jesus Christ, to remind them of that precious fellowship they all have in Christ. We have an awesome bond together in Christ and His is the one name that stands over and against all party names that the Corinthian’s are crying. Second, it is authoritative for Paul to beseech unity in Jesus name. It is not unity for unity’s sake that Paul desires it. It is in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is for the glory of God, Jesus and the church that he desires it. Third, it draws their attention away from their petty factions to the beauty of Christ. When we focus our primary attention on horizontal relationships, that is, with each other, we often meet with frustration because new areas of difference keep appearing to distract and divide us. But when we focus our attention on the beauty of Jesus Christ, our differences begin to fade to his incomparable glory and majesty, and our mutual love and knowledge of Christ begin to draw us to each other. The better we know Christ, the more we stay focused on Him, the more we will be drawn together in perfect unity.

672 The Perfect Church

I think that I shall never see

A Church that’s all it ought to be:

A Church whose members never stray

Beyond the Strait and Narrow Way:

A Church that has no empty pews,

Whose Pastor never has the blues,

A Church whose Deacons always deak,

And none is proud, and all are meek:

Where gossips never peddle lies,

Or make complaints or criticize;

Where all are always sweet and kind,

And all to other’s faults are blind.

Such perfect Churches there may be,

But none of them are known to me.

But still, we’ll work, and pray and plan,

To make our own the best we can.

[1]

Furnish’s (1999:45) comments are right on target, “Since those who are being saved from perishing have been formed into a community that lives from the cross, they are also summoned to be informed, both individually and corporately, by the mind of the crucified Christ.” This is right on target considering 1 Corinthians 2:10-16, 3:1-4, 3: 18-23, 4:14-21.


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[1]Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers (Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979).

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