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Pursuing the Wisdom of Leaders 1 corinthians 1 vv 10ff

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Pursuing the Wisdom of Leaders

Years ago, even before my time, there was a radio comedian named Fred Allen. He had the reputation of being somewhat negative. On one he was walking with a friend when a truck started to bear down on a newsboy in front of them. Allen dashed out and snatched the boy to safety, then snarled at him, 'What's the matter, kid? Don't you want to grow up and have troubles?”

Now I am NOT a negative person, although I do expect that will probably change as I get older.

And I am not a pessimist. In fact, I think that pessimism is destroying this country! I’m not a pessimist, but, dog-gone it, something will probably go wrong Friday night when they replay the episode of 24 we missed last nite.

But when I started looking at this passage we have to deal with today, all I saw were problems! All of them are Matt Stafford’s fault for assigning me this passage. Why do I get the hard passages? Lynn Gardner gets “Thankfulness.” I could do thankfulness in my sleep. That’s something I really know about. But instead, I get this!

Mark Moore preaches Thursday on the cross. I already have a sermon on the cross! It’s one I stole from Mark Scott several years ago.

Instead, I get 1 Cor. 1:10ff. And all I see are problems here folks. Let me show you the first one:

Problem #1

I. My assigned topic is “Pursuing the Wisdom of Leaders,” but when I read this passage it seems to be a rebuke to people who follow leaders!

Just look at what it says,

10 I have a serious concern to bring up with you, my friends, using the authority of Jesus, our Master. I’ll put it as urgently as I can: You must get along with each other. You must learn to be considerate of one another, cultivating a life in common.

11 I bring this up because some from Chloe’s family brought a most disturbing report to my attention—that you’re fighting among yourselves! 

12 I’ll tell you exactly what I was told: You’re all picking sides, going around saying, “I’m on Paul’s side,” or “I’m for Apollos,” or “Peter is my man,” or “I’m in the Messiah group.”

13 I ask you, “Has the Messiah been chopped up in little pieces so we can each have a relic all our own? Was Paul crucified for you? Was a single one of you baptized in Paul’s name?” 

You see the problem, don’t you? Paul is not encouraging them to “Pursue the Wisdom of Leaders” – at least not on first reading.

How am I supposed to preach a sermon about following leaders if Paul is saying here don’t follow leaders?

Well, doggone it, this brings me to another.

Problem #2

II. Problem #2 . . . you can see why I am so upset with Matt Stafford here, can’t you? . . . Paul seems to be out of touch with reality. That is exactly what some people claim. Paul was out of touch with reality, just look at what he says here in the NIV, 1:10:

10 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. [1]

You know, you would think that Paul had never been to a church before. Think about it! Agree completely! Uh-huh. NO divisions among you! Yah. Perfectly united in mind and thought! – Now folks, I am not at all sure you will understand this reference, but it is going to take more than a Vulcan mind meld to accomplish this.

I read dozens of sermons on this passage. Some of them come right out and say that Paul had lost touch and is wrong in what he says here.

WE ARE NOT OF ONE MIND AND WE NEVER WILL BE. . . . Paul is wrong if he believes that people can agree all the time. Paul is wrong if he believes that we will all stand together. We can’t all stand together because we are different people.[2]

Now here at Ozark, we’re a little hesitant about saying Paul is ever wrong on anything. But at least we can say this: Paul seems to be a bit unrealistic here.

How can we in the church have the kind of unity Paul is talking about?

Problem #3

III. Paul says here that we shouldn’t follow anyone. Doesn’t he? Just give it a quick read. He rebukes them for dividing up and claiming allegiance to specific leaders. He very clearly says, “Don’t do that!” After all, these guys were not crucified for you. You were not baptized into them.

You know there are some groups that teach this same sort of thing. You can find groups that believe for example that no leaders are needed since we all have a direct line to the Holy Spirit & God. The Quakers historically fall into that category, although some of them have changed that emphasis in more recent times.

One of our family memories from our time in England has to do with the time we attended a Quaker service. We actually were running late so I was distracted and forgot to warn everyone about the kind of service they would have.

·       Late, so everyone looked up as we entered

·       Sat for several minutes with heads bowed. TOTAL SILENCE!

·       After probably 15 minutes of just sitting and squirming, my 10 year old son leans over to me and says, “Fun church, dad.”

Is Paul saying that we don’t need leaders in the church. That’s a problem here at a school that focuses on raising up Christian leaders for the church!

Okay, now you have all heard people say something like, “I love a good challenge.” We have several good challenges here before us today, but as for me, I’m not all that fond of good challenges. What I really like are good solutions!

Fortunately, there are good solutions to the problems we have mentioned. Let’s take the problems in reverse order:

Solutionto Problem 3

Problem III. Paul says here that we shouldn’t follow anyone.

Oh come on. Paul can’t be saying here that we are not to follow anyone, that we are not to have any human leaders. I know it sounds like he is saying that, but you know that he can’t be saying that because . . . of all that he has to say about this kind of stuff elsewhere.

I felt more than a little sentimental last week after the Tuesday honor chapel for Brother Lynn, then his sermon on Thankfulness. You know I hope that is not the last time he preaches in chapel, but if it is, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to hear it.

Back when I was a student some of the classes were arranged a bit differently. But the Bible interpretation class I had was taught by Brother Gardner. I mean it when I say that I will always be eternally indebted to Brother Gardner for the things I learned in that class. ONE of the things I learned (back in those days he wasn’t as easy as he is now), was a principle that said “difficult passages are to be interpreted in light of passages that are more clear.”

Let me remind you of some clear passages.

First  are Paul’s letters to Timothy & Titus. MANY of the instructions he gives have to do with how Timothy and Titus are to lead.

ALSO, in this same book, 1 Corinthians, 4:16, notice Paul says,      16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. [3]

But king on the block here is 1 Cor. 11:1 -- 1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

So what IS Paul against here? Petty partyism and personality cults. You know, children do this kind of thing, but we ought not to behave like children. I still remember the first time my daughter Bethany at the age of 8,9, or 10, fell in love – actually with two different men. They were Kyle Idleman and Damien Spikereit. I still remember the star-struck look in her eyes as she stared at them. Children do that kind of thing, but it really is out of place in the church.

SO I’m quite sure that Paul is NOT saying here that there are to be no leaders in the church.

DON’T BE CHILDISH and pick your leaders like children do. No partyism.

Solutionto Problem 2

II. Problem #2 Paul seems to be out of touch with reality. Paul’s wrong if he thinks people in the church can agree.

Dr. James Padfield. Assistant Professor of Health and Exercise Sciences at Truman State University, writes about a time when he was in school and one of the students began to complain to their English teacher about having to read Shakespeare.

To which my English teacher responded, "Shakespeare is not on trial here.  You're ability

to understand Shakespeare is." 

I take the same attitude with Paul. Paul is no nut-case. Paul is not a man who is unable to remember what he writes from chapter to chapter. Paul is inspired. He cannot be wrong in what he means to communicate.

But what is it that he means to communicate?

You know it is a funny thing that Paul says this same kind of thing elsewhere. As soon as I read it I remembered another class I had once upon a time.

This time it was Galatians/Philippians with Mr. Greek himself, Kenny Boles (with whom I had at least 22 hours of my college career including Greek and Expository Preaching). In that justly famous chapter 2 of Philippians, Paul says,

     2    amake my joy complete 1by bbeing of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.

     3     Do nothing 1from 2aselfishness or bempty conceit, but with humility of mind cregard one another as more important than yourselves;

     4     ado not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

     5     aHave this attitude 1in yourselves which was also in bChrist Jesus,[4]

Does Paul expect basic doctrinal conformity? Yes. But you can see from his discussion later on about meat sacrificed to idols that Christian brothers and sisters DON’T have to agree on everything!

But they do have to have the same attitude and purpose as opposed to petty division.

Out at CHCC I have a friend who regularly gets upset. I’ll give you an example of the kind of thing that upsets him. We have men who volunteer to direct traffic. One Sunday they were all wearing the same green safety vests. My friend was upset. “Who paid for all those vests?” he wanted to know.

“Who paid for the vests?” Well, I guess the church did – we did.

“I just don’t get it,” he said. “Why do we have to waste so much money around here?”

One of my very good friends in my student days here – after we graduated and moved away – got upset with OCC. I couldn’t believe it. He showed me the letter he had sent to the school in which he basically announced that he was cutting off his relationship with Ozark. I couldn’t believe it. You know what made him mad. You know what caused him to take down his diploma and hide it away somewhere? He was mad because Ozark had had a particular speaker on campus.

·       What? You mean you are going to drop your support for the school because of this? Yep.

·       The school that you attended for five years? That’s right.

·       Where you not only learned the Bible, but how to understand it, defend it and preach it? Where you met your wife. Yah.

·       And all because you don’t approve of the guy who came and spent one hour on campus delivering a speech?

·       You mean, in spite of all that we have in common, in spite of all that draws us together, you are going to cut yourself off from the school?

·       That’s pretty much what he did.

Paul isn’t the one who is out of touch with reality. In fact it is because he has dealt with reality in the church all over the Roman Empire that he knows how important it is for the church to have an attitude and mindset of unity.

Solutionto Problem 1

Problem I. My assigned topic is “Pursuing the Wisdom of Leaders,” but when I read this passage it seems to be a rebuke to people who follow leaders!

Is this a rebuke? You better believe it. But the problem is not just that people in the church are following some human leader, the problem is not the use, but the abuse of human leadership.

OCC Analogy

Let me give you an analogy. Here at OCC we are going through a change in leadership. I can’t imagine anyone on this campus being this petty, but let’s suppose we have a couple parties arise.

·       I follow Ken vs. I follow Matt. We could divide the whole campus between the Kenithesians and the Mattheans.

·       How do you suppose Presidents Idleman and Proctor would respond to such a thing? Two words: with horror.

·       How do you suppose Peter would have responded to what was happening at Corinth? What about Apollos?

·       We KNOW how Paul responds. Absolutely not. What have you lost your minds???

It is not that you shouldn’t follow Paul, Peter or Apollos. It is that you should FOLLOW them to where they are going. Where are they going? Where are they leading? Where are their lives pointing? To Christ.

Follow me as I follow Christ.

Paul is not opposed to that. He is opposed to mere partyism for the sake of partyism.


“Pursuing the wisdom of leaders” isn’t that the same thing as following them as they follow Christ?

·       That’s what I was doing when I enrolled here in the fall of 1980.

·       That’s what I was doing when I sat through class after class with Lynn Gardner and Kenny Boles and others.

·       That’s what I was doing as I sat for hour after hour copying down all the overheads that Brother Butler put on the overhead machine – one after the other.

·       That is also what I was doing when I decided to include a major in OT studies under one Wilbur Fields.

o   There may well not be any better illustration of the principle. Folks, if you knew Brother Wilbur, you would know what I mean when I say, he was different.

o   You would not follow Brother Wilbur in order to become more like Brother Wilbur. You would not follow him to speak the way he spoke. You would not follow him to dress the way he dressed.

o   You would ONLY follow Wilbur Fields in order to get closer to Jesus. And many, many did.

·       So, follow Brian Brubaker, but don’t follow Brian Brubaker. And follow Woody Wilkinson, but don’t just follow Woody. I would even say to you, Follow Alexander Campbell (who?), but not just Alexander Campbell. Follow them all as you follow Paul, straight to Jesus Christ. And on the way remember we are all doing the same thing and we are all in this together.

One last thing: Years ago I worked in a shoe factory. One night we had 18 inches of snow, but I was determined to make it to work. Thankfully, someone in a 4 wheel drive vehicle had been through and made a furrow with his wheels that I could walk in. But there came a time when I had to make a decision. The tracks went South, but I had to go East. I knew where I needed to go. I knew that I could not get there by staying in the tracks someone else had made. I had to strike out on my own.

Remember, we are following Jesus.

·        If the examples we follow here head some other direction, you strike out on your own.

·        You know where you need to go and when the people you follow here head some other direction, you strike out on your own.

·        Keep your eyes fixed and your feet moving and sooner or later you will meet up with someone else heading the same place.

·        That’s when you will really understand the meaning of the words: (Psalm 133)  1 How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!


[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. 1 Co 1:10


[3] The Holy Bible : New International Version. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. 1 Co 4:16-17

a John 3:29

1 Lit that you be

b Rom 12:16; Phil 4:2

1 Lit according to

2 Or contentiousness

a Rom 2:8; Phil 1:17

b Gal 5:26

c Rom 12:10; Eph 5:21

a Rom 15:1f

a Matt 11:29; Rom 15:3

1 Or among

b Phil 1:1

[4] New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA : The Lockman Foundation, 1995, S. Php 2:2

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