From Division to Unity
From Division to Unity
The Journey to Deep – Part 1
(A Study of 1 Corinthians)
1 Corinthians 1-4
Over the next ten weeks we are going to take another journey together. We’re going to be studying through the book of 1 Corinthians and we’re going to go down a path that I hope will lead us to a deeper level of spiritual maturity. And as we study through the book of 1 Corinthians in ten weeks, there are a few things I want you to know about this series.
First, it’s going to require a lot out of you. This is not the kind of series where you just come once or twice a month and you sit down for a little inspirational message. If that’s kind of why you come to church—to hear an inspirational message, to be entertained by some good music—I just want to warn you: you’re going to feel like you’re drowning the next ten weeks on our “Journey to Deep” here through 1 Corinthians.
So I want to ask you to make a commitment to be here every week the next ten weeks and to bring your Bibles with you. And I really want you to come in here not thinking of yourself as an audience looking for a performance or looking for entertainment, but to think of yourself as worshippers and as students, as together we sit down and we learn from God’s Word.
The second thing I want you to know about this journey is that we’re going to move at a pretty intense pace. In order to get through 1 Corinthians in ten weeks, we’re going to be hustling. We won’t go verse-by-verse as much as we’ll be going theme-by-theme.
Lastly, I just want to encourage you to make this journey with us not just for thirty minutes or an hour on Sunday morning, but to make it all week long—with your heart, with your mind, with your whole life—as we go on this journey together. And I think if you do that, you’ll be a completely different person ten weeks from now than you are at this moment.
We really do need to be deepened. We need to be more intentional with our spiritual maturity. A.W. Tozer puts it this way. He says, “In our culture today, our churches are filled with a soft breed of Christians who require a constant diet of fun in order to keep them coming back.”
We can be like that. We can be kind of entertainment and inspiration junkies, so we carry that mentality into the church. We want to be challenged, but we don’t want to change. We want to be fed, but we prefer the food to be served to us. We want unity in the church as long everyone is united around what I think. We want entertainment more than preaching. We want performance more than worship. We want to serve as long as it’s noticed and appreciated. We want to worship God with music as long as the music is my style of music. We want the Holy Spirit to lead our services as long as the Holy Spirit doesn’t lead them longer than an hour. We want the Bible to be taught as long as what’s being taught about is something that’s happening in my life or with me, and as long as it’s not too uncomfortable. So Paul is going to challenge us as he challenges this church in Corinth to move to a deeper level of spiritual maturity. I look forward to the journey the next ten weeks.
A few things about this church in Corinth… Paul planted this church on his second missionary journey. He spent a year and a half in Corinth, which was significantly longer than he had spent anywhere else up to that point, because this city was a very difficult place to be a Christian. There was a lot of immorality.
Three years later he is in the City of Ephesus working on another church when he starts getting these disturbing reports about what is happening at the church he had planted in Corinth. Not only that, it appears that the church had sent Paul a letter asking a whole list of questions about how they should think on different issues. So the book of 1 Corinthians is written to address the many problems that are going on within this early church. It’s written to answer some of the divisive issues that the church is dealing with.
So as we study through this book, what you’ll find is that Paul writes to them on a whole range of issues: the role of women in the church; spiritual gifts. As a heads up, next week Paul is going to talk to us frankly about the subject of sex—even more specifically, of the frequency of intimacy within a marriage relationship. So, for parents, that’s probably more of a PG or PG-13 rating, to let you know. But he speaks very directly on a number of issues that were coming up in this early church and causing problems and different types of division. So he writes this book of 1 Corinthians to help a church who is divided, to help a church who just looks a little bit too much like the world.
Today we’re going to be studying through the first four chapters of the book, and in Paul’s introduction he writes that this book is not only to the church in Corinth but…look at verse 2. He says, “To… all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ….”
Here is what I want you to understand. What Paul writes to the church in Corinth is not only true for them at that time, but it’s true for us at this time. What he says to them is what we need to hear. You’ll see that as we read through this. These issues, the challenges that they have as Christians in their culture, will seem very familiar to you.
The second thing I want you to catch is that whenever Paul wrote a letter to a church there was, first, a corporate application. That is to say, the book was written to the church as a whole. But there was also a personal application. That’s how we need to read it: to be challenged as a church family but to understand that, in order for us to grow spiritually, every individual must be personally responsible for their spiritual growth and their spiritual maturity.
So there is a corporate application but there’s also a personal application. That means whenever you hear one of these messages, though they will often sound like it’s a challenge to the church as a whole, it’s really a challenge to you personally to ask yourself the question, “What do I need to do about this? What changes do I need to make in order for us as a church to grow deeper?”
In verse 10, Paul introduces the very first mark of maturity, which is unity. It’s unity. “A journey to deep” for a church begins by moving from division to unity. Look at what he writes in verse 10. He says, “I appeal to you, brothers….” He’s going to use that word brothers throughout the book. He is trying to help them understand the type of spirit that should be within the church. “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.” So Paul pleads for the church to be united.
We’ll see in this book there are a number of different things causing division, but in these first four chapters he focuses in on what was causing division: people playing these different games of, “This is my favorite preacher” or “This is my favorite leader.” There was a problem of different preferences. Some people liked it this way; some people liked it that way.
And here is what Paul says in verse 12. He kind of defines the division. He said, “What I mean is this: (Here is the division I’m talking about.) One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’”
Now in that verse Paul mentions four different divisions within the church, and you might just make a few notes about each division.
First, there were those who said, “I follow Paul.” This group would have mostly been made up of Gentile converts, people who did not grow up with the Jewish tradition or in the Jewish culture but had become Christians as a Gentile. So, as a result, they didn’t worry too much about these religious traditions that others in the church held very sacred. They weren’t too concerned with these religious rituals because it wasn’t part of their heritage. They didn’t grow up in the church, so they were Christians, but they were new to faith.
The second group were those who followed Apollos. Apollos was known as more of the intellectual type, so he attracted people who thought of themselves as intellectuals. He was a very gifted orator, very gifted teacher, and so there were those who said, “Well, I follow Apollos.”
Third, we see the group that said, “I follow Cephas.” Now Cephas was really the disciple Peter. Cephas was another name for Peter. This group was probably made up more of the Jewish Christians, kind of the old school followers of God who had become Christians. And though they followed Jesus, they didn’t want to let go of a lot of their sacred traditions, a lot of their religious rituals. They wanted to bring those in and keep practicing those.
Then, fourthly, there is the group that says, “I follow Christ.” And when you read that you think, “Well, shouldn’t everybody be a part of that group? I mean, isn’t that really a good group to be a part of?” Well, here is what was happening. In the City of Corinth there were these believers who said, “I am a Christian. I follow Jesus. I don’t need to listen to Paul. I follow Jesus. I don’t need to listen to Apollos. I follow Jesus. I don’t need to listen to Cephas. I follow Jesus.” In other words, they’re saying, “I really don’t need to be under spiritual authority. I don’t need the teaching of the church because I follow Jesus.”
We have people like this today who say, “Well, I’m a Christian. I follow Jesus. But I don’t go to church anywhere. I don’t really need the church.” Okay, apparently you don’t need your Bible either because the Bible makes it very clear that part of God’s plan for every believer is to be committed to a church family, a place where you can serve and a place where you can pray and be prayed for; a place where you can contribute; a place where you can have accountability and be sharpened; a place where you can be under spiritual authority.
So there are these four different groups. Paul wants them to all come together and to be united. How do you do that? How do you get unity when there are four divisions? Well, I want you to notice what he doesn’t do. He doesn’t try to get them to think alike on all these issues. He doesn’t present an argument that would ask them to agree on really which is the best leader. Paul, Apollos, Cephas? He doesn’t do that. Instead, here is what he does: He unites them under the cross of Jesus Christ. He helps them see this one great thing, that the grace they’ve received in Jesus is enough to bring them together. And it’s fine if they have different preferences. It’s fine if they have different opinions. They can still be united because of the grace they found in Jesus Christ.
I. FOCUS ON JESUS.
So the journey from division to unity begins when we focus on Jesus.
In verse 13, Paul immediately points to Jesus. He says, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?”
In other words, he says, “It’s not me; it’s not Apollos; it’s not Cephas who saved you. Why are you making this about us? Jesus is the one who forgave your sins. Jesus is the one who saved you for all eternity. And since you have this one great thing in common, then do all these other things really matter?”
And that is what the church should look like: a group of people who may not have a lot in common, but they have everything in common because of what they’ve received in Jesus Christ.
I’ve seen this so many times over the years as I’ve gathered together with different groups of people in the church for Bible study. Usually at the first session of the study we will go around the circle and each person will tell his or her story, something about themselves and their life in Christ. And It’s an incredible thing to just sit and listen to this, because these groups are generally made up of people from all around the country, people who represent about every denomination and faith background that you can think of. They go around the circle and they tell their story, and you’re just thinking, “These people have nothing in common.” But they have everything in common because each of them has discovered the incredible grace of Jesus Christ.
And that’s what Paul does here. He doesn’t try to get them to think alike on these secondary issues but rather to focus on this one great thing that they have in common. In chapter 2, verses 1-5, Paul says:
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 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…
Paul is saying, “Listen, anything that you found impressive about me had nothing to do with me. This isn’t about me. It’s about Jesus Christ.” And in verse 5 he says, “…so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” So what Paul does is he takes the spotlight off himself and he puts it on Jesus.
Unity in the church is much different than, let’s say, unity in a country club. You go to a country club and people tend to get along quite well. Why? Because they live a similar lifestyle, they make a similar amount of money, they have similar interests. All these things they have in common allow them to be united. That’s not the case in the church. The church should be a place where people who could not be more different, people who have no natural or obvious reason to associate, are drawn together because of Jesus. That’s just how big and how great He is. And the truth is there are all kinds of styles represented within this church. There are all kinds of preferences. People like different things.
I saw a demonstration of this at one point. I’d like to kind of take it a step further. So here is what I want you to do. I know that in this room there are people who cheer for all different kinds of teams. Some of you cheer for Iowa; some for Iowa State; some cheer for Missouri; some for Kansas. Maybe you moved here, so you cheer for North Carolina or you cheer for some other team. But here is what I want you to do. On the count of three, I want everyone to shout out the team that they cheer for. Okay? You got that place in mind? Okay, on the count of three, I want everyone to shout this out. You ready? Here we go. One, two, three. (Audience shouting the names of various teams) Man! We are different, right? I mean, we have different passions, different things that get us excited.
Well, let’s try this with music, all right? Think of your favorite style of music. Maybe some of you like country. Some of you perhaps like rock ‘n’ roll. Some of you maybe like classical music. Or some of you prefer the rap genre. Some of you maybe like…I don’t know…whatever other kind…alternative music, R & B. Whatever it is, you get it in your mind. What kind of music do you like? Okay, everybody have it? On the count of three let’s just shout it out. One, two, three. (Audience shouting the names of their favorite music genre) Ya, I mean, we are just different. We listen to different kinds of music.
Let’s do this one other category. I know in this church there are all kinds of different denominations. Some of you grew up Catholic. Some grew up Baptist. Some grew up Pentecostal. I’ve known people who came to church with a Buddhist background. We’ve had people here… I had one lady once tell me she was a Chreaster. I said, “What’s a Chreaster?” I mean, I’m trying to be savvy here with my, you know, knowledge of faiths and I finally… “What’s a Chreaster?” “Well,” she said, “we went to church on Christmas and Easter.” “Oh! A Chreaster! You’re a Chreaster. Okay.” Maybe you’re a Chreaster. Maybe you’re an unbeliever and you didn’t grow up with any faith background at all. But get that denomination in your head, whatever it is. Everybody got that? On the count of three we’re going to shout that out together. Okay, ready? One, two, three. (Audience shouting their various denominations) Ya, I mean, we are just different people…different backgrounds.
But here is what I want you to know. On the count of three, I just want you to say the name of Jesus. One, two, three. (Audience exclaiming the name of Jesus in unison) That’s really all we need. It’s okay if we have different preferences of dress and different styles of music. It’s okay if we have different faith backgrounds and traditions. Some of you like things one way and some of you like things another. It’s okay. I mean, that is the way the church is supposed to be—where people come together who are different but under the cross of Christ we have unity.
Here is what I want you to notice about this division taking place in the Corinthian church. Notice this: (It’s in your notes.) It was not a biblical issue. It was not a biblical issue that divided them. Had it been a biblical issue, then Paul would not have pleaded for unity. Unity should never come at the sacrifice of doctrinal purity. Unity should never come at the sacrifice of biblical truth. Notice this: It wasn’t an issue of immoral behavior. In chapter 5 we see some immoral behavior taking place in the church, and Paul doesn’t say, “Hey, just pretend like it’s not that big of a deal and stay united.” That’s not what he does. But this is an issue, a matter, of preference. So it wasn’t a biblical issue, but it was a matter of preference.
And that tends to be the most divisive type of issue in our churches today. There was a study done of more than four hundred churches. Researchers were trying to determine, “What are the most divisive issues in our church?” And in these four hundred churches they surveyed they found out that—listen to this—the number one most divisive issue in the body of Christ was music style. I mean, that was what was dividing the body of Christ? Music? The style of music? The second most divisive issue was the minister’s leadership style. The third most divisive issue was the use of finances. On down the list, you had things like the decoration of the church facilities. Really? And then proper worship attire was on the list. You just go through it and you’re like, “Wait a second! Most of these things aren’t in the Bible.” The Bible doesn’t even speak to these things. We have made all these things sacred and important that are not even talked about in Scripture. They are matters of opinion, matters of preferences, that can be most divisive.
Just to let you know what kind of a church you are a part of, this is a non-denominational church. We do not affiliate ourselves with any denomination; rather, we are a part of what’s called “the Restoration Movement.” The Restoration Movement began in the early 1800’s. One of the founders of the Restoration Movement—also a leader in the Second Great Awakening—was a man by the name of Alexander Campbell. The plea of Campbell and others was that we, as Christians, would leave behind all these denominational divisions and we would be united under Jesus Christ. Here is what Alexander Campbell says. This is the intent. He says:
It is not the object of our efforts to make men think alike on a thousand themes. Let them think as they like on matters of human opinion, and upon “doctrines of religion,” (in other words, these interpretive issues in Scripture where you can have differences of interpretation) provided that they hold to the Head, Christ, and keep His commandments. Indeed, if you wish opinionism to cease or subside you must not call up and debate everything that men think or say. You may debate anything into consequence.
So as a church, our goal is not to be a place of uniformity but to be place of unity.
Uniformity is when you have a lot of people together who are kind of the same age, dress the same way, like the same kind of music and prefer the same type of teaching. We do not want to be a place of uniformity. That’s not the church. And one of the marks of maturity in the church is that there isn’t uniformity. In other words, when you go to a church and everybody is kind of the same age and they all kind of like the same thing, that’s not unity; that’s uniformity. We don’t want that. Unity, by definition, requires diversity. If there is no diversity, then you cannot claim unity. So we don’t want to be a place of uniformity. We want to be a place of unity where people are completely different, have different opinions, different preferences, but we come together as one because Jesus Christ is just that great.
This is a place where it should not matter…it just shouldn’t matter…if you’re rich or if you’re poor. It should not matter the color of your skin. It should not matter if you dress really nice or if you don’t dress really nice. This is a place where it just shouldn’t matter, where people can come together and have completely different preferences when it comes to things like music. We have Jesus Christ in common. Isn’t that enough? Someone put it this way: “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.”
So Paul says, “Listen. It’s not about Paul. It’s not about Apollos. It’s not about Cephas. It’s not about First Church of Christ. It’s about Jesus Christ.”
II. STAND ON GOD’SWISDOM.
Secondly, as we move on this journey from division to unity, we must stand on God’s wisdom.
Paul makes it clear that when he taught this church in Corinth he wasn’t giving his own opinion. He wasn’t just running commentary from what was going on in his head, but he was teaching wisdom that came from God as inspired by the Holy Spirit. Look at verse 13 of chapter 2: “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.”
There are many churches today who kind of go “Bible-like.” I mean, they’ll sprinkle in the Bible to go along with their service because they don’t want to be too offensive, and they want to be sensitive to people who didn’t grow up with a certain amount of faith heritage. I believe their intentions are good, but I also believe with all of my heart that any life-changing power does not come from man; it comes from God. So that is why we have committed as a church to stand on the Word of God as the foundation of everything we say and do, and to do so unapologetically. We will say what the Bible says. Sometimes it won’t be popular and sometimes it’s going to be uncomfortable, but 2 Timothy says that God’s Word is inspired by God: “All Scripture is God-breathed” (3:16). We believe that.
Paul says in verse 14 that some people think of God’s wisdom as foolish. That word could also be translated as “silly.” And that may be the case. I mean, there may be people who come in, sit down, see us studying this book that’s thousands of years old and just kind of shake their head. But we believe that this is the only truth that can be trusted. This is God’s Word. So it is what unites us—not man’s opinion but the Word of God.
Let me read to you another quote by Alexander Campbell. He said, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.”
And when the church starts speaking of things that the Bible doesn’t speak of, that’s when you start to have division and disunity. When you have a preacher who likes to get up and give his opinion on issues which the Bible doesn’t speak directly to, then hang on; because you’re either going to have a legalistic church because they’ve formed all these rules that aren’t in the Bible, or you’re going to have a divided church because there is nothing that is uniting the people. See, for us it’s very simple. If one person thinks this way and one person thinks that way, we go to the Word of God to determine where we stand. The Bible is what unites us. So we speak where the Bible speaks. And we have room to grow. Please don’t get me wrong. We do our best to be silent where the Bible is silent.
So we get people who want us to say things from up here that are important to them (and perhaps with very good intentions) but that the Bible doesn’t talk about. Let me give you an example. The Bible tells parents to raise their children in the Lord. We teach that. Some Christian parents think that means you need to home school your kids. Some think that means you need to have your kids in a Christian school. Some think that you need to have your kids in a public school because raising your kids in the Lord means that you teach them to be a light in the world. So they’ll want us to say these things. You know, home school, Christian school, public school…. And while I appreciate each one’s conviction as they try to live out the biblical mandate to raise their children in the Lord, we’re not going to say these things because the Bible doesn’t say them. And when you start saying things the Bible doesn’t say, then the church becomes divided.
Another example…. The Bible teaches that it’s a sin to get drunk, so we teach that. Hey, don’t get drunk. But there are those who would say, “Can’t you also teach that drinking any alcohol is a sin?” Well, I appreciate your conviction, and I would say to you, you need to be true to that conviction in your life; but we’re not going to say what the Bible doesn’t say. Division comes when we start saying more than what the Bible says. So this is a church where we do our best to be Christ-centered and Bible-based. Don’t let non-biblical issues, matters of opinion, cause division within the church.
I think sometimes people come to church and it’s as if they’re looking for things to disagree with. They’re looking for something that they don’t like, and then it causes division.
When I was a kid, when we would go on family trips my brothers and I used to play this certain game. You may be familiar with this family fun. It’s called “Slug Bug.” Familiar with this? It’s basically that if you see a VW Bug you get to punch the person next to you. It’s a great family game of love and unity! But whenever you see a Bug you punch the person next to you and say “slug bug.” And there are rules, of course. It has to be in the shoulder; it has to be in the leg. We don’t want any permanent damage. So we would play this game on trips. Now some people have tried to change up the rules and change it from Slug Bug to Love Bug, where whenever you see a VW Bug you have to hug the person next to you. But it’s just not as much fun! But we would play this game, and we were just looking for reasons to hit each other.
And I think this is what happens in church! I mean, we all come together and we open our Bibles. We read our Bibles, and we pray together, and we sing songs of worship. Then we’re just like looking around for something we don’t like so we can hit someone else. And if that’s you… I mean, if you’re bent on dividing the body of Christ because something isn’t the way you want, can I just say something, a little secret? Nobody’s getting what they want. Does that make you feel better? I’m not getting everything I want at this church. The Elder’s don’t get everything they want. There are things we want that we don’t have. Nobody gets what they want. And that’s what makes this such a beautiful place, I think. Nobody is getting everything they want. But the Bible is being preached. Jesus is being glorified. Decisions for the Lord are being made, and that’s what God wants. So that is enough to unite us.
III. GROW IN A SPIRIT OF HUMILITY.
Lastly, as we move from division to unity, grow in a spirit of humility.
Chapter 3, verses 5 through 7:
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.
Here is what Paul does. He models for the people the spirit required for there to be unity in the church. He models a spirit of humility. He says, “Listen, it’s not because of what I did that the seed has grown. It’s not because of what Apollos did. It’s all because of what God has done.”
And if you have division in the church, or division in your family, division in any relationship, at the heart of that division is a self-promotion, a spirit of pride. It is pride that ultimately causes division.
Think about what pride does.
Pride makes me selfish. Pride says, “I deserve to get what I want.” It puts my needs ahead of others.
Pride makes me argumentative. Proverbs 13:10 says, “Pride only breeds quarrels.” And at some point most disagreements and divisions are less about who’s right and who’s wrong and they’re more about who’s going to win.
Pride makes me opinionated. It makes me think that my way is the best way, and if I think things should be a certain way, then surely everyone else must think that because it’s what I think.
Pride makes me defensive. If someone disagrees with me, even on an insignificant issue, pride takes it personally.
Pride, lastly, makes me prejudice. It makes me intolerant of others. It makes me not want to be around people who are different from me. That’s pride. It’s pride.
So Paul demonstrates a spirit of humility.
Again, the church is not a place of uniformity. There is no testimony in that—a bunch of people who are exactly alike getting along. It is a place of unity. That is the power of our testimony. That is the power of the cross. Where people can gather together and they can have pretty much nothing in common, but they have everything in common because of what Jesus has done for them. Jesus gave His very life for the unity of the church.
So I am asking you, what sacrifice do you need to make in order for us to be united? What sacrifice do you need to make? What preference do you need to let go of so, as a church, we can be united around the cross of Christ? Whatever sacrifice you are asked to make, I doubt it will be as great as His. He sacrificed His life for the church, and His prayer in John 17 was that we would be one.
First Church of Christ
September 19, 2021