God had done a mighty work in Coriinth. In that city, men and women had responded to the gospel and experienced changed lives. One dark cloud hung over the Christian community, however. Division had begun to mar the life of the church. Some claimed to follow Paul. Others claimed to follow Peter of Apollos. The problem was so great that Paul made it the first concern of his letter.
Divisions like this were serious because they turned people’s thoughts away from Christ to honor a man. A Christian community with divisions and cliques uses up spiritual and emotional energy. Another consequence was that the divisions led to a divided witness. When people talked about the gospel, they were likely to add to the message of Christ something about the messenger – Peter, Paul, or Apollos. Even worse, if outsiders knew that believers were disputing among themselves, they might well ask, “Do I want to become a part of a fighting church?” The divisions were also spoiling the loving fellowship these early Christians enjoyed. Instead of experiencing joyous celebration in their worship services, the Corinthian Christians felt the fear and suspicion bred by such divisions. To solve the problem, Paul asked the Corinthians to forget the messengers who brought them the gospel and to turn their attention to Christ and His redeeming work. He challenged them with these questions: “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? (I Cor. 1:13). The expected answer would be “Of course not”.
When we talk about our faith today, let us talk about Christ and the gospel, not about local churches and their differences. When we talk about our congregations, we are concentrating on people and often on their weaknesses and problems. Let us talk instead about the Lord and how He can change lives. As we worship in our local churches, we can make the unity of the body of Christ a priority. Let us think about how we can keep people together. I have heard senior members of churches make statements like this: “Among our former pastors there were one or two I did not care for, but I stayed. The work of the Lord in this community is more important than my preference for any leader”. We should salute such faithful people.
When missionaries first took the gospel to Africa, the various missions established what were known as comity agreements. In view of the enormous amount of work to be done and the few people to do it, each mission accepted responsibility for as large an area as its missionaries could serve. Other groups marked out other areas.
Should we adopt such thinking as we plan new ministries? It would be well to ask whether another Christian group is doing this work. If so, can we cooperate with them without compromising our faith, or should we explore other spiritual needs and make them our concern? Let us ask the Lord to help us find a niche where we can make a unique contribution. Christians who seek the unity of believers help realize the prayer of Jesus: “[I pray] that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee” (John 17:21). If the unity of believers was a priority for Jesus, should it not be ours also?