Summary: Jesus' blood knits us together.
On Friday, Donald Trump took the oath of office to become the 45th president of the United States. As you know, his election was not without controversy. After all, he lost the popular vote by 1.5 million votes! So why isn’t Hillary Clinton the new president? Because Trump won the votes where they count, in the Electoral College. But since President Trump lost the popular vote, many across the U.S. have staged “Not My President” marches in the last couple of months. The nation to the south is divided.
In our sermon text today, the Apostle Paul talks about how the congregation in Corinth was also divided. Some of the members valued Paul as their pastor. Others thought Peter was the best. Still others favored a gifted preacher named Apollos. While another group simply claimed to follow Christ. Divided loyalties in a nation like the U.S. are not surprising, but such a thing should never happen in a Christian congregation. Today Paul will explain how the Corinthians and we are a church that is fully equipped to be truly unified.
Paul learned about the divisions in the Corinthian church from some members who visited him in Ephesus. These members may been part of the “Paul” faction. If so, they probably expected Paul to be happy to learn that he was their favorite. But the apostle wrote: “Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:13) Just whom had Paul gone to Corinth to promote? Himself? No. He had gone to promote Jesus, the one and only savior. It hurt Paul that the congregation was bickering over who their favorite leader was. There should have been no question: Jesus was their leader!
A text like this prompts me, as your pastor, to ask the question: whose reputation am I working to promote in this congregation? My own or Christ’s? Do I work hard because I want to share Jesus with all, or because I want you to say that I’m a good pastor? Don’t you find a similar struggle inside of you? Why is it that you are so active in the work of this congregation? Why do you try your best at school? Why do you take parenting seriously? Why do you work the hardest at the office? Do you do these things because you are so filled with the love of Jesus that you want to serve others to the best of your ability? Or do you just want others to think highly of you? It’s a little of both isn’t it? And that’s not surprising because Christians are simul justus et pectaor. That’s a theological Latin phrase worth knowing. It means “at the same time saint and sinner.” As a saint, you want to do your best in everything to say thank you to Jesus and to show love to others. But as a sinner you are wired to promote yourself.
And it doesn’t help when well-meaning people say things like, “You’re the smartest coach we’ve ever had,” or “I love working with you the best,” or “I wish your classmates would act more like you.” How should you react when compared like that to others? Paul was dismayed. He did not give his sinful nature a foothold lest he be filled with pride and look down on others. Oh it’s not wrong to graciously thank someone for a compliment, but is there also a way you can deflect that praise to Jesus? If for example someone thanks you for helping them, you could perhaps say, “Don’t thank me, thank the one who sent me!” Another way to deflect praise is by not drawing attention to your acts of service. Don’t broadcast the fact that you were the one to do those chores around the house. And don’t become resentful when no one notices. Jesus noticed, isn’t that why you did the chore in the first place, to serve him?
Since the Corinthian congregation was filled with saint/sinners it shouldn’t have shocked Paul that there were divisions in the congregation, but neither could he turn a blind eye to the problem. Paul was adamant when he wrote: “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). It wasn’t just Paul who wanted the Corinthians to be united; this was God’s will for them in Jesus.
The first step in Christian unity comes when we’re all on the same page in regard to the teachings of the Bible. We can’t be truly unified if we suggest that there are many ways to understand the Bible. No, as Paul would make clear in a letter to his friend Timothy, there is a pattern for sound doctrine (2 Timothy 1:13), and Paul insisted that all of his listeners follow that established pattern. Those who break from the pattern are a danger to themselves and others just as someone who breaks from the established traffic pattern of driving on the right-hand side here in North America is a danger.