In John 17, Jesus was on His face in prayer within the shadow of the cross. Shortly after He ended His time in prayer, those who would arrest Him appeared in the Garden of Gethsemane. Knowing He was facing the most brutal of all deaths, being nailed to a cross, what do you suppose Jesus was praying while He was in the garden? I know what I would have been praying, but Jesus was praying for His disciples…and He was praying for you and me. Turn with me to John 17:20-21 and let’s read together.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21 NIV)
Our unity, the unity of all His followers, was on Jesus’ heart as He faced the cross in prayer. Jesus’ prayer should convince you and me that our unity is of utmost importance to our Lord. I’ve thought about this so much during the past week. Along with thinking about Jesus’ prayer and His great desire for our unity, I’ve also asked myself, “How are we doing?” I’ve tried every way possible to come up with an answer, some illustration, that would demonstrate our unity. I can point out a glimmer of hope that takes place now and then, but when I step back and take a big picture view of the Church, I don’t think we are doing well at all.
Thom Rainer wrote the book, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church.” Thom Rainer has spent more than 25 years helping churches that are in decline so he writes from experience. In his book he points out some of the tell-tale signs of decline in a church. Listen to this:
- The church is inward focused with few attempts to minister to those in the community.
- Church business meetings become arguments over preferences and desires.
- Numbers of members in the congregation are openly critical of the pastor, other church staff, and lay leaders in the church.
- Any change necessary to become a Great Commission church is met with anger and resistance.
- The past becomes the hero.
- Pastors and other leaders in the church become discouraged and withdraw from effective leadership.
Jesus prayed that we would be one, yet instead of seeking to live out Jesus’ prayer we have set our sights on getting what we want, even if it means dividing Jesus’ church. Paul was more than concerned for the people in the pews in Corinth. Long before Thom Rainer ever thought of writing a book, Paul sat down to write a letter. Let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 and read together.
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel– not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:10-17 NIV)
We began our study last week by taking a look at the first nine verses of Paul’s letter. In those verses there was no sign that Paul was concerned at all. He pointed out that God had “called” the brothers and sisters in Corinth to live a holy life. He ensured them that God had given them every spiritual gift they needed to live out God’s call on their life together as a church. Paul wrote about God’s faithfulness and reassured them that He would keep them firm until the day of Jesus’ return.
These are remarkable statements when you consider the many, many problems that were present in the lives of the followers of Jesus in Corinth. As Paul began to address the problems, he had a long list of topics from which to choose. Where would he start? A man sleeping with his step-mother? That would have to be high on the list don’t you think? People getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper gatherings? That’s got to stop, so surely Paul would deal with that one immediately. Those would have been high on my list of problems to address, but Paul chose to address the lack of unity, the divisions present in the church. Take a look at verse 10 with me.
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10 NIV)
In the emotion-driven, seek-and-destroy cancel culture that you and I live in today, it is worth taking a moment to understand Paul’s approach to addressing the problems present in the church at Corinth. Paul vehemently disagreed with what was happening in the church and yet he writes, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters…” The word “appeal” is an interesting word, it is the Greek word, “?????????” (parakaleo) which means, “to come alongside of someone in order to help.” This word, used by Paul, is the verb root of the word, “parakletos,” which Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit. Let me share one example of this. Turn with me to John 14:16-17.
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever– 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17 NIV)
The Holy Spirit has been given to every believer to help us, guide us, remind us what Jesus has taught us, correct us, and all of this is for our benefit. Paul’s appeal is an offer to come alongside the church to help them overcome their problems, not to shame, humiliate, or destroy them. How different is this approach compared to what we are experiencing in our culture today? Paul not only wants to come alongside of them, but he addresses them as “brothers and sisters.” These people are not clients, outsiders, or nameless nobodies–the people in the church in Corinth are family to Paul. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Paul uses the word translated, “brothers and sisters” more times, 39 times, in his letter to the Corinthians than he does in any of his other letters.
One last thing I want to point out for us: Paul doesn’t appeal to them based on his resume, or his own credentials, but “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” There are divisions in the church, but Paul doesn’t appeal to the different groups in the name of the person they say they are following, he appeals to them in the name of the One who is above every name, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who has redeemed us, reconciled us, called us, and He alone can hold us together.
What is it that Paul is desiring for the members of the church? Well, he tells us in this tenth verse that he is appealing to them to “agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” I want us to notice the word, “divisions.” This is the English translation of the Greek word, “??????” (schisma), which means, “a tear, split, or division.” We get our English word “schisms” from this word. This same Greek word was used in the first century in a secular setting to describe the political fighting that went on to try to gain power. I’m so glad that the Democrats and Republicans of our day have evolved so that they don’t behave in such destructive, divisive ways aren’t you? If only that were true!
Instead of being divided, Paul urges the brothers and sisters to be “perfectly united in mind and thought.” The Greek word that is used is also used to describe joining back together or restoring something that has been broken. It’s used to describe relationships, dislocated joints, a torn piece of clothing, or like in Matthew 4:21, mending nets. Let’s take a look at that one.
21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. (Matthew 4:21 ESV)
Paul’s desire to see the church united in mind and thought is not a call for uniformity, but a call for unity. John MacArthur writes,
It is not that believers are to be carbon copies of each other. God has made us individual and unique. But we are to be of the same opinion in regard to Christian doctrine, standards, and basic lifestyle. The apostles themselves were different from one another in personality, temperament, ability, and gifts; but they were of one mind in doctrine and church policy. When differences of understanding and interpretation arose, the first order of business was to reconcile those differences. Ego had no place, only the will of God. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. pg. 29).
We are not clones of one another, but we are to be of one mind when it comes to the foundation of our faith. People have always been inclined to divide and conquer. If there isn’t anything for us to argue about, take a side on, then we will dream something up. Leadership in the church is so important to keep division out of the church. I want us to read verses 11-12 together and we’ll talk more about this.
11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:11-12 NIV)
Some people in the church in Corinth were making it known that they follow Paul. Others were letting it be known that they follow no one but Apollos. There’s another group that sides with Cephas, or Peter. And then there was the crowd that was letting it be known that they follow no man, but Christ alone! It’s not like Paul, Apollos, and Peter were preaching three separate messages or teaching conflicting lessons about Jesus, sin, redemption, and the Christian life. They proclaimed the Good News, the saving power of Jesus Christ for all of those who would believe in Him. So what was the problem?
Most all Bible teachers agree that the problem was the cult of personality. Paul had founded the church. He had stayed in Corinth for eighteen months setting up the church and discipling new converts. There were some who loved the founding pastor and would never accept anyone else. Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria who, after his conversion, became a powerful preacher of the Gospel. No doubt he was eloquent, with polished rhetorical skills like many in Alexandria. Peter was one of the original disciples of Jesus whereas Paul and Apollos were not. There were some in the church in Corinth who wanted to follow one of the original followers of Jesus. And then there were those who said, “We will follow no man. We follow Christ alone!” You will still find that group in every church. They are too spiritually minded to listen to any leader of a local church. They tend to hop from church to church because they can’t find any human leader to please them, to teach what they think ought to be taught, and to do what they think needs to be done. They fail to recognize that Jesus has placed His shepherds in His church to lead His people. What is ironic is that all three of the men named, Paul, Peter, and Apollos followed Jesus. None of the three would have ever wanted anyone to follow anyone but Jesus.
Let me point out, it is natural for us to have a special love and appreciation for the person who led us to Jesus, showed us what it means to live out the Christian life, and who has helped us to grow in our daily walk with the Lord. There’s nothing wrong with that appreciation. Where it becomes wrong and demonic is when we elevate that person above all others and dismiss every other Christian leader because they aren’t like our favorite.
If we will allow God to work, then we will recognize that He will bring people into our life, throughout our life, that will help us to grow in many and various ways. You have heard me speak often about the role that Dr. David Darnell has played in my life in teaching me God’s Word, but there have been others throughout my life that have helped me in other ways. One is not “better” than the other, they have each played their part in helping me grow closer to the Lord and equipping me to serve Him and His people. Paul states the same thing in 1 Corinthians 3, when he writes,
4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? 5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe– as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:4-7 NIV)
What is Paul? What is Apollos? What is David Darnell, or James Smith, or John Doerner, or Pastor Spurgeon, or any of the other person who has blessed me in my walk with the Lord? They are merely servants of God who were faithfully carrying out God’s call on their life. Paul, Apollos, and Peter served different purposes in the lives of the people in Corinth, but it was God who brought about the growth.
In verse 13, Paul asked three rhetorical questions which everyone knew the answer to before Paul ever asked them. Read verse 13 with me.
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:13 NIV)
How can Paul bring these groups together? How can he convince them there is a better way than the way they have chosen? He points them to Jesus. Jesus will not allow Himself to be divided among the groups in Corinth. Paul, Peter, or Apollos were never crucified for those in Corinth. Nobody has ever been baptized into the name of Paul, Apollos, or Peter. We are one body, joined together through the grace of God so freely given to us in Jesus, through Jesus, and for Jesus’ glory. If we understand this truth, how can we ever allow any disagreement, preference, or issue to separate us? Paul wrote to the brothers and sisters in Ephesus.
3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6 NIV)
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” The division in the church in Corinth wouldn’t be easily mended. The division in the church spun off all kinds of problems for the church. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul wrote,
1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly– mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NIV)
They had been called from darkness into God’s glorious light. They were redeemed by the blood of their Savior. They were called to be God’s holy people, yet they were living just like the people of the world. Eight chapters later in his letter, Paul writes,
17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. (1 Corinthians 11:17-18 NIV)
What a sad commentary on the church: “Your meetings do more harm than good.” Why is harm being done to the followers of Jesus in the church? Because “there are divisions among you.”
I don’t think I would have to work too hard to convince you that we are experiencing so much divisiveness in our society today. We as a society, as a nation, are so divided on so many different fronts. Things have gotten so bad that there are divisions within the divisions today. This is really nothing new. There have been divisions in society for as long as I can remember. What does trouble me is the way that those who claim to be followers of Jesus are gladly jumping into the conversation, maybe I should say free-for-all. How can I convince you that this should not be? How can I convince you that every time you post something on your social media account that is divisive you are dishonoring Jesus? How can I convince you, if you are a follower of Jesus, that what people should think about when they think about you is your love for Jesus and your passion to make Him known to all people. Period. I think most of us already know this, yet we, the followers of Jesus, continue to fuel the fires of division in our nation.
What hope is there for our nation to come together? I have thought long and hard this past week about this question and I’ve come to the conclusion that there is hope. My hope doesn’t rest in the upcoming election or in any election that will ever take place. I have no hope that a politician or a political party will be able to span the divides and bring us together. Neither does my hope rest in the halls of academia. Many think that if those backwards folks that disagree with us would just get educated then we would all be singing from the same sheet of music. Education won’t bring us together. All you have to do is look at Washington D.C. Those are the most educated people in our nation and they can’t get along to save their lives. What hope do we have?
I know this is going to sound naive, but we, you and me, are this nation’s hope. I don’t mean that we are going to turn things around, only Jesus can do that, but what I mean is this: If we, the followers of Jesus will live out the unity Jesus prayed for us, right here at Britton Christian Church, then others will take notice. We are in this world, but we are not to be of this world. We are called to live differently than the people of the world. When we begin to do that, if we will do that, then others will take notice. Jesus said,
16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 NIV)
You are my brothers and sisters in Christ. That is what matters most to me and it is what needs to matter most to you as well…if you are a follower of Jesus. The Body of Christ is diverse, full of different opinions about many different topics, but we are brothers and sisters in Christ. If we will keep our eyes on Jesus then nothing can divide us. If we will seek His will above our own preferences then nothing can divide us. If we will love one another the way Jesus has loved us, then nothing can ever divide us. You want to be known for your political party affiliation, your Facebook Covid-19 rants, or your take on any number of other divisive issues then go ahead, but this world will never recognize you as a follower of Jesus for any of those things.
In 193 A.D. a great persecution broke out in the Roman Empire against the followers of Jesus. Septimius Severus ruled from 193-211 A.D. During his reign, the great Church Father, Clement of Alexandria wrote, “Many martyrs are daily burned, confined, or beheaded, before our eyes.” In response to the persecution, Tertullian, the leader of the North African church, whose father had been the captain of a Roman legion, wrote a letter to the Roman authorities known as Apologeticus. The letter was 50 chapters long, with over 35,000 words in its English translation. The letter is an explanation and defense of the followers of Jesus. Let me read one paragraph to you as we leave here this morning.
We don’t take the gifts and spend them on feasts, drinking-bouts, or fancy restaurants. Instead we use them to support and bury poor people, to supply the needs of boys and girls who have no means and no parents. We support the elderly confined now to their homes. We also help those who have suffered shipwreck. And if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons—for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s Church—they then become the nurslings of the confession they hold [as we take them in to help them]. Primarily it is the acts of love that are so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. “See,” they say, “how they love one another.” (Tertullian, Apology, chapter 39).
What were the followers of Jesus known for? Their opinion about the Emperor? Hardly. The outsiders, those who were not followers of Jesus, said time and time again, “See how they love one another.” Oh how it would please our King if this was what was being said of us.
October 3, 2020
Divisions Among You