A Divisive Congregation
When the Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church, they were struggling with an incredible amount of divisiveness within their congregation. The source of this division was ultimately their prideful attitudes combined with a love for the “wisdom” of the world. To illustrate this point, we can look at 1 Corinthians 1:11-12:
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my 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.” -1 Corinthians 1:11-12
We see that the Corinthians were engaged in “quarreling” divisively taking pride in different leaders. Fundamentally, they were not simply giving honor to faithful men for their steadfastness. The pagan ancient world took great pride in identifying with specific philosophers who possessed powerful oratorical skills in their day. The Corinthians were making the critical error of finding their identity in a man, instead of Christ. What they were doing was elevating specific personalities to an extent where they were boasting in who had baptized them, even claiming to be baptized in a specific person’s name (see 1 Corinthians 1:15).
Another issue going on in the church is really the foundational spring from which everything else flowed. The Corinthians were elevating the wisdom of the world, rejoicing in it instead of submitting to the wisdom of God and glorying in the cross. They were deceived, wanting to be counted as “wise” according to the standards, ways, and ideas of the world (see 1 Corinthians 3:18). Paul had to remind them that the “wisdom of this world is folly with God (1 Corinthians 3:19).” Yet, the worldly behavior of the Corinthians rooted in jealousy, pride, and a love for the wisdom of the world was wreaking havoc amongst the church. Therefore, the Apostle wrote to them to deal with the source of division, and he also shows the true foundation for unity amongst the saints.
Don’t Follow The “Wisdom” of The World
Quite insightfully, Paul did not believe God needed the help of the world in order for the Gospel to accomplish what the Lord intends. Nor did the Apostle, writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, believe that the message of Christ should be made more palatable for lost society. He clearly asserted that mankind in his sinful state will view the things of the Spirit of God as “folly (1 Corinthians 2:14).” He even says that the “rulers of this age” did not understand the truth of God, as evidenced by the fact they crucified Christ the Lord (1 Corinthians 2:8). In other words, if you build a “church” with the wisdom of man, then you are following after the same “wisdom” that the individuals who crucified Christ did! Needless to say, nothing but division and spiritual chaos will stem from that root.
Flirting with the wisdom of the world was causing a significant amount of immaturity amongst the Corinthians. Paul said they were “infants in Christ” who were immature and not ready for “solid food (1 Corinthians 3:1-2).” In contrast to them, Paul clearly did not want his teaching to rest in the “plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (1 Corinthians 2:4).” What was the objective he had in mind? He explicitly states, “so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:5).” Fleshly wisdom is impotent, being unable to do anything to save a man or woman. The Apostle Paul understood the Gospel alone is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). Therefore, he took up his weapon, which is the preaching of Christ crucified. He declared the counsel of the Word of God resting in it and not the wisdom of men!
Burned Stubble or Pure Gold?
In the third chapter of 1 Corinthians, we come upon a masterful illustration illustrating the importance of using the wisdom of God. We read:
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. -1 Corinthians 3:10-15
Laboring in the church is something to be undertaken with great care lest you get to the judgment seat of God only to find out you used the wrong materials your entire life. If you pick up the weapons of the flesh, which are things such as the ideas of the world, culturally popular opinions, pride, envy, and so forth, then you will be left with a lot of burned hay when the fire comes. However, if you use the perfect and pure gold that God has given to us, then you will receive a great reward by the grace of Christ. Ultimately, the call here is to use the Scripture which Christ has given to us, to pray to God to bless the work for His glory, and simply only take up that which God has commanded us to use. Using the world’s wisdom instead of God’s wisdom is like jumping in quicksand instead of walking on the sidewalk. In the end, all you will do is sink!
Lessons of Application For Church Unity
In an age where many cry for “unity” without being able to biblically define the term, we certainly need to spend much time studying these chapters in Corinthians. It is important to note that Paul elevates Christ and biblical wisdom as the source of unity. Foundationally, people need to be regenerated and discipled according to the wisdom of God revealed in the Bible, it is this which will lead to a unified body. Today, many say those holding to biblical doctrine are the ones being divisive. Biblically faithful men are viewed as “hateful” not because they are acting in a mean way, but simply because they preach the truth of Scripture with clarity. However, Paul spotted those out who were teaching, living, and acting according to the wisdom of the world as the ones causing division. In other words, Paul had a different idea of unity than the world. It is imperative for us to ground our understanding of unity in the Word. Otherwise, we may very well find ourselves to be attacking those who God views as the ones promoting unity and supporting those He deems to be divisive in their proclamation of error.
Another key point from Paul is that he elevates Godly wisdom, which necessitates you actually know what that is by reading the Scripture. So many today believe that if we elevate biblical, expositional, and doctrinal teaching in the church, then unity will vanish away from the church. On the contrary, we must elevate biblical doctrine, be rigorous in expositing the Word, and dive deeply into the doctrines of Scripture. These actions will allow us to understand the truth, then by the work of God’s Spirit, recognize the sin in our lives, cast it aside, and live according to the righteous standard of God. Biblical teaching promotes holy living centered on the praise of God.
So, friends, let us be those who latch on to God’s wisdom tightly. May we walk in the power of His Holy Word, trusting in it as pure truth being the inspired revelation from God. I pray that we will not walk according to the flesh, but instead pick up the tools He has given to us. Let us act in accordance with biblical wisdom and knowledge. The truth of the Scripture will work in our hearts to sanctify us according to the work of Christ so that we will be more obedient to Him. Let us promote love, truth, and unity amongst the saints while proclaiming the Gospel to the lost all for the glory and praise of God!
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