Week of Nov. 8

Unifying a Divided House

Read: Job 33; 1 Corinthians 1-3

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
1 Corinthians 1:10, ESV


Abraham Lincoln, the newly nominated senatorial candidate, addressed the Illinois Republican Convention on 16 June 1858 in which he warned that the nation faced “a crisis that could destroy the Union” (History). In that speech he paraphrased a New Testament passage of scripture by stating “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Hold on to this thought because there is a profound moral point to be made, but not yet. Look now at our focal passage today and consider the implications of a divided church! Corinth was such a church, but we often fail to see the root causes for their division. Let’s examine those today.

A Biblical Lens

Let’s establish the context for Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. The Corinthian church was most likely founded during Paul’s second missionary church (ca. A.D. 51) and the letter was penned around A.D. 54-55. The precipitating cause for the letter was quarreling in the fellowship (cf. 1:11).

Squabbling may lead us to believe that their troubles were not all that serious, but their problems were many: division in their church fellowship (1:11-3:4), handling properly those who sin (5:1-13; cf. Matthew 7:1-5), sexuality in marriage and divorce (7:1-40; cf. Matthew 5:27-32), ministering to one another through church worship (11:2-34; cf. Matthew 6:1-18), disputes about food and their former pagan lifestyles (8:1-11:1; cf. Matthew 7:12), and injustices that surfaced between the haves and the have-nots in that church (11:21). The amount and severity of the problems required some drastic measures to overcome their broken fellowship.

We need to consider what the root of their problems may have been. First, because of its strategic location, the city of Corinth had two ports. It was termed the “bridge of the seas,” because cargo from the Aegean Sea could be offloaded and transported across to the opposite port on the Corinthian Gulf that opened up the Adriatic Sea. Goods shipped from Rome to Asia used the city as a port. They had job opportunities, wealth, and culture as a result of these things.

Secondly, the city was also known for two pagan deities. Citizens worshiped Poseidon, the god of the seas, and Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual love. From the veneration of nature to body worship, the Corinthians demonstrated great depravity. Now, look once again at the fellowship struggles mentioned above, and it will begin to be apparent the root causes. So, what was the remedy?

Paul “appeals” (implores) to the church from a positive perspective to have a united testimony (“speak the same thing”). The glue that holds that unity together is their harmony in and mutual confession of Christ. The negative angle for his plea rests on the fact that he does not want there to be “cracks” or “fractures” in their Christian community. The basis for this appeal is the authority of Jesus Christ. Christ’s own sacrifice on the cross was what tore down the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles and brought peace (Ephesians 2:14).

A Moral Pathway

Abraham Lincoln’s “house divided” speech, as it has come to be known, likely cost him the Senate race because there were many who thought that his views were too radical. History has proven Lincoln to be right because he understood moral implications about the issue of slavery. Either it would be brought to its extinction, or it would be allowed to grow which would surely lead to its expansion. Doing nothing about it was unacceptable. The surface issues were economic and political, but Lincoln knew that any nation that was not unified on the value of human life could not ultimately flourish. He saw the moral truth and pursued it.

Paul saw the moral truth and pursued it in Corinth. The root issue there was selfish worship. They showed a lack of fidelity to their covenant with Christ who shed his blood in order that they may be unified. They also demonstrated a lack of loyalty to their brothers and sisters in Christ (cf. Mark 12:29-31). Their self-centeredness had blinded them to the many ways that they were enslaving their very own brothers and sisters in Christ. If there is fellowship trouble in your church, then check your loyalties to Christ and each other.

For Your Journaling

1. There is much division in the Body of Christ at this time. Write down areas where there are disagreements. What is the root of the schism?

2. How may Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection bring unity to your church fellowship?

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock