Church Unity: Is Christ Divided?
I Corinthians 1:10-17
Turn to a subject which is very applicable to the situation of FBC New Castle. One of the most necessary things to strive for as you prepare to call a new full-time pastor is unity. If there is not a strong foundation of unity, the ministry of any pastor will be weakened before it ever begins. Now, let us be very honest here for a moment and admit that every church struggles to be completely unified. Moreover, let’s admit that there have been disagreements and struggle within FBC New Castle over the past year. So, what I propose to do this morning is speak directly and honestly. If I press a finger to a sore spot, it is only in the effort to bring healing and direction. If we do not address the things which have created difficulty in the past they will never heal. So, let us focus on the Christ and on His Word.
READ 1 Cor 1:10-17
What we have here this morning is a section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church in which he begins to deal with a very specific problem. He continues addressing this problem all the way through chapter 4, but his desire throughout all of it is the same. In verse 10 he says “…” What he says here is very similar to what he says in Philippians 2:2 – “…complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” Paul pushes his churches to work for and yearn for a thorough, undivided unity. Notice that his emphasis on this unity is, as we have pointed out in other things, a mental decision. He focuses on the MIND. We’ll come back to that, but right now it’s important to see that Paul is pushing them toward a deep unity.
Now, he’s doing this in response to a particular problem. He tells us what this problem is in the next 2 verses:
READ 1 Cor 11-12
So the NATURE OF THE PROBLEM is: there is division and quarreling over pastors. You can almost hear the discussions that went on: “Paul is the best missionary in the world. He’s suffered more than anyone for Christ. To top it all off, he might be the greatest theologian ever!” The next group says, “What are you talking about? Have you HEARD Apollos preach? The man could preach to a pagan ritual crowd and get people saved.” The next guy kind of laughs and says, “You guys, come on. Neither of those two ever even spent time with Jesus. That’s why I follow Cephas (or Peter). Were Paul or Apollos with Jesus day in and day out for three years? Did they see Jesus transfigured? Nope.” All the while the fourth guy is sitting there with steam coming out of his ears, and his frustration finally boils over and he says, “You’ve ALL got it wrong! I don’t follow anyone but Jesus himself! While you guys are following an imitation, I’m going after the real thing.”
So, the people of Corinth are lining up behind the man they think is the best, and they are fighting with their brothers and sisters who disagree. There are people in the Corinthian church who are willing to divide the fellowship over their choice of Pastor. They say things like, “Well, if that’s the man you follow then I can’t be around you anymore.” or “I couldn’t be a part of a church where that sort of leader is tolerated.”
So how does Paul respond to all of this?
Paul responds with a series of questions, and the implied answer to each one of them is NO! Absolutely not! Is Christ divided? No, never! Was Paul crucified for you? No, that would be useless! Is baptism done in Paul’s name? No!
So PAUL’S RESPONSE to this quarreling over Pastors is a question: “Is Christ divided?” And the answer is NO! Now, what this question should direct your mind to is another story in scripture.
READ Matthew 12:22-25
With that in mind, we can understand Paul’s urgency. If the people of the Corinthian church are not unified in Christ, then they reject the power of Christ! If the body of Christ is divided, it cannot stand, but will fall. Look at the warning Paul gives in verse 17: if the focus of the church is anywhere but the cross of Christ, then gospel is emptied of its power!
So the nature of the problem is that the church is divided over Pastors. Paul’s response is to remind the church that Christ is NOT divided, and so they must not be, lest the cross be powerless. His ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM, then, is this: focus on Christ!
What Paul has to remind the Corinthian believers of is that when the church becomes occupied with ANYthing other than the cross; ANYthing other than the gospel; ANYthing other than Christ, they have forsaken their first love. Brothers and sisters, it is the same with any church – if we are not united by the fact that all of our minds are focused on Christ above all else, we have become distracted from what should be. Specifically, if disagreement over a pastor becomes sharp enough to divide the church, then the focus has been lost. You see, the power of the cross is NOT a pastor. The power of the gospel is not eloquence, nor is it personality. The power of Christ is not a strong leader, or ANY leader for that matter. The power of the cross is not any particular system or method of ministry. THE POWER OF THE CROSS IS Jesus Christ. The cross was simply a piece of wood, and what makes it eternally significant is the one who died upon it. And the REASON he died on the cross was to bring reconciliation and forgiveness…not division. What Paul is begging us, and what the Holy Spirit, God Himself, is asking of us in this Scripture, is that we be unified under Christ, and that we would not divide Christ by focusing on ministers more than we focus on Him. This is because a minister or Pastor is not the head of the church, or shouldn’t be. In fact, if a pastor has become the head of a church, it has ceased to be a church, because by definition the head of the church is Christ. In 2 Corinthians 4, as Paul is referring to his ministry, he says “And so we have this treasure in jars of clay…” What he’s pointing out in that moment is that every minister is nothing! They’re just ordinary old clay pots – every single one of them. The important thing is the treasure within the pot – Jesus Christ. Later in this passage, Paul will say that explicitly – ministers “…are nothing.” So here’s the truth: when the focus is on a minister so much that the church is fighting and divided over him, then the focus is not on Christ.
Imagine with me that you’re with a group and happen upon a vast treasure. You all dash forward to oo and aah over the beauty and wealth, and one guy pops up: “Look at THIS!!” And you look around, and he’s triumphantly holding up an empty coke bottle.
If any church is divided and quarreling over a pastor (like the Corinthian church), then Christ has been removed from the cross. If a church focused ANYwhere except Christ, then it is powerless to spread the gospel, help people, be obedient, please God. Brothers and sisters, if the church is to be effective in the power of the cross and the work of the gospel, and if we as a fellowship of believers are to be pleasing to God, we MUST be united with our minds focused on Jesus Christ, and Him alone.
Now, I’m not saying that Pastors are useless. I am not saying that looking to a Pastor for leadership is wrong. What I’m saying is that if the Pastor’s leadership becomes more important than the leadership of Christ, then church has lost focus. We must never let disagreements over a Pastor become more powerful than the bond of Christ.
So, the most important thing for you, as a church, to do as you prepare for a new pastor to come is to set your focus on Christ collectively AND individually so that you might be completely unified in mind. Expect to be led by Christ, who is the head of the church. Be careful in saying things like “If only we had a leader, then things would be better.” That sets you up to put your focus on the Pastor more than on Christ, and you must not do that. So set your minds on Christ alone! What does this mean? How do you set your focus on Christ? Give yourself a steady diet of Spiritual things. Read the Word, not randomly, but thoroughly. Pray often, and expect God to answer you. Memorize scripture. Talk about spiritual things. Make habits that will continually turn your mind to focus on Christ throughout the day.
Secondly, forgive! If there are wounds which have been given and received in the past over a pastor, realize that if the person who hurt you or who you hurt is a believer, than they are your brother or sister in Christ. Do not withhold forgiveness from someone, even if they never ask it of you. If you know that someone has a grudge against you for something you’ve done, seek them out and attempt to be reconciled to them! How far are we willing to go for the sake of unity? How far are we willing to go to obey the Word of God as it calls us to be of one mind? (Col 3:13) Are you willing to forgive someone who has not asked for it? Are you willing to love someone who angers you, and I mean really love them with the love of Christ?
This is a costly unity. It is not an easy thing. BUT, Christ our Savior and Lord has given Himself up for the church, not even claiming His right to life so that the church might live. Are we ready to pursue the unity Christ died for? It will cost us: time, energy, heart.
How do we guard against losing our focus on Christ and putting it on a Pastor?
- Vigorously pursue your personal responsibility to know and follow Christ individually. You must not rely on ministers to teach you everything you know about Christ. Ministers ARE here to teach, but you are called to know God and study the Word for yourself as well.
- This provides accountability for the ministers. If you yourself know God and live by the Spirit, then God may very well use you to minister to the ministers!
- Sets the bar FAR higher for ministers. Instead of requiring that the minister preach or teach according to a certain human standard, this requires them to speak as they are led by God to speak. If they do not, the rest of those in the body who ARE being led by the Spirit will know.
- Guard against a consumer mindset of church. I enjoy listening to preachers. The bad thing about that is when I sit down in the mindset of watching a performance. I expect to see the preacher’s skill in rhetoric, his eloquence, his knowledge of the Bible. In those moments, I have shifted from an attitude of WORSHIP through the Word, to a mindset of ENTERTAINMENT from a man.
- Don’t major on the minor things. If any church is to be unified, it MUST be under Christ alone. Unity will not come over agreement on credentials, worship style, preaching style, or anything else man-centered. We must focus on unity under Christ alone.
- Guard against laziness. This can apply to many areas, but I think one which is particularly necessary to point out is that sometimes the reason people aren’t unified is simply out of laziness. It takes work to build relationships and participate in the church and reconcile differences. We must guard against laziness which keeps us from doing these things. Christ calls us to be committed to the body of believers enough that we are willing to do whatever it takes to be unified, even if that means hard work, sleepless nights, swallowing our pride, etc.
The outcome, if we do these things is unity under our mutual Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is power for ministry to this community and the world in His name. The outcome of this sort of life is God looking upon His church and saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servants.”
Now, how should we respond to this? There are many ways, and each of you will need to respond in your own specific manner, because the Word of God always demands a response – usually it is the choice between obedience and disobedience. I’ll mention a few general things.
- If you feel the sting of conviction because you have acted like the Corinthian church in focusing on a Pastor more than Christ, PLEASE know that the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Don’t harden your heart and begin to make excuses for why it was ok for you to act in a certain way toward your brothers and sisters. Don’t refuse God’s forgiveness out of shame or pride. Repent from your quarreling, and focus your mind’s attention and your heart’s affection on the Savior.
- If you know that someone has been hurt by a quarrel in the past, especially if the hurt came from you, make restitution. Make amends. Go to that person and apologize for dividing the body of Christ, and do all you can to bring them back into the fellowship.
- If you feel the hurt of division; if someone has said or done something to you in the past because of some disagreement in the church, resolve in your heart at this very moment to forgive that person, whether they ask for it or not.
- Perhaps you’ve never truly made the decision, and resolved in your heart and mind to commit yourself and all that you do to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Come and be a part of the body and know the unity under our Savior!
However it is that you need to respond, do so, I beg of you. Don’t let this moment pass away.