In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul rebukes the Corinthian church for the factions they have created around human leaders. One person in the church says, “I belong to Apollos,” while another person says, “I belong to Paul.” These factions contrasted the unity Jesus intended for the Church to have.
Paul refers to these factions as a sign of the church’s carnal nature. They were not yet ready for the more substantial, deeper mysteries of God. They were held to an elementary understanding of God and His kingdom, due to their alignment with these divisive behaviors.
The word carnal is this context is defined in the King James Greek Lexicon as follows:
“Having the nature of the flesh, i.e. under the control of animal appetites. Governed by mere human nature and not the Spirit of God. Having its seat in the animal nature or aroused by the animal nature. Human: with the included idea of depravity.”
Paul is delivering a clear message. Division and the exaltation of man is a fruit of our human nature. It is primitive, and likened to an animal – a poignant yet genuine truth. In the absence of God’s presence, we are inclined to glory in man and be divided among one another. If this is true, the reverse also stands. The Holy Spirit’s indwelling produces unity in Christ and our glory in Him alone.
Our Call to Unity
What does Paul’s response to division mean for the church?
In 1 Corinthians 3:9, Paul says: For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
He refers to Apollos as a fellow worker in Christ, immediately redirecting any division or strife raised between them as a result of factions. There is no me vs. him mentality – only us together, working for Christ.
Related Post: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work – Even in Church
In the same fashion, the body of Christ should be one of unity. There should never be an our church vs. their church mentality, or an I am of my pastor vs. you are of your pastor mentality. By contrast, if our glory truly rests in Christ, we will be able to embrace the equality of value we all have in Christ. We will not see our church, pastor, or small group as superior to another – instead, we will fix our attention to Christ, which produces the fruit of unity with our brethren.
A Place for Everyone
We will celebrate and honor the work of God in all places. We will understand that this building – the Church – does not belong to us, and neither do the people in it. It all belongs to God, and he will fit pieces together as He sees fit.
Paul, in true discernment and humility, does not claim faulty ownership to the people of God. He understands that God has graced him to be a planter, while Apollos has been graced to water. The gifts flowing through both of these servants work together to produce an edification for God’s building – the Church. How unfortunate it would be if Paul or Apollos attempted to hoard God’s building to themselves!
Division is not befitting to the body of Christ. Glory in man is not the mark of the Holy Spirit. We should be marked by our pure devotion to Christ and unity as one family.
The Heart of Jesus Longs for Unity
This following is an excerpt from Jesus’ prayer to the Father on behalf of believers, right before he was delivered into the hands of those that would crucify Him:
John 17: 22-23 – I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Jesus, our Savior, prays to God the Father that we may have unity. His heart was to see us function as one body – a miracle that would testify of His glory to the entire world. Therefore, this unity is not to be taken lightly. It is at the very epicenter of what Jesus intends for His church to emulate.
Let’s pray that our hearts continue to abide in Him. That He would be the true focus and sole subject of glory in our lives. When this happens, we will be able to function as a family, we will experience an authentic growth that comes from God, and we will be a light to this world.