The Importance of Our Unity in Christ
1 Corinthians 1.10-18
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 10 ∂ I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 ∂ For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (ESV)
Goal: That the hearer will realize the importance of unity in the faith and that that unity is given and maintained in the preaching of the Gospel.
Iím going to begin my sermon with an explanation. My father listens to all my sermons and tells me that I almost always preach for 18 minutes. I suppose that we all have an internal clock of sorts that tells us just how much teaching we can absorb at one time. I am aware of that, and I also know that the length of the sermon is not the only thing. I try to keep the sermon as lively as I can with fresh images and illustrations to make it easier to absorb. That, of course, has to be balanced with the meaty message that God wants his people to hear. Now Iím going to tell you from the beginning that this sermon is on the "meaty" side, so bear with me. The topic of Christian unity is a challenging one. I pray that God will help us all to realize the importance of Christian unity and how God maintains it through the preaching of the Gospel.
Weíll begin with a brief look at the ancient church of Corinth. Then I will address two ways that division hurts the church. Finally, and most importantly, I will show you how God gives and maintains this unity.
The Situation in the Church of Corinth
This is the way people thought before St. Paul came to Corinth: We really donít know why weíre here or what the purpose of life is. This life might start out happily but soon you will realize that there is a lot of pain and sadness in this world. Try to avoid that by finding pleasure wherever you can. Try to become rich because riches can buy a lot of pleasure. Try to be popular because friends can bring pleasure. Try to find pleasure by indulging in food, drink, and sex. The Corinthian life could be summed up: Avoid pain. Seek pleasure. Die and and be done with life. That is a view not unlike the view that many hold to today.
But then came the Apostle Paul. Paul first went to the Jewish synagogue and taught them that Jesus was the Messiah. Some believed but most didnít, so they threw him out and he began to preach to the pleasure seeking Greeks. Anyone might have predicted that Paul would have a hard time convincing these pleasure seekers that salvation is not found in earthly pleasure but in Godís salvation. But faith is not a human thing. Faith is Godís miracle, Godís gift. In fact God spoke to Paul in a vision and told him "Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city" (Acts 18.9-10). The Lord knows those who are His! (2 Timothy 2.19).
God did have many people in the great city of Corinth. We know some of their names: Aquilla, Priscilla, Apollos, Justus, Crispus & Sosthenes. Amazingly they did become Christians, and God called them out of their pleasure seeking-life for the faith-life of Jesus Christ. They looked to Jesus, who died on the cross for their sins. Paul had taught them "He made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin become sin for you that you might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5.21). You donít need to cover up your sin with pleasure seeking. God can take it away in Jesus. He taught them a totally different view of the pain and trouble of this life: "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4.17-18).
That, however, was not the end of the story. Satan, who had such a strong hold on this city, didnít give up so easily. Soon even the Christians in Corinth were slipping back into their old ways: selfishness and pleasure-seeking. Itís hard to believe how this could have happened so fast unless you realize a very important principle that Paul had to explain to them: "A little leaven, levens the whole lump" (1 Corinthians 5.6). They had divided up into little groups because they thought they could mix and mingle the teachings of Christ with the old ways of manís sinful reason. "Now 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" (1 Corinthians 1.10).
Division in the Church Ė a Continual Problem
Unfortunately this problem of division in the church because of the mingling of Christís teachings and the teachings of sinful reason is nothing new. Division in the church is a continual problem. It is something we are to expect. Jesus warned: "Beware of false prophets" (Matthew 7.15). In his second letter Peter says, "But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought themÖ (2 Peter 2.1).
The errors may start out small, but if left unattended they will become destructive. The largest church in the world officially teaches that salvation is based on the combination of your faith in Jesus and your works of love. They say it is wrong to base salvation on faith alone, and this keeps people in perpetual fear and a nagging sense of spiritual insecurity. Others try to remove the miracles from the Bible and turn the Christian life into little more than social activism Ė either the liberal or the conservative kind. Some say that salvation is based on your commitment to Christ, and they constantly focus on that commitment rather than on Christís commitment to them. Worse still, thousands are flocking to churches that no longer preach like Jesus Ė the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins Ė but have replaced that with the more practical message of self-improvement. In all these cases, if St. Paul were here today, Iím sure he would still say, "Now 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 judgmentÖ For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1.10 & 18).
The Worst Problem of All
As bad as this may be there is a problem that is worse. The worst problem of all is that we sometimes think we can live with these errors Ė Somehow they donít really matter. We try to comfort ourselves with the idea that everything is going to be OK as long as people believe in Jesus. I can guarantee you one thing: You will never find that thought in the Bible. Jesusí last words to the disciples were, "Go make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you" (Matthew 28.19-20).
That is why we work so hard not to teach people just a few things about Jesus, but all the things He commanded. That is why in our celebration of Holy Communion we ask that all come to the sacrament in the communion of faith and not in a diversity of faiths. The first step toward Christian unity is to acknowledge that we do not accept diversity where Jesus called for unity.
Unity is a Gift of God
What then can we do? There are at least three things. First we need to recognize that Christian unity is a gift of God in Jesus. Since unity is based on true faith and true faith is a gift of God not a work of man, we must look to God to bring and maintain the unity of faith among us. Jesus said, "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10.16). Throughout his ministry to the Corinthians Paul always brought them back to Christ and worked from that base to bring them together in the faith. Unity is not achieved by trying to find ways to agree to disagree. Unity begins by pointing all to Jesus.
Secondly, Jesus said, "I am with you alwaysÖ" (Matthew 28.20). How? Jesus is with us through His word. Wrestling with that word and working with it are essential to Christian unity. Our text mentions a man named Apollos. He was a great preacher. But even Apollos needed correction because he didnít understand the teaching of baptism. The Bible tells us that Aquila and Priscilla explained to him the way of God more accurately (Acts 18.26). Christians will have differences of interpretation from time to time, but they can never be satisfied with those differences. Together they need to read and discuss the teaching of Jesus to find the unity that He gives. They also need to recognize the limits of Jesusí word. He doesnít tell us everything we want to know. There are open questions, and we canít be dogmatic about those things. These would include questions such as: When will the world come to an end? How does God choose those who believe? Why do some believe and others do not? How did sin originate since everything was originally created good? Paul advises the Corinthians not to "think beyond what is written" (1 Corinthians 4.6).
Thirdly, since God brings about unity we can certainly pray to Him for that unity. Just before Jesus died on the cross He also prayed about this: [I prayÖ] "for those who will believe in Me through their [the disciplesí] word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me" (John 17.20-21). I know that you are people of prayer. We have an active prayer chain. We pray at all our meetings. We set aside special times for prayer vigils. Iíd like to ask that you remember this prayer need on a regular basis. Pray for the unity of the church in Jesus Christ. In particular pray that Good Shepherd would be the church that God wants it to be in all that we teach and do together.
We can see that the church at Corinth had a fantastic beginning and that it later ran into problems of false teachings and unchristian conduct. We cannot be presumptuous and think that this doesnít happen in the church today. We can thank God that He has preserved us to this point in our life together. We can also look to Him in His word in Jesus for the unity that He gives. I especially ask that you pray for me and for all our called and volunteer staff and leaders here at Good Shepherd. Pray that we would be faithful in all our shepherding tasks to lead this church in the right direction. Let me close with this quote from Charles E. Jefferson:
A sharp distinction ought to be made between a church and an audience. An audience is a group of unrelated people drawn together by a short-lived attraction. An audience is a crowd. A church is a family. An audience is a gathering. A church is a fellowship. An audience is a heap of stones. A church is a temple. Preachers are ordained, not to attract an audience, but to build a church. Coarse and worldly men, if richly gifted, can draw audiences, but only a man who is given to the Lord Jesus Christ can build a church.
I pray that all Christians would take this approach to the building up of the Christian church and of the extending of the Kingdom of heaven to all. Amen.
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Third Sunday After Epiphany, January 27, 2008
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1300 Belt Line Road, Collinsville, Illinois, 62234
618-344-3151 / fax 618-344-3378
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2008
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