Last Sunday we began our tour through Epiphany by seeing that we are all of us called by God into the Grace of Christ. Today our text picks up right where last week’s text left off. And what does Paul show us? That those of us who are called into communion with Christ (v.9) are now called upon to maintain that unity given us by the Grace of Christ. Those who live by the grace of Christ are precisely those who live in the Unity of Christ!
10I 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. We are called to be united in love. To seek that great consensus in the church so that the congregation will glorify God with one voice and be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. As we state in the preface to the Book of Concord: “Both our churches and our schools should persevere in the pure doctrine of God’s Word and in that longed-for and godly oneness of mind”
And here is an important point in considering true unity. Christian unity depends on faithfulness to Christ, not chasing one’s own agendas or ideas. Our unity comes from having the same mind and judgment as that of Christ. Being connected to Christ and transformed by Christ. Anything less can never bring real unity, and will always devolve into divisions and disunity, no matter how benign or compassionate the initial agenda may be.
Consider the poor congregation in Corinth. Faced by a culture that mocked them and their morals, a world that hated them, and religious people – both Roman and Jewish – who openly opposed them you would think they could unify and find common ground. But they didn’t. They were full of divisions and disunity. And theirs is a story told thousands of times in thousands of different congregations. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12What I mean is that each one of you says, I follow Paul, or I follow Apollos, or I follow Cephas, or I follow Christ. 13Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
Like a tear in a garment the congregation at Corinth had split into factions and was on the verge of being torn apart. And for what? Which pastor they liked the best? It is utter foolishness. But as you and I both know, congregations have split for sillier things. Yet notice, it is not the supposed figure heads that are at the root of the problem. We know from scripture that while they didn’t always agree, Peter, Paul and Apollos all honoured each other and worked together for the sake of the church and to the glory of Christ. While any human leader may cause or contribute to problems along the way the root of the problem in Corinth was (as it always has been) the egotism of the people! I, I, I, I … I think better, I know better, I do better because I’m not like those who follow what’s his face or those others. And if you knew better you would do like me. Even “we follow Christ” is delivered in a partisan way … “oh yeah? Well we follow Christ!” And so Paul lumps them in with the other partisan groups sarcastically. And notice this too, Paul gives no leniency to the group that claims to follow him. They are just as wrong as all the others and just as in need of correction! And this he does with a series of rhetorical questions.
Is Christ divided? Is there a Pauline Christ and a Petrine Christ, another Christ just for Apollos and his crew? To even ask the question is to already know the answer. Just as Jesus can’t be fragmented so similarly inconceivable is it that His own body, the church, should be so splintered. Was Paul crucified for you? Your pastors and your leaders, as great as they may be, are not your saviour. They are weak and forgiven men in need of the very same saviour … serving the same saviour. Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? Of course no one is baptized into Paul’s name. Loyalty to him is misplaced. He is but a messenger and servant. He (and all other servants like him – Peter or Apollos) has nothing to offer of himself. He can’t even remember who he has baptized! For it isn’t important that he was busy baptizing, but that the people themselves are Baptized. The point? We don’t put our confidence in people but in Jesus!
17For 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. 18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Here is True wisdom and the only real unity to be had. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the preaching of the cross. The unity of Christ’s baptism by which we are called into the body of Christ and gathered under that cross. For the cross is the unifying instrument of God’s salvation. The cross of Christ, (the work of God in Jesus, life, death and resurrection) is the decisive and divisive line between those who are in Christ and those who are not! The cross of Christ, and our place under it – our need for it – is the only thing keeping us together. But it is all that we have ever needed to be a unified force for global good.
Divisions in the Church are a denial of the one Baptism into Christ who was crucified for all. This life, even our calling to the Christian life, is full of every temptation to think of ourselves and our own comfort or our satisfaction and our own desires first. But we don’t all need to like the same music. We don’t all have to agree on which of our pastors was the best. The truth is not one of them (even this one) is as good as you remember and none of them are worthy of your praise. We don’t have to all have the same vision and dreams for this congregation. We don’t even have to always like each other to have real unity – to really and truly love one another. The triune God alone is the object of our Faith and Christ is Our Hope. And this gracious God and His gifts to us are more than enough to unify us in faith and hope and love. The love and compassion of our God is enough to unite us in worship and service. The unity of Christ holds us together as His beloved church, over the generations, across the continents between heaven and earth itself.