Third Sunday after Epiphany (A) January 27, 2008
Stop the Fighting (1 Corinthians 1:10-18)
Unity is a key ingredient for success and fulfillment in life. To have a successful business, the employees must work together. To have a successful football team, the players must work together. To have successful government, the congress and the president must cooperate. To have a successful family, the members must work together. To have a successful church, we must work together.
Very little is accomplished in life by yourself. Success is never a one man show. Very little is accomplished without cooperation. When there is unity, there is tremendous power and potential. The problem is that people don’t always get along.
I. The Church is Intended for Unity (v. 10)
My Daddy died in 1982. He was 72. One of the things he told my oldest sister, Ann, was to “make sure to keep the family together.” I know he told Ann that because she is always reminding me of his statement and her promise to Daddy. In like manner, Paul is appealing to the church at Corinth on the basis of his spiritual fatherhood to “make sure to keep the family together.” May unity be evident to all people. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
He calls his readers “brothers,” reminding them that they belonged to one family. And, not just any family, they belong to Christ, bearing his name. He asks them to “agree with one another.” The idea communicated in his words is of two hostile parties reaching an agreement. Then he wishes that they “be perfectly united in mind and thought.” This is a medical term used of knitting together bones that have been fractured.
Let’s be clear, here as elsewhere in Paul’s writings, he is not asking for uniformity. Uniformity comes from without. He is not asking for unanimity. We will never agree on everything. In fact, sometimes, we must agree to disagree agreeably. He is calling for unity that comes from within, a matter of the heart. He is calling for harmony of relationships, mutual concern and love for one another, a caring for the quality of fellowship in order that Christ may perform his ministry through the body.
II. Disunity Sidelines the Church’s Mission (v. 11-12)
Slaves from the household of Chloe had visited Paul in Ephesus and reported that there was dissension and disunity in the church. These people were burdened for the church. They went to the right person, Paul. They informed him that people within the church were fighting over who was their favorite leader.
They were arguing over human teachers who represented Jesus Christ. They missed the point of these teachers that Christ was the ultimate teacher. And, could they not see that Paul, Apollos, and Cephas were not fighting? These men were not quarrelling. There was no dissension among them. They were, in fact, unified.
III. Unity is Key to Accomplishing Our Purpose (v. 13-17)
Paul asks the question: “Is Christ divided?” (v. 13) or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases, “Has the Messiah been chopped up in little pieces so we can each have a relic all our own?” This very thought is unsightly and grotesque. It must be abolished. It must stop for two reasons: one, disunity is unnatural and has damaging effects on the body; and, two, disunity among the brothers soils the reputation of Jesus Christ (“the cross of Christ be emptied of its power”).
Unity matters to Paul. It matters to the church. It matters to God. The Father does not want his kids to squabble. Disunity disturbs him. Why? Because “all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Unity creates belief.
If unity creates belief, then disunity fosters disbelief. How can the world come to believe the gospel if those who already believe it are battling among themselves? When the world sees Catholics and Protestants dueling over power and territory in Northern Ireland, or young and old members of the same congregation dueling over worship styles or a church splitting over the color of the new carpet, it says, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Paul Billheimer may very well be right when he says: “The continuous and widespread fragmentation of the Church has been the scandal of the ages. It has been Satan’s master strategy. The sin of disunity probably has caused more souls to be lost than all other sins combined.”
Could it be that unity is the key to reaching the world for Christ? If unity matters to God, then shouldn’t unity matter to us? If unity is a priority in heaven, then shouldn’t it be a priority on earth? (Rick Ezell)