What Does God Want Us to Understand About Christian Fellowship?

April 16, 2019

The New King James Study Bible shines a spotlight on the apostle Paul’s call for fellowship and unity in his letters to the Corinthian church. This timely emphasis resonates powerfully in a culture so full of division and entrenched opposition.

A closer look at the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians reveals three key principles we need to understand as we work to build harmony and unity in our relationships—especially in our relationships with other believers.

Principle 1: Sowing Disunity Is a Potent Battle Strategy

The apostle Peter warns us that our enemy “the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Think of disunity as his tenderizer; it makes the devouring easier.

The body of Christ, working together, is a force to be reckoned with—and a threat to our enemy. Individually, however, the various parts of that body are limited and ineffective. We’re vulnerable to attack.

That’s why Paul made such an urgent plea to the Corinthians:

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. – 1 Corinthians 1:10

Principle 2: Disunity Comes More Easily Than We Might Care to Admit

In 1 Corinthians 1:4–9, Paul reminds the Corinthian believers of the experiences they shared and the blessings they enjoyed together—things that should have united them and given them a common purpose. They received the grace of Christ. They were enriched spiritually by some of the most prominent teachers of the day.

The fact that the church still found a reason to splinter underscores just how fragile and difficult unity can be. Unity often calls for us to set aside our personal preferences and opinions for the greater good of the group. That’s a tall order

When you factor in personality clashes and differing approaches to conflict, the level of difficulty increases further. Unity is a fragile thing—something that must be monitored closely, discussed frequently, and adjusted proactively.

Principle 3: Leaders Must Be Held to a High Standard

It’s no coincidence that the disunity in the Corinthian church had its roots in issues of leadership. According to Paul, some Corinthian believers declared their loyalty to him; others declared their loyalty to Apollos and Cephas (Peter).

Many people have an affinity for strong leaders. Under the right circumstances, some are even willing to suspend their own judgment in service to a leader. That’s why the principle of “to whom much is given, much is expected” is threaded into the concept of Christian leadership. Christian leaders are the first line of defense against disunity. Their words must unify, not divide.

Paul emphasizes the importance of unity by puncturing the pretensions of leadership. According to him, the names of the individual messengers—Apollos, Peter, and even Paul—are ultimately unimportant. All that matters is the name of the one whose message they are delivering: Jesus Christ. He is our common ground. He is the unshakable foundation on which we can build unity.

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one?I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. – 1 Corinthians 3:5-8



This commentary is from the New King James Study Bible. With more than 2 million copies sold, it’s no secret that the NKJV Study Bible is a reliable guide for your journey into God’s Word. This Bible provides a complete resource for study, including thousands of notes, articles, extensive cross-references, and features contributed by top evangelical scholars.

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