Click HERE for an audio version of this message.
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Please turn to 1 Corinthians 1 either in your folders or your Bibles. In verses 10-17, Paul encourages us as brothers and sisters in Christ to avoid divisions by focusing on what matters.
You know the axiom, “united we stand, divided we fall.” A team whose players are arguing with each other, pointing fingers and blaming each other for a bad play, or a loss, will never win a championship. A couple who can’t seem to agree on what to do with their money, or how to discipline their children, won’t be a couple for long. A church whose members are feuding about how offerings are used, or what style of music should be used, won’t be effective in reaching others with the gospel. Pick any situation that requires people to work together to accomplish something and the axiom applies, “united we stand, divided we fall.”
If players on a sports team are arguing with each other and end up having a losing season, it’s not that big of a deal. Even if it’s your favorite team, at some point you think, “there’s always next year,” and you go on with your life. But, if it’s a church that has been given a mission from God to reach as many people as possible with the good news that Jesus is their Savior, it’s a much more serious issue. If arguing and division causes just one person to give up on Christianity and leave the church, if just one person doesn’t get to hear about Jesus because members were spending so much time and effort arguing that they failed to reach out with the gospel, that’s serious. A soul could be lost for all eternity because brothers and sisters in Christ failed to focus on what matters and let petty arguments divide them and make them ineffective in the mission God gave them.
Paul says, Brothers, I am making an appeal to you using the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. This issue involves the name, the reputation of Jesus Christ because you confess that you are Christians. It involves the mission he has given you, to spread his saving name, for apart from it there is no salvation. I ask that you all express the same view and not have any divisions among you, but that you be joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
Why would Paul give this strong encouragement to the Corinthians? Because he says, the news I heard about you, my brothers, from members of Chloe’s household, is that there are rivalries among you. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”
When you go to a big conference like the Leadership conference we had last week, you hear all the best speakers. With Paul, you are moved to give thanks and praise to God and say, “Wow! God has richly blessed our little church body with people who have amazing gifts.” But then the old sinful nature prompts you to think, “I wish I had some of those gifts.” And I’m sure the sinful nature of others at the conference was tempting them to think, “I wish our church, or our Pastor, or our members had some of those gifts.”
It’s easy to understand that some of the members of the church in Corinth would be thinking the same way. “I belong to Paul, he’s the one God used to start this congregation and through whom I learned about Jesus.” “I belong to Apollos. He’s a much better speaker than Paul. His apologetics is so powerful, he just crushes any argument anyone brings against the faith.” “I belong to Cephas, that’s Peter. He’s the head of the church. He has a Jewish background like me and understands my struggles to adjust to this new reality of Jews and Gentiles worshiping together better than anyone else.” “I belong to Christ. Why are we arguing about anything else? Didn’t Paul, and Apollos, and Peter all point us to Christ?”
It’s so easy for us as sinful humans to major in minors. We get all excited about outward things. What kind of gown should the pastor wear, black Geneva, white Alb, a suit, a no-tuck shirt and skinny jeans? I don’t think Paul wore any of the above and we consider him the greatest missionary of all time.
What style of music should we use; traditional? Ok, traditional for whom? Those with a German background? What about the traditions of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the country, or in Africa, or South America, or the East? Does traditional mean we find out the style of music that was used in the Synagogue in Jesus’ day and use that? Should we use contemporary music? What does that mean? Country, Rock, Rap, Jazz? The list of contemporary styles seems almost endless.
Does a building have to look like a church? What does a church look like? Which century in history are you using as your frame of reference? Jesus worshiped in lots of different synagogues. Not once did he leave one saying, “Now that’s what a “church” should look like. And when the disciples commented about the beauty of the temple, what did he say? “It’s going to be destroyed.”
What did Paul say about identifying with a person and majoring in minors? Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that I baptized you into my own name… For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel—not with the wisdom used in speeches, so that the cross of Christ would not be emptied of its power.
Isn’t that interesting! As important as Baptism is, and Paul knows how important it is as he calls it a washing of rebirth and renewal, his focus wasn’t on just making sure people were baptized. His focus was on the mission God gave him, to preach the gospel. And in preaching the gospel, he wasn’t worried about rivaling the oratory of the Greeks. He knew that the power of the gospel did not lie in how skilled he was in using big words or logical arguments so that people would comment about how smart he was and what a gifted speaker he was. He knew that the power of the gospel is the simple message that everyone needs to hear. “Your conscience is right. You have sinned and deserve God’s punishment. But instead of punishing you, he sent his only perfect Son Jesus into the world and punished him in your place. He was crucified for you, and God raised him from the dead to prove to you that your sins are forgiven, death has been defeated and that you have eternal life in him.” This is what matters. Because heaven and earth will pass away. Everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and only those who trust in him for salvation are heirs with him of eternal life.
People are always going to have different opinions about what a church should look like, what a pastor should wear, what kind of music should be used in church. People are always going to have a favorite pastor or teacher. They may have a special place in their heart for the person who baptized their children, or who was the first to tell them about Jesus, or sat with them in a time of crisis. It’s Okay to have your personal preferences, but don’t let those preferences cause divisions and distract from the mission God has given to those who are brothers and sisters in Christ, to proclaim the gospel, the truth that all have sinned and that Jesus died for all, to as many as possible. When we argue with each other about our personal preferences we end up emptying the cross of it’s power, because it will surely look to others like our church considers these outward things to be more important than the gospel. It’s what they see us spending the most time on.
I’ll never forget an example that a former WELS Mission Counselor used. He described meetings in which a church was trying to decide about whether an area of the building should be carpeted or not. One member strongly opposed the carpet and presented what he thought were compelling reasons to have something other than carpet. When the vote was taken, the majority voted for carpet. Obviously, he was disappointed, but the next day he brought a generous offering to help pay for the carpet. It wasn’t his preference, but he didn’t want to cause division over something that, in the long run, didn’t matter much compared to the salvation of souls.
It’s Okay to have discussions about outward things, buildings, music, worship times, parking lots, but the important thing is what a decision is made, not to let your preferences get in the way of what matters – proclaiming the gospel.
One of the things that became clear at the Leadership Conference was that whether people were meeting in a large traditional building, or a school gym; no matter what times they worshipped, no matter what the pastor wore or whether Scripture based music was played on organ, piano, or an ensemble of different instruments; what really mattered was what one speaker called the church being the church. What is really important is that the members of a church are focused on what matters. They are focused on the gospel, on what Jesus has done for them and on how much all their friends and neighbors needed to know what Jesus has done for them too. Like the first century Christians it’s important that we devote ourselves to the word, to sharing the word, and inviting their friends and neighbors to come with them to hear the word.
If Paul were here today, he would look at us and give praise and thanks to God for showering us with every spiritual blessing in Christ, just as he did for the Corinthians. We are extremely blessed. If he were here today, he would also encourage us to watch out, because Satan knows our sinful nature and he will try to get us to focus on our own personal preferences in order to divide us. Focus on what matters. Look in the mirror everyday and confess the times when you have let your own personal preferences cause division and divert time and energy from the proclamation of the gospel. Look in the Scriptures everyday and see Jesus, who did not seek to have his preferences served, but to serve others, even to the point of allowing himself to be crucified to pay for all the times we did the opposite and insisted on being served instead of serving. When you see your sins and your forgiveness in Jesus, your hearts and minds will be filled with joy, peace and thanksgiving to God. Then you will be a light in the darkness. Your joy and peace will be evident to all and you will find many opportunities each day to proclaim the good news about Jesus to others. That’s what matters.