Unity In Truth & Love

Scripture Reading: The Wicked Man of Proverbs 6:12–19

A worthless person, a wicked man,
Walks with a perverse mouth;
He winks with his eyes,
He shuffles his feet,
He points with his fingers;
Perversity is in his heart,
He devises evil continually,
He sows discord.

Therefore his calamity shall come suddenly;
Suddenly he shall be broken without remedy.

These six things the LORD hates,
Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
A proud look,
A lying tongue,
Hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that are swift in running to evil,
A false witness who speaks lies,
And one who sows discord among brethren.

— Proverbs 6:12–19
NKJV

Introduction

I’d like you to imagine with me a church. In your mind’s eye picture a church, but not just any church.

Imagine in this church that they come together for the Lord’s supper, and they’re each responsible for bringing their serving of the fruit of the vine and the unleavened bread; but instead, some bring full meals while others have nothing to bring at all. And that these so-called brethren don’t even share what they have with one another; and further still some of them get drunk in their assemblies.

Imagine that these men and women full of philosophy and the wisdom of this age tolerate and accept deep and vile sin in their midst but bicker over who has the greater spiritual gifts; speaking in tongues, healing, prophesying, all the while forgetting love.

In this church there are open factions among members. In this church the brothers and sisters are even suing one another in courts of law.

This, of course, is the church at Corinth in the first century.

A Challenging Fellowship

We would probably have a hard time worshiping with such a group. And it seems that both Paul and Apollos were also a little hesitant to visit them in such a condition.

But Paul was a man who was willing to do the hard things of life. So he writes them to admonish them to repent back to the Lord and walk in unity in the bond of peace, lest he be forced to come with a rod of correction for their stubborn backs.

Sinning So Fast

Now how does so much sin enter into one church so fast? Well, it is a combination of geography and economy. The Corinthian brethren were not by nature especially wired up for doing evil; But they did live in a peculiar place and time that made it a lot easier.

Corinth sits on an isthmus in Greece. This narrow strip of land divides Northern Greece from the south; and the Corinthian Gulf in the west from the Saronic Gulf in the East.

Figure 1. Map of the Mediterranean Sea
Figure 2. Map of Corinth

This spot’s important because the seas around the south are dangerous. So rather than risk their ships, in those treacherous seas, they would arrive in one of the harbors and have their goods (and sometimes their whole ships) transported to the harbor on the other side of the city.

This system put a lot of money and a lot of people through the city of Corinth.

But there is still more. The temple of Aphrodite (aka. Venus) the goddess of love was also in Corinth. And so they had a lot of prostitution sanctioned under the guise of religious activity.

This normalization of sexual promiscuity and great wealth from trade and industry makes for fertile ground for sin and corruption to enter in.

This is the normalization of sexual promiscuity and greed. Does that sound like any place we might know today?

Corinth and America have quite a few things in common; whole industries devoted to debauchery, for instance. I mean, those temple prostitutes were the porn stars of their day.

Back in the day, people thought Corinth was wealthy, but here we sit in the most prosperous country in the history of the world. With access to almost anything we could want; and with information right at our fingertips all of the time.

Clearly, there are still lessons for us in the book of 1 Corinthians. The first lesson Paul seeks to teach us is to be unified in Christ without a sectarian spirit.

That’s really the big theme of the book, unity in truth and in love; which is had only in Christ Jesus.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

1 Corinthians 1:1

Paul is called by the will of God to be sent out into the world to preach the good news of the Christ that all of mankind can enter into His kingdom.

Paul had a zeal for God which God turned to a love for the souls of men.

In 1st and 2nd Corinthians Paul unpacks some of the cost of this labor of love. Suffice to say, it is no small thing to be sent by God.

The Christ says of Paul that He will show him how much he must suffer for the name of Jesus. And suffer he did.

1 Corinthians 1:2

This passage is a fantastic setup for what is to come. Paul is calling them out to remind them of what they are about.

They are the church of God.

The ‘of’ indicates ownership. They are those who have been called out by God, to strive in the epic battle with Him against good and evil.

Sanctified in Christ Jesus

We are set aside for God’s holy purposes, made new creatures in order to do good work. We are saints & holy ones by the calling of Jesus; for we are to be holy as He is holy. The brotherhood is by nature those who are God’s own possession, those who have been sanctified in Christ and who call on His name as Lord over their lives.

Jesus rightly asks in Luke 6:46

Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?

That’s a fair question. If you’re going to call yourself a Christian then you’ve got to do what He says; make your best effort to follow closely to Him.

Notice the intense unity of this one verse.
  • the church of God

  • with all in every place

  • their Lord and ours

Paul is pulling them in with all the other brethren, because their arrogance has divided where no division should be laid.

Just because they’re in fancypants Corinth doesn’t make them better. In fact, given the Corinthian reputation for immorality it is not a name I’d want to bear. Kind of like if I say the name Las Vegas, that conjures up all sorts of images of lust, greed, and extravagance. Not that everyone from Vegas practices such things, but the stereotype still exists.

1 Corinthians 1:3

Paul has blended the Greek and Hebrew greetings. The Greeks greeted one another with “grace to you,” which is a way of wishing someone a bright, prosperous, and joyous day. Taken in the Christian context Paul is wishing the grace of God upon them.

Now let’s consider the Hebrew side of the greeting. The Hebrews said, “peace be to you” which was a call to have peace with God, with man, and even with yourself.

It is fitting that the apostle Paul the Hebrew sent to the Greeks would be one to blend both greetings to form a Christian greeting of both joy and peace. After all, everything that is good flows from God our Father through the Lord Jesus Christ; For Jesus is the source of grace and peace for mankind with God.

Of course today, we say, “have a good day.”

What do we mean when we say this? What exactly is good? Even our own greeting can have a lot of meaning if we are indeed wishing someone goodness in both what happens to them and what they do. Their ultimate good, of course, being their reconciliation with God. So grace and peace to you, my fine reader.

1 Corinthians 1:4-9

God is the source of grace given to us through Christ Jesus.

This grace is given to the Corinthians. Now, they are not especially good people, nor especially bad people. But it is not in our personal merits that this grace is given. Instead, this grace is His gift to all who are in the Christ.

Paul is pointing them to that moment that they were nailed to the cross of Christ and to His name; that moment when they received the grace of God.

For there is a moment when all Christian’s are put into the Christ; a moment where they come to properly bear His name.

Paul tells us in Romans 6:3–7 when that moment is.

3Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7for he who has died is freed from sin.

— Romans 6:3–7
NASB95

From this basic fact, Paul continues to tie them, and by extension us, to Jesus; for we have nothing without Him. We are enriched in all things through the Christ. Without Jesus, we don’t have true speech. Without the revelation of Jesus as the Christ, we don’t really have true religion. And without Jesus we don’t have true knowledge of the what’s what in the universe and man’s role in it.

The testimony has been established by signs and wonders, but it is also established in the transformed lives of the saints. For these are all the gifts of God.

With such joy and peace and great gifts in the Lord, all Christians should be eagerly awaiting the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. For that day will be at the perfect time, and we who are in the Christ will be blameless before God.

For God is faithful to those in the fellowship with Christ Jesus. To those who have submitted to Him as Lord, for these are granted a fellowship of the calling. By being fellows in the ark of Christ, we are all heading in the same direction.

1 Corinthians 1:10-17

As we saw from the scripture reading in Proverbs, the one who sows discord among brethren is an abomination in the eyes of God.

An abomination is

A thing God hates; A thing that is foreign to God and His ways an affront to Him and His holiness.

Sowing discord among the brethren is then a real evil.

The apostle Paul is so disgusted by their factionalism that he thanks God that he didn’t baptize too many lest anyone learn of their sectarian tendencies and think that he baptized anyone in his own name.

And his concern makes a lot of sense. Think about this question for a minute. Who started the Lutheran church?

If you didn’t know better, you might think that Martin Luther made it. If you ask Google, that is precisely what you’ll get.

But that is apparently not what Luther really wanted at all. In fact, he said something akin to what Paul said.

“I pray you leave my name alone, and not call yourselves Lutherans, but Christians. Who is Luther? My doctrine is not mine. I have not been crucified for anyone. St. Paul would not that anyone should call themselves of Paul, nor of Peter, but of Christ.

How, then, does it befit me, a miserable bag of dust and ashes, to give my name to the children of Christ? Cease, my dear friends, to cling to those party names and distinctions; away with them all! And let us call ourselves only Christians, after Him from whom our doctrine comes.

It is quite proper that the Papists should bear the name of their party; because they are not content with the name and doctrine of Jesus Christ, they will be Papists besides. Well, let them own the Pope, as he is their master. For me, I neither am, nor wish to be, the master of anyone. I and mine will contend for the sole and whole doctrine of Christ, who is our sole master.”

— Martin Luther
Luther Werke ii p. 4

Denominationalism

If only they would have listened to him. Perhaps we wouldn’t have so many denominations today. Perhaps we would have more unity in truth and love. That true and lovely fellowship had only in Christ Jesus. This is yet another truth we must gird ourselves with.

The divisions of “Christendom” into numerous ecclesiastical bodies which differ in doctrine, organization, tradition, and values sows discord among those who are supposed to be brethren through Christ and sows confusion of the truth of God with the lies of the devil.

This is a result of religious pluralism.

Pluralism

Is a condition in which two or more sources of authority exist; where more than one ultimate principle is recognized as authoritative.

Christian pluralism is what we have today with the vast array of denominations; Which are pushing over 10,000. The very notion that we can all be one under Christ and yet be in various denominations that teach different things is a logical impossibility, unless Christ is the author of confusion.

Now some try and defend this state of affairs as an acceptable thing, or even a good thing. In fact I have heard it so argued from John 15:1-2 as a proof text. Let’s read it.

Now if we just stop there and don’t seriously examine the context then we can apply this idea to denominational groups. And, we could likewise account for the rise and fall of such groups.

But, of course:

a proof text without a context is just a pretext for false doctrine.

So let’s put this verse back into context so we can learn what Jesus is actually talking about.

John 15:1-11

Here we have Jesus talking to His apostles. So some might make the case that this is a specific instruction to these fellows alone.

But Jesus, says right in verse 6:

“If anyone does not abide in Me…?”

This passage applies to all who would seek to avoid the destruction of the fires of hell.

This passage cannot be used to justify the various denominations as mere branches from the vine of Christ, because Jesus in no way intimates that such divisions are in view. Rather, He very specifically talks about the need of the individual.

He uses words like you, him, anyone, he, disciples, and your. There is a definite sense that Jesus is talking to the individual disciple here; especially in verse 6, where He talks about casting them into the fire.

For this passage to defend denominationalism we must see that churches are so burned up as a whole unit. Yet we see no such thing in scripture. We do see whole churches being chastised and warned against the apostasy, of course.

For instance, we see in the churches of revelation warnings to those who transgress to repent lest they have their lamp-stand removed. That is, to no longer be considered by Christ to be a part of His body.

As in the letter to the corrupt church in Thyatira at Revelation 2:24–28 but He concludes by saying:

24 ‘But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you. 25‘Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. 26 ‘He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS; 27AND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father; 28and I will give him the morning star.

— Revelation 2:24–28
NASB95

As if that wasn’t enough, we have a letter to the dead church of Sardis.

Where Jesus closes with this Revelation 3:4–5

4 ‘But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 ‘He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.

— Revelation 3:4–5
NASB95

Now if the branches from the Vine of Christ are congregations or denominations then these notes to these brethren in Revelation just don’t make much sense.

For under John 15:6 these congregations or groups must stand or fall together.

Such is the logical conclusion of the position that John 15:1-2 is referring to denominations; not that it is so argued, though, rarely are the logical conclusions of false ideas espoused by their proponents.

Of course, if you know of a stronger defense of denominations I’d be delighted to hear it. I’ve no interest in taking shots at a straw-man after-all.

I, however, have found no grounds in scripture for the many denominations in the world.

Sectarianism

And In the United States alone, there are more than 10,000 denominations. THIS is an abomination. Truth is not fractured. Christ is not divided.

The root of this disease is sectarianism. The question we must deal with is simply this. Can the church which Christ owns as His body actually be divided and the two pieces still be considered His body?

In 1 Corinthians 12, we learn that the church is His body and He is the head over this body, that we are each individually members of this one body; some acting as mouth, some hands, some back, some feet, etc.

That is, some are speakers, some manage things with their hands, some carry loads as a back does, some move things forward as feet do; each laboring in their proper strength and ability.

Sectarianism destroys this unifying idea and clumps those who want to labor as feet into one camp, and those who want to labor as mouths in another, and so on.

This, too, is an abomination. For we must have the strengths of all members brought to bear on the great weight that is our commission on this earth; to shine forth the gospel of Christ.

When some want to divide the body of Christ in true division they seek to sin against the Christ and His body. They violate the unity of the whole.

Sometimes sin must be cast out of the body but that is to remove the disease of sin from the body using the healing balm of the gospel of the great physician to restore health.

Such action must be done in humility and grace and not with a high hand. We cannot judge entire congregations as a unit. Even our Lord doesn’t do this; how then can we dare to tread where even the heavenly judge does not? It is a grievous thing to lay down rules and procedures where such are not proscribed by the heavenly head. Let us be filled with fear of the Lord in the administration of our duties.

These sectarians of Corinth share many of the same qualities as those of our day.

In Corinth they said,

I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, I am of Christ.

Today they may say, I am of Luther, or Wesley, or Calvin.

But we must be of no such name. Nor can we partake of the poison of denominational creeds. Christ is not divided. Only the Christ and His perfect sacrifice redeems men. Only His church is our spiritual family. His word is our only way. And Heaven is our only home.

Factionalism

There must not be any factions among us. This is the seed of sectarianism which breeds denominationalism.

We must not be the sort who bickers and fights. Divorce from the body is off the table for the truth seeker. The only exception being apostasy from the truth of God; and even this demands a patient process of pursuing those who have so fallen.

As it says in Galatians 6:1–5

1Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. 5For each one will bear his own load.

— Galatians 6:1–5
NASB95

We do not reject a man out of hand, for we all fall from time to time; and we have all been graciously redeemed by God.

Instead, labor in love over our beloved brethren and seek their ultimate good which is found in Christ Jesus. For we are to be holy as He is holy.

And yet, we are told to reject the factious man. The one who would seek to fracture the body of Christ with his worthless controversies.

As Paul says in Titus 3:9–11

9But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, 11knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.

— Titus 3:9–11
NASB95

This is how seriously God takes the divisive spirit. It is an abomination against the God of Peace and Reconciliation.

The Christ didn’t come to perpetuate or exacerbate the divisive tendencies of mankind. Rather He sought to draw spirit minded people to Him that He might make a new people for Himself a people saved by His Gospel call.

For our part, we are tasked with rightly dividing the word of truth, And girding our hearts and minds with it.

Yet we are not a wrangling sort of people. We are truth seekers, aiming toward that upward prize, heaven above in peace with the God of all righteousness.

So we are here exhorted with the Corinthians:

Brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, let every one of us speak the same things that there be no divisions among us. Let us be united completely of the same mind and the same judgment.

Let us study our Bibles so that we will all know God’s will and not overlook any of His answers. Let us pray fervently for spiritual growth and for unity. Let us love God and our brethren in all the ways that the New Testament shows us. Let us become more interested in edifying one another. Let us get busy teaching the lost. Let us go about doing good every day. Let us look to ourselves that we become more useful as instruments of righteousness rather than as sources of division.

13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

— 1 Corinthians 12:13
NASB95

And so let us bear the fruit of the Spirit. Let’s increase the harvest in our own lives and help one another along the way.

Invitation to Grace and Peace

Entering into the grace and peace of our Lord is a straight forward proposition.

To drink of the one Spirit, we must firstly know who Jesus is. For He is the lamb of God who was slain to redeem all of mankind from sin. His blood was shed, that our sins may be washed away and that we would be children of the heavenly father, adopted sons and daughters. (Gal 3:26-27)

Having so believed, that Jesus is the Christ sent to save man from sin and death, we are called to repent from sin and to turn to God and Christ to follow the Christ as our good Shepherd and to make Him Lord over our lives.

And having so determined in our hearts we are to call upon the name of Jesus before men and to be baptized into His death that we might partake of His resurrection in the great day of the Lord.

From this, we joyously go forward walking in newness of life to be confirmed on that day blameless before God.

We walk in good works, not to earn salvation, for that is not ours to purchase, but rather because of our salvation which is poured out in the lavish grace of God through Christ Jesus.

And so we are called to this sanctification, to this divine purpose to this fellowship with God through Christ Jesus, to join this one body of believers.

If you are of a mind to heed the calling today, and be reconciled with God in peace through His gracious mercy let us know of your desire for we would be delighted to bear witness of your confession and to baptize you in Christ’s baptism today.

Appendix A: Appendix of Verses | by order of appearance

  • Proverbs 6:12-19

  • 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

    • 1 Corinthians 1:1

    • 1 Corinthians 1:2

      • Luke 6:46

    • 1 Corinthians 1:3

    • 1 Corinthians 1:4-9

      • Romans 6:3-7

    • 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

      • John 15:1-2

      • John 15:1-11

        • Revelation 2:24-28

        • Revelation 3:4-5

        • John 15:6

        • Galatians 6:1-5

        • Titus 3:9-11

        • 1 Corinthians 1:10

        • 1 Corinthians 12:13

    • Galatians 3:26-27

Glossary of Key Terms

Abomination

A thing God hates; A thing that is foreign to God and His ways, an affront to Him and His holiness.

Denominationalism

The mindset that having numerous ecclesiastical bodies which differ in doctrine, organization, tradition, and values is acceptable (aka “Christian” pluralism); the state of having many denominations.

Pluralism

A condition in which two or more sources of authority exist; where more than one ultimate principle is recognized as authoritative.

Sectarianism

Excessive attachment to a particular sect or party.

Factionalism

Having the disposition to engage in foolish, unprofitable, or worthless controversies (cf. Titus 3:9-11).