A Church Divided

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Have you ever wandered through Old Eldon Square in Newcastle on a Saturday afternoon? If you have then you'll know the scene; a patch of grass about the size of this room packed with teenagers – its literally standing room only sometimes. At first glance it just looks like they're standing around, look a bit deeper and you'll still see that most of them are just standing around but that there's more to it than that – there's a an ever-changing make up of groups which is almost tribal drawn along lines of age, perceived coolness, taste in music, clothing, choice of 'alternative' lifestyle. And whilst it's tempting to mock its clear that those teenagers gain great significance from the groups that they're part of and in fact it's always been like that. Ironically when my Dad was growing up here that piece of grass was occupied by skinheads so although he would have fitted in very well with today's crowd he never went near the place for fear of getting his head kicked in.

We like to think that we grow out of that phase drawing our identity out of those different groups but were not so different whether it's Newcastle/Sunderland, Daily Mail/Guardian, PC/Mac we often associate ourselves with a 'team' and we gain significance not just from being on one team but from not being on another. This was exactly what was happening in Corinth as Paul writes this letter – they were identifying with a particular team, in fact a particular person, gaining significance from them and then dividing over which team they were on. Remember those three things which Corinthian society valued:

1. Wealth

2. Self-promotion

3. Sexual immorality

Well after the encouragements of last week Paul is now narrowing in on number 2 self-promotion in particular the disunity which has been caused by the Corinthians buying into impressive teachers. We'll see how Paul diagnoses the root of the problem and then what course he prescribes the Corinthians to drag them out of division and back into unity. Our passage splits into two paragraphs; v10-12 and v13-17 so we'll use those to form our structure:

1. The nature of disunity – Finding significance in someone other than Christ (v10-12)

2. The remedy for disunity – Christ our common Saviour (v13-17)

1. The nature of disunity – Finding significance in someone other than Christ (v10-12)

Let's first look at the nature of the disunity found in the Corinthian church, Paul says in v10:

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.

Paul appeals on the basis of Christ's name that the church should; 'agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you'. The word translated division is the word schismata from which we get the word 'schism' it means a tear – so there is the sense that this division is unnatural and destructive like a tear in a piece of fabric.

We also see that division here is framed in terms of different ways of thinking. Paul appeals that they would 'agree'…so…'that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought'. Biblically right thinking leads us to right living. For example Romans 12.2 says:

2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Paul takes the thinking, the doctrine of the Corinthians very seriously it's not merely academic; they're thinking will govern the way that they live and the way that they act towards one another – therefore it is of incredible importance. Notice that Paul doesn't say calm down, everybody has different opinions don't worry about it too much, be a bit more tolerant of other people's ideas. No Paul shoots much higher than that. He doesn't settle for the lowest common denominator he wants the Corinthians to agree, to be perfectly united in mind and thought.

When the choir sings tonight they won't just say sing however you like. No they've practised hard, they've agreed to sing the same words and the same notes and so they will produce harmony (excuse the pun). That's what Paul's aiming at.

In general terms then the Corinthians are tearing themselves apart by being divided on issues of doctrine, of thought. What did that look like on the ground? We're told very clearly in the following verses 11 and 12:

11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas[b]"; still another, "I follow Christ."

The Corinthians are dividing along party lines. People are saying things like well I'm one of Paul's followers you know, he is the one who started this church after all. Others are saying well I follow Apollos and he's a much more eloquent speaker than Paul. Others follow Cephas (Peter). Paul uses these men as examples (ref 4.6) to reveal how ridiculous the Corinthians disunity is. There's no suggestion that Paul, Apollos and Peter are divided and yet the Corinthians are dividing over them.

On an internet forum they would be called 'fanboys' they not only religiously follow a particular idea/person they derive a sense of worth, of significance positively from following that person and negatively by very clearly stating that they don't follow someone else. In other words the Corinthians have made idols out of Paul, Apollos and Cephas.

Notice too that final group, the one that says "I follow Christ". It's a mis-leading title, it's not genuine. Paul is still being critical here. These people are the ones who say no-one else has got it right we're the only ones who really follow Jesus. They are detached, unwilling to commit, critical of everyone else.

Last week Paul was very complimentary about the gifts and abilities of the church in Corinth, now though he reveals their immaturity. Despite their great abilities they're too immature in their faith to agree they're stuck – gaining their sense of worth and value from being right and others being wrong.

Like the church in Corinth we're also a three year old church plant with many talented people and so we're vulnerable to this type of division. Whether it's through idolising a style of speaking, or getting a sense of superiority from the stream of theology we identify with. Or we divide as singles vs married or over particular issues; more social action, more singing, small church feel vs big church organisation and programs.

Let's be honest – this is happening, the issues that the Corinthians faced are timeless. It's happening here – I've seen it, you have to, you've had that slightly tense conversation after home group, in the car on the way back home after church.

So what does Paul prescribe for this divided church whose significance is caught up with the latest and greatest school of thought – and what can we learn from it? Well in the second half of this passage v13-17 Paul prescribes and administers a strong dose of Jesus.

2. The remedy for disunity – Christ our common Saviour (v13-17)

Paul responds to the disunity in Corinth not by telling them to lay down their arms but to agree in Jesus. He does this by asking the Corinthians three rhetorical questions. So let's look at them in turn;

2.1 Is Christ divided? (v13)

Do some Christians have Jesus and others not? No! Christ is not divided and neither is the church which is Christ's body. Paul will later argue in chapter 12:

12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.

Since all Christians are part of one body with Christ as the head they are inherently united. It is not possible for one part of the body to say to another you are not part of us. And Christians are not united to Christ in a distant or merely symbolic way no they have all been given the Holy Spirit, Christ has taken up residence in them through it. If Christ is not divided than how can those who each have him living in them be divided?

Unity is a sign that Christ is at work in us by his Spirit. That doesn't mean that we are robots who think the same but rather that we are united in our diversity by Christ, who is the controlling category for all of us above our age, race, nationality, politics, gender or personality. That's what Jesus prays for you and me in John 17; that we would be one even as Jesus and God the Father are one! And that through that unity the world would know that Jesus is Lord.

2.2 Was Paul crucified for you? (v13b)

Paul then uses himself as an example he says; did I die for you? Did I live a perfect life, take the punishment for your sins on the cross and then rise triumphantly from the grave three days later? No – why then are you gathering around me or any other teacher seeking your identity and significance?

You are significant because Christ has loved you to death, death on a cross. He has won you back from the kingdom of darkness, made you his God's child, co-heirs of glory with him. Why do you want the rags of significance gained by chasing the coat-tails of mere men when you are already clothed in the righteousness of the risen king? In other words why argue about the monkey when you're already friends with the organ-grinder? Paul wasn't crucified for you but Christ was, you are already drenched in significance every one of you if you call Jesus saviour and Lord.

2.3 Were you baptised into the name of Paul? (v13b-16)

Christ died for you were you then inducted into Paul's elite club, we're you baptised into membership of St Paul the Apostle.com? No, when a person is baptised the person baptising them is not important rather it is what they are being baptised into that is significant. Baptism associates a person with Christ with his death, burial and resurrection not with the person or church that did the baptising. That's why if God calls you to move to a different place and join a different church you don't have to get baptised again. Call to be Baptised if you haven't.

Paul is nothing he says, in fact he is grateful that he hasn't physically baptised many people only Crispus, Gaius and the household of Stephanas. I'm sure that those were joyful occasions but Paul is thankful that there weren't too many so that the issue isn't confused, so that people don't go around like they're holding a golden ticket saying; 'Hey Paul baptised me, I turn left when I come in to church straight into first-class'. Paul's ministry wasn't about how many people he could've claimed to have baptised, no it was about how clearly he was able to point people away from him, their teacher to their saviour – Jesus as he goes on to explain in v17.

2.4 Christ did not send me to baptise but to preach the gospel (v17)

Wow Paul sure seems down on Baptisms today, maybe he didn't like getting wet. Paul isn't down on Baptism but he is terrified that the Corinthians would divide over him as if he were their saviour and not Jesus. Paul didn't come to Corinth to gain a reputation for himself through baptising as many people as possible into his club. No Paul's aim and passion was to preach Christ crucified.

Paul wants the Corinthians to be in no doubt, he does not come 'with words of human wisdom' – why? – 'lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power' Paul wants to make it clear - he has no power to save, nor even to convince by his speaking of the need to be saved. No it is the cross which contains the power of salvation. It is God who deserves the glory not Paul or any other teacher. Paul will return to this subject in chapter 3, summarising like this in v5-7;

5What (he doesn't even dignify himself with a 'who'), 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.6I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.7So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

Conclusion

What then have we learned from Paul's treatment of a divided church this morning?

Christians are to aim high for agreement, perfect unity in mind and thought. Not by extreme tolerance of all opinions but by extreme agreement on the truth. How do we start to do this? Firstly by realising that we are already intrinsically one in Christ:

-          He died for us.

-          We were Baptised into his name.

-          The cross, not our teachers, saved us.

We remember that it is the cross which has given us true significance. So we can be mature: seeking to agree on the truth without ripping ourselves apart in the process.

We're going to celebrate those truths that we unite around in the Nicene creed next and then remind ourselves of the unity we have because Christ has saved us as we celebrate communion together shortly. As we share these together let's agree to find our significance in Jesus and to praise him not men together as the various parts of one body – his church.

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