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It Takes More Than Gifted People

1 Corinthians 1:1-31

Jim Davis

It takes more than gifted persons to make a church function properly in unity. This is not to diminish the importance of individuals gifted with God given abilities. However, it takes more than ability; it takes more than knowledge; it takes more than the grace of God, it takes more than sanctification; and it takes more than just having a solid foundation to support the church as a viable force.

1 Corinthians 1:2-9
"To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ-their Lord and ours:

"Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

"I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way-in all your speaking and in all your knowledge-because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful" (NIV).

You can possess all the things necessary to be a church or a Christian and still be carnal minded. Corinth had everything they needed to be called the church of God at Corinth, but they still lacked a key ingredient to accomplish their task as a congregation of God's people.

1 Corinthian 3:1-4
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly-mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?" (NIV).

I have seen Christians use their abilities to render a great service for the church, but how they go about rendering their service divides the church. They get the job done, but it is done through the strength and wisdom of the flesh. Sometimes fleshly efforts are about as graceful as the proverbial bull in a china closet.

One thing has always plagued me about Christians. It is amazing how we plead for religious unity and divide through strife. The church at Corinth serves as a model to modern churches as to how we must settle our division. Are we willing to listen?

We Must Remember Our Calling

In the opening verses of 1Corinthians Paul reminds Christians of God’s relationship to them. They are called by God; sanctified through the grace and peace, which only comes through Christ. They are reminded how God has enriched their lives to the point that they lack nothing. It is a subtle but potent reminder of the relational characteristics that should be a part of their Christian fellowship. On second thought Paul’s salutation may have not sounded that subtle to a divided bickering fellowship. Paul’s salutation may be more gracious than subtle.

We all have the same holy calling from God. We are called to be saints. This means that we as a fellowship are sanctified. It is our sanctified relationship with God that should sanctify our relationships with one another. What sets us a part as holy to God should set us a part holy to each other. The word holy sounds sanctimonious to our modern ears. It just means that God has set us a part as his people to be sanctified. The church is called out of the world through obedience to the gospel of Christ. We remain in the world but we are no longer of the world because we have renounced the wisdom of the world as our guide in life. We now live in Christ.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-15
"But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter" (NIV).

The Spirit of God sanctifies, or sets us a part as God’s people as we choose to obey God’s truth. Choosing to obey God’s truth sanctifies us. When a man and woman marry they are set apart for one another; any other relationship outside of marriage is sinful. Christians are set a part to obey Christ. But it doesn’t stop there. Our relationship with Christ affects our fellowship as Christians. When we sin against each other we also sin against Christ.

God has entered our lives to sanctify our relationships with the world. God chose to enter into our world through human flesh, as God incarnate. He did so to enter into a relationship with us. As God enters into our lives he seeks to sanctify our relationships with those whom we come to know love. It is God’s relationship with us must call us to peace with others.

1 Corinthians 7:12-16
"To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

"But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?" (NIV).

Obedience to Christ requires us to abide in our calling (7:17-25). Obedience to Christ doesn't sever our relationship to the world; it only changes our relationship to the world. This is where our greatest potential as Christians will be found. The purpose of our calling is to allow God to bring us to maturity so that he might also touch the lives of those we enter into a relationship with. This is absolutely essential as we relate to one another as Christians.

When we fail to do all we can to bring peace to our relationships it hinders our relationship with God.

1 Peter 3:1-12
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

"Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,

"’Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil’" (NIV).

It is the character of our relationships with those around us that assure us of our relationship to Christ. It is God's faithfulness to us that makes him desire to permeate every facet of our lives with his holiness despite our ability to see things as he sees them. This is the basis of our relationship with those who differ with us. Our relationships are sanctified in the fellowship as we accept others through the love of God.

Why Are There Divisions?

In Corinthians Paul tells us the church divides because it seeks to use worldly wisdom to solve its problems. Paul didn't pull any punches with the church at Corinth. Maybe it is time we stopped pulling punches with the modern church and with ourselves.

Corinth's problems revolved around several things. Factions. Immorality. Lawsuits. Idolatry. Abuses of the Lord's Supper. False teachers. Problems about marriage, divorce and remarriage. Disorderly conduct of assemblies through the abuse of God given gifts. Woman's part in the church. Heresies about the resurrection.

Does any of this sound familiar to the modern church? If it does, remember Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians about these problems and they solved their discord. I wonder, should Paul's same instruction to the modern church help solve her problems?

One cause of Corinth's division was polarization around personalities. There was a concentration of groups in Corinth that had formed around certain individuals, which resulted in conflicting positions.

This doesn't necessarily mean that the individuals mentioned intended to cause strife in Corinth. There is a fleshly tendency to line up behind those who exhibit knowledge or possess wisdom. This doesn't mean that those possessing knowledge seek to create a following. They may sincerely seek to impart knowledge and wisdom to promote the growth of Christians.

In Corinth Christians probably had no central meeting place. Church buildings didn't become prominent until about 200 years later. There were probably many small congregations within the city, each under its own leadership. They simply met in homes of fellow Christians or in local halls. These groups developed into rival, competing groups rather than cooperating groups.

Some of these groups claimed to have a philosophic understanding of Jesus Christ. They prided themselves in their wisdom and knowledge. They began grouping themselves around one doctrine or another as they rallied as partisans around one leader or another. The church was split into factions seeking to preach Christ with their own personal trademark that set them apart from others.

There are differing schools of thought on many modern day issues concerning the church. When we seek to build a congregation around a particular school of thought we naturally become divisive as we boast of our fleshly knowledge of the issues.

Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to test themselves. He writes, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you-unless, of course, you fail the test?" (2 Corinthians 13:5 NIV). Maybe it is time for the modern church to test herself to see if Christ is really guiding her.

Modern day congregations are often built around strong personalities that seek to have their own way. How often do Christians mistake strong personalities for strong spiritual leadership? I think Paul had a strong personality. That's probably why he accomplished so much under Judaism before becoming a Christian (Galatians 1:13-15; Philippians 3:3-11). It is obvious that when Paul became a Christian his personality was tempered by the gentleness and meekness of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:1,2).

"Let Him Who Boasts Boast In The Lord."

When you have proud people adopting a worldly lifestyle as they depend upon the wisdom of the world to solve their problems you are going to have church problems.

What is the focus of your congregation? Are your worship services focused on Christ or your differences? This is the test! What is it that drives your worship services? Paul says, The truly important part of Christian worship is whether we are circumcised in heart (Colossians 2:11,12). Paul writes, "Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord" (1:31). Paul was quoting from Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 9:23-26
"This is what the LORD says: 'Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the LORD.

"'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh--Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart'" (NIV).

Boasting over our differences concerning the many issues that divide us does more harm than good. The world sees the division of Christians. They know Jesus prayed for our unity.

John 17:20-23
"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (NIV).

The world knows that our love for one another is the greatest validation of our faith in Christ.

John 13:34-35
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (NIV).

The Message of the Cross Brings Unity

God did not call us because of who we are, but he calls us in spite of what we are. God creates out of nothing. Wonderful, you say. Yes, to be sure, but He does what is still more wonderful: He makes saints out of sinners.

The Corinthian's were ordinary people who were terrible sinners (6:9-11). God chose the foolish, the weak, the base and despised to show a proud world the need of his grace. A lost world admires birth, social status, financial success, power and recognition. The world can't understand how God turns sinners into saints. The world would never choose the people God chose to change the world. We would look to the movers and shakers of our world. This is the very thing that confounds the wisdom of the wise.

What one thing is capable of uniting Christians of differing races, cultures, languages, customs, religious ways, differing social status, levels of intelligence, levels of maturity, differing abilities, and different factions? We know from Judaism that it takes more than rules and regulations. We know from the world that it takes more than the philosophical teaching of worldly wisdom.

Newsweek religion editor Kenneth L. Woodward writes:

"Clearly, the cross is what separates the Christ of Christianity from every other Jesus. In Judaism there is no precedent for a Messiah who dies, much less as a criminal as Jesus did. In Islam, the story of Jesus' death is rejected as an affront to Allah himself. Hindus can accept only a Jesus who passes into peaceful samadhi, a yogi who escapes the degradation of death. The figure of the crucified Christ, says Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘is a very painful image to me. It does not contain joy or peace, and this does not do justice to Jesus.’ There is, in short, no room in other religions for a Christ who experiences the full burden of mortal existence—and hence there is no reason to believe in him as the divine Son whom the Father resurrects from the dead….

That the image of a benign Jesus has universal appeal should come as no surprise. That most of the world cannot accept the Jesus of the cross should not surprise, either. Thus the idea that Jesus can serve as a bridge uniting the world's religions is inviting but may be ultimately impossible. Citation: Kenneth L. Woodward, "The Other Jesus," (Newsweek 3-27-00, p.50)

We understand from this quote that the world expects Christians to unite upon a truly benign Jesus. It is utterly impossible to unite around anything other than message of the cross that culminates in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. This is the theme of the Bible. It is plain to see that it is the very wisdom of the cross that alienates us from the world.

It is the message of the cross proclaims Christ as the wisdom and power of God to bring about unity (1:30,31). The cross destroys the wisdom and intelligence of our world by revealing the mind of Christ.

The message of the cross for Christians is the mind of Christ. Paul pleads with us to be of the same mind (1:10); we can only be of the same mind as each of us develops the mind of Christ. Paul reveals the characteristics Christ's mind.

Philippians 2:1-11
"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

"Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!

"Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (NIV).

The mind of Christ means giving up our rights. This means putting the needs of others first. It means suffering loss so as to bring glory and honor to Christ rather than ourselves. We are to consider the needs of others greater than our own needs. We must give up our entitlements as a service to others. We become less concerned about how others respond to us, and more concerned about how God can use us in our relationships with others. To do otherwise is destructive to the health of the church.

An attitude of meekness penetrates every word of this passage in Philippians. It reminds us of Jesus' words on the mountainside: "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5 NIV). This is why the preaching of the cross becomes a stumbling block to the world. This is why it sounds like foolishness to a world bent on boasting its own wisdom.

"I am persuaded that much of the confusion and conflict which besets the Christian church today is not due to great issues of theology. Instead, it is because brilliant leaders have not been willing to act with meekness. Instead, they have gained a following and then, to maintain this following, have felt obliged to discredit those who would oppose them." (Hudson T. Armerding, Leadership, Vol. 2, no. 3.)

The message of one who died upon a Roman cross seemed to be at cross-purposes with the message of a world that thinks that God could never succumb to death on a cross. The Jews knew that anyone hanged on a tree was accursed of God (Deuteronomy 21:23). The concept of a suffering Messiah was the thing that disproved Christ as the Messiah to the Jews. Yet, taking up our cross and following Christ as we suffer the loss of our rights is the one thing we must do to maintain the wholesome relationships and the unity of the church.

Christ gave himself up for the church and he is asking each of us to give ourselves up for the sake of the church.

Ephesians 5:25-33
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church-for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband" (NIV).

Paul is speaking of what Christ has done for the church as a basis of our relationship with each other. When the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the focal point of our relationships with others our sacrifices for others pale into insignificance. This is why Paul wanted to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified (2:2).

Conclusion:

The only thing that will sustain the unity of Christ's body is lives transformed by the sanctifying work of God's Spirit. This can only be done as we preach Christ and him crucified. Preaching Christ causes members to put their trust in Christ.

Jesus Christ is the only who can bring healing to the body of Christ as we trust him to guide us.

1 Peter 2:23-25
"When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (NIV).
 
 

 

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