In a time of polarised opinions, what does it mean for followers of Jesus to be unified? As we leaf through the pages of One Corinthians we uncover God's blueprint for a church marked by both diversity and unity. Estimated as being written in AD 53-57 One Corinthians is one of Paul's many letters to the early church found in the the back of the New Testament. One Corinthians is a letter of encouragement and a warning against the tides of culture. It's a call to be both joined together and set apart - written to a group of followers in a seaside city in Ancient Greece with words that still hold sway today.
“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become 'unity' conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.” A.W. Tozer.
Unity doesn't mean we are all the same. Difference doesn't have to cause division. Paul was writing to a church that was divided over leadership. Division is a product and temptation of the fall. Unity is a product of the Spirit. These people were divided over leadership - where are there threats of division within our church? Those in leadership and those not? Those in that small group and not this one? Paul's basically saying they've missed the point. It's all about the gospel. Jesus is the centre! We need to check ourselves. Is our need to be centre pushing Jesus and the good news out?
"Humility is not thinking of yourself as less, it's thinking of yourself less." - C.S. Lewis. If you are truly walking in gospel humility, you'll constantly be amazed by how good God is and how gracious he is to all of us. You are loved, it's not about you, it's all about Jesus. We need to remember that we are not the centre of our lives, Jesus is. This can help us put to death pride and teach us to walk in gospel humility. The bible says that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humility is an eternal attribute of God's children. So let's find a way to practice it now and continue to walk in it the rest of our lives. There is true freedom in the self-forgetful life.
“Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial”...“I will not be mastered by anything”. The bible is really clear on sexual ethics, but people seek more detail around sexual practice than it has given. How do we use our right to do anything to do the right thing? Paul talks about the significance of the body - in relation to resurrection which was dismissed in Corinthian culture where body and spirit were separated. We are united with whom we become one with; whether a prostitute (another Corinthian cultural issue) or Christ. Whereas the Greek concept of the body being inherently unholy and separate to the Spirit led to an unhealthy theology of our bodies and how they’re used. What does embodied spirituality look like in relation to sexuality? Paul believes his freedom to do and be what he chooses is to win people for Christ, rather than for self fulfilment. "No one should seek their own good, but the good of others" (1 Corinthians 10: 24). What we do with our bodies matters.
We need to be doing each stage of life and relationships really well: Singleness & Marriage. Contentment and Submission. When God calls us, God defines us - circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free is not our primary identity. How does this relate to the idolisation of relationships, sex and marriage? We should not be defined by our relationship status - whether it’s the one we want or not. The more content you are when you are single, the more content you’ll be in a relationship. Contentment is cultivated through gratitude.
Being diverse does not need to mean that we are divided, and unity does not need to mean uniformity - being united does not mean that we’re all the same. We don’t need to have the same gifts to operate with the same purpose. In the NIV it states that the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts ‘for the common good’, or the MSG says ‘everyone benefits’. An important thing to remember is that anything God gives us cannot be earned. Grace means that we are generously given what we do not deserve. Our spiritual gifts are not for us, they’re given to us for others. We, like Abraham, are blessed to be a blessing.
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
This passage sheds an interesting light on what church services in the early church must have been like. There was obviously great freedom and informality. Paul is writing to address this. Other than the Apostles there was no local professional ministry. Gatherings were open to anyone who had a gift to use. The freedom and informality may also have felt chaotic. "Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you." 1 Corinthians 14:26 NLT.
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. Once we were wandering around in the dark, now we walk in the light.
In the final chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about giving, honour and encouragement. "On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made." 1 Corinthians 16: 2 Giving to the Church is an expectation when we are living in community. It is an intentional investment into the work of the Church - the work that people we know and love are doing, and it promotes unity with both the local community and the whole Body of Christ. Honouring others is also an expectation in the Church. We want to be part of a culture where we honour one another - a culture where we look for the gold in those around us and call it out in them.