We published an article entitled “Fitly United in the Same Mind,” based on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian congregation. In response, we received a few comments inquiring about what Paul meant when he wrote:
“Now I exhort you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you should all speak in agreement, and that there should not be divisions among you, but that you may be fitly united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:10
Specifically, they wonder what it means to be ‘united in the same mind,’ and ‘united in the same line of thought.’ Some wondered if that meant we all must think and act alike. We think the answer lies in understanding the difference between unity and uniformity. This article will discuss this distinction and show that what Paul was encouraging was unity.
Uniformity vs. Unity
Uniformity is defined as overall sameness; always the same, as in character or degree; unvarying; conforming to one principle, standard, or rule; consistent; being the same as or consonant with another or others; unvaried in texture, color, or design.
Unity is defined as the state or quality of being one; singleness; the state or quality of being in accord; harmony; the combination or arrangement of parts into a whole; unification; a combination or union thus formed; singleness or constancy of purpose or action; continuity.
So we see the basic difference is that uniformity requires all things to be the same; whereas unity requires that different things be combined into one. That’s a significant difference. With uniformity, you only get duplicates of one thing. With unity, you get a number of many different things. If we apply it to music, uniformity is everyone singing one note; whereas unity is many voices in harmony. If we apply it to food, uniformity is everyone having the same meal; whereas unity is a potluck and “a banquet of well-oiled dishes.” (Isaiah 25:6)
Uniformity allows for only one understanding of a matter and the rejection of all other viewpoints; whereas unity welcomes other viewpoints and seeks to harmonize them. An exercise in unity often reveals that the apparent opposing viewpoints are not really in conflict at all. Unity often reveals that such a dispute is really an expression of different ideas about one ideal. Let’s illustrate.
Two men are looking at an orange. One man says it’s a fruit, the other says it’s a sphere. Each offers evidence to support their position. They each are confident that they have the truth about the orange and are determined to prove the other wrong. Uniformity requires that one acquiesce to the other. Unity only requires an open mind. It asks the one to look at it and the other to taste it. When they do, they realize that they were only promoting different ideas about the ideal of the orange.
The application of unity leads not only to knowledge, but also to truth. Knowledge tells us that the orange is both a fruit and a sphere. But that’s not the truth of the orange; those are only facts about the orange. Truth is only known through personal experience. The purpose of the orange is not so that we can describe it. It is so that we can be nourished by it. It is not until both men digest the orange that they understand its truth, its purpose, its meaning. There is no need for further discussion.
Applying the Principle of Unity
Can we apply this same unity methodology to doctrinal matters? Absolutely! But first we have to be sure that we are harmonizing and unifying unify-able matters because unity can only harmonize similar things. For example, music can only unify sounds, and a banquet can only unify flavors. So, if we are to be unified or united, we would have to agree on the parameters. Are we looking to create music, or to prepare a banquet? Are we looking to understand Jesus’ life, or the Father’s purposes? That is what Paul meant when we said we need to be united in the same mind and the same line of thought – we have to agree on the parameters.
Let’s examine those words a little closer. When Paul said we should be “united in the same mind,” what mind was he referring to? Paul provides that information:
“For who has come to know the mind of Jehovah, that he may instruct him? But we do have the mind of Christ.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:16
Yes, we are to put on the mind of Christ. That is the doctrinal parameter that determines what things can be unified. In other words, we look to what the Christ taught and how he lived his life, and formulate our understandings, doctrines and teachings consistent with his ministry.
Because of the great diversity in his message and its universal appeal, we will have to harmonize and unify his teachings. The inability to harmonized the teachings as understood by Apollos with those understood by Cephas, and with those understood by Paul, etc., was the root cause of the Corinthian divisions.
For example, Jesus used several different parables and illustrations to explain what ‘the Kingdom of the Heavens is like.’ (Matthew 13:24; 13:31, 13:33, 13:44, 13:45, 13:47, 18:23, 22:2, 25:1) We cannot accept one and dismiss the others. Instead, we should look for the idea about the Kingdom ideal that the particular parable is emphasizing. Then we combine all the ideas and we come to a more complete picture of the ideal.
Now, what about united in the ‘same line of thought?’ Notice first that Paul did not say united in the same thought, but in the same line of thought. That connotes a way of thinking, not one particular thought. Other Bible translations put it this way:
“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”
– New Revised Standard Version
“I beg you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that all of you agree with each other and not be split into groups. I beg that you be completely joined together by having the same kind of thinking and the same purpose.”
– New Century Version
“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”
– Today’s New International Version
So, when we are able to harmonize a variety of ideas about the ideal we are considering, we develop a common and united ‘line of thought.’ And by including other ideas about the ideal, we broaden our capacity to more fully comprehend the ideal. We make room for the Spirit of Truth to add more depth and appreciation of truth as it works to “guide us into all truth.” (John 16:13) Thereby, we become mature spiritual people:
“... in order that you may be thoroughly able to grasp mentally with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness that God gives.”
– Ephesians 3:18-19
This is the unity Paul was teaching to the Corinthians.
When we are privileged to have a spiritual interchange with persons of other beliefs, instead of taking a position and planting our feet in our ideas, consider the ideas of the other and see if it is possible to become united “in the same mind and the same line of thought” by harmonizing the ideas. In most instances, we will be speaking with a person who loves God according to their own understanding of His ideal; you may be face to face with your spiritual brother. That will be an opportunity for a harmonious interchange and mutual growth if we allow it.
Of course, uniformity is much easier to manage. We can see why an organization that is trying to manage a variety of personalities, preferences, intellectual capacity, and racial and social heritages would promote uniformity. Unity is not the easy path, but it is the wiser and more mature one. Are we up to the challenge?
When we engage in our ministry or in informal conversations, we should ask ourselves, What is my purpose? To debate or to encourage? To dictate or to share? To condemn or to reconcile? To be a fellow worker, or a lord over others? The Christian answers to these questions are obvious to spiritual people who want to please God and imitate the Christ. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians shows us how to get it done.