A House United
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
At the Illinois Republican State Convention on June 16, 1858, Senatorial candidate Abraham Lincoln said, “We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented.
In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed – “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided.
It will become all one thing, or all the other.”
That statement wasn’t original to Lincoln. Jesus said, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:24-25). The Apostle Paul was very concerned about the inherent conflict and division within the Corinthian church, so he directed his attention to the matter at hand, saying, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
Paul often expressed great concern about the possibility of a split in the church. He said similar things to the Philippian and Ephesian believers. The church in Philippi, Paul wrote, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Philippians 2:1-2). Unity and like-mindedness were characteristics Paul wanted to see in this young church. He had a similar thing to say to the Ephesian Christians. Paul told them, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6).
So, you can see this was not an isolated issue. If you turn on your television, read the paper, or listen to the news on the radio, you also realize this was not an issue exclusive to the first century. We are dealing with divisive issues, chaos, and a deep lack of trust in one another in our culture today. In times like these, the church needs to show itself as one body, united in spirit by the blood of Jesus Christ, and stand together as one heart and one voice. We need to be the model for our chaotic world…the model of unity.
Church unity was very important to Paul, and it should be to us as well. Because of its significance, Paul addressed it as the first issue in his letter to the Corinthian believers. Many of the remaining issues Paul addressed were rising up out of the division within the congregation. The source of our unity is Jesus Christ. Paul said, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Their relationship with Christ Jesus was the unifying factor of the church. There is no other name big enough, great enough, glorious enough, and powerful enough to gather the body together as one, despite the diversity of race, social status, or economic position, than the name of Jesus. That is why Paul reminds them of the one who binds us together…the one who taught unity in the Spirit…the one who died to make it possible.
We have a responsibility to obey Him, to follow His Lordship, and to bring His teaching to life in a darkened world. I’ve been in enough churches to realize we will never, this side of heaven, get an entire church body to agree on everything or to think the same way. We’re individuals, wired differently and see the world through different eyes. It’s impossible. So what exactly is Paul saying?
If you turn to Philippians 2 and finish reading the quote I began earlier about being of one mind, you’ll notice Paul gives us the template…the model…the actions to follow. He says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
Do you see the connection between unity and humility? The only way the church can attain unity is through self-imposed humility, and this only happens with complete surrender to Jesus Christ. When everyone decides to put the things of Christ first, and is willing to suffer loss so that the honor and glory of Christ might be advanced, that is when the church will experience harmony, peace and unity. I heard a song the other day written by Mark Hall / Bernie Herms / Matthew West that speaks to humility and servanthood.
It says, “Why You ever chose me, Has always been a mystery. All my life, I’ve been told I belong At the end of a line With all the other Not-Quites, With all the Never-Get-It-Rights, But it turns out they are the ones You were looking for All this time. ‘Cause I’m just a nobody trying to tell everybody All about Somebody who saved my soul. Ever since You rescued me, You gave my heart a song to sing. I’m living for the world to see nobody but Jesus. I’m living for the world to see nobody but Jesus. Moses had stage fright, And David brought a rock to a sword fight. You picked twelve outsiders nobody would’ve chosen And You changed the world
Well, the moral of the story is Everybody’s got a purpose, So when I hear that devil start talking to me, saying
‘Who do you think you are?’ I say I’m just a nobody trying to tell everybody All about Somebody who saved my soul.” It’s amazing what God can do when we get our egos out of the way.
Cliques and Factions – Cliques and factions are fruits of the flesh. They are divisive in nature. The Corinthian church was experiencing both. Paul addressed this specifically, saying, “I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I am of Apollos,’ and ‘I am of Cephas,’ and ‘I am of Christ.’” (1 Corinthians 1:11-12). Paul launches right into the issue. Notice he not only named the decisive parties, but Paul also names his source. No anonymity here. Before he rebukes and corrects them, Paul identifies each group, even the one aligning itself with him. If you stop and think about it, all four are good people to follow, and of course we should all be following Christ first, but the mere mention of him in this case seems to imply a sense of arrogance. “You may follow Paul, Apollos or Peter, but we follow Jesus.” A little snooty and prideful, don’t you think? I’m so glad we don’t have any favorites here at Valley View…or any divisions…or any separation by groups. Of course we do. We’re human. A favorite teacher, deacon, or song…etc.
Back to Corinth. Now that Paul has their attention, and they know the Apostle heard of their division, he launches into his rebuke, saying, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanus, beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else)” (1 Corinthians 1:13-16).
Let me begin by addressing the first of Paul’s critiques: a divided Christ. At first glance I thought this addressed having different denominations, but they didn’t have those back then. Then I thought it might deal with someone saying you only had to do this part of what Jesus said. Both would apply to us, but is that what Paul meant? Then, as I consulted various commentaries, I realized where Paul was going. A divided Christ. If you only follow one teacher, even if it is the Apostle Paul, you only get one perspective on what Jesus said and taught. In reality, it would be like choosing one author of the Bible and discarding the rest. If you chose Peter, you would only have his letters. What would our Bible be without the rest? If you chose Apollos, we would have nothing to go by. We don’t have copies of any of Apollos’s sermons or lessons. This flies in the face of my theory of bird-dogging Scripture and gives us a distorted view of Jesus.
There are four Gospel accounts for a reason. There are multiple letters for a reason. Without any book or account, we just don’t have the whole. Don’t divide Christ. Don’t pick and choose which part you want to believe. With Jesus, it’s all or nothing. If you try to straddle the fence, He’ll vomit you out of His mouth. Now to Paul’s second point.
Was Paul Crucified for Us? Only the perfect sacrifice could remove our sins and the punishment that comes with them. Only the unblemished lamb could become a one for all sacrifice. Paul, regardless of how good he may seem, was a sinful man with flaws. David, no matter how great a king he was, gave into his lusts and desires, and was tainted by his sin. Abraham, even though he was listed as the father of faith, had weaknesses and sin. Only one person in the history of mankind ever lived a perfect life…Jesus Christ. If Paul was crucified for the Corinthians, it would be nothing more than a good man dying for a cause or people. His death could not and would not save a single soul.
I remember back to a time I was considering uprooting my family and moving to Louisville to attend Southern Seminary. Belmont was hosting extension classes…actual classes taught by seminary professors. I enrolled. One night, while the professor was leading us through Scripture, I took out my pen and underlined key verses and made a short note as to their significance. When I did, the man seated beside me jumped up and shouted, “Blasphemy! How could you desecrate the Holy Word of God?” He grabbed his things and moved as far from me as he could. Every eye in the class was on me. Everyone was wondering what awful thing I had done. The “desecration” I committed was to write in the Bible. You see, the man that shouted this had elevated the Bible to such a degree that he was worshiping it.
Why do I share this story? To prove a point. We don’t worship the Bible. We worship the God it points to. Paul knew they were walking down a slippery slope. They were beginning to elevate the messengers over the subject of the Gospel. Paul wasn’t going to let that happen. As flattering as it may be, we always need to point beyond ourselves to the life-changing person of Jesus. Paul had experienced this misplaced worship before and he was having none of it. After Paul healed a man and “the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have become like men and have come down to us.’ And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker…But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God’” (Acts 14:11,12,14,15). Paul was not their savior; all he could do is lead them to the one who could save them, Jesus Christ.
We elevate great teachers of the Bible even today. There are those who follow the teachings of Wesley, Calvin, MacArthur, Lucado and many, many more. There are preachers who take the word of commentators for gospel themselves. We must realize these great men mean well and did the best they could do, but they still are only human…only offering their best interpretation of what God said. They are not God.
Whose Name Were You Baptized in? I have seen many times where a pastor is leaving a church and moving on to another. There are those who think so highly of that pastor that they want to suddenly be baptized before he leaves. They want to be able to say, “I was baptized by so-and-so.” It saddens me that we have not had many baptisms in the last few years. But, when a person accepts Christ, I have no territorial claim to that baptistry. I encourage the person who was influential in the new believer’s life to perform the baptism. I think it is important that the baptism is meaningful. However, I always want to make it clear, that act…that water does not save you. It is merely an initial testimony of what Christ Jesus has done in your life…a death of the old self, and being raised to a new life in Jesus. Only Jesus can save a life. Only He can make the dead alive again. Only He can find a lost soul and put it on the path to the Father. Only Jesus. I don’t know if you are aware, but Jesus didn’t baptize. He left that task to the disciples. Paul only baptized a few. He stayed focused on his own ministry…preaching the Gospel.
Paul Knew His Ministry…Do You? Paul understood the calling on his life. Paul knew the Holy Spirit endows each believer with a spiritual gift. He also knew that if a believer discovered that gift and used it in the pursuit of serving Christ Jesus, he could do great and mighty things for the Kingdom. Paul’s main gift was that of Apostleship, taking the Gospel to new places. He had other gifts as well, but Paul remained true to his calling and giftedness. That’s why we have such a rich and beautiful record of Paul’s missionary journeys and his follow-up with the young believers. 1 Corinthians is one of those follow-up accounts.
Do you know your spiritual gift? Do you know what the significance of that gift is? Are you aware of how and when to use that gift? And, do you know how that gift fits into the body of Christ? Here specifically in this local church? In the church at large? If not, you need to. You may be missing out on a wonderful blessing. It is time all believers discover their spiritual gifts. It is time all believers realize the body isn’t complete without you and your gift. It’s time all believers commit themselves to serving God with their spiritual gifts. Will you discover yours today? And, once you know what it is, will you surrender yourself to Jesus and commit yourself and your gift to His Kingdom? If so, you will be amazed what God will do with that gift. If you are a Christian, you have a spiritual gift, and you are necessary to the spread of God’s Kingdom.