"Quenching Quarrels, Upholding Unity"
Jan.16, 2011 1Cor.1:10-17
THE CHURCH OF "US ONLY"
There was a small church affiliated with an exclusive "splinter' denomination. The members had cut out some gold letters and fastened them on the wall in front of the church. The letters said: "JESUS ONLY." One day a gust of wind blew away the first three letters. The sign then read, more accurately: "US ONLY."
Long before denominations were even part of the picture, the church at Corinth was riven with divisions. In 1Cor 1:10 he appeals to them, asking that they all agree with one another; more literally, that they 'keep speaking', not give others the silent treatment. Also, he asks that there "be no divisions among you": the root in Greek comes from that for 'schisms', a rending or cleaving. What's the information Paul has received as he writes from Ephesus? V11, "that there are quarrels" among them: contention, strife, wrangling. The term 'wrangling' brings to mind a cowboy 'wrangler', somebody who jumps down off a horse at a rodeo and tries to wrestle a calf into submission. There was a tussle going on within the church at Corinth, a struggle for control and dominance.
V12 provides more clues as to the issues: one says, "I follow Paul," another - "I follow Apollos," another - "I follow Cephas", and still another, "I follow Christ." There's actually no word for 'follow' in the Greek so it's more like, "I'm Paul's," "I'm for Peter," "I'm with Apollos" etc. You can sense the real party-divisiveness - almost like a hot election contest!
These leaders named represent divisions that are not unlike factions within some churches today. Paul was the founding apostle, the original church-planter. Probably Greek-speakers with pagan background responded most strongly to him; perhaps slaves, who valued his emphasis on freedom in Christ. You could class these today as the 'old-timers' or charter members in the congregation; those who might say, "We were here first!" and resent newcomers coming in with different ideas.
Apollos is described in Acts 18(24ff) as "a Jew...a native of Alexandria...a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue." His style was different from that of Paul, who told the story of the gospel in plain and simple language. We gather Apollos was a great speaker, polished, good elocution and an impressive orator, knowledgeable in Scripture. He would have appealed to a more intellectual crowd. One commentary notes, "The Alexandrian method as in Philo did run to dialectic subtleties and luxuriant rhetoric." [If that sentence made complete sense to you, you probably would have enjoyed listening to Apollos!] By contrast, in 2Corinthians 10(10) Paul quotes some of his critics as calling him 'unimpressive' in person, 'his speaking amounts to nothing.'
Third, Paul mentions Cephas, or the apostle Peter. Though he hadn't visited Corinth that we know of, converted Jews and those promoting circumcision and Hebrew dietary laws would have related to him - those who adhered most closely to the Hebrew Scriptures. Call these the Legalists: we have them in today's churches, too.
Fourth, those who say "I follow Christ": perhaps sneering at the devotion to human leaders of the other groups, these people maintain they're the 'real McCoy' while everybody ELSE is a sect or heretical. Unwittingly, by stating it such, they bring Christ down to a level on par with other human leaders. Years back, a man tried to convince me the only true baptism was in the name of Jesus, not the usual trinitarian formula involving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He maybe would have fit into this 'Jesus only' sect. Today, this group might be represented by those who are critical of EVERY denomination and seem to move around from church to church, always finding something wrong and never settling in to a local church body.
This quick summary by no means exhausts the excuses people today have for drawing lines between themselves and others in the church. There's the clash in style of preacher between Paul and Apollos: "Why can't you preach more like Billy Graham?" "How come you're tied to a manuscript instead of walking around?" Then there are the so-called worship wars over style of music: traditional hymns vs contemporary praise songs; 'we want more of this' or that, or the service is too long, or why don't you have a Sunday evening service? The Cephas party may have differed in theology - that's a big source of division: infant vs adult baptism, Lord's Supper as sacrament or memorial, premillennial or amillennial, differing views over sexual orientation or women in leadership. The list goes on!
Divisions within a congregation hobble the church and undercut its whole effectiveness. I've witnessed congregations affected by it: it's painful, destructive, can cause good pastors to lose heart, and devoted lay-people to become discouraged. Even when the division isn't a leadership issue - just between one family and another - the whole body is affected and senses the tension.
Paul's heartfelt request in v10 is that they agree with one another, "that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought." The words 'perfectly united' translate a word used in Mark 1(19) for the disciples mending nets, repairing the tear. What prescription does Paul offer for a church rent with strife? He goes on at length over the first 4 chapters of the book referring to this division. I find what you might call a "Quartet of Questions for Quenching Quarrelling".
WHO'S ON TOP?
When we're divided over petty things, we've lost sight of the big picture. The first question then is, "Who's on top?" Who's most important? 3:4-7 reads: "For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe-- as the Lord has assigned to each his task.I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow."
Paul and Apollos are not in competition - they're a team; Jesus' servants, each doing their task as the Lord assigned. One plants, another waters, but it's God's project - they're 'not anything', but only God who makes things happen: God is the important one. "It's not about me."
Divisions would be a lost less likely to occur if believers all remembered who's on top, who we belong to. Later in 6:20 Paul reminds the church, "you were bought at a price.Therefore honor God with your body." We are His, so we need to honour Him, not seek our own glory. 2Cor 5(14f) adds: "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." Let's get this issue of who's most important settled: He died for us, so we live for Him, not ourselves.
We need to accept God's authority like a certain little boy had to learn one day on a visit to the dentist. Robert, the cantankerous boy, arrived in the dental office, prepared for battle. "Get in the chair, young man," said the doctor. "No chance!" replied the boy. "Son, I told you to climb onto the chair, and that's what I intend for you to do," said the dentist. Robert stared at his opponent for a moment and then replied, "If you make me get in that chair, I will take off all my clothes." The dentist calmly said, "Son, take 'em off."
The boy forthwith removed his shirt, undershirt, shoes, and socks, and then looked up in defiance. "All right, son," said the dentist. "Now get on the chair." "You didn't hear me:' sputtered Robert. "I said if you make me get on that chair, I will take off all my clothes." "Son, take 'em off," replied the man. Robert proceeded to remove his pants and shorts, finally standing totally naked before the dentist and his assistant. "Now, son, get in the chair," said the doctor.
Robert did as he was told, and sat cooperatively through the entire procedure. When the cavities were drilled and filled, he was instructed to step down from the chair. "Give me my clothes now," said the boy. "I'm sorry," replied the dentist. "Tell your mother that we're going to keep your clothes tonight. She can pick them up tomorrow."
Can you comprehend the shock Robert's mother received when the door to the waiting room opened, and there stood her pink son, as naked as the day he was born? The room was filled with patients, but Robert and his mom walked past them and into the hall. They went down a public elevator and into the parking lot, ignoring the snickers of onlookers.
The next day, Robert's mother returned to retrieve his clothes, and asked to have a word with the dentist. However, she did not come to protest, but said: "You don't know how much I appreciate what happened here yesterday. You see, Robert has been blackmailing me about his clothes for years. Whenever we are in a public place, such as a grocery store, he makes unreasonable demands of me. If I don't immediately buy him what he wants, he threatens to take off all his clothes. You are the first person who has called his bluff, doctor, and the impact on Robert has been incredible!"
There's no place for defiance or divisiveness when we recognize God's sovereign authority - who's on top.
WHO'S MY BACKER?
But the Lord's not into wielding power-over like a despot; He's also the number-1 backer of those who are redeemed. Look at 1:13: "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?" Obviously, Christ is NOT divided, there's just 1 of Him. It was He, not Paul, who was crucified for us, into whose name we are baptized. He is 'for us'. In 4:7 Paul is emphasizing the Corinthians ought not take pride in one man over against another when he adds, "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" All we have, we have received as a gift by grace; it's not something we can boast about as if it came from us. Christ is our backer.
In Ephesians 4(3-7) Paul mentions unity then immediately hints this is linked to the one Lord who has given us grace: "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.There is one body and one Spirit... one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it."
Grace is free, not purchased, as if we'd earned or deserved it. During the Spanish-American War, Theodore Roosevelt came to Clara Barton of the Red Cross to buy some supplies for his sick and wounded men. His request was refused. Troubled, Roosevelt asked, "How can I get these things? I must have proper food for my sick men." "Just ask for them, Colonel," said Barton. "Oh," said Roosevelt, "then I do ask for them." He got them at once through grace, not through purchase.
Jesus is our Backer, who has given us all we need or could possibly boast about.
WHENCE TRUE POWER?
When there are splits and divisions, a spirit of competitiveness, people try to figure out who's in a position of power, who's stronger. We call it a 'power-struggle'. But power is wielded differently by Jesus: it's not power-over but power-for, power to serve and help not crush.
1:17 points us in the direction of considering what true power's all about and where it comes from: "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." See the connection? True power comes from the cross. Paul makes this link again in 2:2-5, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." What gave power to Paul's preaching? His focus on the cross.
It was as Jesus prepared for His crucifixion that He declared in John 12(31f), "Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." The cross, His lifting up, would both drive out Satan and draw souls to Jesus.
The message of the cross has its own power to save people. A little girl once begged a famous preacher to visit her dying mother. "Come and get my mother in," she pleaded. He followed the girl to a slum tenement, and sitting by the mother's bed began to speak of the beautiful example of Christ. But the woman interrupted him saying, "That's no good, mister, no good for the likes of me. I'm a poor sinner and I'm dying!" He was one of those preachers who did not think it proper to speak of the cross and the blood of Christ. But he remembered the simple story of Jesus dying on the cross, which he had heard from his mother, and he explained it all to the woman. "Now," she cried, "you're getting at it! That's the story for me!" The minister said afterward, "The gospel message got her in, and got me in, too!" That's the message that can bring salvation--the cross of Christ.
WHAT'S MY SECURITY?
Who's on top; who's my backer; whence true power; and, last, What's my security? Bullies in the schoolyard may actually be operating out of a sense of insecurity, low self-esteem - they try to prove themselves by picking on others. Conversely, when we're secure in Christ and know He loves us, we're less likely to be critical or divisive toward others. In 4:21ff Paul writes, "So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future-- all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God." What security that should give us, to realize the Kingdom is ours in Christ, and with it, 'all things'!
Money, real estate, and material possessions in this life will all fail us eventually - they're not a true source of security. But God will pull out all the stops for us - as He's shown us by giving us His beloved Son. Romans 8(32) says, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" Don't boast in riches, might, or wisdom, but boast in knowing the Lord (Jer 9:23f).
In 1937 the great Golden Gate Bridge was completed. It was built in two stages: the first slowly, and the second rapidly. In the first stage, twenty-three men fell to their death. And the work ground to a halt because fear paralysed the workmen as helplessly they watched their companions plummeting from the structure to the water far below. Finally, an ingenious person thought, "There needs to be a net." So for $100,000 they put together the largest net ever built and hung that net beneath the workmen. When phase two began, ten were saved who fell into that net. The work proceeded twenty-five percent faster until the job was done.
Those who trust Jesus have a great 'safety net': our security is in Him and what He's done, not our own smartness or performance. That helps us get off the competition and comparison bandwagon.
CLOSENESS THROUGH THE CROSS
So, it's not about which human leader you're following, saying "I'm with Paul" or "I'm in Apollos' camp." The key thing is being connected with Christ, knowing His grace, feeling the companionship and strengthening of His cross. Then you know He's on top, where you fit in, He gives you power apart from strife, and you are secure as His child, through faith.
After a diving accident left Joni Eareckson Tada a quadriplegic, she became acquainted with Christ, but only gradually realized the significance of the cross. One night in desperate depression, she begged a friend to give her some pills so she could die. When her friend refused, she thought, I can't even die on my own! Rage, bitterness, and emotional pain shook her spirit.
Joni's best friend, Cindy, came to visit and sat at the bedside struggling to some way be of encouragement. Suddenly she blurted out, "Joni, Jesus knows how you feel. You're not the only one who's been paralysed. He was paralysed too."
Joni glared at her. "Cindy, what are you talking about?" "It's true. It's true, Joni. Remember, He was nailed to the cross. His back was raw from beatings like your back sometimes gets raw. Oh, He must have longed to move. To change His position, to redistribute His weight somehow, but He couldn't move. Joni, He knows how you feel."
Joni had never thought of it like that before. She later said, "God became incredibly close to me. I have seen what a difference the love shown me by friends and family had made. I began to realize that God also loved me." Let's pray.