Case Study: Solving the “Unity” Issue
Of all the churches of the New Testament, the church at Corinth is most recognized for its lack of unity. From the very beginning of the letter the “divisions” are spoken of. Note the plural na-ture of that word. There were a lot of problems; lack of understanding of some gospel, and out-right ignorance of others. Yet the brethren were commanded to be unified! (1:10) How was this to be accomplished? Chapters 1-4 all deal with the authority of the word of God AND those who delivered it.
Chapter 1 – “For the word of the cross… is the power of God” (v.18; Ro. 1:16) and “…God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (v.21) “but we preach Christ crucified… Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”(v.23-24) “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.” Christ is the power of the word of God. Until the Corinthians could understand so as to submit themselves to the gospel – the word of the cross – they would forever be divided. It was their obedience to the word that saved them to begin with, it was the word that originally brought them together, and it is the word that would continually bind them in unity!
Chapter 2 – The word is not like the words of mere men – uninspired. It is the spiritual complete unadulterated true word from God via the Holy Spirit. Inspired spiritual men, delivering an inspired spiritual message, for a spiritual people. “…your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (2:5) That is, Paul proved the word true, and himself an Apostle, through the miracles he performed in confirming the gospel he preached. “And my word, and my preaching, were not in persuasive words of wisdom (of men), but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power…” (2:4) “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God…” (2:12) What things? “which things we also speak…” (2:13) – The inspired word! Submission to the inspired word is what would bring these people together in the unity of the spirit!
Chapter 3 – Deals with the fact of the one foundation. “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (3:10-11) What was the grace “given” to Paul that he would use to build? “…the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24) is what Paul used in “preaching the kingdom” (Acts 20:25). The foundation is not just laid in Christ Himself, but in His gospel. To build with another gospel is to build another church… a different one. (Gal. 1:6) Paul reminds them, that regardless of who baptized them, they were all baptized through the same gospel, and upon the same foundation. Their unity originates and exists by the true gospel of grace!
Chapter 4 – Paul says therefore, “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (4:1) Also, “For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” He goes on to say that he has sent Timothy in order to, “remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.” IT ALL STARTS WITH THE WORD. If they would submit to God’s word, then they would not only be unified with their brethren there, but also everywhere! The utterance of God belongs to the Apostles and prophets. This is the authoritative word, and they were not to go beyond. This is the unifying word that was taught in all the churches.
It is interesting to note the fundamental difference between “unity in diversity” in Corinth and how “unity in diversity” is expressed today. Today men teach that the key to unity is an ABSENCE of unity to the gospel message once delivered for all time. While in the church of Corinth, the Holy Spirit communicated that ONLY the presence of the gospel truth could truly bring brethren together in Christ Jesus. Yes, we can be diverse in gender, age, race, culture, social status, etc. but 1) never in doctrine and 2) never in sin.
The Holy Spirit knows, and conveyed through the inspired message of the Apostles, that THE WORD OF GOD IS THE BASIS OF ALL SPIRITUAL UNITY. Until the brethren at Corinth could understand the principle of the authority of God’s word, then the rest of the message would be pointless and they would remain in their division. It was the inspired gospel of unity that brought these brethren together, and it was a previously misunderstood and false (diverse) gospel that was tearing them apart… and away from God!