Paul’s Plea for Unity

1 Corinthians 1:10-17

David spoke of the pleasure of unity. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is, For brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1). Today, there are nearly two thousand different denominations of Christianity. How enjoyable would it be for men to leave this man-made mass of confusion which leads to doubt and disbelief and return to the one Church of Christ. What if men and women returned to the early church of the New Testament which from the very start were united as one. They “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (Acts 2:42). They “day by day, continued steadfastly with one accord in the Temple” (Acts 2:46). “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart an would” (Acts 4:32).

 Same mindedness

The apostle Paul made the following plea for unity: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and the there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). There are divisions today, because all do not speak the same thing. And so, there is no way that they are perfectly joined together. To be of “the same mind” implies unity of belief or faith and purpose while being of the “same judgment” implies unity of action. This is by no means the first and only time the New Testament commands saints to be of the same mind (2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 2:2). Paul encouraged brethren to be “like-minded one with another” so they could with “one mind and mouth glorify God” (Rom. 15:5,6) Paul said it would be his joy if be “like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord of one mind” (Phil. 2:3). “Let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind” (Phil. 3:16)

Religious Division Condemned

Some will argue that there is one body, but it is divided up into many different denominations. When the first sign of denominationalism reared its divisive head, Paul condemned it. “Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:12,13a). Paul rebukes this by way of three questions (1 Cor. 1:13). “Is Christ divided?” NO! “That there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25). “Was Paul crucified for you?” NO! Christ died to purchase them. “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20). “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” No! “And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized” (Ac. 18:8). But, if Christ was crucified for them and they were baptized in Christ’s name, then those who claimed, “I am of Christ” were correct, because these two necessary conditions have been fulfilled.

Today, many will say “I am a Baptist” or “I am a Mormon” or “I am a Lutheran.” Martin Luther understood the passage well when he wrote: “I pray you to leave my name alone and call not yourself Lutherans, but Christians. who is Luther?…I have not been crucified for anyone. Paul would not let them call themselves after Paul…but of Christ. How then does it befit me, a miserable bag of dust and ashes to give my name to the children of God? Cease, my dear friends, to clinging to these party names and distinctions; away with all; and let us call ourselves only Christians…” (Life Of Luther, Stork, p. 289).

Paul’s Mission

Paul’s comments to the Corinthians in 1:17 have been confusing for some: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect” (1 Cor. 1:17). It does not say that Paul did not baptize. It does not say that Paul did not preach the essentiality of baptism to salvation. It does not say that Paul did not baptize lest some should think baptism was essential to salvation. It does not say the baptism is not part of the Gospel. It does not say that baptism is not essential to salvation. The brethren were dividing up over the preacher who had baptized them (v. 12). For this cause, he thanked God that few were baptized of him, and not that a few were baptized. “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other” (1:14-16).

“Baptism was such an important thing in the view of the early Christians that Paul congratulated himself in having baptized so few at Corinth, lest some should say that he ‘baptized in his own name’ – lest the faith and reverence due to Christ might be ‘divided’ – and a part be transferred to the distinguished administrator. How could this have been, if baptism had been a mere symbol of no vital consequence?” (J. W. Wilmarth, “Baptism and Remission,” Baptist Quarterly, July, 1877, pp. 312,313).

Even the word “sent” demonstrates Paul’s apostolic commission. “Sent” is from the Greek word apesteilen, a cognate of the Greek word for “apostle” (apostolos). It means an official is sent in an authoritative capacity. Paul was sent out as an apostle not so he could baptize, but so he could preach the Gospel (Ac. 9:15,16; 22:14,15; 26:16-20). It is not necessary to be an apostle to baptize.

However, it is necessary to be baptized. Most churches today practice some form of baptism except for the Quakers and the Church of Christ Scientist. Paul, himself, was commanded by a preacher sent from God to “arise and be baptized” to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16). Later, in this same letter to the Corinthians Paul wrote, “for as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:12,13a).

Paul’s plea is the same for us today. We must be united in mind and judgment; in the name of Christ, and in the one baptism. In fact, Paul told the Ephesians of a seven-point plan for unity. “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4:3-6).

– Daniel R. Vess

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