United by the Gospel

Based on:  1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Our second lesson for today came from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, and in this lesson we see that the goal of faithful preaching is to reveal Christ and to reveal the cross of Christ.  In this lesson we also see that as we reveal the cross of Christ we build unity.  The theme of division verses unity in this lesson is very strong, and even though we will celebrate Unity Sunday in just two weeks, today we will look at what this portion of God’s Word has to say to us about that topic and then we will come back in two weeks and visit it again.

From our lesson we see that it seemed that Paul was in a first century pastoral popularity contest, and he was not pleased.  What would you expect Paul to think about these people who professed their allegiance to him? Paul did not go to Corinth to build up his own fan club.  He went to proclaim to them the gospel message and through that message to reveal Christ and to build unity in that gospel.  Paul knew that Cephas and Apollos would not go to Corinth for their own fan club either, but they too wanted to reveal Christ and build unity among Christians by the gospel.

How it must have disheartened Paul to find out that those people in Corinth were claiming an association with a particular pastor as if those associations made them better than other groups or believers.  Even those who claimed to follow Christ were not helping matters, but were only using that as a divisive tool to claim some superiority.

Imagine how ridiculous it would be if this congregation were arguing over its elders.  Some might say, "Well, my elder is the best at tolling the bell." And someone else would say, "But my elder is the best at changing the hymn board."

It is just as ridiculous to say those things about pastors.  While each pastor has his own personality and his own weaknesses which may change the way we deal with him on a personal level, what is important is that he faithfully reveal the cross of Christ in his preaching and as he carries out his ministry.  

Sometimes it is difficult to avoid disagreements in the church.  Each and every one of us is a sinful human being with his or her own opinion.  We each have our own way of doing things and our own way of coming up with solutions to problems.  So of course there are going to be things that Christians disagree on.  There will be different opinions on things such as which version of the Lord’s Prayer should we use.  Each Christian will have his own or her own likes and dislikes when it comes to the way we worship.  There will even be differences, if you can believe this, on how we want to spend money in the church to do the Lord’s work.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It is exactly what we should expect from a diverse group of Christians gathered in one place in and joining together to hear about their Savior and serve their Lord.  The problem comes when instead of coming together in Christian love for a mutually beneficial solution, we start to separate ourselves from those who think differently than us or who have a different opinion.  The problem comes when we start to look down on those who have a different opinion.

Those things that are merely human opinion and the result of human reason are things that should not cause Christians to go off in their own separate groups.  Instead, as a group of Christians who love their Savior, we should come together and ask the questions: "What is going to bring glory to God? And what is going to best serve to grow the church not only in numbers, but in strength of faith?" Realize that even with those criteria, there is plenty of room for diversity and variety.

All those things concerning human reason should not separate us as a group of Christians. That leads us to something which is not human reason, the cross of Christ.  When it comes to the cross of Christ, to the gospel that Paul preached, when it comes to God’s Word, here we draw the line. Here we make divisions, and here we separate ourselves from others.  We don’t do this because we think we are better than others.  No, we do this because God tells us in his Word to do this.  We do this because any time we talk about God’s Word our eternal lives are a stake.  If we begin to deviate from what God’s Word says, we’re not just talking about having a different opinion than another human being, we’re talking about disagreeing with God himself.  Do you see the difference? Even if it is a seemingly small matter in God’s Word, we have still put human reason above God’s truth. If we continue to follow through logically in our thinking, it will always lead us to deny some portion of Scripture that is important for our salvation.  In a sense, it will empty the cross of Christ, of its power, as the apostle Paul says.

Let me give you an example.  At the end of First Peter Chapter 3, the apostle Peter talks about the waters of the great flood and how those waters lifted the ark with Noah and his family and rescued them from the sin and corruption that had filled the world.  Then he writes, "…and this water symbolizes baptism which now saves you." The waters of baptism save you from your own sin and corruption.  Because of this passage and other passages in scripture we believe, teach and confess that in baptism God saves you, that is, he gives you forgiveness of sins and faith in your Savior so that you are rescued from damnation in hell.  You are saved.

Yet there are some who teach that baptism is not something that God does for us, but something we do as a response to God.  At first this may not sound all that bad except that you would lose the comfort and the assurance of salvation that you have in your baptism.  Now if we start to think this through logically and we look at how scripture connects baptism and salvation.  (Jesus, “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” or Paul to the jailer, “Believe and be baptized.”)  If scripture isn’t commanding baptism in order to bless us by forgiving us our sins, then this command becomes something that we need to do to help finish our salvation.  If baptism isn’t God’s gift to us, then it becomes something I must do, and if it is something that I must do, that means that Jesus didn’t do everything necessary for my salvation.  Do you see how one small disagreement with God’s Word can lead down a path that could eventually destroy faith?  We don’t want to give up a single thing God says in his word because it is all ultimately connected to the cross of Christ and our salvation.

When it comes to God’s Word, we do need to believe the same thing.  When we as Christians come together united by the gospel then we truly are united.  When we are united in knowing that we are sinful human beings who sometimes argue with one another needlessly and sometimes think we are better than others when we shouldn’t, and when we are united in knowing that Jesus Christ took all the shame and guilt for those sins with him to the cross and gives us in return a perfect and eternal life with him in heaven, and when we are united in knowing that everything God tells us in His Word supports that truth, then we are also united in that hope of heaven and in our purpose as Christians to serve him in all we do.

Paul appealed to the Corinthian Christians to be united.  That unity only comes as we hear God’s Word.  Paul’s goal was to reveal Christ to those Corinthians as he preached the gospel to them.  That alone brings unity and brings the understanding that things coming from our own human reason and our own opinions are things we will sometimes disagree on, but that shouldn’t cause us to go separate ways.  We will also understand that when it comes to this gospel message – that creates true unity and that is the life giving word we hold on to.

Amen.

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