Sunday, July 20, 2008

What are you saying, Paul?

A meditation on 1 Corinthians 1:10-12.

"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. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, 'I follow Paul,' or 'I follow Apollos,' or 'I follow Cephas,' or 'I follow Christ.'"

Divide, separate, take apart, tear into pieces, split, break up, cut in two, segment, sever, etc. There are many ways of talking about splitting things into multiple pieces. These words can be pretty harmless, but when you start saying things like divorce, calling it quits, and parting company, there's more involved; namely, there are people involved.

As we approach these verses in 1 Corinthians, it is helpful to note that the division of the church seems to be a theme running throughout its sixteen chapters. The immaturity of divisions is mentioned in 3:1-4, divisive lawsuits between believers in chapter 6, divided marriages in chapter 7, division over eating food sacrificed to idols in chapter 8, division's effects on the Lord's Supper in chapter 11, and even potential divisions about gifts and tongues in chapters 12 and 14. If the Corinthian church was anything else, it was divided.

The verses we are considering here basically begin Paul's letter with the lament that there are divisions in the church. Paul hates this. He spent over 18 months investing in the lives of these people (Acts 18:11, 18:18). To say the least, he loved them, and to see them divided like this must crush the apostle. He did not found this church so that it could be divided; instead, it was meant to be a beacon of light in a very dark city.

Now, to the text. Paul urges these believers to be of the same have the same judgment (v. 10). You know what? To a lot of people in our world, this sounds boring. It seems monotonous for everyone to think the same way about God...where would all the interesting coffee shop conversations go? Why would you want everyone to think the same? Be an individual...think how you want. In fact, we believe it's a basic right to think how we want. However, we believers surrendered that right at Calvary. No longer can Jesus be anybody we want Him to longer is 'sin' defined by my longer is the Bible just another religious book. This means, one of our goals in church life should be to think the same. What the Bible teaches, we think. We study it to find its meaning...not our feelings about what it says, but the meaning...then we wrestle it into our hearts and minds.

I remember reading a sermon lamenting the attitude that "church would be boring if we all thought the same way." I can't quote it, but the preacher responded kind of like this. He said that if it's boring to be in perfect agreement, then we're saying that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit must have the most boring relationship because they are in perfect agreement. They think exactly the same. Are we really ready to say that our churches with divisions over one issue or another are better than the inner-relationships of the Trinity? He goes on to say that we will be incredibly bored and dissatisfied in heaven because all believers will have the same doctrine in heaven. We all will know as we are known...fully and perfectly (1 Corinthians 13:12). Are we prepared to say that our theological debates over end times, baptism, God's sovereignty vs. free will, and the rest are really better than heaven?

I don't think Paul is ready to say that divided thinking is best. Unity in thinking is is best that we work to think the same and have the same judgment. Oh...there's a hand in the back of the classroom. "Ok...then who's judgment wins? Mine or the other guy's?" Answer: this isn't a competition. The goal is to find God's judgment on a given manner and think that way. So, God wins. Now that that's settled, we can get back to the text. We've seen Paul say that agreement and same mindedness is needed. What else?

Well, Paul follows this up with the report he's been given by Chloe's people. I don't know if Paul sent Chloe's people to check on the church or if Chloe was actually part of the congregation. I just know that it had gotten so bad, Chloe may have thought, "You know what? These quarrels aren't going away. If we're going to stay together for the sake of the gospel and for one another, then we need some help. I'll get Paul...he'll be able to help." So, they went and told Paul...they didn't gossip to him; they just needed somebody to come from the outside, who loved the people and could speak into their lives. They told him the problem, and they asked him to help.

Now, we get to verse 12, and if I'm confessing, then I'd have to say at this point...this is the verse that struck me the most. On Monday night of this last week, I mowed our yard, which is a great time of meditation for me. Too often, I meditate on useless things. That night, I happened to meditate on 1 Corinthians 1:12. It all made sense up until the end. Paul would obvious discourage the proclamation of following himself or Apollos or Cephas, but why does he include Christ in this list? He even goes on to talk about how Christ is central to his message...why include His name in the list of divided groups? (FYI - when you're studying the Bible, always try to see if there is something surprising in the usually turns out to be a rich truth)

I thought, and I mowed...I mowed, and I thought. Then, it hit me...I was in the front yard, and my hands we starting to feel a little numb because our push mower shakes. Anyway, it hit me. What hit me? Well, let's see if I can get you there. Think about your, and God forbid this ever happens, think about a business meeting where lines are drawn. One group yells, "We follow [prominent man in the congregation]." Another group yells, "We follow [prominent man in the congregation]." Another group yells, "We follow [prominent man in the congregation]." A fourth group yells, "We follow Christ."

Can you imagine what their doing? It's as if they're saying, "You can follow that man, and you can follow that other man. You can follow any man you want to, but we follow Christ." Can you hear the pride laced all through that? Spiritual pride is dripping from that statement like raspberry jelly from a donut on your brand new shirt. This group sounds the most spiritual, don't they? It's not that they are simply trying to follow Christ, it's that they are vocally reminding the church, "I follow Christ." They want everyone else in their congregation to know how carnal the rest of the people are for following men. They also want everyone to know how spiritual they are because they follow Christ. In today's church, this is no small group. Too many of us would belong to this group if we were honest.

Too many of us would be shouting from the rooftops how spiritual we are because of the decision we've made to do this or leave this vote this way in the business not be part of that over there. We are now the Pharisee in Luke 18, standing in the temple shouting to the top of our lungs about how spiritual we are...and all the while Jesus is disapproving of our actions and motives.

Apart from this pride, which is bad enough, why would Paul be against people talking about following Christ in the midst of conflict in the church? Don't you want people following Christ? Of course you do, but don't you see what's happening? People are putting themselves ahead of the church...people are willing to sacrifice the unity of the body for the sake of "following Christ" if the two could be separated. How can I say I am following Christ when I am contributing to the division of His church? How can I say I am following Christ when I speak harshly, mistreat, and abandon His bride? How can I say I am following Christ when I am not willing to fight for His body's life?

Being of the same mind and judgment is absolutely necessary in church's a continual process, and sometimes a fight, but it's worth it. Divisions have no place in the church of Jesus Christ. It's not even okay to seek to divide the church on our holier-than-thou soap box proclaiming, "I follow carnal people who follow men!" After all, "the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you'" (1 Corinthians 12:21).

A friend of mine recently led a Bible study on Romans 15, in which Paul writes, "May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus" (v. 5). Why did Paul say that they needed the help of "the God of endurance and encouragement" to live in harmony...unity? Because living in unity, as sweet as it is, is hard work. It will take perseverance, and it will take encouragement. So, I encourage you, my friend, don't give up on the church. Fight for her unity...for her same mindedness...for her agreement...for her to never divide...and ultimately, for the glory of her Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Not dead yet

I checked my stat counter recently, and I can see that several of you are still checking in from time to time. I apologize for not writing more. My family is just beginning to settle from a move, and it has been nuts. Having a yard again, I find myself with one of life's greatest meditation-conducive activities...mowing. The Lord has been teaching me much, and there are things I plan to begin to write about within the next week or so. So, I'm not dead yet...I haven't thrown in the towel (I can't even find the towel, but I'm sure it's in a box somewhere).

For those who come by often (or even not so often), you can pray for me as I think about the next stage of this mysterious journey of writing. There are two large projects looming in my head, and I would like to take the next year or so and pursue one of them. I am praying for the discernment to decide correctly and for the perseverance necessary to dedicate a year to such a project.

In the mean time, I'll still be blogging. See you soon.