Paul, the apostle who planted the Church in Corinth, had been away in Ephesus for some time, planting another church. A report from his previous church plant reached his ears. There was quarreling among them. To help the Corinthian Christians learn to practice love for one another (and to clear up matters from a previous letter), Paul put quill to parchment and wrote the lengthy letter we call 1 Corinthians.
We'll be looking at Paul's letter for the next 12 weeks. On Sunday, I'll focus on 1 Corinthians 1:1-17.
It's simple enough. Paul opens with a traditional introduction: I'm Paul, and I'm writing to the Corinthian Christians. Oh, and Sosthenes is with me. You guys remember him, right? He was the ruler of the synagogue who the Jews beat up after Gallio wouldn't try me in his court. He's here too! For those of you who are new to the Church in Corinth, you can read about all that in my friend, Luke's book. It's called Acts. It's in Chapter 18, which is strange that I say that because the chapters are going to be added much later after we all die. (This is my lose paraphrase.)
Then Paul moves to the customary thanksgiving, but he doesn't thank the Corinthians. Instead he thanks God for Jesus' grace toward the Corinthians, that God will sustain them, and that God called them into fellowship with Jesus Christ. Clearly, Paul wants to put all the focus on God, but I wonder if there's a part of this that says, It's a miracle God did all this for you jokers! That's probably me reading into Paul's intentions; then again, it's a miracle God did all this for me! I'm a joker!!!
Once Paul finished up with the formalities, he made his appeal. Chloe's people tattled on the church in Corinth and Paul was ready to get it corrected. "By the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," argued Paul, "that all of you agree, and there be no divisions among you, and that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10).
It looks like the believers in the church in Corinth were creating clubs around their favorite Bible teachers and leaders. And then like political parties, they were drawing party lines. Could you imagine that? The people formed "tribes" around different opinions and styles? There was only one church in the city at the time, but they were headed for a split.
It was not that Apollos, Paul, Peter, and even Jesus were to blame for the problem. Apollos, Paul, and Peter were servants of Jesus, and on the same team. And it was not that Paul was arguing against diversity because later in the same letter he shows how God uses our diversity to create one beautiful body of believers. The danger comes by way of a heart that's more excited about the camp, tribe, or club than the Kingdom of God.
We have the same problem today, don't we? Many Christians can tell you more about their favorite speakers, authors, and teachers than they can about the Bible. Snobbery is not hard to find around denominations, church planting networks, seminaries, conferences, and Bible translations. We can even find camp-thinking in our clothing, preferred satire websites, and in the podcasts that we choose to listen to. In some circles, we even choose to have facial hair and wear specific clothing to fit in with our camp. It's ridiculous, but serious when it draws divisive lines through our heart.
Redeeming Life, we aren't much different, are we? Let me ask you some diagnostic questions:
Are there books by Christian authors that, if you saw them on my shelf, you would secretly judge me for having them?
Are you shocked or surprised when other Christians haven't heard of the "famous" Christian preachers, authors, and speakers?
How unique would you feel if you were invited to meet your favorite Christian speaker or author. How quick would you be sure to get a selfie and post it to make your brothers and sisters in Christ feel a little jealous?
Do you identify your theological positions by a person's name?
What if your favorite internet preacher, author, or speaker was speaking at another church at the same time as our services? Would you find a way to skip fellowshipping with your faith-family to see your hero speak?
If you feel like you might have a problem, you're not alone. I find myself struggling with this. I have my tribes and camps. Sometimes I get more excited about my club than about the Kingdom. God has given me the opportunity to study under godly men, but sometimes I get more excited about those teachers than about Jesus, the focus of their teaching. The human heart loves heroes, tribes, these kinds of things, but it's sinful and can be divisive when these other heroes hold the affections of our heart above Jesus. And as was the case in Corinth, it can hurt the body of Christ.
Like the church in Corinth, we are a messy church. We too have much to learn from Paul's letter to the Corinthians. I hope you'll join me this Sunday as I preach from 1 Corinthians 1:1-17. I also hope you'll consider joining us for this entire 12-week series, "Messy Church."
For the Kingdom!
Pastor Bryan Catherman