Lessons from 1 Corinthians: Unity In the Church
We’re beginning a new Sunday teaching series, and it’s going to be a doozy. Beginning on May 5, and running for pretty much the whole summer, we’re going to be walking through the book of 1 Corinthians. In this letter, Paul is addressing the church in Corinth. Corinth was a major port city, which meant that it was a big economic centre that had lots of different kinds of people, lots of temples to different gods, and this also meant that it was a great place for a missionary like Paul to settle in for a while and start planting Jesus communities. Paul spent a year and a half living in Corinth, getting to know people, talking to them about Jesus, and soon there was a community of people who followed Jesus together; the Corinthian church.
Divisions in the Corinthian Church
Eventually, Paul moves on to start churches in other communities. After some time, he starts hearing reports that the Corinthian church wasn’t doing so well. The letter of 1 Corinthians is Paul’s response to these problems, and his attempt to try to remind the Corinthians of the difference that Jesus should make in their lives, and how the story of the gospel can be applied to every situation we find ourselves in.
The first problem that Paul addresses is how the Corinthian church has become divided. After Paul, other Christian leaders had come through; Apollos and Peter. The Corinthian church had started fracturing off into groups of people who followed Paul, those who followed Apollos, and those who followed Peter.
Whether this was because they had slightly different teachings, emphasized different things, or was a big popularity contest, we’re not sure.
But what is clear is Paul’s response.
Paul reminds the Corinthians that the Church is a community of people centred around Jesus, not any one leader or another. In fact, these leaders and teachers are all just servants of Jesus. And while some people might prefer one leader over another, it’s not worth speaking poorly about each other, or dividing the church over. The unity we find in Jesus should be more powerful than this.
What Divides Us?
So let’s fast forward to today, to our world, to our church. What separates and divides us? Is it preferences around worship or preaching style; which ministries need doing instead of others; which finer point of Christian theology is correct; who gets to make the decisions?
Let’s face it, there are a lot of opportunities for division, and you don’t have to look far to find one. We recently finished a teaching series on what the Bible has to say about what happens after we die. Talk about a divisive issue. We’ve been having Community Forums where we invite the church to come and talk about how we go about being the church together. And, to no surprise, there are lots of different viewpoints represented. Our most recent Community Forum on church membership saw virtually every presented: from membership being incredibly valuable and necessary to membership not serving any purpose at all, and everything in between.
What Brings Us Together?
All of this just serves to make the Church all the more amazing. In a world of so many people of different backgrounds, experiences, viewpoints, and beliefs, God calls the Church to be a place where all of these differences and divisions are overcome, and all kinds of people unite because the things that could divide them are nothing compared to the truth that Jesus made known, and the life that He made possible. This is the ultimate level playing field, where all people are truly equal because our value is not determined by our abilities or knowledge, our power or wealth, our backgrounds or culture, but by what our creator says about us. And what God says about us is that we are worth dying for and that we can all be His children.