1 Corinthians 1:10-17 LOOKING FOR STYLE, OR LOOKING FOR SUBSTANCE?
A woman driving through Oregon over the Cascade Range ran into a snowstorm and became very frightened. Then she peered ahead and saw a snowplow. What luck! She kept as close to the snowplow as she could while it removed snow from the road. At times the heavy snowfall almost cut off her view, but her faithful guide kept on leading the way. After some time, the plow stopped, and its driver got out and walked over to her car.
“Lady, where are you going?” he asked.
“I’m on my way to Central Oregon” she replied.
“Well, you’re never going to get their following me! I’m plowing this parking lot!”
Do you ever feel like you’re moving in circles? Running around aimlessly? Who are you following in your life? Sometimes we have an idea, a plan, a philosophy in life, and we follow it with all we got – only to find out that we’re going nowhere.
Churches can do this too, can’t they. A church can follow an idea, a plan, a philosophy, but really, it leads nowhere. Are you perfect? Are the members of Beautiful Savior perfect? Or, is it possible that as individuals, and as members of a church, we are sometimes following the wrong plan, the wrong philosophy?
The members of the church in Corinth were not perfect. As it turns out, they were like that woman following that snowplow – the people in Corinth were following a plan that was leading them nowhere. And it all came down to one thing – they were more concerned about style, than they were about substance. And that plan, that philosophy, was leading them nowhere. This morning, as we focus on this portion of God’s Word, there are many lessons for us to learn. In our personal lives, and in our lives as members of Beautiful Savior, what is a good focus, a good philosophy, for us to follow? We don’t want to be going nowhere. It all comes down to choosing substance over style, as we shall see for today.
Paul writes to the church in Corinth and says to them, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another, so that there may be no divisions among you, and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Something was wrong at the church in Corinth. Paul wanted all of them to agree with each other. But they weren’t. No divisions! Paul said. But there were. “I want you to be perfectly united in mind and thought.” But they weren’t. Something was wrong. The church in Corinth was split up into different cliques, different groups of people, and they were quarreling with each other. Paul describes what kind of quarreling was going on: “One of you says, ‘I follow Paul;’ another, ‘I follow Apollos;’ another, ‘I follow Cephas;’ still another, ‘I follow Christ.”
Each clique had their favorite pastor. One clique liked Paul, but didn’t like the others. One clique liked a man named Apollos, but not the others. Another liked the Apostle Peter, also known as Cephas. And then you had the independents - we follow Christ. What does that sound like? Doesn’t it almost sound like election time, with people supporting their favorite candidates? Little political parties going on, inside the church.
In the next verses, Paul asks them, whose name were you baptized into? Who was crucified for you? Was it Paul? Maybe they even fought over who would baptize their children: “I don’t want Apollos baptizing my child. I want Peter!”
Why was this problem taking place in the church? Why were these different cliques developing? Because the people were focused more on style, than on substance. Each pastor at that church had his own personality, his own style. Whoever you liked, whoever you clicked with, that’s who you would listen to. And those other pastors –well, they had the same message, but you didn’t like their style, so get them out of here. I don’t want to listen to them. The result? The church in Corinth was in trouble – they were divided – they couldn’t grow. They were heading nowhere, just like that woman following the snowplow.
To be more concerned with style that with substance – isn’t that something that we sometimes do too? That’s our natural tendency, isn’t it? On TV lately, you see a lot of commercials now for the race for Illinois governor. When people vote, how many actually sit down and really compare what the candidates believe and stand for? I wonder if a lot of people just say to themselves, “I’m going to vote for so-and-so. I’m not exactly sure why. I just like him.” Style over substance.
Last month, a lot of people bought new cars because of all the deals that were going on. Have you ever listened to someone talk about why they chose a particular car? “So, why’d you pick that one?” “Well, I’ve always wanted a silver car, and it has a sweet sunroof.” “But what about the engine? How does it rate as far as maintenance?” “What? I don’t know. But listen to this stereo.” Style over substance.
What were the people in Corinth looking for spiritually? Isn’t that why people today sometimes pick a certain church to attend? Because of the style?
Now, I’m not excusing a poor preaching style. If a pastor stands up in front of a group of people and talks in circles for twenty minutes, muttering and boring his listeners to tears, that’s not good. And I’m not excusing poorly planned worship services – where everything is disorganized and the music is terrible and you just can’t wait to leave. Neither of those things are good or pleasing in the eyes of God. But what I am saying is that the most important thing, as you seek to grow closer to God, as you come and hear God’s Word in a service – the most important thing is substance, not style.
These verses call us to repent – to repent for all those times we have been so critical of God’s speakers, that we have ignored the message. It’s so easy for us to find something wrong with the people that God sends into our lives, the messengers of the Gospel. As sinful human beings, we have a tendency to be very critical, and sometimes, maybe very often, we have rejected the message of the Gospel because we didn’t like the speaker. These verses call out to us this morning, and tell us to turn to our God and repent of our sin, the sin of focusing more on style than on substance. If we don’t repent, we will never really be satisfied with any of the messengers God sends into our lives. We’ll ignore them all, and our faith will eventually die. We can even do harm to God’s church – divide it, like the Corinthians were doing. And without repentance, ultimately, our souls will end up in hell.
Rather than style, Paul urges us to focus on substance. Verse 17, Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize” (he’s referring to how they argued over who baptized who in the church) …“but to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Rather than focus on style, focus on substance, Paul says.
And what is that substance? The Gospel, that God is an amazingly gracious and forgiving God. He really is the opposite of us, isn’t he? We like style. Forget style, God says. I will send my Son, and he will be anti-style. Born to a poor peasant family, growing up in an obscure village, rejected by most of the people of his day. And forget favoritism, God says. Instead of treating his Son better than everybody else, what did God do? He punished his Son for the sins of the world. He sacrificed his Son. “I’m going to love the world, even if they don’t love me back,” God said. “I’m going to save the world, even if the world rejects me. I’m going to take away the sins of the world, even if no one pays attention.”
Isn’t that amazing? That God looks at you and me, and he sees all of our shortcomings. He sees how shallow we are, how we tend to favor style over substance. And instead of punishing us, he punishes his Son instead. Instead of being angry with us, he loves us and forgives us, for Jesus’ sake. From God’s point of view, you and I have no style, and yet, because of Jesus, God forgives us and loves us and saves us. Really and truly amazing. That is the Gospel. And that’s the message Paul wanted the Corinthians to focus on. Paul wanted them to appreciate and thank God for every messenger that was sent to them. Paul wanted them to focus on the substance of the Gospel, rather than the style of the speaker.
Every speaker is different, isn’t he? Last week, you had a guest speaker, and he was different from me. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus called different people to be his disciples, and each disciple was different – different personality, different style. And I’ll tell you a little secret – every pastor, every messenger of the Gospel, has his good qualities, but also his shortcomings. This morning, the Holy Spirit calls out to us through his Word, and urges us to focus on the substance, and not on the style. To forgive the shortcomings of the speakers that God sends into our lives, and instead to focus on the wonderful message that they are sharing.
There was once a country church that had a pastor that everyone liked to listen to. Pastor Smith – everyone loved to listen to Pastor Smith. It didn’t take long for Pastor Smith to gain quite the reputation. People would come from miles to listen to him talk. One Sunday, that Pastor Smith was gone, and a substitute was there. During the first hymn, when people saw that Pastor Smith was gone, and that they would be listening to a substitute, many of them got up to leave. A large number of them began making their way to the door. After the first hymn, the guest pastor began the service by saying, “All of you who have come to worship Pastor Smith may leave. All of you who have come to worship Christ, may stay.”
To look beyond the style of the speaker, to look instead to the message of Jesus Christ, died and risen as your Savior - that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? And when a group of people does that, they become the people that are described here, people who agree with one another, people “without divisions, people who are perfectly united in mind and thought.” May God bless us as we seek to glorify him more and more this way. Amen.