Unity and its relation to expediency are best seen in what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church in his first letter to those saints. The brethren there had a hard time realizing that they were not the model for everyone else. They flattered themselves in their preacher allegiances, their knowledge of the eminent world philosophers, and how they thought to impress their Roman neighbors around them. The apostle of Christ had to remind them how far afield they were from what they began in Christ.
The first emphasis Paul made was that the church was to be united. That unity is obtained through real effort to learn God’s Word and in personal application of that word. By all of them having the same care in these things toward one another, they would grow closer to God and to each other in the process (1 Cor. 1:10).
The next consideration for Paul was conformity to the apostolic pattern as it relates to personal concerns. Most brethren caught up in worldly pride find themselves seeking their own way in matters of personal desire. They are all about expediency, especially if they see no prohibition to stop them. Paul makes it his mission to remind them that “all things are lawful but all things are not helpful.” Personal freedom at the expense of another’s soul is a very bad bargain.
Let us study these things in more detail:
“To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Cor. 1:2).
“Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:6)
“I do not write these things to shame you but, as my beloved children, I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ as I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:14-17).
Notice how the pride of the Corinthians was interfering with their ability to conform to the apostolic pattern revealed to them by the doctrine Paul taught them. This doctrine and pattern Paul expected all the churches of God to maintain indefinitely.
Next, consider the place of personal autonomy as Paul puts it forward in his teaching:
“Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole batch? Therefore purge out the old leaven that you may be a new batch, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:6-7).
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Meats for the stomach and the stomach for meats, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power” (1 Cor. 6:12-14).
“…(S)ome, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it (the idol’s sacrifice) as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge, shall the weak brother perish for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if meat makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Cor. 8:7-13).
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all that I might win the more” (1 Cor. 9:19).
“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (1 Cor. 10:23-24).
“Therefore, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all in all things, not seeking my own profit but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:31-33).
This letter from the Holy Spirit is certainly for our benefit, that we might understand our individual place in the body, both in value and in loving service toward each other. The fact is that if what we decide as individual Christians does not help “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” then it is not expedient to do.