Monday, March 8, 2010

Loving and Serving the Body of Christ for all its Worth

TEXT : 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
TITLE :  "Divisions in the Church are overcome by the Word of the Cross"
DATE PREACHED  :  07/03/2010
Every church , if it is a biblical church,  will  experience trouble,  conflict and divisions at times. It is, in fact  an inevitable accompaniment of a biblical  ministry. The church of Jesus Christ is planted in a world that is hostile  to God  and all that  belongs to God . The Lord Jesus  has told us that “in the world we would have tribulation…(Jn 16:33) , and Satan the sworn enemy of Christ and His church  will make sure of that.  He cannot touch Christ  our glorious Head , for He is now enthroned at the right hand of God , from where He will come again to judge  everything  (  2Tim 4:1; Rom 16:20) . He tried  to murder Him  at  the cross , but he failed .  And now he commands legions of  fallen angels (or demons)   to resist the work of God in and through the church. He does  this work  primarily through  people,  both outside and ( sadly )  even  from inside the church , by   either placing false brothers into our midst ( Jude 1:4 ; 1 Jn 2:19)  or by exploiting  our sinful weaknesses  , finding as it were  gaps in  our spiritual armour . One of these  weaknesses is  unbiblical anger ( see Eph 4:26,27). It gives a foothold to the devil .  
Here is something that we need to  understand  as we examine the root of the conflict  in the Corinthian church , and  in every other church .   The Corinthian conflict at face value was a people driven thing. And in that sense we must always take full responsibility when we  allow Satan to work through us in the church . Paul holds those  that stir up trouble  in the church personally accountable  whether it be  the  arrogant  talk of those that refute his apostolic credentials in Ch 4:18,19  ;  whether it is  the sexually immoral man of Ch 5  , or whether it is the  idolaters , adulterers ,  homosexuals , the thieves , the greedy, the drunkards , the revilers or  the swindlers of  1 Cor 6 : 9-10 .
But if you were seeking  for the root of the problem of all sin, and especially  that of division  ,   you will  need to  also study the 2nd letter to the Corinthians ( the most intimate and personal of all Paul’s letters)  , where Paul  shows us conclusively  that Satan  is the first cause  of all conflict [1] in the world and in the church .   Again , this does not mean  that we can blame Satan  for making us divisive .  We must learn to take personal responsibility for the expressions of sin that come through us  when we yield to his temptations.  And each one must examine  themselves  and ensure  that there  are no  areas  of spiritual compromise in  their  lives through which  Satan can  launch  his spiritual attacks in the church as he has done in this Corinthian church .
The Lord Jesus teaches us that  anyone guilty of causing division  will have  to  give an account  to the Lord  for  this.  In Matthew 18:7  He  puts  it like this : “ Woe to the world for temptations to sin ! For it is necessary that temptations come  , but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes.

Having noted this then ,  let us  proceed to see how  the apostle Paul deals  with  the  “report of division “ in 1:10-12 .
Last  week we saw   from verses 13-17  how foolish  such  divisive thinking and behaviour is. Paul taught us  that Christ  ( and therefore the body of Christ)  cannot be divided. Those who were  beginning to determine  their  allegiance to the  church by  their association   with  certain prominent men in the church  needed to know  that Paul was not crucified for the Corinthians; they needed also to know  that  they were not  baptized into the name of Paul!        
It  is Christ alone  who was crucified for sins, and it is into His name alone that         we are baptized!
There is one great central theme running through Paul's ministry, and we do well to understand and imitate  it .  It  is the supremacy of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ!  Names,people and parties, and issues such as baptism are not Paul's  departure point  in the work that he was called to do.  That is not to say, that the contribution of Paul, Apollos and Peter are not important, and that they had  not proved to be a great blessing to the Church! God had greatly used  them in the building of His church subsequent to Pentecost! Neither   does it mean, that baptism was of no consequence! No, our Lord Jesus   had Himself commended this practice  (Matt 28:19) . How then can it not be   important ?
The problem  arises when  people  begin to confuse primary and secondary  principles . When secondary principles  begin to rule the church, there is   trouble! When we  begin to quote  our spiritual leaders more than the Bible or when we  make  the act of  baptism  the supreme  sign  and proof  of conversion ( when   producing fruit in keeping with our repentance  is the biblical norm !) , then  we have crossed  the great divide  from orthodoxy into   apostasy from the gospel .  This is where the Galatians had found themselves (Gal   1:6ff) .
It is amazing that this church which was planted somewhere between AD 50 – 52  ( during Paul’s second missionary journey-  Acts 18:1-11) , having been built upon sound apostolic teaching,  should  have  moved away from Christ -  in a matter of 3-5 years  , i.e. when Paul wrote this letter   from Ephesus during his third missionary journey  (see 1 Cor 16:8) .
This teaches us that  it  does not take long to forsake our foundation  who is Christ ! It happens faster than we think .  So you will not find it surprising that the first thing that Paul does is to  take  this church back to the  foundational truthy – the gospel !
You may be assured that he did not just decide  to insert this  great  teaching  on the “ word of the cross” ( v.18)   here in a random manner ! No! He is  presenting  the  real solution to the problem , before he returns once more to the  matter of divisions in the church in Chapter 3 !

The solution  to division : The word of the cross ( v.18)  :    Please note that   this follows  v.17, in which Paul  warns  the church  that  the placing of secondary matters of importance  (such as baptism)  before   primary matters, such as  gospel  preaching  would be disastrous  for the message of gospel. Inverting these two would be tantamount  to “emptying  the cross  of Christ of its power “. Take note that the  preaching of the gospel is the  supreme  work of  Christ’s ministers . Nothing must   usurp  its place!  The gospel is God’s chosen and supreme tool  in the hands of the preacher and the church . Many modern  churches  now say  that this is ( folly) or  stupid, (  see  v.21) , but the fact of the matter remains that the  gospel  message is  the word of the cross , or “ Christ crucified “ (v.23).That  message  is the power of God (v.18b) .

Do not think that from one year to the next you have that message in your heart! Respectfully remember your heart’s default position . When Christ  and the word of the cross  are not at  the centre we quickly become idolaters and men pleasers  . The remedy for such  apostasy  is found in Psalm 16:8 :  “ I have set the Lord always  before me ; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”

Verses   18 – 31  are therefore a reminder  of the fact  that  the gospel  can quickly be trashed .  And what the Corinthians needed is to be reminded  of  what they had received at the beginning :
1.      The word of the cross may be  foolish  to  the unconverted  - but it is powerful to the  converted .(v.18)
2.      The  wisdom of the world , expressed through the philosophers  - the “sophoi”  and the scribes ( Jewish teachers of the law) and the debaters   is made foolish by the God’s wisdom (v. 20)   mainly through  the”folly” of gospel preaching! (v.21)
3.      Jews  who  seek signs as proof of  reality , and Greeks who seek wisdom as     the measure of all things  are confounded  by  the  gospel  message  which preaches  a crucified Christ  ( v.22,23) .
4.      They needed  to be  reminded  that both Jews and  Greeks were called  ( i.e. irresistibly drawn by the  power of God – see also 1:1,2!! )  and who have seen that  this crucified Christ  - the word of the cross – the gospel  is the  power of God and the wisdom of God  (v.24) .
5.       But  the “cherry on the top” is found when  Paul is able  in vv 26-31  to point out  that the superiority of  the wisdom of God   over  the wisdom of men is demonstrated when he calls them to consider themselves !  “Look at yourselves”  says the apostle in vv  26- 31 .  What kind of people  were you when you were called  ?
·         V26. describes what they were
·          Vv.27-28   describes what they have become by the power of “foolish” gospel preaching  .  Paul reminds them  that God delighted  to take foolish  and weak (v.27)   and low and despised  people  of this world (v.28)  ,by chosing them  (v.27- 2 times ; v.28)  and by making them brothers (v.26)  and by placing all  “ in Christ Jesus”  (v.30) who is  God’s wisdom ,  God’s righteousness, God’s sanctification ,and God’s Redeemer  (v.30).  These people  here described were powerful manifestations of God’s transforming  power and grace. We saw Paul testifying to this in 1:4-7  by way of prayerful prayer of  thanksgiving !

Now listen !  What does the presentation  of  this powerful amazing , transforming  word of the cross , the gospel about Christ crucified  accomplish ?  It robs us of all our boasting!  (v.29,31) .
Boasting  is a sin that is rooted in the “arch sin”  of  human pride -  engendered into the human race  by the devil , ‘ that proud spirit’ as one Puritan author  called him .  The boastful proud spirit  loves to worship the created ( the secondary principle)  rather than the Creator  who alone  to be worshipped  (Rom 1:25) . The boastful  spirit  loves to  follow  its self appointed  “idol- leader“. The boastful spirit says :  I will  serve God in   the way I think is right . I will  have my child / or myself  baptized for the remission of sins , without thinking  first about the  demands of the gospel – namely that I should  repent and  show fruit in keeping with my repentance !”
This proud , boastful , self righteous ,   self determining  spirit  had  crept into the church . The word of the cross  had been subtly replaced !
Oh , they were still going to church ; they were  still observing communion (Ch 11)  ; they were still exercising their spiritual gifts (Ch  12-14) – but  it all  led to  hopeless division .

So,  when the church is divided,   here is the  remedy :  Preach the gospel- the word of the cross !  Do you see what  Paul is doing ?  He is preaching the gospel  to them again , whilst also pointing out the folly of worldly  wisdom .  When the church is divided ,  preach the gospel !   
And before they can  appreciate the gospel , tell them how it is with them   apart from Christ . Tell the people that they are sinners and that apart from  the gospel there is no hope for them . They must despair in themselves  and in their many schemes . Tell them that there is no hope for the future , for they shall not inherit the kingdom of God without repentance  from their sin and  turning to Christ the Redeemer  !    
When they are wounded and stripped of their self confidence , then you must tell  them  that by looking to Jesus  they will  see  their own sinfulness  more clearly . This will have the  wonderful side  effect  of  helping  them  to be less judgmental to their brother or sister. It will help them  to be less divisive and boastful , for they will see how much  Jesus has forgiven them . Show  them  Christ  the crucified one . Preach  Him  to your church again and again, until  the boastful pride walks out and the  humility and gentleness of Christ  comes in.
And when  you are challenged  by the world around you to think   that gospel preaching is foolish  , say  to them “ that may be what you think ; but according to God this is His  wisdom-   to  heal  this broken , divided world , and  you  will do well to submit to gospel preaching , and  you  will do well to  learn the gospel method , for here are the living testimonies of God’s grace … not many wise … not many powerful… not many of noble birth… weak people ! But oh , see how the gospel  of  God has  transformed the prostitute and the adulterer and the liar and the thief  and the greedy man  and the idolater  - such  were some of you. But you were washed , you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  ( 6:11) ! 
There is nothing like the word of the cross – the gospel , to  destroy  human boasting and pride and the divisive spirit  - because in the  word of the cross Christ  stand large , and when  we stand in his shadow  ,  He is glorious  and we – well,  we stand in the shadows , where we belong  ! Amen

[1] E.g.  2 Cor 2:11 ; 4:4;11:14-15 ; 12:7

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