We are beginning of I Corinthians and almost immediately Paul brings us into the situation room. If you watch CNN where Wolf Blitzer updates you on world events that is called the “Situation Room”. Or perhaps you have been watching a movie or TV show where they are showing the president in the “Situation Room” at the White House. Well Paul is bringing us in, sitting us down, in order to help us understand the Situation.
The situation of I Corinthians is a church in danger of becoming divided against itself. Paul’s immediate encouragement will be for them to recapture unity. But before we look at that I thought it might be helpful to look at where disunity comes from—READ I Corinthians 1.10-11.
So here we see Paul’s desire, but we also see the “Situation” or “Report”. Chloe’s people are reporting there is “quarreling” among them. But isn’t that normal in every family? What’s the big deal here? It can helpful to skip ahead and see an example of what Paul is talking about—READ I Corinthians 11.18-19:
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.—I Corinthians 11.18-19
This word “factions” is where we get the word “heresy” from. So what is a heresy? One author put it this way:
“All Christians select different aspects of the truth at different times for particular emphasis...When a Christian, or a group of Christians, becomes totally absorbed with one aspect of the truth to the neglect, exclusion or even denial of the whole truth as it is in Jesus, then the danger-point has been reached.”—Prior, p. 29
This is why we can look into heretical groups or theologies and find elements of truth in them. They have partial truth but not a holistic approach to truth. So one reason disunity happens is an overemphasis on elements of truth.
Another reason disunity happens found in James 4.1-3 [READ]:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?...You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel...You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.—James 4.1-3
As we allow the Word of God to peer into our hearts what is the assessment? The assessment is our impure motives. We are so wicked we can do “right” things from the wrong motives and do “wrong” things from right motives. This can be traced back to the junk our first parents brought into the world. Our first parents saw the fruit they were commanded not to eat was a “delight” to the eyes. Our first parents sought their delight or pleasure in what they wanted and not what God said was best for them. That is now the human condition according to Romans 5. This is what James is trying to help us understand. There is disunity, quarreling, fights, and strife because of our ragging passions.
For instance, so many of us are looking for validation. The problem is we look for validation in all the wrong places. When we meet someone, and they ask about us, we start validating. We talk about what we do, where we’re from, where we went to school, or whatever else. We might say I went to this school, studied with this person, or studied this topic, and it sounds like we are promoting something bigger than ourselves. But the truth is we are mentioning those things see people will see our identity is attached to those things. We are self-validating. This results in posturing, fighting, and quarreling. But Paul’s encouragement for us today is...
Theme: Only by keeping Christ central will we dispel disunity.
As we continue examining I Corinthians we will need to keep this theme in mind. Paul is going to immediately show us how this possible in our text today.
1. The basis for unifying faith-filled encouragement—I Corinthians 1.1-9.
This first thing Paul wants us to get is the basis for our unity. In I Corinthians 1.1-9 the basis for our unity is our “CALLING”. Another way of saying this is our “FAITH”. Three times in these opening verses Paul uses the word “calling” (I Cor 1.2, 9). We are “called to be saints TOGETHER”, “all those who in every place CALL upon the name”, and “by whom you were called into fellowship”. The basis for our unity is our calling and that calling, at its most fundamental level, is our confession. We have been called into fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. Paul understands this confession, this calling, will unite us in “Grace and Peace”. The word “peace” comes from the Hebrew “shalom”. The Christian thinker Plantiga defines shalom this way, “a universal flourishing, a wholeness, and delight”. Peace brings the flourishing of everyone and not just some. This can only be trusted to God, because we are too shortsighted and selfish to accomplish this on our own.
Paul models this calling to by reminding them of how the individual calling and corporate calling are connected. Paul refers to himself as an “apostle” which means “sent one”. According to I Corinthians 1.17 Paul was sent to preach the Gospel. If you want to understand how that calling worked I would encourage you to look at Acts 13.1-1-3 and Galatians 2.1-10 this week. Paul recognized he had a unique call but he still made sure his calling was confirmed by the testimony of God and others. The testimony of God is confirmed through His Word and others in His church. We see in I Corinthians 1.6 that Paul reminds the Corinthians that their calling (or testimony) was confirmed. They believe the apostles’ teaching (God’s Word) that was delivered to them. But it also confirmed by the saints who can see evidence of the Spirits’ regeneration of their hearts.
The fundamental basis for our unity is our FAITH. We believe the testimony that has been delivered to us. Paul knows it is through this FAITH that God will provide all they need for unity—READ I Corinthians 1.4-5, 9. Paul says they will be “enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge”. Through Jesus Christ God has equipped us with everything we need to know and say to bring about unity. There is a sense where we need to share the language as Christians. Why would I say that?—READ I Corinthians 1.10.
Paul appeals to the Corinthian church to “agree”. One commentator says this:
“’agree’...means...’say the same thing’ and is found on the first-century gravestone of a married couple, indicating, not the ‘yes-man’ mentality, but working together in a harmonious relationship.”—Prior, p. 35
Various churches will work out this truth differently, but we have been called by God to regularly preach the same message. Some churches make the preaching of Christ more central than others. For the past 4 years this has been what we have been trying to cultivate here at Refuge. We want to see unity among our people, our city, and across the world. We strongly believe that will come through genuine heartfelt regular Christ-exalting language.
2. The heartfelt appeal for Christ-exalting unity—I Corinthians 1.10-17.
In this section of our text notice what happened here—READ I Corinthians 1.11-13. Christ is lumped in with the other teachers on Christ. Paul asks the people some questions that he is assuming certain responses. Christ is NOT divided! NO ONE else was crucified for our sins. We are NOT baptized into anyone else’s name except Christ.
What was happening here was the Corinthians were still living like the world around them. Corinth was known as a place were people with persuasive personalities would flourish. Paul, Apollos, Peter were not divided theologically or preaching different ideas. But people were taking the personality of one person and elevating to some elite charismatic leader. As we approach establishing elders, Refuge Community leaders, and all other forms of leaders in our church we need to be mindful of this temptation. We live in a world that is tempted to ignore “content” and focus more on presentation or delivery. What Paul wants for us to NOT get caught up in that, but to focus on the people teaching the Cross and living the Cross—“not with words of eloquent wisdom, let the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” We are looking for Cross-centered leaders here at Refuge. As Paul will tell us next week—the Cross is the power and wisdom of God. The Cross exalts the finished work of Christ! It is through the Cross that Jesus conquered the world.
But for those of you who are aspiring to leadership here, or anywhere, I would argue the standard God is calling us all to is heartfelt, genuine, Christ-exalting, unifying language. This is Paul’s appeal. It is an appeal and not a command, but I think he makes it an appeal to soften the blow. This is not something he should have to command, because it should ignite the soul of every Christian everywhere in every age.
Paul grounds the appeal by appealing to an authority greater than himself—READ I Corinthians 1.13,15, 17. The greater authority is Jesus Christ. He uses the illustration of Baptism to show this. Paul understands that baptism is God’s way of you saying “I belong to God now”. And why do we now belong to God? Because were bought at a great price. This is why Paul will later say, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (I Corinthians 6.19-20)”. Therefore, if we were bought, then what were we bought for? WORSHIP! The centrality of Christ leads to WORSHIP, and worship unifies. People gather around what they worship. Our lives should be regularly displaying Christ to our brothers and sisters in the faith, and the world around us. This will dispel disunity.