by Rev. Tommy Williams
While away on sabbatical earlier in the summer, I began reading through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and it spoke to me in a very contemporary way. The church of Corinth was extraordinarily divided. The Roman empire around Corinth was very complex and had its own conflicts.
The time we live in is also very divided along many different lines. The Church, in many unfortunate ways, mirrors that culture of division. The United Methodist Church—of which we are a part—globally struggles with division.
So, in some ways, I was comforted by rediscovering I Corinthians because it gave me hope. Division has always been a challenge for people and for the Church, and yet we can learn how to live together in the middle of deep divides. We can find reconciliation in Christ. I pray this weekly Bible study will offer some historical and biblical context for our contemporary struggles and will give us hope for reconciliation too.
Let's begin by examining I Corinthians 1:1–10:
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
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.
As we know from his other epistles, Paul usually opens with greetings to a particular person or community. He does so here in verses 1–3. Then, as a faithful rhetorician, he affirms the gift of that community before he offers correction. “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift…” Paul writes in verse 7. He bolsters the community by reminding them that what they need to face the present challenges of division are gifts they already possess as the body of Christ. The gifts of God have been given to the Church; God's strength and faithfulness is what called the Church together in the beginning and will sustain it (v. 7–9).
In verse 10, Paul makes his “appeal” for the Church to have “no divisions…but be of the same mind and the same purpose.” A tall order, then and now! We soon find out about the specific divisions that have occurred in the Corinthian church and why there are problematic. We will pick up next week on some of these specific divisions.
For now, reflect and pray with me about what it is to be of the same mind and same purpose in Christ. Does this mean uniformity of thought? What is it to have “sameness” in a diverse community? These are certainly challenging questions for us in 2018, but they are not new questions.
Feel free to leave a comment about what it looks like to be "united in the same mind and the same purpose" (v. 10)?