Text: 1 Cor. 1:10-17
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 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.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
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. 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.
Have you ever known someone who was a name-dropper? You know, a person who is always telling you about this famous person they supposedly know. Most of the time they don’t actually know them. In reality they met them one time, or they know someone who knows them. I’ve even met more than a few Christian name-droppers. They’ll mention how they used to go to Rick Warren’s church or that they’ve talked to John Piper on the phone. In Reformed circles, the fame level goes down but the supposed closeness of the relationship goes up. Someone will claim to have played golf with R C Sproul over in Sanford or to have once been a star student of Sinclair Ferguson’s.
In our circles, the name tends to be Douglas Wilson, and he gets used as a measuring stick all the time. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am a huge fanboy of Doug Wilson’s, and I do like to see how he does things. I probably drop his name, myself. But it is something of a problem for people to allude to “the way Doug would do it” as a sort of trump card. And the irony is that they are often pretty wrong about it. I’ll never forget when I heard Pastor Wilson say at a conference, “If your child doesn’t love the standard your family has set, then you should lower the standard until he can consistently meet it with joy.” My eyes shot out of my head like a Looney Tunes character. “This is the Douglas Wilson saying this thing?” I learned a very important lesson from that. People will often drop a name in order to appear to be an authority on a subject, and they will do this whether or not they actually do know the person they are citing and whether or not they are actually even accurately representing that person. While it’s not a problem to take expert advice, it is a problem to drop names in a way to pull rank and to make yourself appear to be a better, wiser, or stronger Christian. This is a problem that Christians fall into, and it is not a new problem.
Contentious for Personality
Yes, the problem of rallying around famous religious teachers is a perennial problem, and we see it in this first chapter of 1st Corinthians. Paul says:
For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 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. 1:11-12)
The names here are names of early church teachers. Paul, we know. He’s the apostle writing this letter. Apollos is mentioned in the book of Acts, and we are told there that he was a very eloquent speaker who was successful in attracting a large following (Acts 18:24-28) Cephas is another name for the Apostle Peter. And then the last name is a reference to Jesus Himself. What this shows us is that there were parties within the church who would cite their favorite teacher and claim to have some special relationship with him which would make them superior to the others. This created division within the church and introduced a sort of hierarchy with some Christians claiming to be better, wiser, or more legitimate than the others.
Now, it is most certainly the case that the people claiming these famous names were not actually being faithful to the teachings of the men they were naming. Had Apollos or Peter known about this situation, they would have agreed with Paul that the whole thing stunk to high heavens. And don’t miss the fact that people even did this with the name of Christ. They cited Jesus and their supposedly special relationship with Him as a way to not have to listen to their local church pastor.
As I said, we have this same sort of thing today. There are folks who are always naming their favorite pastor or theologian, but there are also folks who say, “No, no, we don’t follow the traditions of men. We only follow Jesus.” And then those folks go on to set up their own tradition and special set of distinctives. They end up making themselves out to be the stronger and wiser Christian, and they put down other Christians in their local church and in their everyday lives.
3 Antidotes to Division: The Same Speech, the Same Mind, and the Same Judgment
When we read this whole section in context, we see that the problem isn’t in the fact that the Corinthians are following the teachings of these leaders, nor is it in the fact that they have been baptized or have a high view of baptism. No, it is good to sincerely follow the teachings of the apostles, and it is certainly good to follow the teachings of Christ. Likewise, baptism was something commanded by Jesus. The problem is in rallying around these personalities in order to create splits within the church. Paul particularly highlights the problem of being likeminded and he describes it as “speaking the same thing” and having “the same mind” and “the same judgment.” In verse 10 he says, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” This is the kind of unity Paul is talking about. There are three parts mentioned, and let’s briefly take a look at each one.
First, Paul says that we should “speak the same thing.” This doesn’t mean that we need to have the same rhetorical abilities, the same accent, or the same tone of voice. It also doesn’t mean that we need to have all the same hobbies so that we are always “talking about” the same thing in an earthly way. No, it refers to our profession of faith. We need to profess the same gospel and, to an extent, the same doctrine.
Secondly, Paul says that we should “be perfectly joined together in the same mind.” This is related to having the same doctrine, but it ought to also remind you of what he writes in the letter to the Philippians:
Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11)
This masterful passage teaches us that the “mind” Christians should share is none other than the mind of Christ. It isn’t primarily about ideas or doctrine, though those will come up, but humility. The mind of Christ does nothing through selfish ambition, but esteems others better than Himself. The mind of Christ is willing to humble Himself even unto death for the sake of sinners who are actually not as good as He is. He still esteems their good better than His own life. He sees that the path to true exaltation is through sacrifice and lowliness.
Yes, if we all share this “mind,” if we are perfectly joined together in the mind of Christ, then we will have unity. If everyone is looking out for the needs of others before their own needs, then church splits will not happen. Divisions and “classes” within the church will be impossible.
Thirdly in this list of unifying factors, Paul says that we need to be united in “judgment.” But we need to be careful in defining this word. The Greek word that is used here is very interesting. It is not the typical word that would be used for making a legal ruling. The word for that sort of judgment is krino. Krino is the kind of judgment that Jesus warns against in Matthew 7:1. It’s also the word used for divine judgment in Romans 2, 1 Cor. 11:29, and elsewhere. No, instead of krino, Paul here asks us to have the same gnómé. Gnómé is a more subjective term which has to do with using your reason to make tricky decisions in light of your larger purpose. You might associate this with wisdom rather than simply law. This is actually the word used in Philemon 1:14 which is translated “consent.” “Without your consent, I wanted to do nothing,” Paul writes there. Gnómé is also translated as “advice” in 2 Cor. 8:10-11, “In this I give advice: it is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago, but no you also must complete the doing of it…” Paul’s “judgment” in that passage is his “advice.”
Perhaps the place where gnómé is best illustrated comes a little later in 1 Corinthians itself. In 1 Cor. 7, verses 25 and 40, Paul uses gnómé to refer to a course of action that he thinks is best, but he contrasts it against a “commandment from the Lord.” Listen to these two verses, “Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy” (1 Cor. 7:25). Also, “A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my judgment—and I think I also have the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 7:39-40). In both of those passages, Paul is dealing with a potentially difficult moral situation. He states that there is no law or commandment which requires the course of action he prescribes, but he nevertheless goes on to give his “judgment” about what he believes is the best thing to do. He then says that He is trustworthy and that the Spirit of God has given him wisdom.
So what we can see is that this “same judgment” Paul is calling us to is not a simple uniformity in knowing the law of God. Now, it is actually a call to have the same kind of wisdom or discretion. Paul wants us to be mature Christians who can think on our feet and make wise decisions in complex situations. Being able to do this will allow us to know when to draw hard and fast lines of division and when to allow disagreement. This is really the key thing to church unity, and it’s the most difficult. It must be built upon the shared profession and the shared mind of Christ. In order to have wise judgment, we must first have the gospel and gospel humility.
We see this kind of wise judgment in a few places throughout the Bible. Perhaps the most famous is King Solomon’s judgment over the two women. You remember the story, don’t you? In 1 Kings 3, two women come to Solomon, each claiming to be the mother of the same baby. No one is quite sure how to tell the difference, and so Solomon says, “Ok. Let’s just split the baby into two, and give half to each woman.” Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it? But Solomon never intended to actually do that. When the women heard this, their reactions gave them away. The first woman, “yearned with compassion for her son; and she said, ‘O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!’ But the other said, ‘Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him’ (1 Kings 3:26). And so Solomon said, “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother” (1 Kings 3:27). There was no mere law or policy for deciding this sort of question, and so Solomon used wisdom to discover the truth. He knew that the real mother could not bear to have her son killed, but that the false mother would be willing to settle for a sort of “misery loves company” equality. Solomon’s “plan” to split the baby in half revealed the women’s true motives and thus showed who was who. This is Biblical wisdom.
This kind of wisdom goes beyond simple black and white legal positivism. It knows that there is more to life than just rules. It tries to locate the motivations and the disposition of the heart. It looks for the greatest purpose, and then it tries to bring everything else into consistency with that purpose.
Indeed, this kind of “judgment,” this wise discernment which keeps “the main thing” first, is what allows Paul to say this:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you. (1 Cor. 9:19-23)
Have you ever “become as weak” in order to win the weak? Some of us might scoff at the suggestion, but if we do scoff then we reveal how out of step our judgment is with that of the Apostle Paul’s. We often do not want to win the weak if it means becoming weak ourselves, and this shows that we are still dealing with a sort of pride, a sort of self-righteousness. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of church splits come from sinners not wanting to appear weak in the eyes of others but trying to “prove their point,” even at the expense of the greater mission.
The Prideful Claims of Men Nullify the Cross of Christ
Paul says that prioritizing the name and reputation of men over the effects of the gospel actually nullifies the cross of Christ. At the end of this section on unity he writes: “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).
“Lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect…” Let that sink in. Paul says that partisanship and exalting the name and reputation of men can actually take away the efficacy of the cross! No, as good Calvinists we might say that this is impossible. Nothing can thwart the will of a sovereign God, and nothing can undo the efficacy of the atonement. And both of those statements are true. But the reason that the Apostle can still talk the way that he does is that neither of those truths happen up in the abstract but must actually be applied in real time and history, and if we behave in such a way to contradict the gospel we espouse, then we will actually end up proclaiming a false gospel and we will turn people away or crush weaker brothers.
Prioritizing the reputation of men and even our own high-standing is also a big problem because it is a kind of self-righteousness. It sets up our abilities, particularly our sophisticated understanding, in the place of God’s grace. And like all self-righteousness, it is also a form of legalism, as we will inevitably subject others to our supposedly great understanding and make them submit to our rules rather than God’s. Compare this to what Paul says in Galatians 5: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing” (Gal. 5:1-2).
“Christ will profit you nothing” if you become slaves to the law. This is the same problem we see in theological snobbery or divisions according to men. Rallying around men contradicts the message that God saves sinners solely ought of His free grace, and in doing that it makes the cross of Christ of no effect.
This is actually an incredibly difficult thing to achieve, and that is why it requires wisdom, grace, and love. We must have unity that is based on the gospel and has a backbone. We cannot compromise on the essentials or fail to proclaim God’s truth. But we must not add up additional requirements or force people to adhere to the mere traditions of men. Our unity cannot become the unity of men and works’ righteousness. It has to be a unity founded on the gospel of grace. How do we do this?
There is an old slogan which is often wrongly attributed to Augustine, perhaps precisely because of his name value. It actually comes from a little-known 17th century Lutheran. You probably haven’t ever heard of him, but you probably have heard of the saying. It goes like this: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” This is a good guide to a proper unity.
This means that we identify what really is commanded and really is required. We must have agreement on this and submission to the word of God. But then we must identify what isn’t actually required, and we must be careful not to claim that our judgment, as good as it might be, is a divine law. Indeed, we must allow liberty and therefore diversity. We must be agreed that this diversity is permissible and even good. But this diversity has to exist within a context of voluntary submission, where we do agree to follow certain rules and directions in order to keep peace and do things in an orderly way. We might even disagree with these rules, but we know that they are not being promoted to the level of divine law but rather are being used as wise judgment to help us. And this can only happen if we are doing everything in charity, or love. We must set the needs of others above our own, and we must prioritize the gospel and the salvation of sinners above lesser doctrines and distinctives. We must “speak the same thing” by sharing the same basic gospel. But we must also have the same mind, which is the mind of Christ. That mind will lead us into humility, and that humility will allow us to form a shared judgment together. With that spiritual wisdom we can dwell together in harmony.
Let us pray.