- Listen To The Plea For Unity (verse 10)
- Locate The Parties Of Division (verses 11-12)
- Learn The Principle Of Oneness In Christ (verse 13)
- Labour The Priority Of Preaching The Cross (verses 14-17)
First Corinthians chapter 1, then, is our reading for this evening. If you can remember, two Monday nights ago we looked specifically at the city of Corinth and all that it meant for Paul to be writing a letter into such a situation as was going on the city of Corinth - and we thought of it under the title of "The Reason It Was Written". Last week we looked specifically at the grace of God that Paul ministers to these great sinners, and if you're familiar with the book of 1 Corinthians - and I would urge you, please, to read all of it in the subsequent weeks - you will see how far this church had backslidden, and indeed imbibed the culture and the morality of the city of Corinth. There were many many problems - I don't think there's ever been a problematic church just like the church at Corinth - yet Paul came, and before he corrects them and ministers to them he gives them the grace of God that is greater than all our sin.
We're going to look tonight at the division that was in the church and how Paul dealt with it, and how Paul exhorted them to deal with it, and indeed how we as believers in this modern contemporary age ought to approach and face division within the church Jesus Christ. We're beginning to read at verse 10: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions", or strife, "among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect".
One of the reasons, I believe, the cults are so successful in recruiting people in the day and age in which we live, is because of the tremendous unity that they experience in their ranks. Disunity and lack of harmony is not tolerated whatsoever, you're just simply put out. In the world in which we live, particularly in the church in which we live and move and have our being, many folk who name the name of Christ are disillusioned with the division and the lack of unity there is among those who name Christ Jesus as their Lord. It seems that, in the church at large today, and as a little microcosm in local churches right across our land and across the Western world particularly, division is a great problem. Strife is rife within the church at large, and within local assemblies. Now, if you've lived upon this earth for any length of time, you realise that quarrels and problems and troubles and arguments are a part of life in general - you can't avoid them. From your infancy and youth you stamp your feet, you throw your toys down, and you have quarrels right from the very beginning. You go through your teenage stages and you fight, and you rebel against authority and your parents. There are so many aspects of quarrels in life - in the sports field, in the office, between businesses, in politics - we see it in our own land, and even between nations that we're seeing on a larger scale in the day and age in which we live, between Islamic nations, particularly Iraq and the United States and our own United Kingdom. Strife is a problem right throughout the whole spectrum of life's experience, on small levels and on large levels. But the church Jesus Christ is not exempt from it, the reason why that simply is is that the root of all strife and contention and quarrels is sin.
You don't need to look any further than the church of Jesus Christ at Corinth to see that the church is made up of saints, yes, as we saw in the first verses of this chapter, but saints are not people that are portrayed on stained glass windows, but they are simply sinners who've been saved by the grace of God. You remember last week we could look at the list of the lifestyle of what these people lived in before they were converted. There were homosexuals among them, adulterers, idolaters, thieves and murders, and all kinds of wicked people - but God had saved them by grace. The problems that the church is facing in Corinth are because they're still sinners, and the root of all quarrels and strife is sin. The root of all sin is self-will, because from the day that we are born until the day that we die the real seed of sinfulness is ego - looking after number one, putting yourself first and before other people. That's the real motivation behind sin, right from Adam and Eve in the very beginning, they thought that God was robbing them of something. Satan came along to them and said: 'Yea, hath God said? If you eat of this fruit you'll be as gods - God is trying to deny you of something that is your right!'. And because they felt: 'Well, I've got to look after number one, not look after God or worship God, but look after me', sin came upon all flesh, and death because of that sin.
If we look at the book of James, if you'll turn with me to it, the epistle of James chapter 4 verse 1. James tells us where problems come from in life in general, and specifically in the assembly, he says: 'From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not'. Strife and war and problems and quarrels come about in an assembly, and indeed in the whole universe, because of people looking after their own self interests, looking after ego, number one.
John MacArthur, the expositor and preacher, has said this about strife in the local church, and I think it's tremendous - listen very carefully: 'Strife brings fractured fellowship into the church of Jesus Christ, which robs Christians of joy and effectiveness. It robs God of glory, and it robs the world of the true testimony of the gospel - a high price for an ego trip'. It robs Christians of joy and effectiveness, it robs God of glory, and it robs the world of a genuine authentic testimony of who Jesus Christ is in the world today. I think, and I hope that you agree with me, when I say tonight that there are few things other than strife in the church that will demoralise Christians, that will discourage them, drag them down, will weaken the church of Jesus Christ. One of the biggest problems we face today in Christendom in the West does not come from that big bad world outside that we're all so afraid of, but it comes from within! Bickering, backbiting, fighting - few things so effectively undermine the testimony of the gospel before the world than the behaviour of believers who are quarrelling and fighting among themselves.
Now, I know this is the way preachers always get on about quarrelling and fighting, but I want you to see that Paul had great sins to deal with in the church at Corinth, you know all about them: incest, getting drunk at the Lord's Table, all sorts of adulteries, worshipping idols, many great sins that we put at the top ten of transgressions as we know them - but what is the first sin that Paul deals with in this epistle? Divisiveness, and of course the problem of divisiveness is the problem of people. You go to your work - maybe you don't work, but you live in a neighbourhood, you rub shoulders with people day by day - and you've heard the saying that where people are there will be problems, and that is exactly the same in the church of Jesus Christ. We've got problems because we're ordinary people with ordinary problems, and we're just sinners, we're trying to conform ourselves by the Spirit of God more to the image of Christ day by day as we get to glory - but we're still people, we're still human beings! Now we all know the promises that the Lord Jesus gives us, I quoted one of them in our prayer, that He will build His church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. We were singing in our first hymn about the unity that there's meant to be within the church of Jesus Christ. In the prayer that is commonly called the high priestly prayer of the Lord in John 17, He prays that all of God's children, the church, would be one and would reflect the glory of God in the world today. We've got to ask the question: with so many divisions, so many quarrels and differentiations of doctrine and practice among those who name the name of Christ, has the purpose and the plan of Christ and God in Christianity been frustrated? Has the plan been shattered?
Conversely we have to ask: is it impossible that it should ever be fulfilled? Will we ever get to the realisation of a united church of Jesus Christ, united in truth and grace and in love? Well, my simple answer to that question is: no, it's not impossible; and no, Christianity and the plans of God in His church are not frustrated. I quote this man, a very wise man, Roy Lauren, in his answer to that question: 'But as long as Christians behave as humans and not Christians, it will be impossible' - did you get that? As long as Christians behave as humans and not as Christians, as long as they remain under the dominion of the flesh and refuse the dominion of Christ, there will be the kind of factionalism that existed in the church of Corinth.
There are two types of men mentioned in the book of 1 Corinthians. There is the carnal man, and there is the spiritual man; and the carnal man deals in division, and the spiritual man deals with unity. Paul, in these comments from verses 10 to 17, outlines for us a wonderful plan of how we in our day and age ought to deal with division. The first thing that he tells us to do is listen to his plea, and indeed the plea of the Holy Spirit through Paul, for unity within the church. It's found in verse 10: 'I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment'. What an impassioned plea gives! 'I want you all to be unanimous in your faith for the Lord Jesus Christ'. Now this is something that can't be created by a basis of belief, or by a constitution of doctrine, or by the commandments and regulations of men, but Paul tells us that this is something that begins in the mind and moves on to the heart. Verse 10, at the end: 'that ye be together, joined in the same mind and in the same judgment'.
As we've been going through the book, the epistle to the Philippians, on Sunday mornings, one thing that we touched on particularly yesterday morning was that in relation to humility in the church of Jesus Christ and unity among Christians, one thing needs to be established in the Christian mind and the Christian heart, and that is called 'attitude'. Walking through the town sometimes I see these teenagers with this on their T-shirt: 'I have an attitude problem' - I was thinking of buying maybe a hundred of them for some people, Christians, that I know! 'I have an attitude problem' - they don't need a T-shirt because it's written all across their face! An attitude will determine first of all, not a constitution, not a doctrine, but what is our attitude to life, what is our attitude to other believers, what is our attitude to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Lordship in my life - that will determine whether we are united or whether we are divided in the church!
Now people get this idea of Christian unity that we have to surrender our minds up to somebody else, that we have to give our wills over to some church leader, and we're not allowed to think any more for ourselves, and somebody else acts on our behalf. That is the thing of cults, strange Eastern religions, that is not the unity that Christ speaks of in His word - the unity in the Spirit. It's not some kind of dictatorship, but it is a unity nevertheless, but a unity that is based on the common leadership of the Lord Jesus Christ - a surrender not to a human being alone, but a surrender to Him, to His word, and to His Spirit as His Spirit guides us through the word to its precepts and principles.
Let me illustrate it to you like this: in 1887 a very famous musician by the name of Leopold Damrosch organised a musical festival in the city of New York. He trained so many groups, there was going to be a massive orchestra that would come to this festival, and singers that were going to join in, that he had to train them in various different cities at different times, all separated. There was a choir in New York, there was a choir in Brooklyn, in Newark, in Philadelphia, and Albany - and they were all drilled separately and taught separately, and trained, but they were all brought to concert perfection in their abilities. When they were all brought together into New York for that final grand finale of a festival and celebration concert, they all sang in perfect harmony - what was the reason? Because they were all drilled by the same leader to the same pitch and the same note. When that is done there will be harmony! As Paul says in verse 10, we will be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement.
Now verse 10 really begins the proper letter that we have before us. We've got past all the introduction and the salutation of the letter, and he's now breaking the letter into two parts. The first part, in chapters 1 through to 6 verse 20, is a response to the problems that Paul heard about by word of mouth. There were three messengers that came to him, hearing from the house of Chloe that there were problems in the church, and in chapters 1 through to 6 Paul addresses those verbal problems that have been relayed to him. Then in the further chapters, in chapter 7 through to the end, chapter 16, he deals with the problems that were written to him specifically by the Corinthians on a previous occasion. They wrote a letter to Paul outlining all the problems that they had. So the part that we're entering into tonight is Paul dealing with the problems that he'd heard verbally from the house of Chloe.
Let me give you a little lesson before we go any further, because there's a great principle here about how to deal with problems and divisions within the assembly. I'm not getting at anybody tonight, because I haven't the mind to even remember if anybody has done this, or who they were anyway, but people at times have come to me and said: 'Now, I'm going to tell you something here, and I don't want you to tell the person that I've told you this..'. Have you been there? Chloe didn't do that - 'I'm going to tell you something, but I never want it ever to come out that I've told you this, and it's awful, you're never going to believe it, and the testimony of this brother has been just brought down and you men better do something about it, but I don't want you to tell anybody that I've told you this' - Chloe, whoever she was, and we know very little about her, but I know this much: she was upfront, and she didn't mind her name being put to this accusation, because she was determined that the problems in Corinth would be sorted out. She wasn't dealing in tittle-tattle, she was dealing in the welfare of the testimony of Jesus Christ in Corinth, which was a strategic place for the Gospel to go right across the whole Mediterranean - that's what was in her heart, that's what ought to be in our heart! Not pulling someone else down by gossip!
What a lesson we have here, that we ought to face problems like men! Deal with them like men! Some of the men running around are more like women, the way they get on, the way they talk, the way they gossip! Friends, we need to stand up to the problems that we have within our assembly, within the people within our assembly, if we have them we face up to them in the right way - that is what Paul is pleading with the Corinthians to do: face your problems. That's why he uses the word: 'I exhort you, I beseech you'. Now the Greek word for 'beseech' there, or 'exhort', is the word 'parakalio', which is the word we get 'parakletos' from, which is the word we get 'the Holy Spirit' from. I told you recently, I can't even remember when it was, that 'paraklete' means 'to come alongside', and that's what the Holy Spirit does for us - He comes alongside, He helps us, He strengthens us, He takes our arm and helps us through. That's what the Lord said in John 14: 'I'm going away, but I will not leave you orphans, I will send another parakletos unto you, another comforter to come alongside you and carry you and help you'. In 1 John 2 verse 1 it's translated 'advocate', one who represents you, one who defends you and stands on your behalf.
Now why does Paul use this word here? He says: 'I want to help you. This is my motivation, I'm not coming to hammer the living daylights out of you because you've failed, but I want to come alongside you to exhort you and to help you and to build you up'. That displays his spirit, doesn't it? Paul knew their sins, boy did he know them, and we had a little glimpse into them - nothing like what Paul knew them as - but yet he comes to them, and not only does he say 'I want to help you', but he calls them brothers! We saw earlier, in an earlier study, that he calls them saints; and then we saw last week that he ministers the grace of God to them; and then in verse 10 he now calls them 'brethren'. He's showing them affection and love, that he's concerned, that he wants to come alongside and lift them up by the arm. But that's not all he's wanting to communicate: remember in the first verse he asserted his apostleship? He was wanting to declare to these Corinthians: 'I have authority, I've got a right to tell you these things', but now in verse 10 he's no longer asserting his authority, but he's coming to them and he's moderating his harshness, and he's showing them that he is a brother just like them, but go a step further: this is the implication of being brethren in Christ, you've got to act like family members.
There's got to be that filial love, treat one another in a brotherly fashion, with a brotherly love. Look at verse 9, he says: 'God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord'. 'You've been called into the fellowship of His Son, but now I also implore you by the same name of the Lord Jesus Christ that you fellowship with your brothers and sisters, that you agree with one another, and you eliminate any division with one another'. He uses the name of the Lord Jesus Christ because the basis of his plea for believers to be unified is the fact that we are all one anyway in Christ! Do you see it? We're all unified, we're all stuck together in the body of Christ. We've all different jobs, we're different members, but the basis for his plea for these Corinthians to be united together is because ultimately not only does it dishonour the witness of the church, but it dishonours the name of the testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now I could go on a long treatise about denominationalism, and there's a great danger of denominationalism in our world today, but that's not specifically what this passage is talking about because Paul is writing into a local assembly, a local church situation. He's telling believers in a church just like this: 'I want you all to agree'. Did you hear that? I want you all to agree! Now, are you saying in your head or in your heart: 'Well, that's impossible, there's no way that that can be possible, how could it even be possible in a church like Corinth'? But do you know something? God doesn't give us the word of God and these standards on the basis of our human ability, He gives us commands, He gives us promises on the basis of divine provision. God never ever, right throughout the Scriptures, demotes His own standards and practices because of our human limitations, but He does the exact opposite: He provides the strength and the ability that we need to do what He commands - that is the miracle of salvation in Christ! He can make us into something by grace that we could never of ourselves ever be!
It's not impossible, it's not impossible that we should all agree, it's not impossible - as he says in verse 10 - that we should all speak the same thing. All speaking the same thing! I think nothing is more confusing for new Christians in the day and age in which we live and even unbelievers looking from outside inside through our glass windows at how believers fight in the local church, how they bicker, how they all seem not to be saying the same thing but saying different things altogether! One thing is for sure: a church locally cannot be spiritually healthy, it cannot be harmonious and effective in the world, unless they have unity in love and in truth of doctrine in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, in unity with Christ, in unity with His word, His ways and His will.
Now the problem in Corinth, and the problem with many of us today, is that there were divisions. Paul says: 'I want there to be no divisions' - the word for 'divisions' is the Greek word 'schismata', which is the word we get 'schism' from that we were singing about in our first hymn: 'The Church's One Foundation'. The word 'schism' simply means 'to tear, or to rip apart'. Physically it means to break something to pieces, but there's a deeper meaning than just to separate, there's a metaphorical meaning: the difference of opinion that can come between two people - schismata - a division of judgement, dissension. Let me give you an example of this within the Gospels. Remember the Lord Jesus came to the disciples and said: 'Whom do men say that I am?'. The disciples said: 'Well, some say you're Elijah, some say that you're another great prophet, some even think perhaps you are the Christ'. Then of course you know what ramified, that Peter was asked: 'Whom do you say that I am?', and he said: 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God'. But John reports that after that there arose division in the multitude because of Him, John 7:43, and the word for 'division' there is 'schisma' - there arose a schisma in the multitude because of Jesus, and there are still divisions today in the world - the greatest division of all between the saved and the lost, because of the division that Christ makes. You remember He said Himself that He had not come to bring peace on the earth, but to bring war, to bring division in the household between a father and a son, and a mother and a daughter, and a husband and a wife.
Sadly, even within the church of Jesus Christ, there is this schismata, this separateness, division of judgement and dissension - and particularly in relation to doctrine. Turn with me to Romans 16 - it's just across the page, of course, from 1 Corinthians - verse 17. Paul tells the church of Rome: 'I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them'. One of the greatest threats to the church of Jesus Christ is schism over doctrine. There should be unity in our doctrine, I'm talking about fundamental doctrine not secondary points - although I believe in the local church there should be unity upon those things for the working of the wheels of the mechanism of how we practice things according to the word of God. But on fundamental issues there ought to be unity, we ought to be saying the same thing - but I would take it even further and I would say that there's got to be unity in decision-making within the church of Jesus Christ. There's got to be unity among the elders who make the decisions, there's got to be unity among the church that the elders make the decisions, there's got to be a confidence in the elders that they are godly men, and they are making decisions in prayer and supplication, and that they are seeking God's will by the Holy Spirit. We need, even on that level, to be thinking the same thoughts, to be speaking the same words, and to be all agreeing - and I say this: if we are not all agreeing, it is divisiveness!
I've heard, I don't know who it is, I know nothing about it, I just bring these things to you - if the cap fits, wear it! - but some people have favourite elders. Favourite elders! 'He's my elder' - I probably don't fit into any of your categories it all! - but you'll see later this is exactly what Paul is reprimanding within the church of Corinth. You don't have favourite anything! You're all the one thing, you're the body of Christ, you've all to think the same thing, you've all to speak the same thing, for you are the same thing! There are to be no schisms among us, and that's why he tells you: 'You're to be perfectly joined together', verse 10, made complete. Now that word in the Greek is used in classical Greek and New Testament Greek, and in the New Testament Gospels it's used of mending nets. In Galatians it's used of bones, dislocated joints, being joined again. It's spoken of as broken utensils being mended, and torn garments being darned. We're to be joined together, we're to be made complete - not just externally, that's to happen, 'in the same judgement' Paul says; but also internally, 'in the same mind'. We're not to walk around saying: 'Oh, I agree with him' - in the same mind, internally. We are to be bound together according to the will of God, and it all comes down to attitudes - attitudes!
Are there any attitude problems in this assembly? From the top down, when a decision is made and you don't think it's the right decision, that you quibble with it? You maybe even quarrel over it, you discuss it with other people, you don't come to the people who make the decisions and face them with it like Chloe did? You have your own little 'Councils of Jerusalem', maybe over a cup of coffee! This is division! Division is carnal! What happens when there is division in the church ought to be what happened in Acts 15. Let's take a little bit of time, I'm never going to get through this tonight, but Acts 15 verse 2. There arose a controversy in the city of Antioch over Judaising, those people who said: 'Well, you can get saved, and Christ died for you, but you still have to keep the law, you still have to keep the commandments and be circumcised and go through all the ritualistic ceremonies of Judaism'. Of course, this caused a great fiasco within the church, and many of the epistles are written into this situation. We see it in verse 2 of chapter 15: 'When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question'. So they went to the apostles to ask them what they thought of this dissension - now note, please, they went to the right people first! They didn't go and tittle-tattle, they were concerned, and this is the sign of whether you're really concerned about the work of God - who you go to with the problem!
So we find that the apostles met over this matter, they discussed it, we read on in the chapter that they prayed and they settled it. Their decision was put in a letter and it was circulated around the churches that were involved, and this is what they were able to say at the end of it all, and this is the way decisions should be made in the assembly - verse 28: 'It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things', and he lists for them all the requirements that need to be made. But look at what they say: 'It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, here are the directives that we have found as we have given ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word of God'. If there's a problem bring it to the elders; if there's a problem, elders, pray over it, seek the Holy Spirit - but one thing's for sure: if both of us do that, the church of Jesus Christ will be of one mind, they will be saying the same thing, thinking the same thoughts, there will be no schisms among them but they will be perfectly joined together - just like the early Church at the beginning! It was said of them in Acts 4 and verse 32: 'And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common'.
How do you deal with division? Well, you need to listen to God's plea for unity in the church, but secondly you need to locate the parties of division. If we look at verses 11 and 12 we find that Paul gives us and defines for us various factions that there were in this church. The strife was being caused, the disunity, by loyalty to men rather than loyalty to God. These men were vocal in their opinions, they had little mottos that they shouted all over the place that showed who their identity was to: 'I am of Paul', 'I am of Apollos', 'I am of Cephas', 'I of Christ'. Now let's take a moment to look at each of these, because it's important that we understand what Paul is saying.
First of all he says that there was the 'Paul Party', his own party. If you turn to chapter 4 and verse 15, Paul says: 'Though there are a lot of teachers coming to Corinth and telling you what to do - though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel'. Paul led these Corinthians to the Lord Jesus Christ, in the year and a half ministry that he had in Corinth he preached to them the gospel of the liberty of Christ, that they could be set free from all their sin, and set free from any legalism or any laws that their religion was binding them to, and they came to know Christ through the apostle. Probably because of that a lot of people put him on a pedestal, and began to follow the apostle. Some scholars believe that the licentiousness that was in the church at Corinth, the fact that they seemed to be doing all sorts of things that Christians ought not to do, this antinomianism as if the laws of God didn't exist and they were just living it up and going into all sorts of sins, that this was coming because they were misunderstanding the grace of God in salvation. In Romans 6 Paul says: 'Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?' - some people believe that they thought the grace of God allowed them to abound in sin, and it was probably the little group that followed Paul, Paul preaching the gospel of grace.
Well, we don't know about that, but one thing we're sure about is this: differences in churches usually grow around personalities. Is that not the case? Oh, eventually they become articulated around some matter of doctrine or a dispute of some kind of theological importance, but the likelihood out of all the schisms and divisions is that they originate with a personality clash. There may well be theological disagreement, but the strife emerges because personal relationships are not good! If we were all giving in to the other, if we were all giving in to the Lord Jesus in our attitude, in our understanding of the word of God, in our surrender to Him and one another, there would be no personality problems, there would be no divisions.
But then there is the 'Apollos Party', it's interesting to me that three out of the four parties are all against Paul, and he was the one that led them to the Lord Jesus in the first place! The 'Apollos Party' - Paul left Corinth after year and a half ministry there, and then Apollos arrived. We read in Acts chapter 18 all about him, if you look at Acts chapter 18 for a moment you see what a great man this man Apollos was. Acts 18 verse 18: 'And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow'. So he left, and we read on in the passage, we don't have time to read it, but verse 24: 'And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John'. And we read on that in his eloquence he was able to persuade many men to trust Christ.
We know that this man Apollos came from the city of Alexandria in Egypt, which probably was the most respected university city in the modern world of that day. He was intellectual, he was extremely scripturally astute, he was eloquent in his delivery of the word of God and in his preaching, and I'm certain that the Greeks - who loved eloquence, remember the Sophists that we talked about in weeks gone by who didn't really care what you were saying as long as you said it the right way - they would have just lapped up Apollos. They were enamoured with rhetoric and with argumentative skills, and we read later on the Paul even admits himself that he wasn't a great preacher in style that came across, that perhaps the language that he used, or the tone of his voice, he didn't impress the Greeks - but this man Apollos did. If Paul, perhaps, was the source - I don't mean the direct source, it wasn't Paul's fault, it wasn't Apollos' fault - but these people's misunderstanding of their preaching, of their eloquence, led to their licentiousness, doing all sorts of things in the Paul camp, and then in the Apollos camp it led to elitism: 'We want to be the best preachers, we want we to be loved by everybody for the way we preach, or the way we sound, by how intellectual we are'. We know that in the church at Corinth there was this intellectualism that had arisen, probably from the Apollos faction.
Then we move on to the 'Cephas Party'. 'Cephas' is an Aramaic transliteration of the word 'Peter', it's the apostle Peter that is being talked about here. We don't know if Peter ever visited Corinth, but one thing is for sure: I'm sure the church had heard about the apostle Peter, the great pillar of the church, the great apostle to the Jews, one of the original twelve - Paul wasn't one of the original twelve, neither was Apollos - oh but this man was, Cephas! 'He's the best out of that three, that's for certain! We'll follow him, he saw the Lord, he walked with the Lord' - and no wonder, with all the credentials that Peter had, that a personality cult arose around him, probably mainly of Jewish believers. We know from this book that there were people who were falling into the Judaising camp, legalists believing you had to obey the law, believing that you had to withdraw from the world, you had to remain celibate, and they probably came from the Cephas Party.
Then fourthly there is the 'Christ Party', and this takes the biscuit, this is the best of them all! 'I of Christ' - at a quick glance you would think: 'Well, they're quite commendable, they're saying we don't want to be led by any mere man, we're too holy to get into all this party political staff within the church of Jesus Christ, we are people that want to be taught directly from the Lord. The Lord is our Leader, the Lord is our Captain!'. They probably thought that human authorities of any kind were unnecessary, that you didn't need to follow elders or deacons or anything like that - but instead they claimed: 'We belong to Christ'. That's what it means, these men are in as much fault as the other three, because in theory what they're saying is not: 'We belong to Christ', but 'Christ belongs to us and not you other three'. We don't have to go very far till we find that spirit, do we? David Prior speaks of it like this: 'Their emphasis and their language are usually above reproach, and their hotline to God can be very intimidating. The net result of their presence in the church is that most other people feel spiritually inadequate - 'We don't get clear messages from the Lord, we have no comparable sense of immediacy in prayer, we cannot match such unswerving certainty about the will of the Lord' - and there is always a faint but discernible air of spiritual superiority when members of this group are present, and it is not easy to cope with their comments such as 'The Lord has told me that...''.
There was a group that later became the Gnostics, who believed that they were the elite, not that they belonged to Christ but that Christ belonged to them - and you had to be one of them, you had to be enlightened just like they were, or you wouldn't be saved. Do you know what is a tragedy of this church at Corinth that is brought to us in AD95, 40 years after Paul wrote this letter? Clement of Rome, a Christian in the early Church, says that these cliques and these divisions were still in the church, and he mentions the party of Paul, he mentions the party of Apollos and Cephas, but strangely he doesn't mention the party of Christ. Do you know why? Because these are usually the ones who say: 'This church isn't holy enough for me, I've got to move on', and they break away - and here they broke away.
We have to close all this up tonight, but what have we learnt? I'll tell you what we've learnt: we need go no further in this book to realise that spirituality produces humility, spirituality produces unity, but it is carnality that produces pride and division. Someone has rightly said: 'The smallest man in the church is often the biggest problem'! That man who's never been big enough or mature enough to be trusted with anything in the church is able to tell you how to run the church! Carnality that leads to pride and division, small statured Christians who are Christianity's biggest problem. It is not the giant critic from without that is the problem, but the little contender that is within that is the problem. We have a danger in this church, in churches like our church, and in the West in general with all the wealth that we have, of becoming sermon-tasters who follow after men and lose our focus, what it ought to be.
What ought it to be? Turn with me, and we read this for our final statement tonight - Hebrews chapter 12. Keep your study sheet for next week. Hebrews chapter 12, and before I read it can I ask you: where is your focus? Is it on a pet doctrine? Is it on your favourite preacher? Is it on your particular tipple of theology? The writer to the Hebrews says in verse 2: 'Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God'. Did Paul die for you? Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.
Let's bow our heads: Father, we pray that You will deliver us from Christian celebrities, from putting men on pedestals and following them, bringing obeisance to them. Father, would You protect us from division, Lord, that we will be of one mind, that we will speak the same thing, that we will speak the same words to one another, that we will seek guidance of God and know that the Holy Spirit is leading us. For Lord, we know all too well that when this world looks at the church and sees all the divisiveness and bickering and quarrelling they can't see Christ, because they can't see past the Christians. Lord, how will they ever see Christ if we don't fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith? Lord, lift our eyes upon Him, to look full in His wonderful face, that the things of earth - the carnal things - may grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and His grace. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the third tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "Dealing With Division Part 1" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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