Before we get started this time, let’s take a moment to do a little survey first. Since it’s just the three of us (you, God and The Doctor), you can feel totally free to be completely honest, ok?
Take a look at the following questions and give each one a yes or no answer……
- I have sometimes looked down at others in church because they weren’t everything that I thought they should be
- I have excluded others in church because they didn’t fit in with me or my group
- I have sometimes felt resentment towards others in church because they didn’t think about things the way I do
- I have avoided others in the church who don’t share my race, culture or social group
- I have caused division in the church by supporting one church leader while speaking unkindly about another leader to others within the church
Those aren’t easy questions to answer, are they? Unfortunately, it seems that splits and divisions between people are often a lot easier to achieve than true unity and harmony. You see, unity can a tough thing to come by because all of us are very different. We have different genders, different cultures and different ways of doing things.
Despite all these differences however, Christians are all one in Christ- Jesus is the thread that unites us all together. It’s through Him that we can truly find unity in diversity. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how the Bible addresses a situation in the early church where there was diversity but no unity…
“But, dear brothers, I beg you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to stop arguing among yourselves. Let there be real harmony so that there won’t be splits in the church. I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.
For some of those who live at Chloe’s house have told me of your arguments and quarrels, dear brothers. Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul”; and others say that they are for Apollos or for Peter; and some that they alone are the true followers of Christ. And so, in effect, you have broken Christ into many pieces…” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)
The word used to describe the divisions that are spoken of here refers to a split or a gap- the kind that you might find in a piece of torn clothing. To get a better idea of what this means, just think about the people who tend to hang out together at your school or in your neighborhood.
For example, the athletes at school usually tend to gather together in their own little group, don’t they? So do the popular “socialite” types. The musicians all jam together, the racers work on their cars together and the really serious students study together. Although this may not apply to absolutely everyone, it’s still generally true that people often tend to get together within their own little groups with other like-minded people.
Now it’s certainly not wrong to get together with others who share your interests but the unfortunate truth is that we often tend to exclude others who don’t belong to “our group,” don’t we? In fact, people who don’t fit in within our own little group are often made fun of or criticized simply because they don’t belong. When this happens, divisions begin to form among people and unity suffers.
This was the case at the church in Corinth. In the Corinthian church, the people were divided over personalities. For example, some people preferred to listen to Paul himself. Paul, of course was used by God to start the church at Corinth so it’s easy to see why some people were eager to support him.
Then there was another man named Apollos who had a following. Acts 18 tells us that Apollos was a very educated man and also suggests that he was an excellent speaker. His style would have certainly appealed to those people who were educated and well spoken within the Corinthian church.
Cephas (also known as Peter) was someone who would have appealed to those people who wanted the “straight truth” about Jesus. After all, Peter was one of the original 12 disciples, a man who lived daily with Jesus for three years. These people may have believed that it was foolish to get “secondhand” information about Jesus when you could speak with a man like Peter who was there.
Finally, there were others who simply claimed to be followers of Christ. These were the people who apparently said, “Look, you can follow these human teachers but I’m following Jesus.” So it seems that everyone within the church was divided according to each individual speaker.
Unfortunately, this lead to many divisions that threatened the unity of the Corinthian church. Paul pointed out the problem with this by saying, “…in effect, you have broken Christ into many pieces…”
In other words, Paul was asking this question: does Jesus belong to only one small section of the church while Paul belongs to another section and Apollos to another and so on? Is Jesus just the property of one group of people within the church? Well, of course the answer is no- each of the Corinthian Christians were individual members of a larger body that could not be split into little divisions.
These problems can occur in churches today just as they did in the first century. But rather than splitting up into little groups that exclude people and cause divisions, the Bible shows us that there’s a a better way for Christians to relate to each other…
“Our bodies have many parts, but the many parts make up only one body when they are all put together. So it is with the “body” of Christ. Each of us is a part of the one body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But the Holy Spirit has fitted us all together into one body. We have been baptized into Christ’s body by the one Spirit, and have all been given that same Holy Spirit.
“Yes, the body has many parts, not just one part. If the foot says, ‘I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,’ that does not make it any less a part of the body. And what would you think if you heard an ear say, ‘I am not part of the body because I am only an ear and not an eye’? Would that make it any less a part of the body? Suppose the whole body were an eye– then how would you hear? Or if your whole body were just one big ear, how could you smell anything?
“But that isn’t the way God has made us. He has made many parts for our bodies and has put each part just where he wants it. What a strange thing a body would be if it had only one part! So he has made many parts, but still there is only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’ The head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’ And some of the parts that seem weakest and least important are really the most necessary. Yes, we are especially glad to have some parts that seem rather odd! And we carefully protect from the eyes of others those parts that should not be seen, while of course the parts that may be seen do not require this special care.
“So God has put the body together in such a way that extra honor and care are given to those parts that might otherwise seem less important. This makes for happiness among the parts, so that the parts have the same care for each other that they do for themselves. If one part suffers, all parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. Now here is what I am trying to say: All of you together are the one body of Christ, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
You see, God has chosen to work through His church, a diverse group of people who are identified in the Bible as “the body of Christ.” Every Christian, regardless of their culture or social background is a member of this body.
To understand how this idea of “Christ’s body” relates to unity in the church, just think about what must happen within your own body in order to get things done. Let’s say that you wanted to pick up a glass of water and take a drink. Pretty simple, right? Well, think about what things have to happen before the simple act of drinking a glass of water can occur. First, the brain first must send the proper command. Then the eyes, shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand and fingers all must work together in order to pick up that glass, right?
That’s the obvious part. But what about the other parts of the body that aren’t directly involved in picking up that glass? For example, what if your heart or lungs stopped working while you started to reach for that glass of water? If that happened, the chances are pretty good that you wouldn’t pick up that glass (or anything else) again. Or how about your legs? What if they stopped supporting you? What if your muscles or arteries didn’t do their job? What would happen if your liver, kidneys or other internal organs suddenly stopped working?
You see, the parts of the body that can’t be seen are just as important as the parts that can be seen. The body can’t survive unless every member does it’s part. There’s simply no room for divisions or exclusions within your physical body- each member of your body must do it’s job or else all the other members are affected.
The same is true for the church, the body of Christ. Each of us has a particular responsibility within the church for which God has specifically gifted us. Like the human body, we each have a particular place and responsibility that has been given to us. So just because your work may not be as noticeable as others doesn’t make it any less important.
If we work together with others within the church body, then tremendous things can be accomplished. But if we reject and exclude others who aren’t part of our group then divisions can occur and very little gets accomplished.
During the time of the American Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin was said to have remarked, “If we don’t hang together, we shall all hang separately.” In the difficult days of the war, Franklin’s meaning was clear- everyone had to stick together if they were to achieve everything they set out to do. If everyone did not work together it would mean failure for sure.
The same is true for us today. Remember- one part of a human body can’t say to another part of the body, “I don’t need you.” In the same way, one part of the body of Christ can’t say to another part, “I don’t need you.” We’re all in this together, for as it says in Romans 12:4…
“Just as there are many parts to our bodies, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of it, and it takes every one of us to make it complete, for we each have different work to do. So we belong to each other, and each needs all the others.”