When we lose our unity in the church, it’s because something has become more important to us than Jesus. And in any church with sinners — which, of course, is every church — conflict will exist, and achieving resolution is difficult.
Theologian Sinclair Ferguson said:
The gospel is a message of reconciliation and peace with God. How can non-Christians be convinced that Christ reconciles us to God if we are not reconciled to each other?
This quote may sound odd to our ears. Most churches today would rather protect personal preference over corporate, spiritual unity and community under Christ.
But our gracious God is more concerned about the unity of the church than her programs, size or parking lot. And healthy churches are known, in part, by what they teach and hold to — their holiness vertically to the Lord and horizontally to one another, and their spiritual unity in Christ.
Paul addresses the problem of division in the local church in his first letter to the Corinthians. The church in Corinth had been founded just a few years earlier. Members of the church were accustomed to picking and following their favorite church leader in Corinth, a city renowned for its public speakers.
The problem was one of destructive divisiveness. As Paul heard about the nature of these quarrels from his friends, his concern grew. Paul wrote:
My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.” (1:11-12).
Paul thus began with the command:
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1:10).
Unity in the church is not something we can ever take for granted. We’re called to do both: Contend earnestly for the faith and truth, and be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-6). “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him” (1 Cor. 3:17). Guard the unity of your church. It isn’t yours.
Paul then gives us at least six reasons for the church to seek to be united. As we follow the Lord’s lead, may these be true of us. And may we spend time on our knees praying before God for these in our church, families and ministries.
1. Gospel-centered unity showcases Christ.
Paul asks, “Is Christ divided?” (1:13). Divisions in the church suggested that Christ is divided, and such suggestions lie about Christ. “Accept one another, as Christ accepted you” (Romans 15:7).
Our unity displays Christ. Withdrawal denies Christ. Members of the church are to be united to display the truth about Christ.
There is only one Christ, and the message that Christ has brought us is the important thing, not the preacher who preached it. Nor should we have a wrong attachment to preachers. Rather, preachers should point toward Christ, and we should love the ministers of Christ for the Christ they serve.
2 Gospel-centered unity elevates the cross.
Paul writes, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1:17).
Division on the basis of worldly appetites promotes the messenger (pastor/preacher) and obscures the cross. Unity of mind and rule is a fruit of a mature congregation. Disunity and different standards is a fruit of immaturity.
3. Gospel-centered unity conveys humbleness (1:26-27).
The kind of divisions that the members in Corinth were expressing should have been ruled out by their own history. The Gospel of Christ demolishes this world’s estimates of what is valuable and shows that a status-oriented culture is false.
May we regularly work to humble ourselves by comparing what we deserve (wrath) with what we are given (grace). When things are going well in your life, too, this should be a ground for humility, as it is based fundamentally on God and His love, and not what you deserve.
4. Gospel-centered unity demonstrates spiritual maturity (3:1-4).
Division is a sign of spiritual immaturity. These Christians had every opportunity to grow in Christ, yet they continued to live by the secular norms of their society. Gospel-centered unity is evidence of spiritual maturity among Christians.
5. Gospel-centered unity reflects submission to God (3:21-23).
God directs the various pastors and workmen He employs, and His church is founded on Christ alone. God owns the church, and God will destroy anyone who destroys His temple.
Gospel-centered unity acknowledges that the church belongs to God, not men, and reflects the churches’ submissions to God’s authority.
6. Gospel-centered unity comes from treasuring God’s promises.
Division is unnecessary. If you are in Christ, all things are yours. Petty divisions demonstrate a misunderstanding of God’s great promise. And remember: Face-to-face conversations — better than phone calls, certainly not emails — are the way to preserve or repair unity.
As we continue to celebrate what God has done, is doing, and embrace what lies ahead at your church, think of the riches that we have in Christ. Be joyful and expectant in prayer! Devote yourself to exploring the richness of the salvation that Christ has given you in the Gospel, the daily blessings that you have, and the riches that God has promised to you.
Are you seeking true, biblical unity in your church? Mediate daily of the undeserved blessings and promises that you have been given because of Christ alone, and the divisions in Christ’s church that Satan wants to bring in times of blessings will disappear.