If you have ever read through the letters of Paul to the church in Corinth, then you know that the congregation there had many issues. From the opening of his first letter, it appears that one of those issues involved ‘divisions‘ (a word that means schisms) among the people. Unfortunately, most of us know by experience that divisions in churches are common and can happen on any number of issues or personality struggles. But I want us to consider how Paul responded to this problem: He was grieved and literally implored or begged the people to resolve those divisions. Going even further, Paul pointed them in the desirable destination: That they would agree with one another and be united in the same mind and same judgments. At first glance, this call from Paul seems almost too ideal. Perhaps, we are tempted to think, Paul means that these people should learn to find things that they could agree on, so as to minimize those things they were divided over. After all, that is a common cry of our culture today – perhaps it was back then: Find common ground. But a deeper dive into this passage would lead us to a different conclusion. (Credit Dr. John Piper here for some excellent work I have read of his on this passage of scripture).
The Greek word for ‘Agree‘ means to ‘say the same thing‘. Paul is asking that the church speak on issues with agreement; one voice. But this is not just a call to say the same things and not mean them. Paul wants our very thoughts to agree, being displayed through our speech. That is why He calls the church to be united in the ‘same mind and judgement’. If, of course, our very thoughts and words agree, then it stands to reason that we will make the same judgement on every issue. So – what is the summary of this brief verse? Paul is not asking the church to ignore their divisions and find points of agreement.Paul is commanding them to replace their divisions with unity, by coming into agreement of thought and speech.
Wow. What a tall order this is! This is a far cry from how we operate in the flesh. Our typical mindset – especially in this country – is to embrace and honor individualistic ideas and accomplishments. And when it comes to joint collaborations – those who can figure out how to meld their own ideas with the ideas of others for some common good are considered great leaders or negotiators. But Paul is setting before the church a very different goal: Not to come to a place of compromise; but rather come to a place of absolute unity and agreement. And immediately we are tempted to think: How is that possible? How could we possibly expect any group of people – no matter how well meaning – to come to agreement in this day and age? What makes this plausible is that the bible does not present the world as we have grown accustom: a place of different views, truths and opinions that all have equal merit. Rather, the bible expresses that there is one truth, one opinion, one view – and one Spirit that applies those truths in the heart of the local church. The good and perfect gift of agreement and unity comes down from the ‘Father of lights’ (James 1:17) and it is realized when His people are willing to stop trying to find unity on their own strength; but instead realize that agreement can only be found as they pursue and abide in the presence of their Father, together.
Of course, this may sound great, yet still leave us with the question: How do we get there from here? I mean after all, this sounds like a long and probably difficult struggle. And the truth is, yes, it will be. But the bible does not leave us without direction. Paul talks about these divisions once again toward the end of 1 Corinthians by asking: ‘that there be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another’ (1 Cor 12:25). In other words, the opposite of division here in this text is to ‘care for one another‘. How do you find agreement in thought and speech? How does a church become united in ideas and opinions? By first, looking to the Father (together in worship, prayer and the word) to provide direction and guidance, while being willing to lay down our own opinions in favor of His. And second, by just loving each other; caring for one another. Rejoicing together, crying together, taking care of each others needs. And as we do those things, more and more we will stop looking for ‘middle ground’ and rather find ourselves standing in unity on the solid rock foundation of Jesus. Amen.