A Study of 1 Corinthians 1:10-31
Introduction: It’s so important to maintain unity in a church, if it’s at all possible. When I was in college once, I returned to my home church; it may have been during a period when we were between pastors. A group of trustees in the church had decided to repaint the interior of the sanctuary, and they had selected a very light pastel green. I remember what an uproar that caused in my home church. In looking back over the decades since I’ve been in this church, my most anguished moments have been when we’ve had disagreements or when people have stormed out unhappy about one thing or another. Not long after I’d been here, a prominent member and his wife left our church, very upset with me because I wasn’t saying anything about women wearing pants to services. This was in the early 1980s, and in our little cultural subset it was still traditional for women to wear dresses to church. This couple was sensitive about that; but what could I do? I could not in good conscience spend my time in the pulpit talking about things the Bible doesn’t address. I could not in good conscience preach somebody else’s convictions. But they left our church over that issue. Another man whom I dearly loved became upset with me when I switched to the New International Version. He left. Well, by and large we’ve weathered the storms pretty well here at TDF, and as a rule we make decisions by consensus. But I live in a sort of holy fear that some wedge issue will break out and create disunity.
The same sorts of things are true in a denomination or ministry organization. My early years here were marred by denominational conflict. I’ve never told many of those stories in public, but when I came here as a 28-year-old pastor, I wasn’t too familiar with the Free Will Baptist subculture. I was more progressive in terms of church life and methods, and I was more expositional in terms of pulpit ministry. Something about that combination created a lot of fireworks. Not long after I came here I had a delegation of local pastors who came to question me. One of them said, “Rev. Morgan, the Bible warns us against offending one another. And some of the things you’re doing have offended us. What are you going to do about it?” I said, “Well, brother, when the Bible tells us not to offend one another, the Greek word skandalizo means to cause someone to trip up. It doesn’t mean we have to conform to everyone’s opinions about everything. I don’t agree with all your opinions, but it doesn’t cause me to trip up and fall into sin. Now, if because of me you’ve tripped up and fallen into sin, I’d like to help you. How can I help you with the sin I’ve caused you to commit?” I’ll admit that answer didn’t do much to solve the problem. Perhaps today I’d answer more wisely.
And then, what about marriage and the home? Katrina and I have never had many fights. But we’ve hand a handful—very few really; I really only remember two. Early in our marriage we have a fight over tomatoes. I was growing them faster than she could process them, and I lost my temper because my tomatoes were rotting on her kitchen sink. Our other fight was over hot chocolate. We’ve had a few tiffs along the way, but not many. We don’t want many. Nothing upsets us more than when we have disunity among those we love and with whom we should enjoy a secure sense of oneness. Well, that’s what Paul was dealing with here in 1 Corinthians. This book has sixteen chapters, and the first four of them – the first twenty-five percent of his book – is devoted to disunity.
Verse 10: I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ….
This is the tenth reference to Christ in ten verses. This is the key to the whole thing. We should be so focused on Christ and on His kingdom and His cause that little things don’t bother us very much. Notice that everything I’ve mentioned so far is about little things—a woman wearing pants, length of hair, shade of paint, tomatoes, hot chocolate. Many of our conflicts are because of personality conflicts. We rub each other the wrong way. We admire others too much.
…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.
That is a tremendous aspiration. Paul obviously didn’t mean they should all have the same opinions about every little issue, but that they should be perfectly united in mind and thought on the major issues and not to worry about the smaller ones.
Verse 11: My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.
We don’t know who Chloe was. She was evidently a widow who was well-loved in her local church. She probably lived in Corinth and was distressed by what was happening. Some of her children or family members came to Paul and reported on the divisions in the church. We get the idea that Chloe was a godly woman who was grieved about the fighting in the church and wanted Paul to know what was happening.
Verse 12: What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another “I follow Cephas”: still another, “I follow Christ.”
Here’s the nature of the disagreement. When Paul left Corinth, Apollos showed up and he was a very eloquent man. He was a tremendous teacher. He probably had a slightly different slant on a few things than Paul did, although I don’t think there were any really major differences between them. Peter (Cephas) had been there and had his own slant about thing. And some of the Corinthians claimed to be more spiritual and said, “We just follow Christ.” Different factions in the church had arisen because of these different personalities.
I was in a church a few years ago, entertained by an old couple. While there they took the opportunity to gripe about the new young pastor. Their old pastor had retired, and they missed him, which was understandable. But they hadn’t accepted the new young pastor and they represented a faction in the church that became disgruntled. But Paul rebuked the Corinthians for getting too caught up in human personalities. In the remainder of this chapter, he is going to make three points.
1. There are No Celebrities Among Christians—Only the Power of the Cross (Verses 13-17)
His first point is there are no celebrities among Christians; there’s only the power of the cross. Our lives aren’t changed by another person; our lives are changed by what Jesus did for us on the cross.
Verse 13-17: Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I think God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
2. There are No Celebrities Among Christians—Only the Foolishness of Preaching (Verses 18-25)
Verse 18: For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power for God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
The Bible acknowledges that the people in this unsaved world can’t understand the message of the cross and it seems like foolishness to them. Yet this “foolish” message has a power to change people’s lives like nothing else in philosophy, religion, literature, or history.
Verses 22-25: Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
3. There are No Celebrities Among Christians—Only the Ministry of the Inadequate (Verses 26-31)
Verse 26: Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Conclusion: I want to end with the remarkable story of a man named John Sung. He was born in 1901 into a Methodist family and his father was a Wesleyan pastor. As a boy and as a young man, John helped his father in the ministry and often preached. He was called the “Little Pastor.” He was brilliant, always at the top of his class, and he came to America to study in the universities. He earned a Ph.D. at Ohio State University and you can still see his chemistry essays and research documents in the university library. In fact, he is reportedly the first national Chinese to ever earn a Ph.D. in America. But along the way he got away the Lord, and in the course of time he enrolled at Union Theological Seminary in New York City in upper Manhattan. This is one of the most liberal theological institutions in the world—as liberal as it can be. It was the seminary of Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin and Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick. In this seminary they did and still do believe anything and everything except the Bible. In this place, John Sung became so confused he no longer knew what he believe or why. He grew depressed. He was unable to eat or sleep.
But one day during the Christmas season a friend invited him to an evangelistic meeting and the speaker who was supposed to be there was a brilliant intellectual, a brilliant Christian, an evangelical, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of New York City, Dr. I. M. Haldeman. This preacher was truly one of the greatest preachers of his day. In fact, I’m reading one of his books right now.
John decided to go, but when he got to the meeting he discovered the program had been changed. Instead of the brilliant pastor, a young girl was going to give a talk. She was fifteen years old. John said to himself something like this: “What can an international Ph.D. learn from a girl of fifteen?” But he was unable to leave gracefully so he was forced to stay. This girl simple read a few verses about the power of the cross and gave her testimony. But her words drilled into John Sung’s heart and mind, and as a result of that evening he was saved. He became so excited about the Lord and about the cross that the administration of Union Theological Seminary had him committed to an insane asylum. He spent six months there. Part of the time he was in a straitjacket. But he took every change to read the Bible, and during those months he read through the Bible forty times. That insane asylum became his true seminary. He was finally released on the condition he would return to China, and he book passage on a ship and arrived in Shanghai in the fall 1927. He started preaching the moment he arrived, and during the next years over 100,00 people were saved. He was called the “John Wesley of China.” He preached for fifteen years until he died at age 43 from tuberculosis, but he paved the way for the explosive growth that China is experiencing today.
It wasn’t he great intellectual preacher, I. M. Haldeman, who had the joy of helping lead this man to Christ. He didn’t show up that night—I don’t know what happened. But it was a fifteen-year-old girl that made all the difference. The lesson is clear in 1 Corinthians 1: We should all remain humble and unified in our churches and denominations and homes; in all of our groups we shouldn’t worry too much about personality. There are no celebrities among Christians—it’s only the power of the cross, the foolishness of preaching, and the ministry of the inadequate.