(Lessons on Church Unity I Corinthians 3:4-12)

A football or a basket ball coach understands, if they want their team to win the championship no matter what it takes they must maintain unity at all times. Vince Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay Packers head Coach understood the need of the hour, when he said “Individual commitment to a group effort-that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” The current coach of the Los Angeles Lakers notes, “The strength of the team is each individual member...the strength of each member is the team.”

 The civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once said "Unity is the great need of the hour"


Have you wondered why Churches close down? Is it because of lack of funds, vision, talented worship team, gifted people or excellent teaching? No! Then what contributes to the death of any Church? I believe it is the lack of unity. As the popular slogan goes “United we stand, divided we fall.” My version is; United we succeed, divided we fail.


The Church in Corinth was splitting apart at the seams; with different groups each following their favorite leader. Paul promptly chastised them for this immature response to differing styles of ministry. He recognized that divisions could potentially ruin the Church and stressed the need for unity over and over again I Corinthians 1:10 “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” 2 Corinthians 13:11 Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. The letter to Corinthians began with unity and ended with unity which gives us an indication that the need of the hour is indeed unity.


The typical problems that occurred in Corinth were not only limited to the Church of that time alone, we could find them in any church today. When we pause and take an honest look at the state of our churches today without any hesitation we could say that we must work towards unity. We all agree that we need more unity and we give a call to be united but how can we achieve unity in the Church? Can it be achieved by all wearing the same uniform? No you may have uniformity but not unity. Leonard Ravenhill knew where to begin, “Church unity comes from corporate humility." The best place to start working towards unity is from the place of humility.


In order to address the unspiritual partisanship and to establish the need for unity Paul used two vivid metaphors. These pictures have life in them.  He represents Christian community as a garden and a building.



The Church in Corinth was a divided bunch. One was saying I follow Paul and other “I follow Apollos. Instead of following Christ people were following human leadership. There is a danger to identify too strongly with a particular leader or ministry, no matter how godly or gifted they are. They all are just servants of God, trustees of the Gospel.  Paul took a humble position saying that both Apollos and he were merely servants and each was assigned a specific task to do. When we work together God will bless our efforts.

Paul likened the Church to a garden. In many ways the Church is like a garden. The concept of a garden was not a new thing to the Jewish audience. Infact the story of mankind began in the Garden of Eden which is also called the garden of the LORD. In the garden man enjoyed fellowship with God on a daily basis but when sin entered the relationship was marred and the harmony lost. The land was cursed; men were driven out of the garden.


Several Old Testament prophecies describe God’s intentions of turning barrenness into life and fruitfulness again. Long ago Isaiah prophesied, Isaiah 51:3 “Indeed, the LORD will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; Joy and gladness will be found in her, Thanksgiving and sound of a melody.” This prophecy is alluding to the work of the LORD will do in the life of an individual and the life of a Church.


Another prophecy talks about God restoring joy to the redeemed. Isaiah 35:1-2 “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given it … they will see the glory of the LORD.


We live in a society where moral values are eroding, what used to be right is no longer considered right. Evil is being exalted and righteousness is being trampled upon. Interestingly in, Isaiah 14:17 we see that Satan is having his hand in turning this world into a barren wasteland “the man who made the world a desert, who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?  If we carefully look around us we do see captives, wasted lives and people groping for life and joy in all the wrong places.


With all what is Satan is doing in some ways the world has become a wilderness. What hope does the world have then? Jesus stepped into a harassed and distressed world and said, “Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” In the midst of the desert God is cultivating a beautiful multi colored garden, His Church! Isn’t that what the Church is supposed to be any way, a fruitful garden, a refreshing OASIS in the midst of a hard driven, hectic and stressful world?


Hyderabad, India where we used to live was a crowded, dusty city with temperatures often soaring above 100 degrees.  Once in a while we visited the cities Public Gardens, though it was in the middle of the bustling city it seemed to be a world away because of the luscious greenery, shady trees and gorgeous flowers.  You would find large families enjoying picnics, people ambling around and the poor and the needy finding a refuge from the summer heat.  We too found it a place of refreshment and beauty. That is precisely what the function of a Church ought to be, to attract and refresh weary and burdened travelers on the journey of life.


Paul compares Christian community to a garden which one preacher or evangelist may plant and another may water but the true source of its life and vitality is God.  In a Garden there is place for a wide variety of vegetable plants, herbs, fruit trees and flower, together they make a beautiful and useful whole while drawing their sustenance from the same source. In the same way there is ample room in God’s great purpose for everyone and every type of personality, gift, and ministry and for many laborers and gardeners.

How are we making our Church a garden?  We need to keep drinking of the fountain of Living Water, which is Christ.  When we get too caught up in the short comings of so and so we miss the point.  We cultivate the church when we recognize the work of Christ in each others life.  We are saved by grace and dearly loved and so is our brother and our sister.  We cultivate the garden when we encourage and build each other up and bear with each other.  We build when we study God’s word and pray, we build when we look out for the interests of others. 

Only when we lay aside our differences and work together in unity by respecting each other then can we make our Church a refreshing garden where people will find Christ, be refreshed, healed, restored, and become fruit bearing Christians.  



The other metaphor that Paul cleverly used in describing the Church was; a building.  It appears that Paul was particularly fond of this metaphor, that of the church of Jesus Christ as a building in which all have a place. He used a similar illustration in Ephesians 2:19-22, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household.  Having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”


Greeks understood what Paul was talking about as they were known for their construction and architecture. The Greek have built many temples and monuments though many were destroyed completely some of the ruins still exist. The ancient city of Corinth was a wealthy city and it boasted of its great structures, monuments and temples including the temple of Aphrodite dedicated to the Greek goddess of love.”[1]


Paul used the principles of construction to convey profound truths on how to build the house of God the church. 1 Corinthians 3:10 “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it.”  Paul as a skilled master builder laid the right foundation. There could be no other foundation other than Jesus Christ.  Why did that need to be stressed to the Corinthian community? Could it be that the leader of Cephas faction was claiming that Peter was the rock on which the Church was built? (Matt 16:18) That is quite possible. Contrary to the scriptures even today many Catholics wrongly hold to the belief that the Church was built upon Peter.


Those who are into building houses can tell that it takes a lot of careful planning and many days of coordinated effort to build a house. When a new house is being built, many different skills are required. Each skilled worker- plumber, electrician, carpenter or painter must make his or her own contribution. If the electrician is not there at the right time, everyone else may very well be delayed. If the carpenter works without considering the plumber’s task the plumber will find it almost impossible to install the piping and the fixtures.



We see the same principles operating in building the Church of Jesus Christ. The right foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ. Many skilled people are required in building a house, similarly it takes many skilled and gifted workers to build God’s house. For a house to be built well, and pass the building code, each worker must be both skillful and cooperative. In the same way Paul wanted those who were building the Church to be careful in how they build so that it will stand the judgment of God.


Now we have looked at the two metaphors of the Church.  It is possible that the picture of the Church as a garden may appeal more to women and that the picture of the building makes more sense to men. I hope that you see that every one has a place to contribute and cultivate to make our Church a refreshing garden and a place where God’s glory dwells. What does it take? I believe it takes unity. How can we then achieve biblical unity?



Let’s remember that our goal is not just any unity; we know that people can be united for all causes and purposes often times for some wrong purposes. During the World War II at Hitler’s command many religious groups were united against the Jews what was the result of that unity? The Holocaust. So what determines unity? Charles Spurgeon said, “Truth alone must determine our alignments. Truth comes before unity. Unity without truth is hazardous.”


I. We must recognize that biblical unity can not be achieved outside of Christ:

Jesus prayed in John 17 that father would sanctify the disciples by the truth before he would make them one. Jesus is the truth; only by taking Christ as our foundation we can achieve unity. Only at the feet of Jesus we can all become one.  


II. Recognizing that God is the master builder and we are hired workers:

Paul recognized that he and Apollos were servants of Christ and were assigned specific tasks to perform. We too must humbly recognize that we are hired workers to work in his vineyard. The master will reward all us according to our labor.


III. We recognize and respect each others gifting.

Unity is far more important to the life of the Church than the individual strengths of its leaders. We have lot of gifted people in our Church. Building of Church does not only depend on a few leaders but depends on all of us. The Lord has called us to be a part of this awesome work of building His Kingdom therefore we need recognize we need others we can’t do it alone.


IV. Coordination, Communication and Cohesion are important to maintain Unity:

Living in a highly individualistic society we are often tempted to do it alone. In God’s Kingdom there is no place for lone rangers. Christ did not do it alone; He had a strong twelve member board and a host of other disciples to carry on various tasks. We must come out of the syndrome of “I do it myself and don’t need the help of others. We can not afford that. We need to communicate, coordinate and work cohesively with others. The lack of it often results in confusion, disorder, lack of productivity and disunity. As we are committed to work together in harmony and in humility, recognizing and appreciating the different gifts within the church May the Lord use all of us to cultivate and maintain unity in order to make our Church a beautiful garden and a dwelling place of God. Amen



[1] http://greek-history.suite101.com/article.cfm/monuments_of_ancient_corinth