One: 1 Corinthians 9-17
January 20, 2013 Series: One | First Letter to the Corinthians
Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 Corinthians 1:9–1:17
Introduction: ONE fellowship
After expressing thankfulness to God for the grace He bestowed upon this immature church, Paul dives directly into the first problem. There is no ignoring or minimizing what is the deadliest enemy to any marriage, family, or church—DIVISION. We ended last week with verse 9 of chapter 1, where Paul writes: 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called INTO THE FELLOWSHIP of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Through faith, Jesus adopts many children together into one family where each individual surrenders their own desires, yields their own needs to the needs of others, and contributes their own talents towards fulfilling the one mission for the glory of Jesus. The Corinthian church, however, is full of individuals competing against one another, arguing for their own mission, and pursuing their own glory.
Our enemy, Satan, the “Father of lies”, the serpent, the accuser…wants do destroy the fellowship of Jesus Christ from the inside out. He can use the most insignificant things to cause the most significant damage to the unity of families and churches. And when our unity is broken, truth is perverted, love is denied, and the mission is lost. This is a timely text for us today because, while we claim to be more connected than ever, everything in our world feels more divided than ever. Our culture is divided politically, socially, economically, even recreationally. Even the church-culture is divided by denominations, schools of theology, church networks, “coalitions” of pastors who do conferences, blogs, books, and podcasts. And, as of last week, even our church is “divided” over 2 locations in 2 different cities. Disunity is crouching at our door.
My prayer is that God will force all of us to ask some hard questions about exactly why we are all here, who we are all here for, and what mission we are really on. As our two campuses grow, it will be tempting to pick teams, to give into division, to build cliques, and to identify with the wrong things and the wrong people. It will be tempting to identify with A church and not THE church. It will be tempting to identify with A shepherd and not THE shepherd. It will be tempting to identify with A mission and not THE mission. We are called to be stand firm under one God, in one spirit, with one mind “striving side by side” through the one faith, all for the one mission of Jesus. Paul’s appeal is my own:
10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. PRAY
V. 10a – I appeal to you BROTHERS
Paul begins by appealing to them as a brother. He has already made it clear that he is an apostle; that he speaks with the authority of King Jesus. But instead of pulling rank, he addresses them as a sibling—a fellow member of the family. Don’t ever forget that your pastor is a brother, a sinner saved by grace. And while there is a God-ordained office that should be respected, we must always remember that we are co-sharers in grace. Double honor does not mean double purity. As I shared last week, perhaps it means double depravity, double burden, or double grace on display. I am a brother and you should see and hear about my own real relationship with God and my genuine interaction with the gospel. Paul tells young pastor Timothy: 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. (1Tim 4.14-15). Even the pastor struggles, repents, and grows in maturity in Christ.
V. 10b Agree and Be United
So as a brother, Paul appeals his family to resolve the divisions he’s heard they have. “Chloe’s” people have reported that there are many fighting factions in the church. Division in church is not new. When Jesus prayed in John 17, one of the repetitive themes of his prayer was unity. John 17.11, 21-23 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one…20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Jesus knew that we would struggle with unity because, like the world, we think of our own name our own fame MORE than God’s.
Paul is writing to a church suffering from widespread self-glorifying-individualism. He appeals to them to be united as ONE, literally, to SAY the same things, THINK the same things, and DO the same things. The church is called to be one group of disciples, speak with one voice, decide with one mind, and move with one action. A family, or a family of families (a church) either AGREE to think with ONE mind leading to unity; or they WILL think with MULTIPLE minds leading to division. Without ONE unified mind, perspectives are driven by personal experience, decisions by personal preferences, and mission by personal benefit. And if something in the church doesn’t’ agree with your personal experience, preference, or mission, you’ll leave OR, worse, destroy the unity. Basically, we stop being self-sacrificing family members and become a group of self-serving individuals. Of course, no one ever admits that because we’re ALL (wrongly) convinced that our particular preference is best for the family. It doesn’t take long before the family is divided. They may even not “divide” in any formal sense; they may decide to tolerate each other and exist as “married” people living single lives.
The word that Paul uses in the beginning to be “UNITED” is a surgical term. The division in their relationships is not some unfortunate thing to be tolerated; it is hurting the body Christ and making them weak. There is no health, no growth, and no joy because the bones of the body are dislocated and need resetting—THIS IS ALWAYS PAINFUL. It is painful because rebuilding unity not only requires TRUST, it requires SELF-DENIAL. And when you DE-CIDE to be self-denying, that vision that met your own personal preferences is killed. This is not about denying your mind so that you can submit to what some other “louder” man says, or thinks, or does—like some kind of cult. This is about everyone denying themselves, elevating others, and finding unity in mission and mind of Christ: 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, (Philippians 2.3-5). The mind of Christ, as evidenced by the life of Christ, puts our commitments in this order: What God commands, what others need, THEN what I want.
V. 11-12 Identifying with men
Disunity in the Corinth resulted from the church following the minds of men more than following the mind of Jesus. In an effort to elevate themselves over one another, groups of men are identifying themselves with different pastors who had visited the church. They are dividing their church by picking teams; choosing to honor certain men in order to receive more honor from a lot of other men. Some factions in the church say they follow Paul, others Apollos, some Peter, and others Jesus. We can only guess why: There is an emotional connection to Paul because he was the church planter, the first pastor, their “father” in the faith—he appeals to the emotional loyalists. Apollos, a man the Bible describes as eloquent and competent in the Scriptures came through after Paul and proved to be quite the teacher, perhaps even better than Paul—he appeals to the intellectuals. Cephas is the historical choice as he is the first leader of the church and, what the Corinthians call, a “super apostle”. And finally, there is the “uber-spiritual” faction trying to trump everyone by saying, “Well, I we just love Jesus”.
The first problem is the emphasis on the word “I”. The gospel emphasizes what we share, not our differences. The Bible says that in Christ: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3.28) In other words, the gospel takes I and MY and replaces it with WE and an OUR. Jesus is not just MY Lord, this isn’t just MY church, and I don’t have my own mission or even calling. Jesus is OUR Lord, this is OUR church, and WE have a mission and a calling to complete together.
The second problem is that they are making much of men. They identify themselves with the teachers more than with the teachings of Jesus Christ. It’s one thing to say I admire or I support ________________, but that is entirely different than saying I AM of ____________, or I belong to _____________, or I follow ________________. This is the language of cults; and it is the language that we too often use in our culture of celebrity-pastors. When Francis Chan, a successful pastor in California left his church, he cited one of the reasons was that he heard Francis Chan more than he heard ‘The Holy Spirit’. Whose name do we hear most in our church? Do you quote, read, reference, or study pastors more than Scripture?
Or to make it more personal, if ______________ was not your pastor, how would that affect your relationship with Christ? This cuts to the very heart of why you are part of this church. It challenges whether your calling and commitment to be here extends beyond a personal preference. Who did you follow here? Me, a friend, or Jesus? Churches divide and die because they become unified around the wrong person, the wrong power, and the wrong purpose. The head of the church never changes—it is Jesus. The power of the church never changes-it is the spirit of Jesus. The mission of the church never changes—the proclamation of Jesus. But the people of the church changes all the time! How many churches have you been to in the last five years? Why? Are you just an individual or a member of a family? I want Damascus Road Church to be the last church I am a part of.
V. 13 Three rhetorical questions
Though perhaps he should be glad that one group admires him most, Paul condemns their divisions. He asks three Paul asks three somewhat sarcastic questions:
He asks if Christ has been divided? The answer is YES. The body of Christ is supposed to be a multi-part organism that is unified and powerful. A divided body simply cannot live. What good is a body with an arm that does one thing and a leg that does another? If all the body parts are not working in unison, then they will be useless, maybe even dangerous. And the only time parts start working apart versus together is when they become disconnected to the head—which is Jesus.
He asks if Paul was crucified for their sins? He also asks if they were baptized in the name of Paul? The obvious answer is NO to both. Baptism symbolizes identifying with the death and resurrection of Christ. It is much more than just getting wet. Baptism is THE ACT of identifying with Jesus and His church. It is a declaration of allegiance and ownership. No human leader can ever be lifted up to the level of Christ. It is only through the death of Jesus that God reconciles the world. It is only through the blood of Jesus that men can receive forgiveness. A pastor reconciles nothing. The blood of a pastor forgives nothing. We do not make a team and invite Jesus to be on it. Jesus picks us. Jesus is the owner, coach, and captain. Jesus is the head of the church. The pastor of Damascus Road Church is Jesus. I can be wrong, Jesus can’t.
V. 14-16 Paul is Thankful
I love verses 14 to 16. Paul comments that he is glad that he has done little, or nothing, to contribute to what sounds like his unwanted celebrity status (at least with one group.) Unfortunately, there are many pastors who do much to contribute to their celebrity status. They put their faces on screens, their words in books, their signatures on Study Bibles, and even use their names as website addresses. They work hard to gather followers and gain fans, committing themselves to gathering attendees versus making disciples. And they remind you constantly that they are about making much of Jesus because no one is sure anymore. Knowing the hearts of men, pastors must do everything in their power to turn them AWAY from themselves toward Christ, away from their preaching and toward the WORD of God, away from their ministries, and toward all that Jesus has already done. Even preach less, or leave churches, so that the people will not get confused exactly WHOSE church and mission they serve.
V. 17 I am here to preach
To conclude, Paul clarifies exactly what his mission is and is not: 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. Paul says that Jesus did not send him to baptize. He is not trying to minimize the importance of baptism, nor is he trying to deny the Great Commission where Jesus commands us to go and baptize. Paul is simply saying he didn’t come in order to build The Apostle Paul Ministries.com. He is not working to gather followers or build his reputation; he is here to make disciples of Jesus. Paul did not come to build the church. Paul did not come to grow the church. Paul did not even come to change a single heart. None of those are in his power.
As one missionary said, Paul came to “Preach the Gospel, die, and [be] forgotten. This is the mission of us all. This does not require eloquence, education, or skill. It only requires you open your mouth and speak the plain, straightforward declaration of the person and work of Jesus on the cross. [Explain gospel). 2Corinthians 4.1-5 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake
WE ARE PROCLAIMERS. WE ARE PREACHERS. IF we believe that the power to change a heart, to transform a life, to open they eyes of the blind, to set free those entrapped slavery RESTS with the gospel…we’ll preach it all the time. WE won’t just listen to guy preach it on Sunday morning, we will tell our family, our neighbors, our friends about Jesus. And we’ll invite them to gather with the church, a family of disciples who loves Jesus, to adore Jesus, learn about Jesus, so that we can go in the name of Jesus.