Have you ever tried to take a pretzel apart? A crunchy one, that is? I tried it today. Impossible. My favorite pretzels are the “pretzel braids” which would be more accurately called “pretzel twists.” These are the ones where two separate pieces of dough are twisted together into a little stick. These are also impossible to take apart. In fact, every time I try to take a pretzel apart, it crumbles into tiny little pieces and I end up with a salty, sandy mess. Maybe I could have done it before it was baked…untwisted the tiny little ropes of dough and taken it apart. But once a pretzel is baked, the separate pieces of the pretzel dough are magically fused together into one crunchy piece. It is impossible to take it apart without completely destroying the pretzel. Baked pretzels are not meant to be taken apart.
This is true of many things, isn’t it? Some things are fused together in such a way that it is impossible to separate them without destroying the object itself. Many things are not meant to be divided. One of these things includes the church and the believers within it. As I have delved into the study of 1 Corinthians in order to write a weekly blog for my church’s website, I have been touched with how deeply this truth is embedded on God’s heart. The writer, Paul, emphasizes this issue of unity throughout the book, and specifically in the opening chapter. The believers in Corinth are fighting with each other over something having to do with their connections to different church leaders, and Paul confronts them on it: “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Paul makes certain there is no misunderstanding God’s message to the Corinthians by using three specific phrases about unity: “all of you agree,” “no divisions among you,” and “be perfectly united in mind and thought.” His emphasis is clear, isn’t it? He does not want them to be broken apart but united. Furthermore, Paul doesn’t just say, “Hey guys, why don’t you try to stop fighting a little?” Instead, he raises the bar and calls them to a much higher level of unity. They are to be in perfect unity.
This word for “perfectly united” in the original language has an interesting flavor. It is sometimes translated “made complete.” The picture here is of something that is unbroken and completely whole. The divisions in the church at Corinth had made this state of unity impossible, so Paul calls them to set their differences aside. He also says in what way they are to be united: “in mind and thought.” Certainly this does not mean they should just pretend they don’t have different opinions or ideas. This “mind and thought” Paul is referring to is the mind they all share as believers. Paul speaks of this “mind” later in the book when he says “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). At some level, beneath all our individual opinions and thoughts, deeper than our own personal interests, we all share in one main thing, or actually, a person—Jesus Christ. As Christians, we are followers of a person who has a great goal and purpose for this world: to come into a saving relationship with Him. This is what is on His mind. It is not a coincidence that in this same passage in verse 17, Paul exclaims that his God-given mission is “to preach the gospel.” And this is our mission as well. It is this great purpose that we all share, as we share Christ as our leader. And Paul calls us to focus on this greater mission. In fact, the more we focus on it, the more our differences of opinion on smaller matters will pale in comparison.
All of us have different thoughts on how to do church—issues concerning worship services, children’s ministry, Bible study curriculum, small groups, leadership issues, finances, denominational issues, church buildings, and many, many other things. Not to mention things like how we raise our children, how we spend our money, and other ways we live our lives differently. But at some point, these things need to take a backseat to the most important thing: accomplishing the purpose God has set for His people. That purpose is to proclaim His goodness, His grace, and His gospel to the world. Regardless of our differences of opinion, we should not let them get in the way of our greater cause. Nor should we be quick to jump ship just because of those differences. If we want to win the world to Christ, we need to set aside our individualism and play as a team, with a unity of thought and purpose. This is true not only for our churches, but also for our friendships, our marriages, and our families.
Three years ago, three superstars of the NBA learned this lesson about winning and playing as a team. The “Big Three,” Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, all superstars in their own right, decided that instead of being the one big star of different teams, they would play on the same team. In doing so, each of them gave up scoring as many points individually, a higher salary, media attention, and the pride of being the team star. They decided these things were worth giving up to achieve the purpose that was at the center of their hearts: to win the game. So setting their individualism aside, these three united into a team that proved unstoppable that year. While these three superstars on their own had never won a championship, by coming together, they were able to unite into a force that would lead their team to win. And win they did. In 2008, they rose to the top by winning the playoffs and becoming NBA champions.
We can learn a valuable lesson from these team players—to set our individualism, our personal rights, and ultimately our pride aside for the good of the team…to be perfectly united in one thought and purpose…to deem our individual goals and interests as less important than the goal of the team. And how much greater our goal is than a basketball championship! God has given us the world to win! And our hearts should beat together in perfect harmony with this mission. He has fused us as believers into one team to accomplish this goal, and we are not meant to be broken apart. If we are divided, we no longer function as we should and the mission suffers. And oh, we have such a great calling! A noble and important mission! And this mission is urgent. People are dying without a Savior, and we know Him personally. Let’s not waste our precious time and energy majoring on the minors, but let’s allow the main thing to be the main thing. Let’s unite together, having the mind of Christ, and achieve the mission He has called us to. And let’s accomplish this as a team—one that is not meant to be divided.