Monday, February 22, 2010

Sermon Series : Loving and serving the church of Jesus Christ for all its worth

TEXT: 1   Corinthians  1 : 10-17
TITLE:  “ What causes divisions in the church ? “  #1
DATE  PREACHED :    21/02/2010

The opening nine  verses  of this letter present an extremely high  view of the church .  We have seen that  this is the  Church of God  that is in Corinth . This church  was experiencing the sanctifying  work of the Holy Spirit , and therefore the members of this church were ‘saints’  ( holy / separated ) and therefore  this church was the  recipient of grace and peace. We saw that the apostle  Paul  thought  of this church  with great thankfulness  as he  saw the gifts of God outpoured in them , and as he reflected on the  great sustaining  faithfulness of God  to them,  in  and through His Son,  the Lord Jesus Christ .
So , against this background  Paul  must have been sad at hearing  the news of division among the Corinthian Christians : “ It has been reported to me by Chloe’s  people that there is quarrelling among you , my brothers…”

What had caused this division ? At face value , personality  cults were emerging. People  began to divide   into Paul, Apollos, Peter and Christ  factions. We may be certain that  none of these three leaders in the early Christian church would have  encouraged such  followings.  But this is what has happened.
There are  plenty examples  of this  in church history .
A great and godly leader arises and soon there is a group of people that gathers around him:  The Waldensians, named after Peter Waldo ( 1140? – 1218) ; the Hussites after Johannes Huss of Prague ( 1371-1415); the Lutherans after  Martin Luther , the German Reformer (1483- 1546) ; The Calvinists after  John Calvin the French / Swiss Reformer (1509-1564);  The Wesleyans (or Methodists) , after John Wesley (1703-1791) . His  contemporary and associate in the Methodistic  movement was  George Whitfield (1714-1770) . But the two were  in two separate  theological camps .  For this reason there  came a threat   of division  into the Methodistic ranks. His followers were  calling themselves “Whitefieldites” . George Whitefield  responded :  “ Let my name be forgotten , let me be trodden under the feet of all men , if Jesus may thereby be glorified…. What is Calvin, or what is Luther? Let  us look above names and parties; let Jesus be all…. I know my place… even to be the servant of all. I want not to have a people  called after my name.” [1]
I mention this in passing , for  this  phenomenon  has continued through the history of the church  , and  we have already observed  that it would have been  hardly likely that Paul, Apollos or Peter would have  wanted to  have people  divide over  them. 
I do want to comment just a little on the  existence of the  “Christ Party” . This group is difficult to evaluate  and at face value they  sound very  spiritual .  They are the people that would have typically said : “ Oh, we don’t follow  any human teachers – we just believe the Bible and  Jesus, and that is that…”, but you get the distinct impression  that  those who  say this,  have ‘a chip on their shoulder‘, setting themselves  apart from  others, and by their prideful attitude they  subtly  deny the attitude  that was in Christ (Phil 2: 1-10) . Their ‘hotline’ to God can be very intimidating , and the net result of being in the company of such people is that  others feel spiritually inadequate. David Prior in his commentary  has the following helpful psychological  insights  of this group  :  “ Often the  psychological basis for this kind of emphasis lies in a mixture of strong individualism and latent insecurity. This leads to an inner resistance to being told what to do and manifests itself in the need to bolster uncertainty with the  validity  of strong subjective  experiences...[2] . I have  met a good number  of  people like that, who  hide behind such  spiritual talk, but who are in reality full of  pride  and  at the same time  theologically  insecure,  hiding behind strong statements  like this .
Whatever  the case may be , the  result that this cliquishness  had achieved was a quarrelsome spirit  - a division   of the  members of Christ in the  same church. The members of the church had largely ceased  to act as a body.  Strong individualism  became the order of the day. The members  of the body began to act  without deference or  respect to one another. They were no longer  acting in submission to Christ  (Eph 5:21)  . They did not  submit  to the   appointed  leadership (1 Cor  16:16  ; Hebr 13:17).  They were even  despising the leadership of the apostolic founder of the church  ( 1 Cor 9 ;  see 2 Corinthians).
How do you deal with this ?   
What do you say to a church that is in the process of being torn in pieces  by division and fractions?   Paul is not  prepared to ignore this development, and it is highly instructive for us to take note  how  he deals with the matter :
(i)                  He makes a very strong appeal for unity  in v.10
(ii)                He gives three powerful arguments  against  disunity in  verses 13-17

1. Paul’s appeal :  v.10
 “ I appeal [3]  to you brothers”  :  He comes alongside them in  a brotherly fashion and he reasons  with them  .  The appeal contains  three strong words :
(i)                  That all of you agree – literally to   ‘ say the same thing’
(ii)                That there be no  division [4] -   literally  no “tears “ or cracks), graphically  conveying  the idea that  the division was splitting the church  apart
(iii)                That you be united [5]in the same mind  -  lit. to repair  and restore something that is broken. Repairing action was clearly needed  in this  church. Paul looks to them to mend their relationships by having a united mind and judgment.

2. Three Powerful Arguments :  Vv 11-17
But how shall they do this ?  How shall they agree ?  How shall they be  undivided and of the same mind ? Note, that all  Paul’s arguments  against this disunity  focus  on Jesus Christ  , and it  needs to be uncompromisingly stated that  generally all division  and disunity  arise in the church because the eyes  of Christians  are elsewhere than on Christ!  So , it not surprising then that  Paul’s solution  to this problem  is focused on Christ  in the same way as John the Baptist , when He  pointed  people to Christ when he said: “ Look, the Lamb of God  which takes away the    sin of the world “ ( John 1:29) . In the same  way Paul is saying here : “Look  to  the Lord Jesus ! Look at his wholeness ! Look at His cross ! Look, He is the Lord !
Consider  this  fact  by looking  at  the three rhetorical questions  asked in v. 13 ,  for these will deeply challenge our  divisive tendencies  - our default position.  

  1. Is Christ divided ?  Look at  His wholeness !
  2. Was Paul crucified for you ? Look  at His cross ! 
  3. Were you baptized into the  name of Paul ?Look  He is  the Lord !
  1. Is Christ divided ?  Look at  His wholeness !
The first question he asks the divided church – the divided body of Christ at  Corinth: Can you imagine to have  Christ cut up into pieces and  divided?  Can there be parts of Christ  divided among  different groups?  It is like saying “ Come inside , but leave your legs outside !”  Ridiculous ! If you have Christ  you have all of Him.  Christ cannot be divided. Christ is whole , and if there is anyone that is divided it   us!  In that case we must look to Jesuto make us whole.

  1. Was Paul crucified for you ? Look  at  the cross of Christ !
The second question  is equally startling.  I imagine the apostle Paul reasoning with them : “ Now tell me – you who claim to be of my party – the Paul party . Was I crucified for you ? Did I lay down my life for you so that your sins might be forgiven?”  The answer is plain . The Corinthians owed their life to  none of the  people  to whom they now claimed allegiance . They  owed their life to Christ alone ! 
We must comment here . Whenever  Christians follow  gifted preachers or pastors,and begin to  refer everything back to them … saying “  Pastor so and so  says this, or he   doesn’t say that …”, they have taken their eyes off Jesus Christ  and there will  inevitably be  disunity.  Jesus is the only One that can  be our source of unity,  and it  is His work on the cross in particular  that secures our wholeness, redemption and forgiveness  - not simply our personal  wholeness , but our corporate wholeness as a church , for that it’s the issue here!  When we move away from the cross,  we move away from the  place of reconciliation!  This is the importance of the Lord’s supper . It is a place of  reconciliation . At the table  we remember that  God in Christ reconciled us to Himself , and that He reconciled us to one another. To regularly participate  in the Lord’s supper means  to be reminded  that there is only one  who was crucified for  the church. In  all our sinful  excursions  away from  Christ and from each other , we must return to  His cross!  When  the church is divided , the members of the church must make their way back to the cross !

  1. Were you baptized into the  name of Paul ?  Look , He is Lord !
To be “ baptized in “  the name of someone  means to be  immersed  into that person . Literally it means that you sign your life over to that person. Paul makes it very clear   that the Corinthian church through baptism had come to be immersed and identified  with Christ !  They were His possession. The mere fact that Paul  or Peter or Apollos might have performed the  ordinance of baptism   is incidental.  Baptism is not about the one who baptizes you, but  it is the One into whose name  you are baptized. Isn’t  it strange how easily  we are able to  turn the tables  and make the lesser  into the greater?   Oh that we all may have the godly attitude of John the Baptist, who  when he was told  that  “all  are going to Him (Jesus)  to be baptized “  ( Jn  3:26)  said :  “ My joy is now complete. He must  increase, but I must decrease”  (Jn 3:30) . Paul was just like John in this regard.  Although he has   been instrumental in bringing this church  into existence,  he  must decrease. These are Jesus’ people. It is significant therefore  that he downplays  his own  involvement in the act of baptism  (vv 14-16) . It seems that Paul left  the actual   act of baptism in the hands of others. Is it really more important to  have been  baptized by the ‘ very Right Reverend   so –and- so‘  than to have been baptized into  the  Lord Jesus Christ?
It is not as if Paul plays down the significance of baptism  by his statement  in  v.17.  No , he simply is asserting the primary fact over the secondary fact : The gospel is before  baptism.  Christ is before baptism , and baptism is subservient to Christ. Hold them together without divinding them , but hold them together in proper priority !

Conclusion :
 It is on the basis  of these three grounds then  that Paul appeals to the Corinthian Christians  to give up their  divisiveness and to express their unity in that for which Christ had  died  :
  • One united body  whose salvation was  secured once for all ,by …
  •  one cross , by…
  • one Lord  into whom we were baptized . 
Division  happens when  it is all about us.  Division disappears  when  we focus on  the wholeness of Christ , the cross of Christ  and the Lordship of Christ. Brothers and sisters   love the church of Jesus Christ for all its worth  by  looking first  to Christ. And the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. 
Amen .

[1] Arnold Dallimore : George Whitfield  ( Vol 2) ,  p.257 -258
[2] David Prior : The Message of 1 Corinthians  , p. 34  (The  Bible Speaks Today series)
[3] Gk. parakaleo –  literally ‘ to come beside’   hence to “ to exhort”   or the stronger emphasis ‘ to implore’
[4] Gk , “schismata “ -  lit. a crack or a tear
[5] Gk . “ katartizo” – to mend or repair  e.g. in Mk  4:21 to repair nets ; to restore or perfect

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