I remember the day vividly. My friend and I were sitting in a coffee shop trying to finalize a statement of faith for the campus Bible study we were wanting to start together. We were arguing about a single word and just could not agree on whether to use it or not. We had been going in circles for forty-five minutes and had gotten nowhere except deeper into our own opinions. As twenty-year-olds, we both felt we knew everything and were unwilling to surrender. We continued to go back and forth for a few weeks and never agreed. Finally, we decided to drop the argument, but only by also dropping the whole idea for our Bible study and going our separate ways.
I often wonder what would have happened if we had been able to agree and not bicker the way we did. I wonder how God’s name could have been made known on our campus through our Bible study and how many girls we might have reached with the gospel.
Finding agreement is challenging, even for Christians. It is tempting to see this as a result of our particular cultural moment, but this is not actually a new phenomenon—people have always disagreed.
In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul is addressing many messy situations within the young church of Corinth. One of these situations is division. The people were splitting themselves into factions based on which church leader baptized them. The camps were all arguing and boasting about their superiority based on their leader (a situation that feels all too familiar in our day). Thus, Paul pleads with them, “Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, that there be no divisions among you, and that you be united with the same understanding and the same conviction” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
I don’t know about you, but when I read that, I was astounded that Paul actually believed that was possible for this divided church. What is even more shocking is that as God’s inspired Word, this plea applies to all Christians, even us now. How on earth can all Christians everywhere really agree with what we say and be united in this way?
Fortunately for us, Paul does not leave us hanging here but explains that it is the cross of Christ that unites us. If the gospel of the cross is front and center, everything else falls into place as secondary. As Christians, we can have and discuss differences, but our unity and boasting ought to be found in Jesus’s sacrificial love poured out for us, as undeserving as we are.
The cross reminds us who we are: broken people with hearts bent toward selfishness and disobedience who deserve death. Even more importantly, it points to Jesus: the God of the universe in the form of a human who died a horrible death so that humanity can live and dwell with Him forever. Considering this truth—that Jesus sacrificially poured out His love on undeserving and selfish humans—we who trust in Him have so much to agree upon and so much to boast about, and none of it is dependent on us or our own opinions.
In Philippians, a letter to a different church, Paul explains that we can be united by having the same attitude of Christ who, not concerned with His own status, gave His life for us. We are united when we imitate this humility and think of others as more significant than ourselves. (Philippians 2.2–8).
Knowing this gives me great hope as I know I will encounter many more situations similar to the disagreement I had with my friend. Keeping the cross in proper focus will provide the common ground necessary to move beyond those disagreements by helping us remember who we are and who Jesus is. It also provides an example of how I ought to approach relationships with others: by dying to myself as Christ did. As I find myself in divisive situations, I can take a breath, repent for how I have lost sight of the cross, and ask forgiveness of the others involved. The beauty of the cross is twofold: keeping it as our focus helps us avoid unnecessary division, and it also provides a way forward when we do face division, because it is our means of reconciliation.
Additional resources on Christian unity: