Worship Times

Sundays    10:30 a.m.
                    4:00 p.m.

Today's Verse


IT’S THE MESSAGE, NOT THE MESSENGER

By Mark Grant
 

In first Corinthians chapter one starting in verse ten we read, “10Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”  (1 Cor. 1:10-13).

The Church at Corinth was a seriously troubled church. The majority of Christians at Corinth had developed into conflicting loyalties to different human teachers and were acting in antagonism toward each other because of it. These factions were badly divisive of the church and are made clear by the fact that Paul says, “there are contentions among you.” Contentious attitudes are always destructive to unity and peace for it throws the truth out of proper focus and misdirects believers toward false and illusive goals (2 Tim. 2:23-24). Organizationally the church was still intact but spiritually it was severely rent within. This should teach us that all the problems the church faces today are not always on the outside. Innumerable churches have long since been destroyed from within because of brethren who continually stir up strife and contentions. This can do more damage to the cause of Christ than alcohol, atheism or worldliness.

So Paul begins the task of mending the situation by discussing the respecting irregularities and disorders that had become dominant in the church at Corinth. Specifically, Paul names the factions involved, and he does not omit the ones who were rallying around his own name and ministry. First, there was the “Party of Paul.” This party likely consisted of mainly Gentile believers because of Paul’s emphasis on his preaching to the gentiles (Rom. 11:13; Gal 1:16; Eph. 3:8). While the “Party of Paul” may be his friends and staunchest supporters, he does not spare them for it is the first group on which the rebuke of correction falls. A second group identified itself with Apollos, one of Paul’s fellow preaching brethren (1 Cor. 3:5-8). The “Party of Apollos” arose possibly because of his eloquent speaking abilities (Acts 18:24-28; 19:1). A third group identified itself with Cephas, which is the Jewish form for the apostle Peter’s name (John 1:42; 1 Cor. 15:5). The “Party of Cephas” may  have been mostly of Jewish background (Gal. 2:7). Perhaps there were those of Peter’s followers and admirers at Corinth who had migrated from Antioch and other cities. These were probably Jews and proselytes who had been converted to Christ but maintained their loyalty and adherence to the Jewish religious customs (Act18:1-17). A fourth group that Paul lists had identified itself specifically with Christ. Whether there was a genuine fourth party bearing the name of Christ is in dispute among scholars. There appears to be evidence that this unique claim to the “Party of Christ” became the chief point of their opposition to Paul (2 Cor. 10:7; 11:23). Paul certainly does not commend any of the groups, not even the “I am of Christ” faction, suggesting that all of their professed allegiances were causing division and dissension in the local church. As Christians may we never let our appreciation for any leader or preacher lead us into pride. It is pride that always lies at the bottom of contentions and strife (Prov. 13:10).

BE PERFECTLY JOINED TOGETHER

The apostle’s handling of this grave problem is the most subtle, wise, and tactful way in which all of us should learn from. He approaches them not with a stern command as a law enforcement official to force them, but with the language of affectionate exhortation. “Now I plead with you, brethren” proves that in the New Testament we now live under grace as to why Paul beseeches or pleads with men to be reconciled to God, and here with one another (2 Cor. 5:18-20). In his address “brethren,” he also identifies himself with them in the Christian brotherhood. Paul is emphasizing that all Christians are part of God’s family. Believers should share a unity that runs even deeper than that of earthly family (Matt. 12:46-50). Paul now appeals unto them to avoid the evils of schism and of strife by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. When Paul wrote, “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” it should teach us that Christ is to be regarded as the supreme head and leader of all His church (Col. 1:18-19). Which is why the church should not be divided into parties, enlisted under different human leaders, because the whole family in heaven and earth is to be named after Christ (Eph. 3:14-15). The primary and foremost principle which Christ had directed upon His church was union and mutual love of the brethren through His name (John 13:34-35; 15:17). It was Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane who revealed His great desire for His disciples to become one. Jesus’ prayer for unity among believers is based upon our participation in the unity of the Father and the Son. This deep unity of purpose in the bond of love is to be a convincing witness to the world that Jesus came from God. Christians can know unity among themselves if they are living in union with God (John 17:21-23).  Our devotion must be to Christ and the unity that He desires for His church. After Paul emphasizes the authority of Christ he now tells them “that you all speak the same thing.” “To speak the same thing” would be opposed to speaking antagonistic and conflicting points of view. Paul does not ask that they agree with one another in all  points, but he pleads for a common basic understanding of the Christian faith. Where Christians may differ on some OPINIONS we can still promote unity. Our different judgments should not create broken fellowship, but rather work toward reaching an agreement. Which is why Paul pleads, “that there be no divisions among you.” Divisions or the Greek word “Schismata” (Strong’s 4978) which is “rents,” as a torn garment, is the word which Paul uses to describe their condition. The garment is there but it has been torn into four pieces. The divisions had grown into contending parties and sects within the congregation. The body of Christ is to be regarded as one and is not to be divided, and rent into different factions, and arranged under the banners of different leaders. Paul now seeks to sew the garment back together by stating, “that you be perfectly joined together.” Joined together or knit together comes from the Greek word “Katartizo” (Strong’s 2675) that means “to refit, to repair, to be restored to harmony, 1 Cor. 1:10” (Berry Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament). Paul wanted the Corinthians to be knit together. The word he uses is a medical word which is used of knitting together bones that have been fractured, or joining together a joint that has been dislocated. Whenever there has been a fracture in the bone of the body then a surgeon has to reset the bone in order for the fracture to reunite. Paul as the surgeon begins the healing process of the fracture by telling the Corinthians to be “in the same mind and in the same judgment.” To “be perfectly joined together” so that there are “no divisions” and “be of one mind” (united in thought and purpose), does not require everyone to believe exactly the same. There is a big difference between having opposing viewpoints and being divisive. The proper way to produce union in the Church of Christ, is not by whipping brethren into shape by vigorous actions where everyone’s opinions are precisely the same, but to elevate supreme love to God, and all who bear the image and the name of the Redeemer (Mark 12:28-31). All of us as Christians will never completely agree on every issue, but we can work together harmoniously if we agree on what truly matters: Jesus Christ is Lord of all (Rom. 10:11-12). When the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the main focus of the Church, then our goals and motivation remain constant, and factions do not develop easily (1 Cor. 15:1-4). In the body of Christ Christians should speak and behave in a way that will reduce arguments and increase harmony. “ 5 May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other each with the attitude of Christ Jesus toward the other. 6 Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:5-6; New Living Translation) Our own petty differences of personal opinions should never divide the Lord’s Church. Let us as Christians always act in love and pursue actions which promote peace and seek to edify others and never divide the Lord’s Church.

IS CHRIST DIVIDED?

In first Corinthians 1:13 Paul uses three simple questions, each expecting a negative response, to show the absurdity of the Corinthian divisions. “Is Christ divided?” Obviously the answer is that He cannot be and still be Christ, and therefore the true Church cannot be divided and really exist. It was Jesus who said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls” (Luke 11:17). Since Christ is not divided, then His body (the church) is not to be cut into parts, and these parts assigned to human leaders. To let our appreciation for human leaders reach the point to where a congregation has contending factions will eventually bring it to desolation and a fall. So Christ is not to be divided. “Was Paul crucified for you?” It was Christ, not Paul nor another, who was crucified. And through Christ’s death atonement was made for sin. If there is any possibility of Christians rectifying from the heat of strife, from different names, from contending sects, it is the recollection of the fact that they have been purchased by the same blood. It was Jesus who died on the cross to redeem us all. “7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:7-11). If this fact could be kept before our minds as brethren in Christ, it would put an end to angry strife everywhere in the Lord’s Church, and produce universal Christian love. “Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” It was in the name of Christ, and not of Paul or another, that they had been baptized into His body (Gal. 3:27). Paul pointed out that in the act of baptism, a person identifies himself or herself with Christ, period. Baptism does not align the believer with any human leader nor with any “faction” of Christ, but with the Lord Himself (Rom. 6:3-5). The Corinthians may have begun to identify themselves with the men who had performed the baptisms rather than with Jesus Himself. Thus Christ is the head of the Church; and by reason of the fact that we were baptized into Christ’s name, we should be entirely devoted to the service of our Savior and not arrange ourselves under different human leaders.

We might be tempted to write off this behavioral problem, referring to the Corinthians as silly or immature if it were not for Christians who have the tendency (still prevalent today) to exalt dynamic leaders. Preachers and teachers who are vibrant, energetic leaders still have the power to excite and motivate believers today. There is nothing of course, inherently wrong with such influence. The danger comes when the speaker or leader, and not the message, becomes the focus of our attention. David said, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man” (Psalm 118:8). Christian teachers and leaders are merely earthen vessels through whom God’s Word is communicated (2 Cor. 4:7). Exalting men above the message they proclaim is a misunderstanding of their purpose. The three preachers Paul, Apollos, and Peter were united in their message, but it was their personalities that attracted different Christians. By Paul’s mention of Jesus Christ 10 times in the first 10 verses, he makes it clear who it is that all preachers and teachers should emphasize.  Paul said, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2) To put it simply, it’s the message, and not the messenger.