Unity in Christ (Part 1): The View from 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln addressed 1,000 delegates in the statehouse of Springfield, Illinois. Later that day he was selected as their candidate for U.S. Senate. He infused his acceptance speech with an opportunity to address a pressing matter in the U.S. A portion of his speech is as follows:
"Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention. If we could first know where we are,
and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it. We
are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and
confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that
policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my
opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed. "A house
divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot endure,
permanently half slave and half free."
This latter phrase and meaning were familiar to Lincoln's audience as a statement by Jesus recorded in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke). For example, in Matt. 22:25, after casting a demon out of a man, Jesus was accused by the Pharisees of being demon-possessed himself. Jesus responded, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand." Lincoln lived in a divided country until the end of his life. Likewise, in I Cor. 1:1-9, the Apostle Paul was facing a church experiencing division. Not long after the founding of the Church of Corinth in AD 51, the church faced divisions only a few years later. Paul sought to unify them and address their division in his letters to the Corinthians. Overall, he reminds them that their basis of unity is in Jesus Christ.
Paul started the church in Corinth in AD 51. He left from there to minister in Ephesus for some three years. During this short stint of time, the church began to experience intense division due to quarreling. Their church founder reminded them through his letters that the unity and spiritual growth of a local church are dependent upon the priority it gives to Jesus as Lord and Savior. A consistent lack of unity and spiritual growth in a local church reflects misplaced priorities and deficiently loyalty to Christ.
The basis of unity for the church of Corinth, and any local church, is expressed in at least two ways in this passage.
First, Paul reminds the Corinthians that the cleansing redemption of Jesus Christ is the foundation of unity in the church. In the first three verses of chapter one, Paul affirms his apostleship and reminds the believers that Jesus is the one who cleansed them of their sins and set them apart together. Furthermore, it is Jesus who imparted grace that gave them peace within their souls. For this reason, the church is to be the most outstanding picture of unity in the world because of the magnificent transforming grace God has offered to them through Jesus. Peace should be the outworking of a soul changed by God through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Second, Paul reminds them that those who receive the grace gift of Jesus Christ are given gifts of the Spirit. As they embrace these gifts and exercise them among the believers, they will develop a sound gospel testimony. Another result is that they will experience collective confidence that God is at work in them. This section of Scripture ends with a proclamation that "God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord." (Vs.9). Paul declares that the person, work, and message of Jesus is the central point of unity for the church. Paul makes sure this point is made as he refers to Jesus 10 times in the first 10 verses of I Corinthians 1. There can be no substitute for unity in the local church beyond Christ.
The point of division will be made more evident in the next portion of Scripture (I Cor. 1:10-18). Divisions spring up in a local church like weeds in a summer garden, but the solution is the same: press into Christ. The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians of what was the basis of unity before he addressed their divisions.