1 Corinthians 1: Divisions in the Church

This entry is part [part not set] of 19 in the series 1 Corinthians - Buck McCallum

1 Corinthians 1: Divisions in the Church

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Introduction: Divisions at Corinth

Last week we talked about the fact that there were divisions at the Corinth.  And I pointed out from vv. 8-10 that one of the reasons this was happening was that people were gathering around certain figure heads, which is not such a problem in itself.  The problem is that they were doing it to the exclusion of others.  This is what was so serious.

In fact, one thing I pointed out last week which I need to reiterate this week is that this problem was taken so seriously by Paul that it constitutes the major part of his letter.  For the first 4 chapters of this letter he is going to be addressing the issue of division.  It is the first issue to come up, and it is the issue he takes the longest time to deal with.  So, we are talking about a most serious issue here.  By it’s precedence and the weight given it, we might conclude that it weighs more heavily in Paul’s mind than the sexual problems they were having at Corinth.  It weighs heavier than the greed problems . . .

We need to look into exactly why Paul considers this issue so seriously this week.

Read 10-13

Is Christ divided?

Notice that the first thing he says about division in the church is this rhetorical question: “Has Christ been divided?”

This statement really gets at the outrage of what is happening at Corinth.  To divide the Christians is to say that Christ himself has been divided.  Now, as Paul answers the question, “Has Christ been divided?” he says, “No way!”  But as these people answer, they say, “Well, yeah I guess he has.”  And this is horrifying to Paul.

The church is Christ

To get a grip on why Paul is so serious about this, we need to refresh ourselvs on something that both he and the Corinthians knew.  This is a theological background here.  And that is, the church is the manifestation of Christ in this world.  That’s why he asks, “Has Christ been divided?”

This is a very basic teaching that Christ left behind with his disciples.  He said, “Even after I leave this earth physically, I will be with you always.”  So Christ promised his presence here on earth.  But the way he has done it is to come in the form of his Spirit, and indwell individual Christians.  Christians have God’s Spirit living within them . . .

So, you say, “Great!  I have the Spirit of Christ in me because I am a Christian!”  Not quite.  Not quite.  And here is something you must understand if you are going to go anywhere in your Christian life: The Spirit of God is in you as a Christian.  But he is not there for you.  Let me repeat, he is not there for you.  He is there for others.

This is an ingenious twist that God has put on the whole thing.  He said, “I’ll come and live within you.”  And we think that is great.  But he comes to live within us, so that he can work through us to others.

Scriptural support

In a passage we’re going to get to much later, I Cor. 12, Paul says clearly, “Each one of us gets a manifestation of the Spirit.”  And we like that.  I’m glad I get to have God’s Spirit within me.  But the second half the verse is the whole point: “For the common good!”  Why does God give us his Spirit?  For the common good!

Another passage I can think of along these lines is I Thess. 4:9, where Paul says, “The Spirit himself will teach you about love of the brethren.”  This is one of the clearest passages we have about what God’s Spirit actually does within us.  One thing we know he does is teach us how to love one another.  His instruction is aimed at how to interact with others.

Finally, if you research the term “filling of the Spirit,” which is a real popular term among Christians (“That man is Spirit filled . . .”), you will find that it refers to when the Spirit takes us over.  It refers to a strong experience of God’s Spirit.  But you know what else?  You will always, always, find it in connection with people serving others.  That’s when they are filled with the Spirit.  You will either find people being filled when they speak the gospel, or when they try to minister to someone else.  In other words, you will experience God’s Spirit when you go out to minister to others.

Let me say that having God’s Spirit in us for the sake of others does not mean he never does anything for me.  He does lots of things for me.  But, once again, that is also for the sake of others.

The way we experience him: Others

So, this is an understanding of God’s Spirit and our experience of his Spirit that I’m sure most Christians are quite unclear about.  But here’s something else.  Here’s something else that we just don’t really put together too often: If you want to experience God’s Spirit, or have him work on you, then what?  Then it will be through others.  That’s the implication of what we’re talking about here.

If he comes to live in me, so that he can work through me to others, then when it comes to me, and receiving God’s input, it will come through others.

Example: It would be like God coming to live at your house, which would be pretty cool.  “Hey!  You’re going to stay here!  We’ll be able to have lots and lots of good times together and lots of good talks.  There are a lot of questions I’ve been wanting to ask you.”  And he says, “No.  It’s not going to be that way.”  “Huh!  What do you mean!?”  “If you want to talk to me about yourself and get some input, you can go next door.  I’ll be over there too and we can talk there.”  “You mean to say, if I want to talk and ask some questions, I have to go all the way next door to see you there!  When you live right here!?”  “That’s right.”

If we want God’s input in our lives, he will give it to us–through other people.  When Christ said, “I will be with you,” it was not just “I will be in your heart.”  He comes to live within us, but he speaks to us through others.  And he speaks to others through each one of us.

Example: I think there are a lot of people who haven’t figured this out in their lives, and that’s why they are still struggling with the same issues year after year.  “I never seem to be able to kick it . . .”  “Well, who in here have you gone to for help?”  “No one yet . . .”

“Has Christ been divided?”

This is why Paul says, “Has Christ been divided?”  To divide the church, and isolate ourselves from different portions of the church, is to cut ourselves off from God himself–Christ himself.

Let me re-state this point because it shows why Paul is considering this division as so serious: To cut ourselves off from other members of the church is to cut ourselves off from Christ.

This helps us to understand why the issue of division is so serious.  If we divide people in the church from each other, then we also isolate them from God’s work in their lives.  We terminate God’s work in their lives.

Example: Think of some of the problems here at Corinth.  Some people were having sexual problems–serious ones.  So serious, in fact, that Paul says in one place, even the most rude and crude folks would be embarassed to discuss these problems (which kind of raises my eyebrows).  By dividing the church, you cut people off from getting help for those problems.  God can’t help that person because they’re isolated from the others.

Example: Some of these people were aparently drunks and got drunk even when they went to church.  But once again, if the church is divided, then these people are alone!

This is why division is so serious.  Without division in the church, we all have serious problems.  But with division in the church, we also have no hope of finding answers and help for those problems because we are divided from the very people God would use to help us!

All the problems Paul takes up to address are of no use unless he can also heal this rift . . .

I have seen it before

This is something I’ve seen before in churches.  You’ll start off with some fighting. But before long, that’s not the only issue.  Pretty soon, it seems like everyone’s personal life is falling apart . . .

That’s because with the onset of division in a church, God’s hands are tied . . .

The power of the gospel

Paul gives us some interesting insight about division by appealing to the example of his own life.  This is something that is so typical of Paul.  He addresses the problem by saying, “Let me tell you how it is in my life . . .”

Read 14-16

Why talk about baptism?

He brings up the fact that he didn’t really baptize all that many people at Corinth.  I think he brings this up because the rite of baptism might have caused some to feel they had a special link with Paul or whoever baptized them.  Maybe this was one of the things that gave rise to the partisanship.

But Paul says, “Look, I didn’t get into that stuff.”  But there’s a reason he didn’t get into it.

Read v. 17

There’s one thing that makes it for me . . .

The point he is making here is that instead of getting into all this side-light stuff, like who baptized who and who you follow, Paul is into basically one thing, preaching the gospel.  By the term “gospel” he is refering to the good news of Jesus Christ.  That’s what the term “gospel” means, “good news.”  It’s the good news that Jesus came and died for us.  And that he offers us forgiveness because of it.

The reason he goes off on this is not some selfish thing, “Now let’s talk about me.”  The reason he talks about this is as a reminder of something that they had forgotten.  These people had gotten away from taking the gospel–the good news of Jesus Christ–out to people.  And instead they were turned inward on each other.  That’s what division is all about.  They were looking at each other, and fighting with each other, and trying to figure out who stood where.  And they had forgotten all about the powerful message of Jesus Christ.

The gospel is powerful

That’s why Paul goes on and reminds them just how amazing and awesome the message of Jesus Christ is.

Read through v. 24.

Essentially what Paul is saying here is that the gospel, what he also calls here the word of the cross, is more powerful than any thing that people have ever conceived of.  He says, “Bring on the scribe.  Bring on the wise man.  Bring on the greatest men!  And none of them will come up with something as powerful and amazing as the word of the cross of Jesus Christ.”

That’s why he uses all this sarcastic language here.  He says that God’s folly–the fact that he would come and die on a cross–is more awesome than the most wise and powerful idea that a man has ever come up with.

And when you think about it, the message of Jesus Christ has to be pretty darn powerful.  When you think of what it has done over the years.  You know, the message of Christ didn’t spread with a sword, like Islam.  It didn’t spread with the promise of wealth and prosperity.  In fact, you were likely to be persecuted if you did believe in Christ.  And yet, in spite of that, it eventually spread so far and wide, that it literally overtook the Roman Empire itself.

So we are dealing with something very powerful here, and that is what Paul is saying.  He’s saying, “You guys have forgotten the most powerful thing, the whole reason you are Christians!”

Contrast it with what people expect

Just to get a feel for why Paul is saying this, we need to contrast the message of the cross with what people normally expect from God.  That’s what Paul does here.

He says that the Jews look for a sign from God.  This is certainly not unique to Jewish people, but in Paul’s day it was very typical.  Even today, though, how common for anyone to seek a sign from God!  “God show me you are there!  Show me what kind of God you are!”

And what are signs?  Signs are things like smoke in the sky . . . An appearance by an angel is one common one I hear.  “Work a miracle in my life!”  But no.  That’s not what God did.  Instead, he came as a normal human being, Jesus Christ.  He didn’t even come with a glow and flashing lights . . .  He lived a relatively obscure life, and in the end he gave his life for the human race by dying on a cross!

No one would have ever guessed, no one would have imagined that God would do this.

Then Paul says, “The Greeks seek for wisdom.”  Once again, nothing unsual here.  They seek for that nugget of insight that says, “This could only be from God!”  That’s what he means when he says that the Greeks seek wisdom.  They’ll believe that something is from God when it has that nugget of wisdom they’ve never heard before.

Example: Wouldn’t it be something if God somehow boomed down from heaven, “Here are four noble truths.”  And the one who understands these truths and takes them to heart, he shall be saved . . .

But no.  Once again, that’s not what he did.  Instead, he came and died on the cross.  And what he did is far more powerful than any noble truth he could have revealed. By coming and dying on the cross God is saying, “You, the human race, you guys have a serious problem.  And in order to deal with it, I have to actually come and die for you.”  God is saying that our problem with him is so massive, he had to give his life for us.

But there’s more.  He says, “In order to come to me, you personally need the cross.”  This is so powerful.  He is saying, “In order to come to me and have my acceptance, you need Jesus to die for you.”  Instead of doing tricks for people, he says, “you need to accept my death on your behalf.”  Instead of titillating their desire for wisdom, he says, “No, you need to accept my death on your behalf.”

Everyone has to come to God and accept his death on their behalf.  God has said, “This is the way to me.  This is the way to eternal life.  Accept my death on your behalf.”

A rich person has to admit, “I needed God to come and die for me.”

A good person needs to admit . . .

A beautiful person . . .

There is no message so powerful as this.  Because no message puts everyone in the same boat so equally as this one.  All of us needed God to die for us.  And coming to God is a matter of admitting that.

These people had forgotten

See, these people had forgotten all about this.  They had forgotten that this was the message that had turned their lives around.  They had forgotten that this was the most powerful message they ever heard.  And they did something so typical of Christians, they started sitting around sniping at each other . . .

This is where division always begins.  It begins when Christians start to think that the church is just a great place to be.  Sure, the church is a great place to be.  But that’s not what it’s here for and that’s not what it’s all about.

Christians start to think the church is just a wonderful place for fellowship!  And it is.  But that is not what it is here for and that is not what it’s all about.

We start to think that the church is a place to help with our problems!  And it is.  But that is not what it is here for and that is not what it’s all about.

The church is here to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ.

But we forget that, and we start to look at the church as a place for fellowship, a place for a good time, a place to help me with my problems.  And when you do that, you’re going to start noticing something: There are real serious problems.  There are problems with the people around here.  There are problems with the leaders around here.  There are problems with the way we do things around here.  There are problems with the way you get treated.  I don’t even have to know who you are!  There are problems!

And this is where division begins.  It begins when we start to sit around and critique things and we forget why we’re even here–to share the good news of J.C.

He uses us in spite of our problems

Here’s the miracle of the church: The amazing thing about the church is that God uses us, and he uses us powerfully in spite of the many problems we have!

I can go into a church, and the people are immature.  The leaders are careless.  The way they do things is silly.  And yet many, many people are coming to meet God!  Isn’t it amazing?

And it should be exciting.  Because that means that God can use you too, in spite of how weird you are and how many problems you have.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try and improve the church.  By all means . . . What I’m saying is that we ought to have the same graciousness with others that God has with us.  We ought to have the same tolerance and positive spirit with others that he has with us.  We ought to say, “Yeah, there are problems here.  But God could use us to communicate the message of J.C. . . .”

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