Paul highlighted an essential component of division. In almost every divisive situation, two elements are present.
— 1 Corinthians 1.12 – What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”
(1) When the personal pronoun “I” is prominent, we can expect conflict. At the center of every division is the exaltation of self-will at the expense of other people and submission to God’s will.
(2) Conflicting loyalties to different leaders are involved in the fractures of churches, society, nations, and the world order.
Paul wrote to unite a divided church in the mid-50s A.D., but his words are as valuable today as then.
— 1 Corinthians 1.13-16 – Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,
15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name.
16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
Paul used logic to bring a divided church to their senses. Three questions were intended to startle the church and make evident the reality of their situation.
(1) Has Christ been divided?
The church is the “body of Christ.” It is inconceivable that Christ, the Lord and Savior of the world, could be divided.
Divisions in the church are a negative witness to humanity we are called to introduce to Jesus.
(2) Was Paul crucified for you?
Why should we put more emphasis on a church leader than on the Head of the church, Jesus Christ?
Jesus is the Head of the church because he constituted it through his sacrifice on the cross.
No earthly leader should have preeminence over Jesus Christ. Our self-will should never overrule the guidance of our Lord and Savior.
(3) Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
This question seems to be a “no-brainer,” but countless conflicts have taken place over the method of baptism.
In the 1500s Anabaptists were tied to a plank and dunked in a river to force them to renounce their stand on baptism. This early version of waterboarding was used on innocent men and women, sometimes to their death.
“Anabaptist” refers to a sect of people who were against infant baptism. They practiced what is called “believer’s baptism.”
It is tragic that two of the most sacred aspects of Christianity, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, have been tremendous items of conflict.
It would be extremely wrong to say, “I was baptized in the name of Martin Luther,” or “I was baptized in the name of John Wesley,” or “I was baptized in the name of a famous Southern Baptist.”
Once again, it is a sad commentary on Christian unity to recognize that the church took its divisions so seriously that it splintered into denominations after the Protestant revolution.
Today, I counted 18 separate Baptist denominations from one Internet article. That number doesn’t account for the estimated 33,000 denominations in America alone.
Without a doubt, the church in America needs to hear Paul’s message that was written so many years ago.
Paul devoted the entire letter of 1 Corinthians to encourage the church to be united. As we read the letter, his arguments for unity will unfold in every chapter.
The verses we have studied today provide guidance toward a united church if we will but follow them.
(1) Remove the “I” from consideration.
Paul substituted “I” for obedience to Christ in Galatians 2.19b-20.
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
When Jesus died, we died with him. He will live through us if we will trust him to do so.
Jesus is not divided. As he lives through us, we will be united with Jesus, others, and ourselves.
(2) Determine that Jesus is more important than earthly leaders.
It is a well-known fact that conflict sells. Conflict is a staple of television news, radio talk shows, and social media.
My very wise pastor in Louisiana let me in a little dirty secret about Christian radio and talk shows. They use conflict to increase donations to their programs, just as other media outlets do the same.
We do well to evaluate the media stars who have access to our minds with Paul’s criteria.
— How much of their talk points to themselves?
— Do they uplift Jesus and reflect his authority over all things?
If our leaders are divisive in speech and actions, we need to evaluate whether to allow them an opportunity to influence our thinking.
That is the negative side to the second point. The positive side is to live in a life-changing relationship with Jesus.
The more we connect with Jesus, the more he will transform our attitudes and actions. This will assist us to not being complicit with divisive speech, leaders, and actions.
Rudy Ross and I have been talking about the Bible for over 20 years. You can hear Rudy and me talk about this passage on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel.
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