Chapter three repeat Paul’s warnings about divisions in the Church. These things weave from the second chapter where Paul outlines the wisdom given and expected from those who have truly laid down their lives for Christ. He goes on in the third chapter to contrast those expectations with what he found in Corinth – that is, spiritual infants. He upbraids them for boasting in their following of Paul or Apollos, pointing out that they are no more than the works of Christ who is the only one about whom we ought to boast “For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building,” (3:9). He exhorts the people of the Corinthians Church to only build upon one foundation, Christ, and to take care how they build upon it. They and their works will be revealed on the Last Day, for some will build with precious stones, gold, and silver whereas others will build with wood, hay, and straw. The pinnacle of this chapter comes in verse sixteen “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
The fourth chapter details how followers of Christ and stewards of the Gospel ought be regarded by others. First, they are to be faithful and blameless, ready to put the love of God above every other human diversion and division. They are to imitate Christ in all ways, content with much and content with little, poured out for others like their Lord, poorly dressed, reviled, and persecuted yet enduring, blessing, and entreating all the while. They are to put their money where their mouth is and lay themselves down for the sake of others instead of paying lip-service to those of the faith and to God, “for the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”
As we say most days, there is so much for us to unpack in just these two chapters, but we’ve got to remain focused on the bigger picture and not get distracted. In fact, that’s exactly how Paul approaches the issue of division in the church! The church in Corinth had become so obsessed with one leader or another, be it Paul or Apollos or Cephas, and it pulled the focus of each of them off the only Leader worth following, Christ Jesus. They constantly bickered and whined and competed, and for what? “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
I picture that at some point, while penning (or dictating) this chapter, Paul put everything down for a moment and gave a huge, weary sigh. The Gospel of Jesus Christ had been preached and proclaimed, the power of sin broken, the captives set free, outsiders welcome in to the feast of the Great King, a way made to God through Jesus in an incredible act of grace and here are the people of Corinth running amok after mere humans! Paul in turn calls the people of Corinth such, and the frustration virtually drips from the page as he declares, while one goes after Paul and another after Apollos, that they are being merely human themselves!
This is what Christ came to change and they missed the point all together. What is one mans teaching or another mans words compared to knowing Christ? What division could possibly be worth compromising this most incredible message? At such a crucial time too! The new Christian is supposed to lay aside their humanness as they are sanctified and take up godliness, to care about the things that Christ cares about and do the things God wants them to do – instead, the church in Corinth was constantly diverted by utterly worthless controversies and petty arguments to the detriment of the body of the church as a whole.
With words soaked in exasperation, Paul asks if they totally forgot the fact that they are God’s holy temple and that God’s Spirit dwells within them. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and when it comes to either us or God being out of line or in the wrong, it is never God. Clearly those of Corinth had tried to cover up their stupidity with clever words and flowery oratory, yet Paul, wielding the sword of the Spirit, cuts through all their selfishness. “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise … so let no one boast in men.” In this chapter as in so many others, Paul draws the line where if someone is at odds with the teaching of Christ and the whole consensus of Scripture which is breathed by God, it is not the Divine that needs to be recalibrated. For Christ is above any human difference, and to miss that is not license to act however we want.
Application and Question:
There is so much around us that can divide us. I am referring not only to the chasm that lies between the life of the Christian and that of the world, but also that which exists within each of us in the form of pride and selfishness. What would Paul write about you or me? How would he write about St. Aidan’s, or perhaps the church in Canada as a whole? Would you accept his words if they singled your behaviour out? Would you get defensive and argue back, perhaps taking a group of like-minded people and setting off where such challenges didn’t exist?
It is an incredible act of grace and mercy that draws someone to their knees in search of Christ and saving faith, but grace doesn’t stop there and neither does our rebellion. We begin as spiritual infants in Christ and are supposed to grow into mature believers, transitioning off spiritual milk, which is easy to take, to harder, more complex spiritual food. We are obviously going to start off quite rough around the edges, but the Holy Spirit is patient as we are sanctified, trained, and become not only more obedient but more loveable.
The puppy (yes, I did just get one thanks for asking) taken in off the street is not merely given food and shelter but is also cleaned and trained not to destroy its new home or bite others so that the owner may enjoy it fully. This provides space for real companionship and strengthens the bond between the two. So it is with us – we are taken in a scruffy mess when we come to Christ no matter our testimony, but He cares for us and delights in our growth, calling us to work alongside Him as His sons and daughters, enabling us to live a life that really pleases God. What a gift!
When we come to Christ, we move from our merely human way of doing things and become a living temple for God’s Holy Spirit! Christ has adopted us and brought us into His body! So we are not only to bend our knee to Him once or twice but to live on our knees and accept reproof when it may come. We must not become proud in our humility or arrogant in our meekness or too clever for our own good but fully surrender ourselves to Christ and His body. We must make no room for divisions among us for the world is divisive enough. What could be worth putting a splinter in this Body? We cannot afford to make room for pride, now or ever. Paul waded straight into the issues that were causing division and drew the eyes of others not to himself but to Christ - this is His church, and we best not let our own hearts get in the way!!
I’ll be honest, when I began thinking about how to write this blog the subject of vaccines kept on popping into my head and how we ought to respond as Christians. This thought comes of and from myself only and is unprompted in any way other than the Holy Spirit walking me through this writing of Divisions in the Church. Just as Paul constantly appeals to the consensus of Scripture when making his case for Christ towards non-believers and just as he refers to the bigger picture while correcting those who already believe, we must be minded so. We must not be content with division along these lines of vaccines, for in my mind we have been blessed with the gift of scientific advancement that keeps ourselves and others safe at a time when medical resources are critically low.
We must appeal not to the loud minority that claims dissent, but to the worldwide scientific and biomedical majority that repeatedly comes forth with rock-solid proof that the vaccines we have especially in Canada are safe and effective. If such people in the church were to give equal weight to the scholarly minority (and I do mean minority) that claims Jesus never lived, died, or rose from the grave, as they do to the people amplifying fake vaccine studies and other such misinformation, then we would have a much smaller population in the pews. I say this not as a condemnation but as an appeal from my voice alone to put Christ above this division, to lay ourselves down for the good of others, and to accept the good and faithful majority of experts that, by the grace of God, have developed effective and harmless vaccines. I understand there is disagreement and passion but let us not be merely human here – let us care for the Body as a whole and put Christ above everything else.
Father God, we’re sorry we have been so narrow-minded as to let earthly things steal our focus from you and what you would have us do. We are sorry for our pride, for stopping our ears from hearing and listening to what others have to say. Please teach us to value you above everything else, especially our own wisdom. Make us foolish for your sake that we might not be deceived, but rely entirely on your wisdom and goodness, that all we do might be of you, from you, and give glory to you. Amen!
Song: O Praise the Name - Hillsong Worship
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.