Sharing the Mind of Christ
Sharing the Mindof Christ
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
by William Klock
If you’ve got your Bibles with you this morning, you can open them up to First Corinthians 1. Last week we looked at St. Paul’s introduction. He had sent them a letter some time before and in response they had sent him one – asking him to clarify some of the points he had made. From what we see in 1 Corinthians it was probably an antagonistic letter – there were people in Corinth who question Paul’s calling as an apostle and that meant that they questioned his authority to preach to them on these subjects.
And so Paul starts his response, first reminding them of his apostolic authority, by praising them for the things they’ve done right. They understand what it means to live in the grace of God. They know the Scriptures. And they’re a people fully empowered by the Spirit. They’ve recognised the gifts that the Spirit has given them and they’re using them. I admire Paul when I read those first few verses, because I don’t think it was necessarily easy for him to praise them. When someone treats us badly, we’re more inclined to immediately point out all their faults and to ignore their strengths. The Corinthians had just sent him a nastygramme, challenging his authority and questioning his teaching. For most of us, our gut response would be to write an angry response with a flaming pen. And yet Paul responds graciously. Even so he works in his main point. In verse 9 he says, “You guys are doing all these great things because God is faithful. The God who called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord has been faithful to you.” That’s his central point.
And so he then goes on. Look at verse 10:
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
Unity in Christ is a major theme in St. Paul’s letters. He said something very similar to the Church at Philippi:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (Philippians 2:1-2)
He encouraged the Ephesian Christians to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
Dear Friends, unity in the Church is critical. St. Paul deals with it first here in Corinth, because a lack of unity was at the heart of so many of the other problems. In verse ten Paul states his case and it’s amazing simple. The ground of our unity is the Lord Jesus Christ: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Their unity – our unity – is the result of each of us first being united to Jesus Christ. There may be some of us who come here and can find unity based on likes and dislike, on social status or social clubs, based on other activities or our military service, but that unity is limited. There are some of us in the Church who have all sorts of things in common and it would be easy to fellowship with each other even if we weren’t Christians. But there are also some of us here who have no basis, no common ground for fellowship other than the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Think about how the Church brought together into fellowship people so widely disparate as a high-bred Roman and a poor slave from the wilds of Gaul or Germania. You see, only Jesus Christ is big enough to bring all of us together despite all of our differences. Regardless of whoever or whatever we are, we share a common life if we have come to Jesus Christ. We are brothers and sisters if we have his life in us. Jesus is our ground for unity. But because of that we have an obligation to obey him, to follow him. Remember that we have new life in him only has we make him our Lord. That’s really the only basis on which you can get Christians to agree: by setting before them the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and by calling them back to him. That’s what St. Paul does here.
Now considering how different we all are here – different personalities, different talents, gifts, and abilities, different ways of doing things and thinking about things – what does unity in Christ look like? Let’s jump to Philippians again. That same passage we just looked at from Philippians 2 goes on. Paul says there, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…” And in the next couple of versus he goes on to describe the attitude that Jesus had: a willingness to give up the privilege and rights of being God so that he could take a lower place and become the servant of his rebellious creation. He describes Jesus saying:
…who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)
Paul appeals to us to be Christ-like – so consider what he did. God became man. And not a great man, but a lowly carpenter from the armpit of Palestine. He humbled himself. He gave up his rights. And he, our creator, did it for our benefit even though we had rebelled against him, put ourselves in his place, rejecting and hating him. Dear friends, if we want to have unity in our congregation – and not just here, but in the wider church too – we all need to start putting the things of Christ first. That means being willing to set aside our rights, being willing to suffer loss of personal honour and glory, so that we can see the cause of Jesus Christ advanced. That’s the unifying factor in a church. It’s the attitude we should have here. It’s the mind that lovingly puts others first instead of self.
It also means submitting to his Lordship. This isn’t your church. It isn’t my church either. It’s Jesus’ church. We are his body and he’s the head. That means he gives us our marching orders. And yet how often do we put our interests and desires ahead of those of Jesus for his Church. This is our basis for unity too – not just a Christ-like, selfless attitude, but also the duty we have to submit to his Lordship – to do what he says. This is why the study of his Word is so important. God’s Word is the way we come to know him and to know his mind – so that we can adjust our mind to conform to his – but it’s also the only way we have to know what his agenda is for us. Claiming ignorance of God’s will for us is no excuse for us to go on doing our own thing. If you want to know God and if you want to do his will, you have to know his Word. That’s why I stress the importance of personal study, but it’s also the reason why I preach the way I do.
Now at this point some of the Corinthians might have started to clue in, but I bet some of them were feeling smug, thinking that they really were doing all this. And that’s when St. Paul jumps in with a reprimand. Look as verses 11 and 12:
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas [that’s Peter],” or “I follow Christ.”
You see, when the Corinthians wrote to Paul, they tried to make themselves sound really good, but these other folks have informed on the real situation. We don’t know who “Chloe’s people” were, but it’s pretty clear they weren’t from the Corinthian Church. Most likely Chloe was a business woman and some of her traders or merchants, who happened to be Christians and who knew Paul, visited Corinth, saw the problems, and reported them to Paul when they were passing through Ephesus.
This was the real problem. The church hadn’t split yet. There wasn’t a First Church of Paul on one side of town and Church of St. Apollos on the other, but the people in the church had lost their unity. Being in Corinth, these people were culturally Greek, and the Greeks were used to itinerant philosophers and teachers – and for those itinerant teachers, it was all about style. The Greeks were known for rhetoric and oration. That wasn’t really St. Paul’s thing. He admits to not being a good public speaker. But then came his friend, Apollos, who was an outstanding speaker and orator. He was a rhetorician who could speak to the people in a way they greatly respected. And so now some of the people had devoted themselves to Apollos. It’s not that his message was different from Paul’s, but that his style was more eloquent. You know, “Oh, I just loved it when Apollos was preaching her! He was such a good speaker and he made the Scriptures come alive!”
And then there were the traditionalists – maybe former members of the synagogue – who had heard St. Peter preach and they appreciated that he was one of the first disciples and had been with Jesus during his earthly ministry. “Peter was one of the first. When he was preaching here we knew we were on solid ground!”
And of course there was a group sticking up for Paul. “He founded this church and maybe he wasn’t the best orator, but he taught us the Gospel!” And so the congregation was dividing up and not only that but arguing over who had authority to teach them and who didn’t.
The fourth group was probably the worst. They saw these divisions between teachers and apostles and got all self-righteous. “Well, you might follow Paul or Apollos or Peter, but Ifollow Christ! Don’t show me any of Paul’s or Peter’s epistles, I only read the Gospels!” And so in their self-righteous smugness they separated from the rest.
Now you don’t have to hang around a church very long to know that we still have the same problem. One person says, “I’m a Calvinist” and someone else says, “I’m an Arminian.” “I’m an Anglican.” “I’m a Baptist.” “I’m a Presbyterian.” “I’m a Lutheran.” And we split up, assuming that we’re the only ones that really matter despite the fact that while we obviously have our differences, we all preach Jesus Christ.
St. Paul was really troubled by all this because it threatened the life of the Church. People were choosing their favourite preacher to the point that they wouldn’t listen to anyone else. Now it’s not wrong to have a favourite preacher. And remember that we are called to be discerning about doctrine and sometimes that doctrine does create necessary divisions. Paul’s concern here is the exclusiveness – people who didn’t even want to come to the service if someone not of their party was preaching. Remember that he had to assert his own apostolic authority in writing to them, because some of the people wouldn’t listen to him – they questioned his authority.
So St. Paul asks:
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:13)
He’s saying, “You can’t divide Christ, folks!” He and Apollos and Peter were all preaching the same gospel. That’s great if one preacher communicates the gospel to you better or more effectively than another, but your focus is supposed to be on the gospel, not the preacher! As long as we’re all preaching the same gospel, we’re all one in Christ.
Did Paul or Peter die for your sins? No, Jesus did. Were you baptised in the name of Martin Luther or St. Augustine? No. You were baptised in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. You weren’t baptised into the Anglican Church or the Baptist Church or the Roman Catholic Church. If you were baptised in the name of the Holy Trinity in a Gospel teaching church, regardless of the label on the building, you were baptised into the Church of Jesus Christ.
There’s no human teacher, not even the Apostle Paul, who can effect our redemption. There’s no human teacher who can heal the hurt of a broken heart or restore the person who feels worthless. There’s no human teacher who can open the heart and mind to reveal the glory of God. None of that is the work of men – it’s the work of God himself. He chooses his own channels through which he works, and those channels don’t always have the same flavour or appearance. We reveal our immaturity when we insist that only those with certain characteristics are the ones we’ll listen to, or can feel blessed by. Remember: no man is the Saviour; no man can deliver us except Jesus. The rest are only teachers. There’s only one Lord. He said it himself: “One is your master, all of you are brothers.”
He goes on in verse 13:
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) (1 Corinthians 1:13-16)
You see, baptism is a badge. It’s the outward and visible sign of our belonging to God, but the Corinthians were misunderstanding that. Those baptised by Apollos had become Apollos’ groupies and those baptised by Paul had become Paul’s groupies. Instead of allowing their baptism to mark them as being one in Christ, they were using it as a status symbol. It would be like us splitting up over who baptised us. Some might take it as a status symbol that they were baptised by this priest or that priest. Someone else would say, “Oh, but I was baptised by So-and-so – a famous priest.” And someone else would say, well I was baptised by the bishop!” I once had a friend who thought he was extra special because he was baptised by a cardinal in St. Peter’s square on Easter. Hey, that’s cool, but it doesn’t make you any more special a part of the body of Christ! The benefits of our baptism come from God, not from the priest who pours the water on us!
Most groups have this problem. We take something good and we turn it into a status symbol or an identifying badge that it was never meant to be. In some churches it’s whether or not you bring your Bible to church. In other’s it’s the size of the Bible you bring or the translation you choose. It could be what you wear. In our tradition it’s often whether or not you kneel, bow, or cross yourself as you worship.
St. Paul steps in and says, “No.” When we start using God’s gifts or our acts of piety to distinguish ourselves from our brothers and sisters we destroy the unity of the body and misrepresent Jesus Christ in front of a watching world. That’s why he says, “I thank God that I only baptised a few of you. Not that baptism is optional, but because I don’t want my name or the fact that I baptised some of you to be any more factious than it already is!”
Now look at verse 17 where he gives the cure:
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Now this really introduces what we’ll be looking at next week – the great passage where St. Paul describes the difference between the wisdom of man and the wisdom of God. But what he’s saying here is that you don’t heal division in the Church with identification badges. He saying, “Christ didn’t send me out to make a tally list or to cut notches on my walking stick every time I make new converts.” That’s not why he was sent. He was sent to preach the gospel. In his case, God called a man who lacked the abilities that would have made a good public speaker by the world’s standard, but, Paul’s saying, “That’s the whole point. The power of the gospel doesn’t lie in the preacher – it lies with God, with the cross of Christ!” No preacher of the gospel can take credit for the good that comes when he preaches, because the real work is done by combination of the message and the working of the Spirit in the heart. In St. Paul’s case it was doubly so. He lacked eloquence. He could truly say that those who came to Christ through his preaching were moved by the content of the message, not by the delivery. It’s all about the cross!
Dear Friends, the cross of Christ is what heals the division and fragmentation of the Church. There are real issues of theology and practice on which genuine Christians can disagree and that require a certain amount of separation. You can’t have one group when part of that group holds to Episcopal church governance and another holds to congregational governance. You can’t have one group if one part of it baptises both infants and adults and another insists that it’s wrong to baptise infants. Some divisions are necessary. And yet on those issue over which we can reasonably disagree, we are still united in the essentials of the Gospel. We are still united in Christ. When we see men and women dividing, whether it’s in the local parish or in a broader Christian arena, all we need to do is to go back to the cross and those divisions will disappear. When you get someone’s eyes off the status symbols and the badges and call them away from following men and put their eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ and on his cross, the divisions fade away. There’s no other cure. The cross cuts through every human value system. It wipes away all the petty distinctions that we’re prone to making. The cross strips away all of our pride and pulls it down from the high place where it exalts itself against the knowledge of God. In the next section St. Paul’s going to describe this radical force that’s so different from anything else in the world. Think about it. No man would ever have planned the cross. We’d never think up something so shameful as a plan to save the world. And yet it’s this radical principle of the cross that we need to grasp through and through, because if we truly understand the cross of the Lord Jesus, no room for division is left.
Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, forgive us for the times when we place ourselves, our agendas, or even the good things you give us ahead of the cross of your Son, Jesus Christ. Remind us Father that unity is a reality that you have given us as your Spirit unites us with Christ. Remind us that it is not something we can ever create ourselves, but that it is a reality we are simply called to live by virtue of our faith. We as this in the name of Jesus Christ, in whom you have made us one. Amen.