Jesus calls us to be one. Our love for each other is meant to be a witness to others but so often we fail in this. Churches end up being characterised by division, factions & tribalism. Christians create their own heroes. These might be national/international celebrity Christians or the go to people in the local church (my favourite elder or the church member who truly speaks for a significant group of us)A few weeks back, Terry introduced our series on 1 Corinthians and talked about what we track in to church from our culture and what we track out of church into our daily lives.
Tracking in: – we can bring our experience of work, school, society into church so that it becomes about community politics.
Tracking out: – but if we learn these behaviours in church, then this will also affect how we behave at work and in the family. Are we loyal, loving, humble, or do people know us as divisive, cantankerous, arrogant. Are we known as quick to take sides?
The Main thing
Paul’s main point here is that our hope is fully and solely in Christ and so this will affect how we live as part of the church family.
We should not put individual Christians on pedestals
We should have a genuine love & concern for and unity with all believers
How does Paul argue this?
1.The Nature of his appeal -authority and family
V10 – He makes his appeal in the name of Christ this links back to his calling as an apostle– that he is Christ’s ambassador, this is not just advice, it’s not just Paul’s frustration. What is happening is that Christ himself had given a message to the church through Paul. But also it’s an appeal to brothers and sisters. This is family, nb equality theme again
Note that literally he is asking “say the same thing” – be of one mind and one judgement. Is this about being clones? No…. broader context – diversity of gifts but there will be unity in the essentials of the Gospel message and when reaching decisions to come to one mind which means submitting to one another because sometimes I don’t get my way and I start with a minority view but church won’t function if I then keep sniping or I go off and pursue my own agenda, pay lip service, wait for things to fail
2. The cause of his appeal – reports from Chloe’s household -factionalism (v11-12)
V 11. People linked to Chloe have given a report. These are probably members of her household. They work for her in some way. There’s been some discussion about her identity among commentators. Is she from the Corinthian church – or Ephesus where Paul is but Corinthian connections (business there)? The point is that they are distressed and go to tell Paul. When this sort of thing happens we are likely to respond negatively – “they grassed us up” – we can be nervous about raising real issues – how will I be seen – but in the context of the church as family there should be honesty
Paul then lists examples of factions. It’s possible that this a rhetorical devise, using names to show the silliness of infighting but it’s more than likely that people were coalescing around specific ‘heroes”
We first met him in Acts 18 – an eloquent preacher disciple by Priscilla and Aquilla. In this letter, Paul uses Apollos and him as the primary examples (1 Cor 4:6). Right at the end of the letter (1 Cor 16:12) we find Paul and Apollos in discussion about Apollos visiting them. The sense is that these are two men, in agreement, they are on the same team. This can often happen. Preachers, pastors, leaders, friends discover that their name has been taken in vain and they are being used in a quarrel with someone they count as a friend and gospel partner.
Some people think these were theological parties but there’s actually little evidence for that, for example, Peter is mentioned but the sorts of disagreements Paul has mentioned between him and Peter before (cf Galatians) don’t seem to be present in the same way or to the same extent in Corinth. So it could well be just about style, personalities, power struggles etc. Isn’t that so often the case. Christians fall out about minor things – music style, another person’s role, an activity in the church etc.
The Christ party
This is interesting and probably caused the most debate. Were people actually claiming to belong to a “Christ” faction. We all belong to Christ.
Fee thinks that exegetically it looks like some people were actually saying this. The best guess is that they were claiming to be above the other factions, to be spiritual but in fact were creating their own.
Other commentators think this is Paul himself interjecting – I’m of Christ – I can’t offer you an alternative party because we can’t compete with Christ
My inclination is that there really was another faction. They were proud that they didn’t belong to any of the other groups but in fact had created their own because they had the wrong motive. They were creating a spiritual elite. By the way, we can so often and so easily find ways to justify minor differences and preferences as major points of principle. For example, you don’t often hear people leaving a church because they didn’t like the music or preaching style but rather it’s because “The Hoyl Spirit wasn’t there.”
3. The basis/ reasoning for his appeal (v 13-17)
Paul gives three reasons in v 13.
Christ should not be divided
This might either mean that Christ cannot be one party leader because all belong to him or that dividing the church was in a sense splitting Christ up (as ridiculous as they sounds – and it’s meant to sound ridiculous). You can’t have a bit of Christ here and a bit of Christ there. It’s why I’m a little cautious of the attempt to justify denominations and traditions on the basis that we all have a little something of the truth. To be sure, church life is messy and our understanding is incomplete but I don’t think this quite gets how the Gospel works. For example we still hear people talking about word Churches and Spirit churches and then about putting the two together as though this is a real entity. If a church has the Holy Spirit then the Holy Spirit will communicate clearly and powerful through the Word. If a church is genuinely committed to God’s Word then every time they open Scripture, the Holy Spirit will speak to them.
Christ is the sole basis for our salvation
Christ is the unique, exclusive, complete foundation of our faith because he was the one crucified for us, not Paul …and by implication the others too.
We belong to Christ – there is no place for personality cults
So they weren’t baptised into Paul. In fact, Paul did very few baptisms so no-one could make a big thing of being initiated into his cult. His priority was the Gospel. This isn’t Paul undermining/playing down baptism (cf Romans 6 -he has a high view of it) but rather that nothing should accidently become something that detracts from the wonder of the Gospel and our worship of Christ.
How do we apply this today?
1. Finding the true drama in the Gospel
Why do we end up with tribes and personality cults? I think that so often it’s because we are desperate for drama. We like the sense of problems needing solving, of great things happening and of our involvement in it either directly or vicariously through our heroes. We create the drama.
I want to say two things about this. First of all, if you look for drama and place your hope in heroes then you’ll be let down. You’ll get bored of the drama or your hero will one day fail you. Two of my footballing heroes were Stuart McCall and John Hendrie. Great players Well John Hendrie did the unforgivable and went and joined Leeds United whilst McCall returned to the club twice first as captain of the team that went into the Premier League and then he returned as manager. This was hailed as “The Third Coming” -football likes its Messiah imagery. His time as a manager was an unmitigated failure. He left the club disappointed and a disappointment. His hero status not completely gone but tarnished.
Christian celebrities will fail, let you down, not live up to your expectations. The drama of church conflict will poison you and destroy you.
So secondly, get this. We don’t need to create the drama. The true drama is found in the Gospel. Everything we need including the real excitement is found in Christ. He’s the hero who will not let you down. We should find our excitement in knowing he has saved us and looking forward to his return and then in the drama of seeing the gospel at work -people coming to Christ, lives changed, families and even communities transformed. “Christ is my reward and all of my devotion…Christ is enough for me”
2. Learning to appreciate the whole body as family
We should replace rivalries with a true unity. This means genuine humility. It means love and care for each other, bearing each other’s burdens, mourning with those who mourn and celebrating with those who celebrate. We are part of Christ’s body – we are one because we are in Him
3. Modelling this not just in the Church but in our daily lives
This is the tracking out bit because if our lives as part of the church family are modelled by a trust in the living God, humility, loyalty, love and care for each other then, not only will this be visible to the outside world as the church becomes a model for what communities should be like but also we will be like that with our families and communities. These characteristics will mark us out at work. We should be known as loyal, humble, caring in those places too.
The solution is about coming back to who Christ is for me. Note that a true encounter with Christ never leads to a personalised/selfish obsession with my own mystical experience – rather I find my confidence in Christ alone. It stops me putting my trust in others, it enables me to humbly love and care for others.