“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” -1 Corinthians 1:10
How important is church unity to you? Not just theoretically, but practically. I have no doubt that you will nod in agreement that church unity is important. I mean, really, who wouldn’t? I don’t know too many believers who would argue against unity. I can’t imagine someone saying something like, “No, I actually enjoy a little sinful conflict every now and then; I like dissention in the church.” Nobody would say that. But how important is it? What priority do you give it? How far would you go to preserve it?
Paul goes so far as to write a letter. In that letter he begs the church in Corinth to mend the divisions that have taken place and reunite as brothers. The ESV records it as an “appeal.” The NASB says it was an “exhortation.” The NKJV says he “pleaded” with them. But I really like how the Moffatt Bible translates Paul. It says, “I beg you.” I think that was the tone of Paul’s words. “I beg you, please, end the divisions and agree together in the Lord!”
This issue is so important to him that he exhorts them “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”! Thus, not only is unity consistent with the character and will of Jesus, but Paul is willing to speak in the compassionate authority of Jesus. The unity of this church was not a matter of indifference; it was a matter that required urgent attention and apostolic exhortation.
Now, let’s get back to the original question. How important is church unity to you personally? If there was conflict in your church, would you be willing to go “beg” people to find unity, as Paul does? If you’re in a conflict, are you willing to pursue reconciliation? How far are you willing to go to pursue peace or be an instrument of peace? Would you write a letter? Would you go visit someone? Would you humble yourself? Or, would you just ignore it and let life move on?
Paul says elsewhere, using similarly strong language, “I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called . . . eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). Paul wants us to be zealous for unity. It seems to me that too often we don’t feel the weight of Paul’s instruction. If only we were as passionate about unity as we are about evangelism or discipleship or fellowship!
Now, this isn’t unity at all costs. We certainly can’t have biblical unity in doctrinal heresy or rebellious sin. James 3:17 says, “The wisdom from above is first pure then peaceable…” So, we can’t have unity with those who refuse to repent of doctrines that deny the essentials of the biblical gospel. And we can’t have unity with those who refuse to repent of behavior out of step with the ethical teachings of Scripture. In such cases, church discipline is necessary and separation is appropriate.
But even in these times, we should continue to pursue reconciliation. We should never have a “good riddance” attitude. We should never be content with broken relationships in the body just so we can have some semblance of peace. If we are truly a family of believers, then we must pursue our brothers.
I believe the essence of our unity is in our relationships as a people with a common Lord. We agree together in the gospel. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and thus we should act accordingly. Paul exhorted the Corinthians to “agree” together and not allow “divisions.” In their case, they were allowing sects to form, each rallying behind their favorite leaders in opposition to the other leaders. Paul reasoned that their divisions were illogical, arguing, “Is Christ divided?” If we serve the same Christ, then we should not be at odds with one another.
This wasn’t the only time Paul had to call a church to unity. In the Philippian church, they apparently had some disunity issues too because Paul calls them to be of the “same mind” (2:3) and specifically urges Euodia and Syntyche “to agree in the Lord.” The Roman church experienced problems over the issue of Christian liberty, with the strong separating from the weak and the weak judging the strong. Paul calls them also to “be of the same mind,” reminding them of their common relationship as brothers and their responsibility to “pursue peace” and “walk in love.” Where broken relationships in Christ exist, we must seek to pursue reconciliation.
On a bigger scale, when dealing with denominations, differences in doctrines of secondary importance may divide us in practice, but they should never prevent our fellowship as a common people under one Lord. As a guide, we should follow the old maxim, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.”
So, as we consider divisions among brothers, we must value biblical unity the same way that Christ did, and we must pursue it the same way that Paul did. As far as it depends on us, it is not optional. We should work hard to achieve it, even if it means getting our hands a little dirty in the process.
This issue is too important. The reality is our unity is in Jesus. The church is His body. There is only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of every true believer. Thus, we act inconsistently when we allow divisions to occur in our midst. May we acknowledge our oneness and strive for unity with the zeal of Paul and motivated by the glory of Christ.
Lord, help me to be as passionate for the unity of the church as Paul is, and show me what I can do to seek to preserve unity where divisions have occurred. Give me the strength, courage, and wisdom that I need, Lord.