Faithlife Sermons

Toward Unity in the Cross

The Gospel Project  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Unity in the church must be grounded in truth, by the cross of Christ, and for the glory of God.

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Introduction

The center for the study of global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimates that there are over 40,000 Christian denominations in the world as ofy 2012.
How do you know your version of Christianity is the right one?

Background

City of Corinth is located on the isthmus that joins the Peloponnesian peninsula to the mainland of Greece about 50 miles west of Athens.
Corinth was strategically situation so that traffic from east to the west and from the north to the south would pass through its region.
Corinth was a wealthy city and a cultural melting pot.
We read about the founding of the church at Corinth on Paul’s missionary Journey in sometime around AD 51.
Acts 18:1–4 ESV
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.
Acts 18:1-
He remained in Corinth for 18 months: .
Paul says it has been reported to him.
It is actually reported.
I hear that there are divisions among you.
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote.
This all points us to the fact that there was some correspondence going on between Paul and the church at Corinth.
Corinth, we have a problem!
The section of Corinthians we are studying this morning falls within the first major section of the epistle and it deals with the church’s profound division and their fundamental misapprehension of the nature of Christian leadership.
Personality divisions
Incest
Sexual immorality
Litigation among believers
Illicit divorce
Food sacrificed to idols
To offend the weaker brother is not to engage in something the weaker brother thinks is sinful and therefore is offended to see you eating the food or drinking wine.
Improper administration of the Lord’s table
The role of women in the church
The misuse of the Charisma
What are some common causes of division within churches today?

Unity is Grounded in Convictions, not Personalities

1 Corinthians 1:10–17 ESV
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Philippians 1:27 ESV
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,
John 17:11 ESV
And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
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Romans 16:17 ESV
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.
Why are we tempted to find church unity in people, ideas, and activities instead of the gospel?
How does the gospel help us maintain unity despite being diverse in so many other ways?
The oneness of God is the unifying essence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Believers are unified by the presence of the Holy Spirit who brings us into the truth, into right relationship with God, into the covenant community where we are all one in Christ. There are no distinctions.
Galatians 3:28 ESV
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Stop thinking in these categories and start thinking like Christ. We return to the garden in Christ. One man before God in two people.
What are some ways we can make sure we are calling attention to Christ instead of ourselves?
It helps if we see ourselves as God actually sees us. I must decrease, he must increase. I die daily! I am crucified with Christ.

Note the Antithesis between Human Wisdom and Gospel Preaching

1 Corinthians 1:17 ESV
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Here is the logic: if eloquent words of wisdom, not the power of the cross! If the difference maker is powerful philosophical arguments, undeniable empirical evidence, your cognitive abilities, then the power of Christianity is something other than the gospel of the cross.
Christian love never compromises Christian truth for the sake of Christian unity.

Unity is preceded by God’s wisdom shown at the cross

1 Corinthians 1:18–25 ESV
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The word of the cross is μωρία to the perishing ones, but on the other hand, to us who are being saved, the word of the cross is the power of God.

Conversely, to all those who are lost 1:18 and esp. to the gentiles vs. 23, the Christian preaching of a Savior who died a slave’s death on the cross was μ.

μωρία

Three men in two ethnic groups: Jews & Greeks

The Sophos: men skilled according to the flesh. The socratic sage who must begin his journey into wisdom by admitting his ignorance and need to begin anew.
The Grammateus: The person of letters, the Jewish Scribe who was the legal expert of the Jews.
The Sudzetetes: this is the Scholar in Greek philosopher who is often involved in expressing strong differences of opinion. The professional debater.

The wisdom of the world contrasts with divine wisdom

The world does not know God through its own wisdom. This verse is telling us explicitly that unregenerate human beings do not evaluate the claims of the cross, examine the evidence and arguments of Christianity, and reach a conclusion that leads them to decide to follow Jesus.
Jews demand a sign and Greeks were looking for wisdom. Paul does not adjust his message or his method for either one.
But to those who are called: The contrast is impossible to miss.
Anthony Thiselton writes concerning God’s power and wisdom in this text:
The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The First Epistle to the Corinthians 1. The Limits of Human Wisdom in the Light of the Cross (1:18–25)

It does not rest on human calculations about signs of the times, nor upon manipulative devices which entice belief, nor does it rest on self-defeating strategies to master life by techniques of human wisdom. God’s manifestation of power and wisdom operates on a different basis, namely, the way of love which accepts the constraints imposed by the human condition or plight and the prior divine act of promise, and becomes effective and operative (has power) in God’s own way, for it corresponds with God’s own nature as revealed in Christ and in the cross. Any version of the gospel which substitutes a message of personal success for the cross is a manipulative counterfeit.

What reasons do non-believers have today for finding the message of the cross so hard to believe?
Creation ~6,000 years ago, from nothing?
The virgin birth?
Walking on water?
Exclusive claims of the gospel?
God of love condemning so many people, even young people to eternal torment?
Big fish swallows man and spits him up three days later and he lives?
Now think about this: we have men professing to be pastors and shepherds, scholars and theologians, men who are highly accomplished, experts in their field, who either agree that claims of Scripture and of the gospel are foolish, irrational, unsophisticated, and contrary to science. And it is okay if you want to reject them and refuse to believe them. You can do that and still embrace the Christian faith.

Unity is furthered by Christians who boast only in the Lord

1 Corinthians 1:26–31 ESV
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Note that the it is God that has done the calling here and this is what we would term: the effectual call. God is doing the selecting, not men.
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Not many nuclear physicists among us. Not many powerful (politically, economically, or otherwise), and not many from the nobility (kings, princes, and such).
God chose what is foolish to shame human wisdom.
God chose what is weak to shame human strength.
God chose what is low and despised by the world SO THAT no one can boast.
Why do some people hold the gospel in disdain, regarding it as irrational, unjustified, even moronic while others embrace it to the death, forsaking all else?
John 6:64–65 ESV
But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
John 10:22–30 ESV
At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
22-3
What does it look like for Christians to embrace weak and foolish lives in the eyes of the world?
Godly living!
Fantastic beliefs!
Self-denial!
Matthew 5:11–12 ESV
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
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Why is boasting in yourself so strongly condemned in Scripture?
How does boasting in the Lord bring Christians together in unity?
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