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TEXT: I Corinthians 1:10-31
SUBJECT: The Cause and Cure of Division
The church is falling apart. People who used to love each other, don't anymore. People who used to work together, won't anymore. Thank God, the church hasn't split yet, but if things continue as they are, it won't be long until it does. We've gotten so used to church splits, that we no longer feel how wicked and hurtful they are.
But they are wicked because no conflict-no matter how politely prosecuted-is free of selfish desire. Where do wars and fightings come from? From the lusts that war in your members.
When we hear the word, lust, we think of sexual desire gone wrong; but that's only a branch of it. The desire to 'have my way' is every bit as lustful and deplorable as the desire to 'have my neighbor's wife'. This is what goes on in church splits-angry, loud ones, and quieter ones too.
Division in the church is not only wicked, it's also hurtful. It hurts the world because it makes the church no different than other clubs and our belief in a Crucified and Resurrected God no better than their belief in Materialism or Scientology. It hurts the members of the church because, instead of fixing our gaze on Christ, it lowers it to 'issues' or 'personalities'. Worst of all, it hurts God. God is our Father, and He wants one family, not two or ten or a billion! It hurts Jesus because He prayed-and died-to knit us together, and now He sees us unraveling. It hurts the Holy Spirit who is grieved at all the anger and clamor and whispering that's going on in the church.
The Ecumenical Movement may be wrong on the cure, but it is right on the scandal of church splits! Going our separate ways-amicably or not-is not an option; it's a sin and no good that may come from it in time will ever change what it is!
Division in the church is not merely human, it is, in the words of James-
Earthly, sensual, devilish.
This means we can't be 'okay' with it; we have to watch for it and resist it with everything we've got. And more.
This brings us to the first big problem in Corinth and the mother of all the others: disunity in the church.
Paul hints at the problem in 1:10-
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.
Paul has the authority to command the Corinthians to repent of their foolish ways, or to lambaste them for the mockery they're making of the church. Instead of doing these things, however, he chooses to plead with them; he appeals to their better nature.
This is not flattery because-for all their faults-they really have a better nature. Whatever else they are, the Corinthians are also-
The church of God, sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints.
Thus, Paul is urging them to become what they are; to live saintly lives because they are saints. This is pastoral wisdom. Many pastors look down on their churches-preach down to them-as if they're incorrigible sinners. But not Paul; he knows what Luther found out later, that Christians are-
Righteous, and sinners at the same time.
Whenever possible, he appealed to their better selves. We would do well to follow his example. You really can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Even God Almighty subscribes to this way of doing things. As Israel's King, He has every right to simply announce His will and see that it's done promptly-or else. He chose not to be this way. He chose to plead with His people, to be patient with them, and instead of rushing to judgment, He-
Stretches out His hand all day long to a rebellious people.
His prophets are mad sometimes-of course they are! But, mostly, what they are is heartbroken over Israel's infidelity. This is what Paul feels for the church, and how he writes to us.
He's pleading for unity in the church, a unity of two sorts, I think: of the head and of the heart. He wants us to (1) believe the same things, and to (2) have the same care for one another. Read the whole book, and you'll see some parts are about believing the right things, and others about living the right way. These are equally important!
The 17th Century was the Age of Protestant Scholasticism. Lutherans and Calvinists, Anabaptists, Anglicans, and others quarreled incessantly with each other and among themselves. At that time, it hardly mattered how you lived-so long as you believed every jot and tittle of the various theologies.
Today, we have gone to the other extreme. As long as you're 'nice', it doesn't matter what you believe.
Paul doesn't choose between the two, but combines them! To his way of thinking, the church will never be holy in practice unless it believes the doctrines of the Gospel, and that it won't keep hold of the Gospel unless it is holy in practice.
At one time, the Corinthians were united, not perfectly, of course, but enough to satisfy Paul. This is suggested by the word joined together in the middle of v.10. It means to mend or repair something that used to be intact, but isn't anymore.
Many people think of church splits, marriage breakups, and broken friendships as inevitable, subject to the law of entropy, you might say. As though they naturally go to pieces with time, the way shoes wear out or cars fall apart, no matter how well you take care of them.
This is not true! Church splits are not natural processes! They occur because of human choices-million of discrete human choices-to pull back, to give up, to hold a grudge, to pick sides, to gossip, to coerce, and the others things we contribute to the break down of fellowship. In a word, they're the result of choosing against the Gospel, choosing to live out of the shadow of the cross!
How did Paul know what was going on in Corinth? Because some people told him; they were relatives or maybe, servants of Chloe, a woman well-known in the church and respected by Paul. Had they come to Paul on other business, or had they come to him to ask for his help? We don't know, but they told him what was going on in Corinth since he left some time before.
What they told him was what many in the church were saying, namely-
I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, and I am of Christ.
At first glance, this doesn't seem all that bad. What's wrong with liking Paul better than Apollos, or preferring Peter's preaching to Paul's? There's nothing wrong with it. We all have our preferences and the Lord is fine with that. But there's more to the story. By saying, I am of Paul, they meant, 'Paul only, and I won't listen to Peter or Apollos!' In other words, they were pitting Paul against Apollos against Peter.
The problem with this is: they're all on the same team! Of course, they have different styles and emphases and callings, but they're all servants of Christ and the church. They're not working against each other, but in harmony, to make the church holier, and therefore, more harmonious, not less.
The Corinthians, however, were standing their work on its head! They were abusing the gifts of God and putting them to a bad use.
I suspect, the people who claimed to follow Christ only were the worst offenders. They wouldn't listen to anybody but Jesus, and-at the time-the Gospels were not complete, and therefore, all they had were snatches of His teaching, and none of it written down in its final form. See how foolish they were! Jesus had sent Paul, Apollos and Peter to them, but, in the name of honoring Jesus, they held His servants in contempt.
Paul wanted the Cornthians to hear the voice of Christ whoever spoke it, whether it was he himself, his friend, Apollos, Peter the Apostle, or presumably, anyone else.
Christian preachers are not in competition, and one of the great scandals of Church History is how often we have been! Like most in Paul's day, how often we-
Sought our own, and not the things that are of Christ Jesus.
A few pages on, Paul's going to remind us that God did not create the church to serve pastors, but the other way around. We belong to the church, the church doesn't belong to us.
How do we get over the tendency to idolize some men and look down on others? Paul tells us in vv.13-17. We have to remember that the teachers we idolize are no better than the ones we despise, and the ones we despise are no worse than the ones we idolize.
I'm no math-whiz, but I'm pretty sure than Zero is never greater than Zero--or less than Zero. And this is what Paul says he and the rest of us are: Zeroes-
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Paul says 'Don't prefer me to Peter or Peter to me because neither one of us is anything: Christ is everything!'
As long as we're 'followers of men', not just preferring Smith to Jones, but calling him, 'Rabbi', we're not going to have churches. What we're going to have is clubs, first clubs around the man himself, and then Memorial Clubs to keep his ministry alive when he's dead.
Whenever I hear 'St. Paul's Cathedral' or 'St. Peter's Basilica' I wonder if Peter and Paul would be pleased with the honor or disgusted!
This is the first answer to church division: honor good men, but leave it there. Don't worship them, or the church is doomed because no mere man is big enough to hold us together. Only Jesus can do that.
Paul's second answer is the more important one: We will never have church unity until we understand the Gospel itself and live by it.
What's the centerpiece of the Gospel? Paul tells us in vv.17, 18, 23-
The cross of Christ.
What is a cross? It is not a place of power and wisdom, but of weakness and folly. It is not where Jesus imposed His will on the world, but where He suffered and died for the sins of the world.
In other words, church unity depends on self-sacrifice. It depends on me surrendering my wishes for your good rather than making you surrender yours for mine.
No wonder people then-and now-laugh at the Gospel. Everyone knows organizations require leadership and leadership requires charisma and the power to coerce obedience.
Paul knows this is how most people think. He knows it sounds good in theory, but then he looks at the cold hard facts: where has human wisdom gotten us? It has not discovered God or found the right way to live.
The One True God is revealed in the cross-not in pagan wisdom or powerful signs. When the cross is preached, the Shepherd is revealed and straying sheep are gathered into His fold.
To the human eye, the Gospel looks pathetic and stupid, but to those who are called, it is-
The power of God and the wisdom of God.
This is why the church is mostly made up of 'losers'. Oh, once in a while, God plays a joke on us and gives us an educated person, a successful person, a titled person, a real somebody. But usually, He plays it straight, calling losers to Himself-weak things, base things, despised things, things that are not.
So that no one will be tempted to glory in himself, but whoever glories-
Let him glory in the Lord.
When we stop thinking too highly of ourselves and start thinking more highly of Christ, what happens?
Unity in the church.
Not by dynamic leadership; not by detailed by-laws; not by strict supervision and enforcement of the rules, but by the Gospel. Human power and wisdom may humble those who don't have them, but only the Gospel humbles those who do.
Do you want your church to stick together? Do you want us to grow in unity, to please the Lord and present a countercultural witness to the world? If you do, here's what to do-
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. Who, being in the form of God did not count it robbery to be made equal to God, but made Himself of no reputation, took upon Himself the form of a servant, and being found in the appearance of a man humbled himself.
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