It always sounds so nice. You get in the car, everyone has their seat and pillow from home. Dad’s driving. Mom has the directions. The bag with all the food is in the back seat for Brother to turn around and deliver snacks. Sister is in control of the DVD player. It sounds nice. The family on a trip together.
But then dad takes the turns on the highway a bit too fast -- Sister is feeling sick to her stomach.
Mom is distracted by sister and forgets to tell dad to turn on I-75. The car goes an hour out of the way.
Dad needs some trail mix to calm himself down, but there’s not any left. Brother ate all of it!
Sister won’t let anyone put any DVD in that isn’t an iCarly original – so that you hear the theme song in the back of your head the whole time.
Sometimes it’s easier to travel alone.
No one to complain about driving.
No one to give wrong directions.
No one else to eat the trail mix.
But what about following Jesus? What about spiritual travel? Is it nicer alone or together?
Today we’re continuing our series called Follow and we’re discussing what it’s like to follow together – as a church family. We will hear about some of the biggest threats to following together and be reminded of the blessings. Before we do that, join me in a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Divisions in Corinth
Our lesson comes from 1 Corinthians 1. A bit of background – 1 Corinthians is a letter written to a young church that was in a city called Corinth. The Corinthians had first learned about Jesus from a follower of Jesus named Paul. They were the ones who told them that they were sinners; that they needed a Savior; that Jesus was that Savior.
At first, the people were so excited about this message. They loved having salvation. They loved having freedom from sin. They loved the peace of God.
But then…something happened.
Paul left. Another Pastor – Pastor Apollos – showed up and took their place. It doesn’t appear he taught a much different message. He taught that they were sinners; that they needed a Savior and that Jesus was that Savior. (Same thing; same message.)
But Apollos must have done things a bit differently. (Maybe he didn’t choose the same worship music as Paul; maybe he bought a different kind of coffee for morning fellowship – I don’t know). Regardless, it started to cause some people to long for their past pastor.
I really miss Paul. He was so sarcastic.The type of guy you could grab a beer with and still be convicted.
Ok sure. But I’m a fan of Apollos. He’s no nonsense and he’s getting stuff done.
But some of his ideas are different. He doesn’t do things the same way that Paul does things. He’s #NotMyPastor.
Speak for yourself – I’m an Apollos guy. Times are changing. His way is better.
Well, I’ll always be a follower of Paul – first and foremost. I’m not a follower of Apollos.
I am. You can stay stuck in the past with the Paul way of doing things.
And then – into that culture – somehow the church became familiar with the teachings of a guy called Cephas (aka Peter). Peter was one of the original 12 disciples. Peter spoke with Jesus for 3 years. Peter must have introduced himself to them. Told about how he saw the resurrected Jesus and shared his ideas for the church of Jesus going forward.
Picture Peter the accomplished author you might find down at the Christian bookstore. A group of people moved to the area from Peter’s church in Jerusalem, joined the church, and ran every idea from the church council by the Apostle Peter.
Putting the sermon after the Bible study? WWPD (What Would Peter do?) – I don’t know if he’d think it was a good idea.
Welcoming Gentiles into the same congregation as Jews? WWPD? I’m not so sure.
Chocolate chip cookies for fellowship! WWPD? I think he’d buy Oreos.
Suddenly a shift started to take place in the church. Instead of one united group, there were different groups. They weren’t united Christians. They were Paulians, Peterites and Apollosians. A group of Paul followers would gather over here and badmouth the Barnabas brotherhood. The Barnabas brotherhood would meet over there and discuss ways to stop Apollos’ outreach plan. And Apollos’ selected church people would snap Instagram photos with the #ApollosChurch until it was trending.
Word got to Paul – the guy who first told them about Jesus. There weren’t phones back then. There wasn’t Snapchat. He couldn’t just TWEET his displeasure. So, he wrote a longhand letter. These divisions are one of the first things he addresses.
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, 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. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 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.”
I think this is interesting. Paul’s appeal is not for people to revert to doing things his way.
It isn’t for people to listen to all of his ideas.
It’s for people to stop be divided and started being united.
He asks some pretty poignant questions to get his point across:
(1) Is Christ divided? Are the Jews class A of Christians and the Gentiles class B? Did Jesus die once on a cross for the rich and once on a side street for the poor? Does John 3:16 say, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him and likes country music goes to heaven, but whoever believes in him and like rap music goes to a different heaven"? Not any worse, just not the same – not so that I have to listen to your country music the whole time I’m in heaven.
(2) Was Paul crucified for you? The quick answer is NO; he’s busy writing this very letter. Paul wasn’t crucified. Apollos wasn’t crucified. Peter, although some tradition suggests that he was eventually was crucified, was not crucified yet! And even when he did die – it didn’t have any incredible redemptive work. Ask the kids – Jesus died on the cross – not Paul, not Peter, not Apollos, not anyone or anything else.
(3) Were you baptized into the name of Paul? How would that have even sounded? “I baptize you in the name of Paul the Pharisee, Paul the persecutor, and Paul the reformed Christian missionary?"
And I love Paul’s parenthetical aside, “I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so 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.)” Paul’s point isn’t that he didn’t want people to be baptized. (Baptism brings forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation. Things that Paul treasured dearly and dedicated the latter portion of his life preaching). Rather, Paul’s point is that people would have used being baptized by him as some kind of special badge that would have furthered division.
It’s like bringing home a gift for your kids. Maybe you get them each a PEZ dispenser. What if you got the PEZ dispenser for everyone in your family accept your middle child? How’s that go over? (“You love them more than me.”)
It’s the same thing with adults though. Imagine if your boss at work gives everyone a Valentine’s card with a PAYDAY chocolate attached to it. (Get it, PAYDAY?) What happens if you look around the office and you see everyone else has a delicious, chocolate, salty candy bar and you don’t? Division! You get angry. You whine.
Paul recognizes that – even with something as incredible as Baptism. As if people would wear ball caps that said, “Baptized by Paul” and others were visors that said, “Blessed by the hand of Apollos.”
TRUTH: People love taking good things and making them into divisive things. In the case of Baptism, they had taken something incredible – baptism – which unites you with God and with believers and they were now using it as a thing of division.
II. Divisions at Gethsemane?
Careful. Because the devil is still at work today. He is still trying to sabotage the church just as much as he did back then. He is still trying to sabotage our ministry here in Raleigh – just as much as he did then. By taking neutral things – even good things --- and making them into divisive things.
Here are three things that I think we have to be especially careful of.
Did you know it’s not sinful to engage in politics? It’s not sinful to watch political shows either. But what has happened is our country has such an incredible divide between the Republican and Democratic party – that we no longer view each other as people we politely disagree with. But people that we violently oppose! And let them know as much on Facebook and every other social media site we can get onto.
That can’t happen in this church.
That can’t happen when we are dedicated to sharing Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t Republican. Jesus wasn’t Democrat. (Neither of those were even around back then.)
Jesus is our God. He is our Savior. He is the Savior of your friend who votes in a different direction.
Don’t let politics get in the way and ruin the message of your Savior.
Culture is a great thing. It’s a view into God’s mind. That he created us so very different with so many different backgrounds, different food favorites and different styles of wearing our hair. It’s beautiful. Thanks to culture we have the ability to go to the Chinese restaurant on Monday, get Mexican on Tuesday, grab some soul food on Wednesday, try an Italian pizzeria on Thursday and finish it off with Japanese sushi on Friday.
Culture is great. But the temptation is to make it into something that divides – (See: Racism)
Racism has no place in the church. Jesus died for all. It says in the Bible Jesus died for Jews and for Gentiles – which means -- everyone who isn’t a Jew.
Don’t let culture get in the way and ruin the message of your Savior.
(3) Worship Styles.
I bring this up because we will be moving to two different services on Easter. Those two services may be different. One might be a more traditional style of worship (with robes and organ and old school hymns) while the other might be a more contemporary style of worship (without robes and with a band and new school songs).
Both are good. Both are different expressions of culture. Both share God’s Word.
Both could cause division.
Whether it’s “I’m a Traditional Christian” and "I’m a Contemporary Christian.”
Or whether it’s “I’m an early service Christian” and “I’m a late service Christian.”
Don’t let these causes division. Traditional worship didn’t die for you. You weren’t baptized into the name of Contemporary worship.
You were baptized into the name of Jesus.
III. Jesus Unites
In fact, Jesus died to stop division—division between us and God. Our sins had divided us from him. Read Isaiah 59:2 “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear.”
There’s this picture of this big thick bulletproof glass. You can see someone on the other side. It’s someone you love. You wish they could hear you. You’re banging on the glass for them to hear you and notice you and let you in.
But they don’t.
That’s the picture of sin and God. We see him. We know his power. We see the value in being with him. But our sins separate us. In a cruel, cruel joke reminding us how unworthy we are to approach a holy, divine God.
But Jesus is like a wrecking ball. Jesus comes in and smashed through the wall. Jesus comes in and knock down our sins. Jesus comes in and removes what separated us from God. Jesus unites us to our Heavenly Father.
TRUTH: God is not a God of division. God is a God of unity.
Paul recognized that. Look at how he continues the letter: 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. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Look at that again – “The cross, the message that Jesus died for us, destroys our sin, and unites us with God the Father, is a message that divides.” Unbelievers call it foolishness. It doesn’t make any sense – some Jewish guy, a carpenter, died a few thousand years ago, and because of him I’m right with God?
But that same message that divides unbelievers is the message that unites us. It is the power of God.
It is the power for salvation for the Jew.
It is the power of salvation for the Gentile.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who got along with Paul.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who really liked Apollos.
It is the power of salvation for the girl who votes Republican.
It is the power of salvation for the girl who votes Democrat.
It is the power of salvation for the Italian, the German, the Iraqi, the African American, the Hispanic, and the Native American.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who likes guitars.
It is the power of salvation for the guy who likes organ.
It is the power of salvation for all of us. It is the one, incredible, power of salvation that unites us all!
IV. What now?
(1) Focus on What Unites
That’s such an easy thing for us to do. To point out what’s different. But there’s so much that’s the same. We all have eyes. We all have noses. We all have hands and feet. We all have a need to be connected with family and friends. We all have a need to be connected with God.
Check out verse 26: “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…it is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is saying – Stop thinking about what makes you different. Think about what makes you the same:
Y’all were sinners.
Y’all were ignorant.
Y’all were in need of a savior.
And all y’all have a Savior. That Savior is Jesus. He is your wisdom.
(2) Boast in God
That’s Paul’s conclusion on this first chapter. He says in verse 31, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” Because what’s boasting? Boasting is speaking openly and proudly about something you like or accomplished.
The problem with boasting is that is usually causes someone to feel awful who hasn’t accomplished what you are boasting about.
Boast in Jesus. Don’t boast in your favorite style of worship. Don’t boast in your favorite political party.
Boast in Jesus.
Boast in God.
Boast in the one who actually and completely unites us in every way.
Then, you are able to follow together.
Then, you are able to follow peaceably.
Then, you are able to help each other on the road to heaven.
A brother of our passed away this past week. I won’t give every detail, but know that he was an older gentleman who had struggles with his lungs. He also didn’t have a lot of family in the area. He lived alone.
That’s a hard thing to go through alone.
I had gotten the message that it wouldn’t be much longer while I was in Arizona. It’s hard to do bedside ministry from Arizona. But…here’s where following together comes in.
Pastor Rockhoff helped with a visit.
One of our elders helped with a visit.
My wife graciously drove me late at night for a visit.
I wasn’t there at the exact time of his death. But one of our elders was. From what I heard about his final minutes – as he was struggling and life was leaving him – our elder was blessed to be able to share with him God’s Word. Literally – reading the blessing.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.
And the Lord gave him peace.
And the Lord brought him into peace.
And he now lives in eternal peace.
That’s following Jesus.
That’s following Jesus together.
Lord help us do that now and always. Amen.