May 26, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
A Glorious Mess
Part 2—No Divisions: United in Jesus
1 Corinthians 1:10-31



Today, we’re going to look at Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians to be united in Christ.  So let’s start by poking a little fun at ourselves and our denominations.  

ILL: How many church members does it take to change a light bulb?

  • Charismatics: Only one. Hands are already in the air.

  • Pentecostals: Ten. One to change the bulb, and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.

  • Presbyterians: None. Lights will go on and off at predestined times.

  • Roman Catholic: None. Candles only.

  • Baptists: At least 15. One to change the light bulb, and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad.

  • Episcopalians: Three. One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks and one to talk about how much better the old one was.

  • Methodists: Undetermined. Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved. You can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. Church-wide lighting service is planned for Sunday. Bring bulb of your choice and a covered dish.

  • Nazarenes: Six. One woman to replace the bulb while five men review church lighting policy.

  • Lutherans: None. Lutherans don’t believe in change.

  • Amish: What’s a light bulb??

We live in a day when the church is divided.  Today we’ll see what Paul and Jesus have to say about that.

Introduction and offering:  tie in drama; invite ushers, dive in.

Last week, Michael kicked off this series, A Glorious Mess, which is a study of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth.  We are going to take the summer and walk through this letter, one chapter a week.  I invite you to read ahead each week, and share your insights or questions online.  Post your comments or questions on Life Center’s Facebook page.

In this letter, Paul addresses several problems the church was facing: there were divisions, a man was sleeping with his step-mom, people were suing each other, there was a lot of sleeping around, people were getting drunk during communion, church services were a noisy free-for-all, and there was confusion about the resurrection of Jesus.  The church was a mess!  

But it was a glorious mess!  And every church is.  The church is the bride of Christ—it’s beautiful!  It’s glorious.  And the church is made up of people—so it’s a mess.  It’s a glorious mess.

This is true of every church, including this one.  And it’s true of every Christian, including me.  I’m a glorious mess—I’m a mess, but God is doing something beautiful in my life!  

So we’re going to read Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, this church that was a glorious mess, and we’re going to learn a lot about Jesus, the church, the gospel, and us.  

Michael got us through the introduction last week in which Paul praised the Corinthians—the glorious part.  Now for the mess.  The first big problem Paul tackles is divisions in the church.  He is going to spend the first four chapters addressing this.  Here’s the Big Idea in chapter 1:

The Big Idea: We find our common ground in Jesus and the message of the cross.

Let’s dive in.

1. The appeal: No divisions, but be united.  V. 10

1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

This verse is the topic sentence for the first four chapters.  Paul is making an appeal, and it’s a strong one: “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  I’m begging you in Jesus’ name: be united. Can you feel the strength of this?

ILL: When my kids were little, if one of them did something wrong, one of the others might say, “You shouldn’t do that.”  And the wrong-doer would say, “You’re not the boss of me.”  So the second kid would report to me, and I’d say, “Go tell him that dad said not to do it.”  They would go speak in the name of the father!  That made all the difference!

Paul is saying, “This is coming from Jesus.  Don’t be divided.  Be united.”

“Be perfectly united in mind and thought.”  Does this mean that Christians agree about everything?  It sounds like it—it sounds like complete uniformity is expected.  Does this mean that Christians must all think alike, talk alike, dress alike?  Does unity mean that we’re all cookie-cutter Christians, stamped out of the same mold?  (“Praise the Lord!”)  No.  We’ll see later in this letter that diversity is celebrated in the church.  We are different, but we are one in Christ.  We are different, but we are perfectly united in Christ.  

Paul is going to spend four chapters on this!  Why so much?  It was a big problem.  It still is.  Why is it so important that Christians be united?  Here’s what Jesus said.

John 13:34–35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Jesus said that love is the mark of a Christian.  People will recognize us by our love for each other.  If we don’t love each other, if we divide and fight with each other, a watching world will never know that we’re followers of Jesus.  

Jesus also said:

John 17:20–23 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus prayed that we would be one—as Jesus and the Father are one!—so that the world would know that God sent Him.  In other words, our love for each other, our unity in Christ is what will convince a watching world that Jesus is from God, that the gospel is true.  Unity isn’t uniformity—we don’t have to agree about everything—but we should agree about the main things and love each other.  Augustine famously put it this way: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.”

This is why the first thing out of the chutes, Paul spends four chapters saying, “Let’s get this worked out!  Let’s learn to agree and love each other.”  

He moves from the appeal to a statement of the problem.

2. The problem: quarrels and divisions. V. 11-12

1 Corinthians 1:11-12 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

The problem is that they are divided and quarreling.  Paul has heard about this from “some from Chloe’s household.”  Who was Chloe?  We don’t know, but obviously they did.  She was most likely a prominent lady in the Corinthian church.  Chloe’s people had reported to Paul the quarreling and divisions in the church.

One says, “I follow Paul.”  Another, “I follow Apollos.”  Another, “I follow Cephas” (Peter’s Jewish name).  Still another, “I follow Christ.”

What is going on here?  Scholars have different opinions.

Some think that the church was divided along ethnic or racial lines.  The Paul followers were Roman.  The Apollos group was Greek.  And the Cephas group was Jewish.  It’s possible, and still happens a lot today.  In Spokane, we have white churches and black churches, and many ethnic churches, including Korean, Russian, and Hmong.  Not just churches, but whole denominations have ethnic identities.

Some think that the church was divided along theological lines.  The Paul followers emphasized the gospel of grace for the Gentiles.  The Apollos followers emphasized a more philosophical or allegorical approach.  And the Cephas group emphasized the importance of the Jewish law.  It’s possible, and this still happens today.  Most denominations identify themselves with theological distinctions.  More about that in a moment.  

Some think that they were aligning themselves with the person who baptized them, since Paul addresses that.

And some scholars think that people were simply aligning themselves with their favorite teacher.  Public speakers were the rock stars of the time.  Rhetoric was the art of speaking skillfully and persuasively.  Rhetoricians were public speakers that were known for their ability to talk well; the more pretentious and eloquent, the better.  People had their favorites, and argued about them like you would about your favorite sports star or musician.  

  • “Who is better: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant or LeBron James?”

  • “Greatest band of all time?  The Beatles, hands down!”

  • “Best preacher?”  Billy Graham…Rick Warren…TD Jakes…or this guy?

You get the idea…

The arguments got so intense that fights broke out and people got hurt!  It’s possible that these new Christians viewed Paul and Apollos as rhetoricians—traveling public speakers—and they were siding with their favorite.  

But what about the “I follow Christ” group?  It’s possible that this is Paul’s rebuttal to them.  Maybe Paul is saying, “All this ‘I’m for so-and-so’ is garbage!  I’m for Christ!”  Certainly, that’s where he’s headed, as we’ll see.

It’s also possible that there was a group of super-spiritual folks who thought they were the only ones truly saved.  And there’s no shortage of that today either.

They were quarreling and divided.  Is this still a problem?  Huge!  Sadly, Christians continue to quarrel and be divided along ethnic lines, over doctrine, and even over their favorite teachers.  

It’s not wrong to worship with others who share your culture and speak your language: English or Spanish or Russian or Korean or Hmong.  But it is wrong to view with suspicion or contempt those who are different from you, and think only our group is right.

ILL: After visiting Russia a couple weeks ago, I have fresh appreciation for why Russian immigrants form their own churches.  

First, let me say, we are planting a church in Russia!  Alex and Larisa Skachkov will be going to Kaliningrad in the next year to plant a new church: Калининградский центр жизни.  (Kaliningradski center zheeznya)  That’s Kaliningrad Life Center in Russian.  I have mad Russian skills! There are half a million people in Kaliningrad and less than 1% are evangelical Christians.  It’s a young city and the opportunity is huge!  God is calling the Skachkovs there and we are teaming with them to reach people for Jesus.

While we were there, we attended worship services at three churches: Baptist, charismatic and Russian orthodox.  I enjoyed all three (they were wildly different from each other), but I didn’t understand much.  I understand why immigrants usually form their own churches.  

That’s understandable.  But most of our division and quarreling is about doctrine.  And that’s true in Russia as well.

ILL: The first question we were asked everywhere we went was, “Who will you affiliate with?”  In Russia, you have to register with a government-recognized theological union.  The main ones are the Baptists at one end, the Pentecostals at the other, and the Evangelicals in between.  We said, “We don’t know.  We are Christians and we want to work with everyone.”  

One leader asked me, “Do you like John MacArthur?”  Yes.  “Do you like Rick Warren?”  Yes.  “How can you like both of them?  Don’t they disagree?”  He was trying to pin me down to determine if I “follow John” or if I “follow Rick”.  Whose camp am I in?

It’s true here too.  We ask people questions to determine if they are like us.  Are you reformed? Are you Pentecostal?  Do you like Calvin or Arminius?  John Piper or Andy Stanley? Do you like Bill Johnson or Bill Hybels?

Why do we ask these questions?  Usually, it is so we can pigeonhole the other person: you are one of us or you’re not.  You’re in or out.  Then I can know if I should like you, trust you, or will listen to you.  It’s not wrong to have different opinions; it’s wrong to let them divide us.

Here is my definition of denominations: Denominations are groups of people who have all agreed to be wrong about the same things.  

Think about it.  Most of us agree about the big thing: about Jesus, about the gospel.  It’s the secondary stuff we fight over: speaking in tongues, the role of women in the church, once-saved-always-saved, a pre-tribulation rapture. Denominations are characterized by their distinctives; they take a secondary issue and make it major.  That’s why I say that denominations are groups of people who have all agreed to be wrong about the same things.  

When people ask me about these secondary issues, I tell them, “I have an opinion, but I really don’t care what you believe about that stuff—believe what you want, as long as you believe in Jesus.”  I want us to be, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “mere Christians.”  

Let’s be mere Christians who love other Christians.  Let’s be all about Jesus.  That’s the solution…

3. The solution: united in Jesus. V. 13-31

A. The only Savior. 13-17

1 Corinthians 1:13-17 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

The solution to their division is to find unity in Jesus; He is the only Savior.

To make this point, Paul asks three rhetorical questions.  Is Christ divided?  No.  Was Paul crucified for you?  No—only Jesus.  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?  No—only Jesus.  Their unity is anchored in Jesus, the one who was crucified for them, and the one in whose name they were baptized.  

Our only Savior is Jesus.  Not Paul, Apollos, Peter.  Only Jesus was crucified for us—no one else.  We are on dangerous ground when we make anyone or anything other than Jesus the issue.  We help people find and follow Jesus—no one else.

Why the concern about baptism?  It’s possible that people were rallying around the person who baptized them.  But Paul shows that who baptized you means nothing.  What’s important is that you were baptized into Jesus.  

What does it mean to be baptized into Jesus’ name?  To give money into a man’s name was to put it in his account. When a soldier swore loyalty into the name of Caesar, he belonged to the Emperor.  To be baptized into the name of Jesus was to belong to Jesus, to become completely His.  As Paul explains in Romans 6, baptism means that you die with Christ, are buried with Christ, are raised with Christ and now live an new life in Christ.  You are baptized into Jesus; you belong to Jesus.

Please understand that when you are baptized, you are baptized into Jesus, not into Paul, or Martin Luther, or John Calvin, or Foursquare or Catholic or Presbyterian.  If you are baptized into anything else, you’ve missed the point.  It’s about belonging to Jesus, lock stock and barrel!  

This is why Paul says that he’s glad he didn’t baptize many—he didn’t want them thinking that he was annexing them for himself.  He was claiming them for Jesus.  That’s why his primary mission was simply preaching the gospel, and letting others baptize the converts.

First, they are united in Jesus, their only Savior.

Next, they are united by the gospel—the message of the cross.

B. The scandalous message.  18-25

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;

the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Evidently, wisdom was a major concern for the Corinthians.  As I said, public speakers were the rock stars of the day—they were traveling philosophers, spouting wisdom.  In such a culture, “the message of the cross was foolishness.”  Greek thought tended to view spirit as good and matter as bad.  The idea that God would become a man was repugnant to them.  The idea that God would die on a cross was even worse.  It was the worst kind of foolishness.  The Greeks looked for wisdom—and missed Jesus.  

The Jews demanded miraculous signs.  They looked back in their history to events like the Exodus, and believed that when God delivered them again, it would be with miraculous acts similar to the splitting of the Red Sea.  To the Jews, the idea of a crucified Messiah was scandalous.  The Jewish law said that anyone who was hung (or crucified) was under God’s curse. A crucified Messiah was scandalous.  The Jews demanded power—and missed Jesus.

Paul’s message was Christ crucified.  It was foolishness to the Greeks (moria; we get moron or moronic from it).  Only a moron would believe this.  And it was a stumbling block to the Jews (skandalon; we get scandal or scandalous from it).  It was a scandalous message.  

But to those of who are being saved, the foolish and scandalous message of the cross is the wisdom and power of God!  God has made the wisdom of the world foolish.  The world in all its wisdom could never find or follow God.  So God chose to save us through this foolish and scandalous message: the message of Christ crucified.   

Paul continues this train of thought in chapter 2, contrasting the wisdom of this world with the wisdom of God.  His point is that what unites us is the simple message of Christ crucified—not all the fancy philosophies of the day.  Just Jesus, and Him crucified.  

We are united by the gospel—the scandalous message of a crucified Christ.  Other messages divide us; this one unites us.  We are one at the foot of the cross.  

First, they are united in Jesus, their only Savior.

Next, they are united by the gospel—the message of the cross.

Finally, God’s wisdom is illustrated by the humble recipients.

C. The humble recipients. 26-31

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

I love this!  Paul says, “If you want proof that God’s wisdom is different than the world’s, look at yourselves!  If God wanted wisdom, power and influence, He wouldn’t have chosen you!”  When God called them, not many were wise or influential or of noble birth.  Some were—we know of a few Corinthian Christians who were wealthy or influential.  Crispus was the ruler of the synagogue before he became a Christian, and Erastus was the director of public works—a city official.  But evidently most of the Corinthian Christians came from the great mass of people who were poor and powerless; many may have been slaves.  

This was—and still is—a criticism of Christianity: it appeals to the lower classes—the poor and uneducated.

ILL: Around 178, the Greek philosopher Celsus wrote a bitter attack on Christianity, ridiculing its appeal to the common people. He parodied the Christian appeal (perhaps even Paul’s words here): “Let no cultured person draw near, none wise, none sensible; for all that kind of thing we count evil; but if any man is ignorant, if any is wanting in sense and culture, if any is a fool let him come boldly.”  He described Christians as “the most uneducated and vulgar persons.” And as “frogs holding a symposium round a swamp—or worms meeting in a corner of mud.”

He was nasty!

But this was part of the beauty of the Christian faith: it was the great leveler; it cut across all social distinctions.  

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Racial differences, economic and class differences, gender differences—they all became secondary in the church where we are all one in Christ.

There were 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire who were considered disposable property.  Jesus took these people who were considered things and made them into children of God.  In Christ, people who had never mattered, now mattered intensely to God, and to others.  People who had always been worthless now were told that they were worth the death of God’s only Son.  The scandalous gospel of a crucified Christ was even more scandalous in its radical inclusion.  

“God chose the foolish and weak, the lowly and despised.”  And why did He do this?  So that no one would boast.  No one would think, “God chose me and I deserved it.  I earned my way.”  

“Lucky God—He got me!”  

No way!  

No one can boast before Him.  It is all His doing, not ours.  This is the gospel: it is that God has made us His friends in Christ.  God has done it; we didn’t do it.  The gospel is about what God has done for us in Christ, not what we have done for God.  Religion is DO—it’s about what we do for God.  But the gospel is DONE—it’s about what God has done for us.  And because Jesus did it all, we boast in Him alone. Let’s brag about Jesus!