Paul took the time to counsel the Corinthian brothers in this way because he had a deep and sincere love for them, as a father remembering that he was dealing with spiritual babes:
“I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.”
– 1 Corinthians 4:14-17
His reference to himself as their “father through the good news” was not an attempt to usurp or interfere in their relationship with the Father of All. Instead, he was allowing himself to serve as an example of a spiritual man. Sometimes we cannot fully comprehend counsel given only in speech. Sometimes we need to see it in action.
Paul let them know that he would be coming to see them face to face soon, and that the visit could be a loving and mild fellowship or one accompanied by discipline should they not heed the written counsel:
“Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?”
– 1 Corinthians 4:18-21
Apparently, Paul was a bit of a firecracker! Having set the brothers straight as to the divisions that they allowed to spring up, he now turned his attention to the other reports he received about their conduct. The following chapters of this first letter address ways to combat the influence of the Greeks and strengthen their families and the congregation.(1 Corinthians 5:1-12:3) However, in chapter 12, he returns to the matter of unity.
Here, Paul explains that not all Christians have the same gift. There are a variety of ministries, yet they are all one because it is the same spirit that is operating in all of them:
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”
– 1 Corinthians 12:4-11
These various operations of spirit are evidence of the diversity in the Kingdom message and of how our brothers, though manifesting the spirit in different ways, are all united in the one body of Christ.
It should not need to be said to spiritual people, but we will say that it is clear that when Paul is speaking of the united work of the spirit, he is referring to our brothers who are whole soul dedicated to the Father and to the Christ. Those who are not spiritual men and women are not being led by the spirit. (Romans 8:14) But the solution for such ones is not a doctrinal correction, but rather a spiritual correction. They need to understand their sonship with the Father, and our Father and the Christ will take care of the rest.
Paul goes on to expound on our diverse unity in the remaining verses in chapter 12. And he rounds out this letter with further uplifting counsel. We encourage you to read the remaining chapters of this first letter, chapters 13 - 16. The message we wanted to share in this 21st century is the need for Christian unity. Spiritual men and women should not let facts divides us, but we should let the truth unite us.
We learned from this letter that where the physical man sees divisions; the spiritual man sees unity. And when the physical man looks at Apollos, Paul, Cephas, he sees divisions; whereas the spiritual man sees only sons of God and disciples of Christ.
We also learn that the things that appear to divide us – the things we build upon the foundation of Christ – will work themselves out. We do not need to condemn our brothers because they are using ‘building materials’ that differ from our own. Again, Paul is encouraging unity, not uniformity. Racial, national, and social minds may differ, but all mankind is indwelt by the same divine and eternal spirit.
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”
– 1 Corinthians 3:16
It is this commonality of spirit that unites us; and it is greater than anything that divides us – if we allow it to work on our behalf. We will be able to ‘speak in agreement’ if we focus on the weightier spiritual matters instead of the things that can be examined physically.
We pray that Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians moves all of our brothers of whatever faith to allow the spirit to operate on their associations and unite us all so that a greater witness can be given to those who have not found the Christ for themselves.
We encourage our Christian brothers of differing associations to reach out to one another, if only to share a Christian greeting. And if the depth of our love allows, embrace one another and engage in a spiritual interchange with a view to finding our commonalities rather than drawing fictitious lines in the sand. Unless, of course, this sounds like foolishness to you.
And may we all take Paul’s counsel to be ‘perfectly united in mind and thought– the mind of the Christ – and in the same line of thought – spiritual thoughts – all to the Father’s praise. Amen.