January 21, 2018: Epiphany 3

Let us pray: Dear Savior,  although truth is in very short supply today, we are blest to have eternal truth from You in the Bible.  It frees us.  It uplifts us.  It helps us cope in this topsy-turvy world.  Based on that fact, may we all put personal stuff aside and concentrate on Your truth which sets our souls eternally free.  Amen


TEXT:  I Cor. 1: 10-17

Dearly Beloved By Christ:  

The bedrock principle of the Church is that we are at peace with God because His Son died on a cross to win that peace for us.  This eternal peace is ours through faith, with which He gifts us.  The formal name of this truth is: justification by faith.  So, if that is our status with God, why do so many churches have internal disagreements among the members?  Why can’t all of God’s people get along with one another?  The short answer is: sin.  Sin obscures our oneness with God and each other.  Sin, in the form of pride, arrogance and hurt feelings, causes divisions among God’s people.  It happened in the Corinthian church, it still happens today.  And St. Paul was appalled by it.  Thus, he addresses it in the beginning of this 15 chapter letter to that church.


“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

Now, we know from the later portions of this epistle that many of those divisions were about God’s truth, or doctrine.  People from diverse religious backgrounds, none of them Christian, had announced their allegiance to Jesus, but had also brought non-Christian viewpoints and ideas into the church.  This caused much soul-searching and much infighting among the members.  One of the great things about studying church history and living today is that unlike them, we have a record of how many of these issues were resolved.  This year is the 100th anniversary of our synod’s reorganization.  Back in 1917-18 our spiritual forebears fought doctrinal battles against the erosion of biblical truth.  It is important for us to study what they fought, why they fought, and embrace the resolutions they put forth.  If we don’t, well, recall the old adage: “Those who forget history are bound to repeat it.”


But, not all squabbles are doctrinal in nature.  Many involve personality clashes and the subsequent taking of sides.  This is also divisive.  And Paul addresses it, too.  “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  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.’  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?”   

All of these church leaders were great men, faithful men.  Paul was the great evangelizer.  Apollos was a gifted preacher known around the Roman world.  Cephas, or Peter, was stalwart for the truth that sets us free.  And Christ, the foundation of it all needs no introduction here.  Each of these humans had Godly gifts.  Each had distinctive personalities which appealed to different parishioners.  But, unlike many in the Corinthian church each one focused first and foremost on Jesus Christ.  To them, like John the Baptist, “Christ must increase, and I must decrease.”  If you cannot look past personality traits among each other and focus on Christ, alone, you’ve got a problem.  Do you see Jesus in each other?  If not, why not?

Then Paul goes on, as an aside to take to task those who viewed themselves as more important than others because Paul had baptized them!  This, rather than focusing on the glorious truth of baptism—it washes away sins, delivers from death and the power of the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe as the words and promises of God declare!  “I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name.  (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)”  Here Paul scolds his supporters as well he should.  For Christ is far more important than personality issues.


Now comes the heart of the matter.  Now comes the truth that every believer needs to laser focus upon: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Human beings, even faithful Christians, are not divine—but God’s Word is!  Some pastors, some parishioners, may be more eloquent than others.  Some are more intellectual, while others are more down-to-earth and practical.  How any of us strings words together is really immaterial—as long as the truth of the Gospel predominates.  And what is that truth? That Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, came into this world to save me.  He came to suffer and die and bore my sins in order to free me from that eternal curse.  He came to rise from my very grave, so that when I’m laid in it, it will not and cannot hold me.  He came to make me right with God because He was and is God!  Those truths, those propositions which I just laid before you, are not human wisdom.  No, human wisdom is all about:  “How can I earn God’s favor and  how can I take credit for my actions in life for others to oooh and aaaah, over?”  But in the Gospel, our ego deflates and Christ inflates.  

Jonathan Edwards,  the great Puritan preacher, once preached a famous sermon entitled: “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.”  Like all puritans, Edwards focused on the Law, not the Gospel.  Thus, he could mold people’s outward actions, but he could not re-shape their hearts.  What he should have preached on was: “Sinners Made into Saints by the Love of God!”  That’s Paul’s message here.  Focus on the Gospel and sinful divisions among you will cease.  It was true then and it is just as true today.  Amen