1 Corinthians 1:10-25
Unity at the Table
What action have you taken to build bridges in the church?
Liberal and conservative congregations. Rich and poor. Traditional and contemporary. Black and white and brown. Native-born and immigrant. Gay and straight.
Clearly, there are divisions in the church, and such splitting has been going on for centuries. Some people joke that Christians have a strange approach to math: They actually multiply by division!
The apostle Paul would not be amused. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he challenges his followers to maintain the unity of the church: “Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
Paul calls for agreement, but he is not naïve about the challenge of unity. For starters, he knows that there is gossip in the church, which is usually a destructive force — in the first century and today. “Chloe’s people gave me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other,” he writes. “What I mean is this: that each one of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ ‘I belong to Apollos,’ ‘I belong to Cephas,’ ‘I belong to Christ’” (verses 11 and 12).
Is this a terrible thing? Not really. The church needs inspirational leaders such as Paul, Apollos, Pope Francis, and Beth Moore, and it is natural that leaders will have followers. But at the end of the day we should all proclaim ‘I belong to Christ.’ Our challenge is to live in unity, not in rival groups.
Paul actually makes fun of anyone who puts a church leader in the place of Jesus Christ. “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name?” (verse 13). Of course not! Christ was crucified for each of us, we were all baptized in the name of Christ, and Christ cannot be divided. Therefore, concludes Paul, the church should not be divided.
So how do we work to achieve unity in the church? No one can wave a magic wand and make divisions between liberals, conservatives, blacks, whites, browns, gays, and straights disappear. But we can build bridges by sharing a meal.
Sitting down with people for food and conversation is one of the most effective ways to build Christian unity. After all, Jesus established his church around a table, and asked his followers to eat together in remembrance of him. He was famous for dining with tax collectors and sinners, and for connecting with people at a meal.
We can do the same. It is at the table that we get a taste of the Christian unity that Jesus desires for us. So let’s eat together, whenever we can.
Lord, help me to experience Christian unity as I sit down at a table with others. Amen.