The Same Mind and the Same Purpose
“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” (1 Corinthians 1:10, NRSV)
The primary reason for Paul's writing the Christians in the church at Corinth is found in verse 10 above. Although Paul's first letter is 16 chapters long, this one verse serves as the synopsis of all Paul is about to say. I think he was perplexed over how things went awry so quickly. When Paul left Corinth after his last visit, things were going well, and the church was rocking along. Unfortunately, word soon reached him in Ephesus that things were falling apart.
As is often the case in seasons of conflict, the lines that divide are unclear and even ambiguous. There is a mix of alliances between people supporting one issue that is not the same alliances that formed on other matters. It's like everyone is standing in a circle and shooting arrows at each other all around the ring. The result is that there is an atmosphere of division and disagreement that breeds distrust and chaos. Based on the reports he received from Chloe's people, Paul surmised the need to address the most basic division he could identify. In his mind, he needed to address the way the conflict had become personality-centered:
"What I mean is that each of you says, 'I belong to Paul,' or 'I belong to Apollos,' or 'I belong to Cephas,' or 'I belong to Christ.'" (1 Corinthians 1:12, NRSV)
Paul is shocked by the way the church divided up into camps and challenged the thinking that is at the root of the conflict. He asks:
"Has Christ been divided?" (1 Corinthians 1:13a, NRSV)
The New Testament scholar, Richard Hays, says,
"[This question is] more precisely translated, 'Has Christ been divided up and parceled out?'"
Often when dissension in the church arises, we are quick to claim that Christ is on OUR side! This appropriation of Jesus is what Hays was referring to as "parceling out Christ." Sometimes we are even bold to say that those who disagree with us are not only wrong; they are not Christian. Paul's letter to the Corinthians highlights that this phenomenon is nothing new, for this is what needed addressing in his day.
The problem with human divisions that separate the sheep from the goats, so to say, is that judgment is the sole domain of God. That's not to say we shouldn't hold each other accountable to the standard of loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is to say we should each hold our opposing positions lightly, except in those cases where the other person is acting in a mean and hurtful way toward another or others.
In a nation of over 14,000 Christian denominations, we've got a lot to learn about what it means for God's people to "be united in the same mind and the same purpose." I hope to see you Sunday as we explore this topic in more depth.