- 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)
We're turning to 1 Corinthians chapter 1 again. You didn't receive a study brochure tonight because you were meant to keep last week's one, and I hope you did, if you didn't there are probably some spare ones about, you can get them on the way out. I'm sure somebody beside you will share theirs with you if you haven't got one. We only got through the first two points of our message last week, and we'll deal with the latter two again tonight, but we'll read all the verses as we read them last week from 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", remember we saw that the Greek word is 'schismata', which we get the word 'schism' from, or we often use the word 'split', "no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment". That phrase 'perfectly joined together' was a phrase that was often used of the knitting of broken bones together again, or the sewing of garments - "joined together in the same mind in the same judgement. 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 quarrels, 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".
Our title last week was: 'Dealing with Division', and we'll look at the second part this evening - but last week we meditated for a few moments on the fact that there are few things that so effectively undermine the testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world today as division among those who call themselves Christ's ones. If you look down at your sheet you'll see that the first way that Paul exhorts those in the church in Corinth who were in division, to sort out the division and deal with the division, was first of all to listen to the plea of God's Holy Spirit for unity through the apostle Paul. He pleaded with them that there be no schisms, no divisions, verse 10, among you but that you all be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement - you all think the same thoughts and speak the same words. Remember that this is something that can't come about by church constitutions, or even by basis of belief or the commandments of men, but it's something that begins in the mind, it is something that evolves out of a heart that is in a right attitude toward Christ first and foremost, and also in a right attitude to our brethren and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ. That will only happen when we hear the plea of the Holy Spirit through the word of God, that we all be perfectly joined together and that there be no divisions among us.
The second way that we saw that we deal with disunity within the assembly and within the church at large is to locate the parties of that division, whatever the division may be. In Corinth, specifically in verses 11 and 12, we see the parties outlined very clearly. Paul had got word from three messengers from the house of Chloe that there were strifes and quarrels among them, and chiefly there were four parties that had evolved in the church at Corinth: those who were saying 'Well, I of Paul', probably those who followed Paul's gospel of grace but followed it into licentiousness and antinomianism, which means that they lived absolute liberty to the excess, where they were indulging in all sorts of awful sins because they felt that they could do that because God had forgiven and God would cleanse all their future sins too. So they plunged themselves into the varied sins of Corinth. We don't know whether that's a fact, but it's probably the case. Then there were those who said 'Well, I am of Apollos', he was a great orator, he was the intellectual one from Alexandria in Egypt. He was the one who the Greeks would have loved to have listened to in all his eloquence and flowery speech. That's probably where the piety and the intellectualism within the church at Corinth arose, from this sect of those who followed Apollos. They weren't as concerned about what Apollos was saying, as much as the way he was saying it. Then there were those who said 'I am of Cephas', the Aramaic word for 'Peter'. These were probably Jews, those who wanted to still follow the law, who wanted to still get all men circumcised and go through all the Jewish law and rituals of ceremony and practice, but of course we know that that is contrary to the gospel, and the book of Galatians teaches us that. Then there are the most pious and pompous and hypocritical of them all who say 'I am of Christ. We do not follow a man, in fact we don't follow the authoritarianism or a hierarchy of any men, we belong to ourselves but we follow Christ. We are above all the rest in our sort of spiritual knowledge, and first-class special experiences'.
So these are the parties that Paul could locate in the church of Corinth, but really we could narrow it all down to this: Paul is telling them that there are two types of people in this church of Jesus Christ in Corinth, and indeed in the church of Jesus Christ today worldwide, there are those who are spiritual and there are those who are carnal. The spiritual's spirituality will be evidenced in humility and in unity; and carnality will be evidenced in pride and divisiveness. It all comes down to where your focus is, and the verse that we ended with last Monday evening was Hebrews chapter 12 and verse 2. We're not to look unto Paul, we're not to look unto Apollos or unto Cephas, but we are to look unto Christ: 'Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross'. If our focus is on the Lord Jesus we will not have loyalty to mere men.
Now the context of all the teaching and practice and principles that are found in the letter of 1 Corinthians obviously is written into the situation of a local church, and we must always apply it to our modern-day situations in our local churches. But I believe that the principles that are applied to the local church here in our text, verses 10 to 17, can also be applied to the present situation within the worldwide church and the divisions that are found in it. So we don't just apply these truths to our own specific locality and assembly, but they must be applied to the church of Jesus Christ at large because we must remember - as this book and as the book of Ephesians specifically outlines for us - that the mystery of the church that was revealed to Christ was for one worldwide church where there were no barriers and no schisms and no denominations. I believe that that was the spirit that many of the great reformers had, and many of the historical Christians that we call the heroes of our faith all down the years had within their hearts and minds.
Martin Luther said on one occasion: 'I pray you leave my name alone, do not call yourselves Lutherans but Christians'. John Wesley said, the founder of Methodism: 'I wish the name Methodist might never be mentioned again, but lost in eternal oblivion'. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who was a Baptist, said: 'I say of the Baptist name: let it perish, and let Christ's own name last forever. I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a Baptist living'. What did Paul say? '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?'. Now I want, tonight, to deal with the party spirit and divisions within the local assembly, but I also want us to apply within our hearts and minds this divisiveness that there is that pervades within the worldwide church of Jesus Christ - because ultimately all divisions, whether they're local or whether they're worldwide, all come and stem from the same fundamental problems in the body of Christ.
Let me say right away, before we enter into these verses, that the Bible does not aspire or teach false ecumenism. False ecumenism is simply to deny our fundamental differences and creeds with regards to the gospel and salvation. A prime example and illustration is how many in the Protestant faith are denying the Protestant heritage and the gospel of justification by faith, by grace, ultimately, through God and through the Lord Jesus Christ, and His imputed righteousness unto us, not of works lest any man should boast. They are smudging the demarcation line between that and a gospel of works, a gospel of ritual and religiosity that we find in the Roman Catholic Church. They're saying very sincerely, and with a very loving but misguided spirit: 'Let's all come together and deny our fundamental differences, and let's fellowship one with the other' - even though both of them have two different ways of getting to God, and even two different understandings of God and His salvation. We deny that tonight on the authority of the word of God, we do not countenance or bless any false ecumenism, and I don't want you to misunderstand anything that I'm saying tonight - but let me say this: in our opposition to false ecumenism, we as modern-day Bible believers must stand and be seen to stand with historic biblical Christianity and affirm what is to be known as true ecumenism.
There is false ecumenism, but there is also true ecumenism, where genuine Bible believers who are born-again by the Spirit of God are able to come together in fellowship. The irony today is that those who probably opposed false ecumenism the most vehemently are those who are the most vehemently opposed to true ecumenism. It's strange, isn't it? It's strange that many fundamentalist Bible believers today probably couldn't have fellowship with Luther if he was around today. Many of them couldn't fellowship with John Wesley, or with George Whitfield, or with C.H. Spurgeon. Many of us quote him, many of us read their books, we even wish that we were a bit like them and follow after their standards and the example that they set for us - but yet if they were around today many of us would feel an inability to fellowship with them for one reason or another. It is even more ironic that those, perhaps, who oppose the segregation of Christianity today and delineation of denominations, are those who are the most exclusive and those who are the most divisive themselves.
We must address this according to the word of God and find out where the biblical balance is between false ecumenism and true ecumenism, which is Christian unity that the Bible teaches and which Paul is specifically teaching in these seven verses that we've read together tonight. Anthony T. Evans said these very telling and prophetic words: 'The church of Jesus Christ worldwide today remains the most segregated aspect of Western society'. The church of Jesus Christ today worldwide remains the most segregated aspect of Western society. I hope you will agree with me from your reading of the New Testament that when God had the first thought of the church of Jesus Christ, and revealed that great mystery to Paul, that it was not in view that He would have many things in one place, many churches in Belfast or in Corinth or in Ephesus, but one thing: the church of Jesus Christ in many places right across the globe. You notice that, that these letters are addressed to the church of Corinth, the church at Ephesus, not the first or the second or the third, but the church of God at Corinth.
Let me say that, if you look in the Encyclopaedia Britannica you will find this was the early dream and idealism of the Brethren movement - that labels would fall. For a short period of time in their history it was realised, where there were men and women - clergymen from Anglicanism, ministers from Presbyterianism, Baptists and all sorts of people from different backgrounds who met together and united just under the name of Christ, around the table which was not Baptist or Brethren or Presbyterian or Anglican, but which was the table of the Lord. They fellowshipped without any man-made restrictions or rules - but the massive irony of their history was that that idealism and that biblical dream was shattered by party spirit and by loyalties to men.
The principle that we find within this text here guard us, any of us, against schism in the local assembly and indeed in the church at large. We want to deal with our last two principles that will help us deal with division and indeed prevent division in the assembly. The first that we find is in verse 13: 'Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?'. Here it is: we need to learn the principle of oneness in Christ, we need to learn the principal of oneness in Christ, and Paul uses three rhetorical questions, and the answer to those three questions are 'No' every time. Verse 13: 'Is Christ divided?', the answer is 'No'. 'Was Paul crucified for you?', the answer is 'No'. 'Were ye baptized in the name of Paul?', the answer is 'No'. The implication of those three rhetorical questions is this: if Christ is not divided why are His people divided? If Christ is not divided in body at Corinth, why are there four factions among the church, probably meeting in four different locations, four different houses?
This ought not to be the case, and the central principal: 'What I, Paul, say, is this: is Christ divided?'. It is the unity of the body of Christ, that we as believers are all one in Christ, and if that is the case we never should be instrumental in disrupting or destroying the unity that is in the body of Christ. We saw last week that the embers of their strife and quarrels and cliques was fuelled by combustible pride. There was pride welling up, and as we saw from the book of James, strifes and quarrels and contentions among all believers start from pride within. Lust - we lust after our own name to be seen, to be proud, for people to follow us, to adhere unto us, to bring us obedience. Exactly the same thing happens here, because men had become more concerned with not the issue of baptism, but with who baptized you. They were running around, we believe, boasting about who baptized them. It wasn't the fact that their faith was made authentic by baptism, but they seemed to go a bit further and say how authentic their faith was with regard to the person that baptized them. Whether it was Paul, whether it was Cephas, whether it was Apollos, whoever it might have been - that was what became more important to them, not their baptism but their baptiser!
We find out in the first verse that Paul asserts his apostleship, and he's showing them his authority, but you've got to understand that at no point did Paul the apostle ever seek to bring men and women to himself - he is always bringing men and women to the Lord Jesus Christ. He wants people to know that when they're converted, no matter who they're converted through, no matter what denomination or organisation they come to Christ through, no matter what man or woman baptizes them - it doesn't matter, we are all united and one in Christ, and we ought not to be divided - why? Because there is this principal of oneness in Christ, it is a contradiction to think that the arm of the body of Christ could be severed, or the eye could be plucked out, or the nose could be taken away, because we are all one body.
Doesn't the letter of 1 Corinthians bear that out? Turn to chapter 6 verse 17, he says: 'But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit'. We aren't 110, or 115, or how many people there are here tonight, we aren't 115 spirits. We are joined to Christ and we are all one spirit. Chapter 12, if you turn to it, and verses 12 and 13: 'For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit'. It is a contradiction to have a local church schismata, a split, it's a contradiction! I would go further to say it is a contradiction to have splits in the worldwide church of Jesus Christ. It weakens the witness and testimony of the Gospel, and worst of all it grieves and brings shame to the One who bought them, the One who died to make them one. Let me say to you tonight, no matter who you are or where you come from: if, like these Corinthians, you have to be baptised by a certain man, or you have to be baptized in a certain water - whether it's the Lagan or the Jordan - or you have to be baptised on a certain day, no matter what holy day it is, you have lost the plot! The spirit that is found in the Corinthians here can be found right across Christendom today, and the tragedy of it is this: many are willing to split local churches and schism the fellowship of the church of Jesus Christ at large over mere trivia!
Of course it's not trivia to them, it's fundamental to them, and that's the sign of their Corinthian spirit - when people make things that are non-fundamentals into fundamentals it is a sign that they have lost the plot! Now can I address our folk here in the Iron Hall for a minute, because I'm glad as your Pastor tonight that I'm not a Baptist. I didn't hear any 'Hallelujahs'! I'm not Brethren. People say to me: 'What are you people in the Iron Hall anyway? Are you Baptist, are you Brethren, or are you somewhere in between?'. They want to pigeonhole you, they want to put a label on you - I'm not Baptist! Even when I was in the Baptist, I'm not a Baptist! I'm not Brethren - though people would like to make us Baptist, and some of you might want to make us Brethren, we're not! But there is a danger that when we stand in the position of non-denominationalism that we also fall into the position of the party in Corinth that said: 'We are of Christ, we're not Baptist, we're not Brethren, we're not Presbyterian, we're not Church of Ireland, we're not any of these factions - we're of Christ'. We have to guard against not only denominationalism but making our own denomination of the little Iron Hall! 'We alone are right', and if an H-bomb fell on the Iron Hall we'd all have a dilemma about where we're going to go on Sunday morning, because the Iron Hall was the only place that was right! We need to guard not only against that, but against little denominations within the Iron Hall! That's what Paul's talking about: little factions that break out, subdivisions and parties and doctrinal beliefs. We all have our different beliefs over many things, but what Paul is preaching against is making a schismata, a division without or within according to these secondary differences.
I'm not unaware of the fact that the local assembly has to have practical consensus, and as Paul says himself we all have to have the same mind and we've got to think the same thing with regards to doctrine and with fundamental truth, and even with secondary issues. There are practical things that have to go on the assembly, and we have to try and understand the word of God - hopefully being led by the Spirit of God - and come to conclusions on certain things. Paul is saying that that is what you ought to do, the elders ought to do that, it ought to filter down to the deacons and down to the members - but don't make divisions! Surely these truths must still affect our relationship in the Gospel with those who are not of our persuasion? There's this thing in Ulster, I don't know where it comes from - maybe it's our Celtic blood, or something to do with the Scots or the Irish or whoever we come from - sometimes I wonder who we're coming from with all this fighting going on. Why is it that we can't just hold our convictions, we've got to hold them and hammer everybody else around us! Why is that?
In 1730 a 26-year-old by the name of George Whitfield, he was already famous in England for his evangelistic preaching, and he arrived in America. He was a Church of England cleric - never forget about that - and he was welcomed in the Americas by his co-labourers, and do you know who they were? They were Baptists, they were Presbyterians, they were Quakers, they were Lutherans, they were Congregationalists, they were Dutch Reformed, and anyone else who - as far as he was concerned - preached the Gospel and preached an individual, personal conversion. As he crossed the Atlantic he wrote to one of his clergymen friends in England, and he said this: 'The partition wall has for some time been broken down out of my heart, and I can truly say that whoever loves the Lord Jesus, the same is my brother and sister and mother'. I can say 'Amen' to George Whitfield, and if you can't you're not standing with historic biblical Christianity, if there is a wall of partition in your heart!
Lucian, the unbelieving Greek writer who lived in AD120-200, he observed the Christians around him and the fellowship that they had one for another, and he wrote this: 'It is incredible to see the fervour with which the people of that religion help each other. In their wants they spare nothing. Their first legislator', and in brackets he put 'Jesus', 'has put it into their heads that they are brethren', and because they knew that they were brothers and sisters in Christ - what was it? It was the principle of the oneness in Christ - we are one in Christ, and we are brothers and sisters in Christ no matter what divisive names we use.
Let me say that the best way of maintaining unity in the local assembly and in the worldwide church of Jesus Christ is our fourth point of dealing with division: it's to labour the priority of preaching the cross. Verses 14 to 17 outline it, but specifically verse 17: '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'. You see, what happened was they lost the plot in Corinth because they got waylaid from the Gospel, from the cross. They got taken up with not just the issue of baptism, but with who baptized them, with what sect they were in, and they got on their little hobby horse - perhaps the sect of Paul was their licentiousness and the efficacy of grace; perhaps the sect of Apollos was their intellectualism and their flowery oratory; perhaps the sect of Cephas was their legalism and their Jewishness; and the sect of Jesus was their gnosticism, how they were the chosen of God, how they knew everything and they didn't follow men. But whatever it was they each had their little hobby horse, but the danger of hobby horses is this: it eclipses the cross!
I don't know whether you've ever heard the Southern Gospel song: 'What kind of church would my church be, if every member was just like me?'. Do you know what some of their churches would be? Sitting at home with me, I, and myself! The 'David Legge denomination', just me. There was an old Quaker on one occasion and he left that many meetings, one place after another, that a man said to him: 'What church do you go to now?'. He says: 'Well, I've found the true church at last!'. 'How many belong to it?', he said. 'Well, just the wife and I, but I'm not sure about Mary...' - that's the way some of us are, isn't it? Now listen, don't misunderstand what I'm saying tonight, because you know me all too well - I hope, at least, maybe you think you don't really know me - but the word of God teaches, and I will teach from this pulpit, that doctrine is important. If the book of 1 Corinthians teaches anything, if you turn to chapter 11, it outlines that doctrine is important. Chapter 11 and verse 18: 'For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it'. So there are certain divisions that are necessary, why? Verse 19: 'For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you'. There are certain divisions that have to happen because it's the division between truth and error! We have to make a division when truth and error are opposed to one another, and we must always use the truth. But the antithesis of that, and the other side of the coin that we are not exempt in any shape or form from ignoring, is the fact that we must also unite together over truth and the truth that is the fundamental truth.
In this assembly we must continue to maintain biblical practices and principles and standards. For the practical and sensible working of the local assembly in every sphere there has to be accepted doctrine and practice, even in secondary matters, but Paul is still saying to us that we should never allow carnal things to divide us internally or to divide the church externally with other true believers in Christ. It never ought to be done! Why? Paul said, verse 17: 'I have always kept the main thing', the main thing - that was my wee paraphrase, it wasn't based on the original Greek - keeping the main thing, the main thing. 'I did not come to baptise, it's important, but what is all-important? You're divided over baptism, I'm telling you not to be, what I'm telling you to be is divided over the cross'. That is the demarcation line for the church of Jesus Christ, the only thing that we should divide over is truth and all that truth enshrines. In verses 14 to 16, if you look at it, you see, as we said, they were idolising the baptiser - and Paul gave a great sigh of relief. He says in verse 14: 'Thank God I never baptised hardly any of you, but Crispus and Gaius, and maybe a few more - the household', verse 16, 'of Stephanas: besides I can't even remember, and I thank God that I can't remember, who I baptised' - do you know why? Because they all would have been running away and idolising: 'Do you know who I was baptised by? The apostle Paul! What do you think of that?'.
In John's gospel in chapter 4 and verse 2, do you know what we read? That the Lord Jesus never baptised anyone, what a temptation it would've been! Imagine, if you had been baptised in the water by the Lord Himself you wouldn't have needed to set yourself apart, people would have done it for you! They'd have been whispering: 'He was baptised by the Lord Himself!'. They would have made you into some kind of saint, put you in a glass window, maybe even have worshipped you! Paul is in danger himself of creating a cult around himself, and he says: 'I thank God I didn't baptise any of you'. Now listen, I don't want to create confusion, but I just want to challenge any misunderstandings that any of you have with regards to what the Bible teaches. You might be asking in your mind: 'Well, what are the things that are essential and the things that are not essential to our position as Christians and Bible believing Christians? What grounds should we separate from others upon, and what ground should we definitely not separate on?'. I cannot answer all these questions tonight, it would take another 50 minutes to go into this, but I hope to go into it probably in the rest of our studies throughout 1 Corinthians. But let me say this: what was characteristic about the Corinthians was that they were dividing over non-essential matters. Now listen: they were dividing over carnal matters, they were forming sects around the personalities of men - Paul, Apollos, Cephas - and we must never do that, for that is carnality. No personality cults, no Christian superstars. One woman got up in the middle of a Sunday morning church service and objected and complained and shouted out loud that she was hearing more every Sunday about John Calvin from the pulpit than she was hearing about Jesus Christ!
There's a danger that we fall into this trap of following men, no matter how great these men may be. We're not meant to preach men, we're not meant to stand behind men. We're not meant to divide over carnal matters, like the rich and the poor that the Corinthians were dividing over. Those who were full, and those who were hungry at the Lord's Table, they weren't even waiting on one another, they were just feeding themselves and getting drunk - and there was this carnality that was entering into the church, and it ought not to have been so. We must never divide over carnality. Then there was intellectualism - not intellect, there's nothing wrong with intellect, God gave you it, so you use it - but intellectualism, where the intellectual were looking down on those who didn't know as much as they did. Sometimes we can do that, people who haven't had the privileges that we have had in the word of God and the teaching that you have had, and we can look down at them, and we can even think that it's a ground to separate from them - and it's not! Then there was false spirituality, because as you come near the end of this book you find those who, because they had certain spiritual gifts, they believed that they were more spiritual than others.
We all fall into this trap of sometimes thinking that because of our persuasion, because of our denomination, because of our creed, that we are more spiritual than other believers. Is that right? Is it right? It's not right! Why? Because we're all one in Christ, and unless there's a better Christ that you've got that I haven't got, or somebody down the road hasn't got, that's the only moment that you'll be better than anybody! Martin Lloyd-Jones, who I respect, and who's teaching I have benefited from on many occasions, on one occasion preaching in Bethesda Chapel in Sunderland on the 4th of November 1970, urged the British Evangelical Council not to let non-essential matters divide their united witness to the world. He outlined the book of Corinthians for them in an hour or so, and he said that from chapters 1 to 14 these Corinthians believers were urged by Paul not to divide over silly non-essential matters. Then in chapter 15 he began to expound that great chapter on resurrection, and he outlined for them the things that we ought to mark ourselves out as different in, and things that we ought to divide on, the things that we ought to stand for. It's not that the other things aren't important, they are very important for the working mechanisms of a local assembly, but for our witness to this world who only see faction and division and schism, these are the things that we ought to stand for!
Turn with me to that passage, and I want to take you through the points that Dr Lloyd-Jones made - chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians. Here it is, and Paul is literally doing this, he's saying: 'These are the things that you've got to make your stand for, these are the things that you've got to divide in Corinth over'. "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures'. He saying: 'This is what's important!' - it's not that the other things aren't important, that's why he's writing to them, to sort them out. But this is the issue that divides, this is the issue that you will stand or fall at: one, the Scriptures, according to the Scriptures - he doesn't just throw that in for some kind of pietism, to show that he was an apostle - that is the foundation of all that we believe. This gospel, our teaching, is according to the Scriptures; it's crucial; it's fundamental; it's essential. Our foundation - now this is a fundamental to divide on - our foundation is the word of God, not tradition of men! Whether it be Evangelical tradition, or Roman Catholic tradition, or pseudo-catholic tradition, or Protestant tradition, we know no tradition but the tradition of the apostles. That is a fundamental: the tradition of accepted Biblical doctrine - why? Because the word of God is inspired - it is revelation, it's not opinion, it's God's revealed word and truth. It's authoritative and we must believe it - and the word of God, if we take it and put it into our lives, and into our churches, and into the worldwide church, it would dispel liberalism on one side that denies the word of God, and it would dispel ritualism and traditionalism that equally denies the word of God!
That is the position we ought to stand in, and secondly he says: 'I deliver, first of all, all that which I also received, but I declare', in verse 1, 'unto you the gospel'. I declare the gospel - what is the gospel? It is the fall of man, it is the fact that man needs to be saved; and the fact that man, if he is not saved, is abiding under the wrath of Almighty God - that is a nonnegotiable of Christianity, that we need salvation, the fall and its consequences if we don't get salvation: hell. The Scriptures, the fall, and thirdly God's plan of redemption: 'Christ', verse 3, 'died for our sins according to the scriptures'. That is the only message of hope that is revealed in the Old Testament, right through all the prophecies and all the ritual and all the signs and typology, right into the New Testament where we meet the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.
One, the Scriptures; two, the fall; three, the plan of redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ; and four, the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is central to everything that we hold and believe, and it's interesting that in chapter 15 and verse 7 Paul links this fundamental belief in the Lord Jesus with His glorious resurrection. Look at it, verse 7: 'After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles'. Why does he link the centrality of our belief in the Lord Jesus with His resurrection? I'll tell you why: because of the seed of man He was born of David but, as Romans chapter 1 teaches us, 'He was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead'. It's not the fact that He lived a perfect life - all-important that that was - for us, but that's not what saves us, but it's the message that Christ died according to the Scriptures. We must stand and be divided, but also be united with those in Christ, with those who hold to the substitutionary effective death of our Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary. We must stand with all those who believe in the bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus, we must stand with all those who believe in the glorious hope of His returning that we read about in verse 28: 'And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all'. We must believe that the consummation of all things will be in God through Christ.
He is God, and He is God's Son - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we believe in the Triune Godhead, three Persons, one substance. There we stand with the apostles, and there we stand with the Reformers, there we stand with Christians of every age, and we ought not to be divided if we stand with them on these things. The emphasis of Paul in his message to these Grecian Christians in Corinth is significant, as significant as his message was to the believers in Rome. I don't know whether you've ever seen this or not, but in Rome people were vaunted with great power and might. It was a centre and the seat of the power of the world, the great empire that spanned the whole of Europe as we know it, and as Paul comes to them with the gospel - what is the note that he strikes? 'I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ', why? 'Because it is the power of God unto salvation to all that believe, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek'. Then he comes to the Greeks in Corinth with all their boasted wisdom and culture, and he strikes the theme of his message in these words that you find in chapter 1 and verse 23: 'We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men'.
To Rome it was the gospel of the power of God, and to Greece, to Corinth, it was the gospel of the wisdom of God - and, my friend, it is the gospel that this world is crying out for! But it's the gospel that they cannot hear, because of our divisiveness! I am not calling for some kind of flower-power, happy-clappy smudging of convictions and principles, and I say with Martin Luther: 'Cursed be that unity for which the word of God is put at stake' - cursed be it! But equally, my friends tonight, before the word of God, for the gospel's sake, let us have unity in the truth! The best pulpit for the gospel is Christian unity in truth.
Can I read you in closing a story that I read recently that spells it all out? Listen to it very carefully. Someone has imagined the carpenter's tools holding a conference. Brother Hammer presided, and several suggested that he leave the meeting because he was too noisy. Replied the Hammer: 'If I have to leave the shop Brother Screw must go also, you have to turn him around again and again to get him to accomplish anything'. Brother Screw then spoke up: 'Well, if you wish, I'll leave, but Brother Plane must also leave too - all his work is on the surface, and his efforts have no depth'. To this Brother Plane responded: 'Brother Rule will also have to withdraw, for he is always measuring folks as though he were the only one who is right'. Brother Rule then complained against Brother Sandpaper: 'You ought to leave too, because you're so rough, and always rubbing people up the wrong way'. In the midst of all this discussion in walked the Carpenter of Nazareth. He had arrived to start His day's work. Putting on His apron, He went to the bench to make a pulpit from which to proclaim the gospel. He employed the hammer, the screw, the plane, the rule, the sandpaper, and all the other tools. After the day's work, when the pulpit was finished, Brother Saw arose and remarked: 'Brethren, I observe that all of us are workers together with the Lord'.
We need to focus on the One whose glory we share, and who in what is known as His high priestly prayer in John chapter 17 prayed: 'For the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one'.
Father, with every fibre of our being we abhor false unity, false ecumenism that denies the gospel and denies the glorious work of Thy Son. Father, we know that what fellowship is there between light and darkness, between God and Belial. We would not seek to have such fellowship, but yet, our Father, we acknowledge tonight that the church of Jesus Christ is worldwide; the communion of the saints is a mysterious reality; and Father, we are not divided, we are all one in Christ no matter how we feel or how we think. We know, our Father, that one thing that this old world needs to hear tonight is the united cry in the gospel. Oh, Father, that You would know nothing in us save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. We pray that men and women from all backgrounds would lay down their tradition, lay down their preconceived ideas, and take up the word of God, and take up the gospel of God alone without labels and without restrictions and loyalties to men, and go and preach it - and that there would be no uncertain sound that would come from this church. Lord, in a day that is yet to be, may there be a certain cry from the city of Belfast, that men and women will hear and see that we're all thinking the same thing, and speaking the same words, that Christ Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures. 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 fourth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "Dealing With Division Part 2" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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