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Monday, March 12, 2007

United in Mind and Judgment

1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Preached Sunday morning, July 9, 2006,
Lexington Church of Christ, Milton Stanley

First Corinthians is rich in timeless truth, but it’s also especially timely for the church today. The first-century Corinthian Christians were facing many of the same problems as Christians in our own culture and time. As was his custom, Paul began his letter to this church by reminding them of the great things God has done for them. We saw last time how, even with their many problems, Christians are saints gifted by God for good work. But in this epistle, Paul quickly turns to the Corinthians’ problems, because they are many and severe.

The first trouble is factionalism. It’s a sin very easy to fall into and the root of many more. Factionalism is particularly destructive in the church because it arises from pride. We’re not talking about the pride of feeling good for a job well done but of the sense of being superior to others. It’s especially important to recognize pride if we’re trying to do Bible things in Bible ways. Pride causes factions, even if the factions consider themselves anti-faction! Pride is a constant temptation of Christians who care about doing things right. Fortunately, the cure for pride does not involve doing things right!

Division has a certain allure. When the Apostle Paul wrote this letter, the Corinthians had begun forming cliques around certain teachers. We don’t know if the names Paul gives here are those of the actual factions or if he is merely using them as examples. In any case, dividing the church into parties was as sinful then as it is today. The danger of division is inherent in Protestantism. When each congregation is independent of every other, it becomes too easy for birds of a feather to flock together. And I’m not talking about simply the division between Christian and non-Christian. Romans 14 has a lot to say about differences of opinion among brothers and sisters in Christ. But even today, Christians form competing factions and congregations over issues that should be matters of individual conscience. We see these factions in our own midst not only among the denominations, but among conservatives and liberals, mainstream and “antis” in Churches of Christ.

During the last century, Churches of Christ formed factions around the so-called “editor bishops” of various brotherhood papers: David Lipscomb, Austin McGary, Foy Wallace Jr., etc. A hundred years ago you could tell where a man stood by whether he read Lipscomb’s Gospel Advocate or McGary’s Firm Foundation. In the same we have the New Wineskins and Seek the Old Paths. factions. There's nothing wrong with publications themselves. It's simply that many Christians choose to use them as rallying points for their own selfishness and pride. One writer has called factionalism focusing around prominent preachers and writers “a vicarious ego trip” [1]. No Christian is exempt from the temptation of forming into these factions. It’s a way of puffing ourselves up by hitching our wagons to various doctrinal hotshots. Unfortunately, when our pride becomes more important than our risen Savior, we’re practicing a form of idolatry [2].

Factions, with their foundations of pride, are dangerous places to be. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” [3]. Factionalism threatens to destroy fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And as the Apostle John reminded us, if we do not have loving fellowship with our brother, we cannot love God (1 John 4).

There is, however a cure for division, and it’s right here in Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians. The cure lies not in who wins—conservative, liberal, whatever. The cure for factionalism is found in the name of Jesus Christ [4]. Let’s be very careful here. We won’t have unity in the church simply by calling it by the right name. Of course, the church should not take on factional names; that’s a sinful, proud approach. But simply saying “Church of Christ” doesn’t put us above the fray, even if we write “church” with a little “c.” It sickens me how much pride some Christians take in the name Church of Christ—and I’m not talking about the good kind. The unity of the church must come from more than words. Togetherness must rise from the hearts of Christians [5].

The Christian community is not a place for rivalry but unity. When you think about it, God exists in a community of Father, Son, and Spirit. God calls the church to testify to the world what true community can be [6]. If this church truly cares about Christian unity, we need to be very careful in how we approach denominations, lest the cure we present becomes worse than the ailment. We must proclaim the truth, but let us choose our battles carefully.

Unity in Christ is more important than having our way. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be willing to stand up for God’s way. Clear sin needs to be called sin clearly. But a dash of humility is always in order. For example, I for one am convinced that the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated with one cup of fermented wine. That’s the way every Church of Christ celebrated the supper until around the 1860s. Our practice of using little individual cups of unfermented juice is an innovation of the nineteenth century. Well, you may ask, why am I not preaching at a one-cup, fermented, congregation? Simple. Because breaking fellowship over what kind of cups to use for the Lord’s Supper is absurd. It reminds me of a factional Church of Christ known by the other congregations in town as the “One Cup With a Handle Church of Christ.” I’m willing not to have my way on this matter in order to stay in fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

But how can we tell what’s actually worth dividing over and what’s merely a matter of choice or pride? Well, let’s begin with Jesus’ call for his disciples to take up our crosses daily and follow him (Luke 9:23). If we do that, then we may begin to see the main idea emerging here in Paul’s letter. And what is that main idea? The cross of Jesus Christ. Paul came to preach so that the cross of Christ would not be made empty (v. 17). The power of the church is found in the cross of Jesus Christ. That is where Jesus paid the price for our sin. It is where we gained access to the presence of God. And it is where Christians’ site should always be focused.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2)
Jesus Christ crucified is at the heart of Christian unity and the supernatural power we proclaim.

In service to a crucified and risen savior Christians find unity as well as answers to the tough questions of faith. We don’t please God by insisting on our way, by playing the big shot or puffing ourselves up. Some of the Corinthians were doing those kinds of things, to the harm of themselves and the church. Christian discipleship is an exercise in service, in sacrifice, and in humility. It is the discipline of following the one who has already accomplished the great work of salvation for us. When we begin to follow Christ in sacrifice and service, we walk in the power and wisdom of God.

The power of the cross is why God entrusted his work to the church. God did not entrust the work of proclaiming the gospels to the wisest, the most educated, or the religious professionals. Through the power of Jesus Christ, the most important tasks of the Kingdom are entrusted to the most ordinary men—but men who deny themselves so that Christ may be proclaimed. Unity in the church comes from dying to ourselves and focusing our energies and attention on our Savior. Unity comes from actually caring about unity with God. If our goal is simply to get along with one another, whatever the cost, then we will drift away from God and, eventually, each other too. But if our goal is pleasing God and proclaiming Christ, then we will get along with one another, too.

The Corinthians had been enriched in all wisdom and knowledge (1:5). So have we. This congregation harbors many talents, much knowledge, and much skill. But what matters most comes not from what we have but from what Christ has given us; looking at ourselves, but at the cross of Christ.


PRAYER
INVITATION


NOTES
1. Piper, John. “Christian Unity and the Cross: 1 Corinthians 1:10-17.” Online sermon text and notes at http://www.desiringgod.org.
2. Loader, William. “First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages from the Lectionary. Epiphany 3. Online notes at http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/home.html.
3. James 4:6. Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version.
4. Verse 10. See Stedman, Ray. “Behind Divisions.” Online sermon text at http://www.pbc.org.
5. Chrysostom, John. “Homily III.” Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series I, Vol. XII. Online copy at http://www.ccel.org.
6. Neuchterlein, Paul. “Epiphany 3A.” Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary. http://girardianlectionary.net/year_a/epiphany3a.html.


(c) Copyright 2006, A. Milton Stanley

7 Comments:

Blogger elman said...

I noticed that you kept on calling the church as Church of Christ while explaining your thoughts on Paul's writings to the Corinthians.

My question is, how come you call Paul's church as Church of Christ? Though Churches of Christ was mentioned, Paul started his writing to Corinthians by saying: ...to the Church of God in Corinth... and he explained this in his other writings too, even explained from the old testament.

Do you agree that the head of Jesus Christ is God? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is different from God the Father?

1 cor 11:2-3(ESV) said that, 2Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 3But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

The New Testament writers referred to churches by various names, including Church of God, Church at _____ and Churches of Christ (Rom. 16:16).

8:08 AM  
Blogger elman said...

Milton, although you agree that the new testament writers referred to various churches, and one of those is the church of God, please correct me if I am wrong if I understand you this way, that you do not conform to call it the same but rather opted to call the church as churches of Christ?

11:01 AM  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

I'm not sure I understand your question. What I'm trying to say is that the NT uses a variety of names of the church: of God, of Christ, at a place, etc. Any of those are acceptable.

When I write "Church of Christ" I'm usually referring to those churches that call themselves Church of Christ and are characterized by certain characteristics such as a capella singing, baptism by immersion, congregational government, and weekly Lord's Supper.

6:07 PM  
Blogger elman said...

Well, since you call your church as churches of Christ based on my comment you answered from your other post:

You said, "Yes, I agree that to be a Christian, one must be a member of Christ's church. For the past several years I have been preaching for Churches of Christ. We try not to be a denomination but to simply be the church as God originally established it."

Does this mean that what the Apostle Paul mentioned, about the church he is affiliated with, is really called the Church of God.
Because Jesus Christ's head is God?

I am affilited too to the church of God mentioned by Apostle Paul and we are called members, church of God, International.

We are taught to follow the law of Jesus and the prophesies. Do you have something to say about it? Bro Eli I think is currently in USA, maybe you might have heard of him. We will be having our world wide, thanksgiving this coming 18-19march 2007, Philippine time. And there will be internet hook ups. I hope you can watch our celebration. If you are interested you can visit the websites I mentioned for instruction how you can watch or visit our locale in u.s.a.

I hope you will not miss the invitation for you to follow a commandment that says; test every spirit.

4:51 AM  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Thanks for the information, Elman.

8:37 AM  
Anonymous dizi izle said...

thank you

3:35 PM  

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