The Apostle Paul exhorts the Corinthians on the matter of unity.
“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of the 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” (1 Corinthians 1:10 NRSV).
Paul sounds like my mother. When my brothers and I had fought long enough, mom brokered our unity by saying, “Now, boys, stop it! No more fighting!”
Paul commands unity. Think about that. When we are at odds, it’s almost always because one or more of us wants to be. If we wanted to “stop it,” we could. Sometimes our principles, which we use as lofty support for contention, become a mask that hides the truth that “we just don’t want to!” (Now that I see it in print I think that “sometimes” is too conservative. “More often than not” hits closer to home.)
Honestly, very few quarrels and divisions in the church trace back to bedrock, kingdom principles we dare not violate. Instead, they trace to the quicksand of preference, comfort and whim. Paul says, “Knock it off. You can stop if you want to.”
What could make us want to? Not the best question. Better to ask who could? Paul makes his appeal “by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” What a brutal fact: Contentment with (and certainly creating) a fractured fellowship reflects disdain for Jesus. Do we want Jesus to be pleased? Do we desire the message of the cross to convey God’s power among us and through us? Then “knock it off!” You can if you want to. If not, then we’ve “dissed” Jesus and dismissed His work.
But suppose we really want to knock it off. We know that the discord results from preference, comfort or whim, and it discredits Jesus’ work. How do we begin?
Paul’s command literally reads, “I appeal to you … that all of you might say the same thing” or “all of you might speak in the same way.” Indeed, how often our words — our carefully crafted rhetoric, the cute slogans composed for verbal combat — sever the body’s living tissue like a surgeon’s scalpel.
But words can also heal. What if a divided body gave serious attention to what they said? What if they agreed to say the same things? In order to do this, they would have to ask, “What words?” What words are important enough, and true enough, that all serious believers should say them? Surely, among those words would be much of what Paul says in the rest of 1 Corinthians 1.
Let me confess, friends, I’m foolish enough to believe that Paul’s counsel offers a powerful resource for the inevitable conflicts we must face. Sometimes we just need to “stop it!” We can, if we want to, and if Jesus means as much to us as we claim. Then, if we can all say the same right, critical words, we’d find our divisions disappearing, yielding a wonderful unity of intention and purpose.
And if that is not enough, let us remember that the Holy Spirit is present and at work in every follower of Jesus and every community of such followers. It is the Spirit who inspires every good and godly impulse. Truly, we can if we want to, for we are not alone and not without Spirit power.
BISHOP DAVID KENDALL is an ordained elder in the Great Plains Conference who was first elected to the office of Free Methodist bishop in 2005. He is the author of “God’s Call to Be Like Jesus” (fmchr.ch/dkcall).0