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A House Divided

1 Corinthians: The Gospel for the Church  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  34:15
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It’s every church. Every single church. Without exception. Every church has divisions, disagreements, disunity, quarrels, and sometimes, outright fighting.
At one church I pastored, it nearly came to blows—literal fisticuffs—over what the color of the walls, chairs, and carpet would be in the new sanctuary. If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. I wish I was. I legitimately had to stand in between the angry parties and, along with a few others, do my best to defuse the situation.
“Please don’t punch! I’m in the middle of you two and I bruise like a peach. I bruise like a peach!”
That was the silliest of all quarrels I’ve been part of, at least thus far; I mean, really, who cares what color the walls are? What kind of carpet? What does it matter if we have chairs or pews or hay bales? We get upset and divide over the silliest stuff.
I’ve still got a lot of years ahead of me, Lord willing. And knowing the history of Christ’s Church, there may just be even sillier fights ahead.
Churches divide and argue and fight about everything from paint and carpet to music and ministry practice. Some churches have split over the issue of coffee in the sanctuary and others over the issue of how money should be spent.
My home church experienced a split while I was off at college (I was 200 miles away, so no one can blame me!). What happened was a few of the elders made it very clear that they did not believe in the inspiration and authority of the Bible, telling the pastor and others at a Board Meeting, “Don’t go throwing the Bible at us; we do not care what it has to say.”
And so the church split (those who believed and trusted the Bible as God’s Word on one side and those who didn’t on the other). That’s a very good reason to divide, to leave and find a church that actually believes in the inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of the Bible—that’s a good reason to leave and find a real church, if I may be so bold (and I’m going be that bold, because it’s not a church if the Bible is not the sole authority for faith and practice).
There are plenty of reasons—Biblical issues, gospel issues—for which we must take a stand, for which we must, sometimes, split from one another. However, a good deal of the time, what divides us is nothing that needs to divide us.
Most issues are not issues which must lead to division; most issues, if we really consider them for what they are are preference- and personality-based.
So it is today; so it was in Corinth.
After a brief introduction and a moment of thanksgiving to God for His grace and faithfulness shown to His church located in Corinth, Paul launches into the reason for writing this letter: there are some major issues in the Corinthian church that Paul needs to address.
First up: unity.
Word has reached Paul. Paul has heard from Chloe while he was in Ephesus, and what he heard was troubling. The news came to him of division in Corinth; factions in the Corinthian church.
Paul is pleading for unity. Unity is the goal. Paul’s appeal is for them to agree; that there would be no divisions; that they’d be united; that they’d stop quarreling.
Paul appeals to them as brothers and sisters. He appeals to them in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The divisions and arguments, the disunity and quarreling in Corinth don’t seem to be of a theological nature. Paul, Apollos, Peter, are certainly orthodox; they’re Christian. Jesus Himself has no theological deficiency.
What’s going on here in Corinth, the division here in Corinth is based on personality and preference. Various church members are focusing on their chosen personality and their preferred patron, instead of focusing on Jesus.
Instead of focusing on Jesus…there’s always serious trouble afoot when a church loses their focus, when a church isn’t most concerned about the cause of Christ, when a church has “more pressing” things to deal with than the things of Christ.
The Corinthian church is all kinds of messed-up; theirs is a house divided. And so Paul pleads with them. He pleads for unity.
>If you have your Bible (and I hope you do), please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 1. If you are able and willing, please stand for the reading of God’s Word, out of reverence for Him. 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
1 Corinthians 1:10–17 NIV
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
May God add His blessing to the reading of His Holy Word!
>Paul is pleading for the Corinthian church to be united:

Because they’re family

Paul addresses the Corinthians in a very churchy way, and he addresses them as such more times than any other church he writes to. In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul uses the word adelphoi 39 times—far and away the most frequent use of this word in any of his letters; more than double any other letter.
Paul addresses them here in verse 10 and 11 as adelphoi, that is brothers and sisters. Maybe your Bible uses the word brethren here, and that’s fine. Just make sure you understand the entire church is in view here. Brothers and sisters.
This is a good deal different than calling them “ladies and gentlemen” or merely “you all”. Brothers and sisters is a family word. This is meant to evoke in the church a family affection for one another. This is meant to make clear to them that Paul is their sibling in the family of God and is addressing them as such.
1 Corinthians 1:10 NIV
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
1 Corinthians 1:11 NIV
11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.
This would soften his message to them a little. He’s about to bring up some very difficult stuff; this kind of address helps.
Paul is pleading with them to be united, begging with them to stop fighting, and he appeals to their familial bond. “You are family, for crying out loud!”
Now, this doesn’t necessarily ring true for everyone; sometimes family means more fighting. Not everyone has a good relationship with their family. But you can understand what Paul’s getting at. He wants them to think about themselves as they actually are in Christ.
If you belong to God by faith in Christ, you belong to God’s family which means you have an enormous number of brothers and sisters.
“Would you say I have a plethora of brothers and sisters?” If you’re a Christian, yes, yes I would.

Because they’re family

The Corinthian church, the Christians in Corinth, are supposed to relate to one another as brothers and sisters.
Our small part of Christ’s church is a family church in more than one sense of the word. It’s family because most of you are related to someone else in the congregation. But even more than that, more important than that: we’re family because we all belong to God by faith in Jesus Christ.
All this means that quarreling and divisions and arguments should be squashed out of our love for one another.
My sister Bethany drives me absolutely batty; the feeling is mutual, I’m sure. I can push her buttons within 2.3 seconds of seeing her. We might bicker and disagree…okay we will bicker and disagree. We are very different people, Bethany and me, but underneath all of that is an immense love for one another—a love that supersedes all our disagreements.
The church is made up of people very different from one another, possibly people that drive you batty, people who can push your buttons. But underneath all of that is a love for one another, a love that supersedes all disagreements.
Where the church is concerned, my preference about an issue is not as important as my brother. My preference is not more important than my sister in Christ.
Paul’s appeal is for them to agree; that there would be no divisions; that they’d be united; that they’d stop quarreling—and all of this because they’re family.
Quarrels are one of the acts of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:19-21). Quarrels do not belong among God’s people.
“Come on, guys. You’re family. This should not be happening.”
>Paul is pleading for unity

Because of Jesus

In the same breath that Paul appeals to their relationship to one another, he invokes the name of Jesus:
1 Corinthians 1:10 NIV
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ...
This is the authority behind Paul’s appeal. It’s not that he himself has no authority; as an apostle by the will and calling of God, Paul does have authority. The people just don’t really respect his authority (which is a problem we’ll see later in this letter).
Paul isn’t one to throw around his own authority. He doesn’t say here, “Hey, listen to me. I’m Paul. I’m an apostle.” Instead, Paul throws around the authority of Another.
Paul appeals to them as family. And then he rightly points out that they are all subservient, not to Paul, but to Jesus.
Jesus is Lord. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One.
And they all belong to Him.
From the outset of the letter, they should know they are His. And now, as Paul addresses the problem, he does so in the name of the Lord Jesus.
So when Paul gets to the point in verse 12 where he’s listing all the factions and the teams the Corinthians picked for themselves like it’s some kind of kickball game, he wants to make the point that this is completely ridiculous.
1 Corinthians 1:12 NIV
12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
They’re divided over personality, over people, over leaders.
If you think this is silly, well, I’m sorry to say, we’re probably all right there with them.
Pick your personality, pick your person, pick your leader: McKinney, Muzzy, Petty, Doolen, Hauxwell, Baugh. There are people that would attend here or not attend here based on who the preacher was. There are people who, no matter what, go back to a certain preacher; those who go back to the person who baptized them or led them through a difficult time. The number of times in my first 5 years here I heard, “Well, John Doolen did this...John Doolen would never have…John Doolen always said...”
It’s natural; I get it. And it’s not a problem, that is until it leads to division.
Of course, some of the Corinthians would say, “I am of Paul”. He was the founding pastor. Some followed Paul’s successor—the very gifted and well-spoken Apollos. Others picked Peter as their team captain; he was, after all, the leader of the Twelve. Some of the more sanctimonious and holier-than-thou simply said, “We follow Christ.”
The problem with all of this is that it divides the family of God into pieces, into parts. Those who claim “We follow Christ” are implying that the others don’t follow Christ. Those who pick Paul or Peter or Apollos are creating unnecessary divisions.
You see, Jesus is One. Christ is not divided. He is One, and the Church—His body—must be one, united, undivided.
Paul asks a series of absurd questions to get his point across:
1 Corinthians 1:13 NIV
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?
The idea that Christ is divided is of course, impossible. But the church in Corinth is trying their best to parcel Him out. Paul wasn’t crucified for them, and neither was Apollos or Peter or anyone else. They weren’t baptized into the name of anyone but Jesus.
Some people (then and today) believe baptism is magical. Some believe there is a mystical relationship between them and the person who baptized them. The fact that some in Corinth believed this prompted Paul to remind everyone he baptized very few people—Crispis, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas—so no one could claim, nor should they claim that they were “of Paul.”
The loyalties of believers in all ages must be directed toward Christ alone. It does not matter who baptized you. It does not matter who “your favorite preacher” might be. What matters is that we are united as one under Christ. It’s about Jesus. The unity we need is a Jesus-unity.

Because of Jesus

Allegiance is to Christ, and no one else (nothing else)—not Paul, not Apollos, not Peter, not John Doolen, not Barrett Case.
Allegiance is to Christ.
Unity is a result of belonging and bowing to Jesus.
>Paul is pleading for unity,

Because of the Gospel

The Corinthian church and every part of Christ’s Church are to relate to one another as family, under the Lordship of Jesus, and unite around the preaching of the gospel.
What Paul says here might seem a little controversial, but it makes perfect sense. The Lord gave us a task, a commission—to preach the gospel, to tell others about Him, the Good News of His death, burial, and resurrection, until they are His disciples.
Paul knows his task is not simply to baptize or to win people to himself. He’s unconcerned about building his team or his brand. He wants to point everyone to Jesus.
1 Corinthians 1:17 NIV
17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Paul didn’t strive (like so many of us preachers do) to preach with wisdom and eloquence and cleverness. He endeavored to preach the gospel of Jesus, purely and simply. He didn’t want to distract from the message itself, but only point people to the source of salvation—Jesus Christ.
“Salvation comes only from the atonement of Christ, purchased by His suffering on the cross. The recognition and reception of that power was Paul’s chief concern as he proclaimed the gospel.”

Because of the Gospel

Christ sent Paul to preach. He has called me to preach, so here I am preaching. But it’s not only preachers who are to preach.
It’s Christians—brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus; it’s YOU—you, Christian, are called to preach the gospel. Don’t worry about not knowing what to say or how you’re going to say it. The gospel does not depend on your wisdom or eloquence. It doesn’t matter if you “no speak real good.” Make disciples. Preach. Share. Witness. Tell them of the deep, deep love of Jesus.
We are to be united around the gospel. And we will unite with other parts of Christ’s church who believe in the same gospel we do to share the gospel.
>Listen to Gordon Fee apply this passage to our the church today:
“It is easy to see the urgency of a paragraph like this for the contemporary church, which not only often experiences quarrels such as these at the local level, but also is deeply fragmented at every other level. We have churches and denominations, renewal movements that all too often are broken off and become their own “church of Christ,” and every imaginable individualistic movement and sect. Even in a day of various kinds of ecumenism, the likelihood of total visible unity in the church is more remote than ever. This fragmentation is both a shame on our house and a cause for deep repentance. If there is a way forward, it probably lies less in structures and more in our readiness to recapture Paul’s focus here—on the preaching of the cross as the great divine contradiction to our merely human ways of doing things.”
Divisions within the church are not some ancient problem. Divisions within the church are a current problem. And so it will be until the Lord returns and sets the world at rights.
How do we move from being a house divided to a house united? When you’re tempted to pick a fight or cause a ruckus or put your foot down and insist on your own way:

Remember we’re family. Focus on Jesus. Preach the Gospel.

Christians have been so blessed by God that divisions over trivial matters have no place among us.
So we treat one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We unite around Jesus—the beginning and the end. And we preach the gospel, telling others about His love, His death, His resurrection, and His return.
“Father, thank you for this family, for my brothers and sisters. Help us to focus our eyes and our church family on Jesus. And give us the strength to preach the gospel, to unite around the Good News about your Son, Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life. This is true for us, and this is true for the Church. We pray all these things for your glory, that your name would be praised, now and forevermore. In Jesus’ holy and perfect name. Amen.”
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