1 Corinthians 3:1–9 (NRSV)
On Divisions in the Corinthian Church
3 And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?
5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
I speak often of the emerging church. There is or was an Emergent Church movement which was basically a network of non-denominational churches that came together because they wanted to larger fellowship but did not quite fit in with other denominations. I liked that movement. It spoke to many of the conditions that I had boiling in my heart. They would often reach across the denominational lines and if they found something that was beneficial they would incorporate it into their worship. But there is a negative aspect to this as well, they often pick and choose what they would believe theologically. Some of the most influential authors and speakers that have encouraged me were part of this movement, and most of them have found themselves in theological controversies because they questioned commonly held beliefs. What happened after these controversies occurred is quite interesting. Some left the church and pursued careers that focus on universalism, while others have remained within the church and continue to minister. These that remained are the ones that I have found to be the most encouraging. One of my favorite books when I was trying to come to grips with my faith and my calling was “Blue like Jazz” written by Donald Miller. In this Don explains his journey of faith, which is very different from my own, yet there are similarities that inspired me. Don has gone on to start a ministry called Storyline, a ministry that helps people realize the power their life story has in the Kingdom of God.
Another author, Wm. Paul Young, who has written three controversial novels: The Shack, Cross Roads, and Eve. Each of these books have been criticized for containing heretical teachings, yet each of these books have caused me to engage in scripture and prayer to a greater degree. They raised questions and it was as if Jesus was calling me to follow Him to the truth.
These authors as well as others have encouraged me to enter a conversation with God about faith, at times I have found that the questions they raised I find myself accepting while others I cannot. I enjoy these writers because they raise questions. Even authors like Lee Strobel with his “Case for…” series, which is not as controversial, encourage me to question, seek, and find.
There is a reason that these controversies have been coming up. I believe that we are amid a revival, we are approaching the next great era of Church history and when revival happens those within the church renew their focus. They find their center, they reevaluate what they have done in the past and seek the Spirit to move them forward. As these eras cycle through there tends to be a renewed interest in eschatology or the theology of the end times because as questions are asked and traditions challenged, as culture shifts around us and the methods of presenting the gospel to the lost change we begin to think that the world is chaos and the church is failing so Armageddon must be on the horizon. It might be, I do not know the time or date of the end. What I do know is that within this emerging church, there are people who love God and are seeking to build His kingdom here.
But this does not change the fact that we are in an interesting time. As era’s change and as questions are asked sides are often chosen and lines are drawn. All too often those lines are around secondary issues, issues of interpretation or preference, and in the midst people are distracted from the central theme of faith.
Paul spoke to the church of Corinth and reminded them of how far they had come. They were a church living in a city that was filled with worldly pleasures and distractions. Yet through all of that their knowledge grew and their witness expanded. People whom we would never have thought would come to faith in Christ came. Paul reminded them of that. Then things began to change, the church was becoming more accepted both among the Jewish population and among the Gentiles. As the popularity grew and as more people were being exposed to the Gospel more difficult questions were being asked. Answers were being given from various groups, some by an eloquent preacher by the name Apollos who some scholars believe to be the author of the book of Hebrews. Other answers were being derived from Peter’s teaching, and from the words of Paul. People within the church grouped themselves together around these teachers from whom they received the answers that they perceived to be the most to their liking and they began to debate amongst themselves as to whose teaching was the most correct. Eventually these debates drifted from a friendly discussion and morphed into something more sinister. People with differing points of view were regarded as less righteous to the point the church was divided.
The church was dividing, drawing lines over concepts and interpretations derived from the minds of men and women. The questions being raised and the answers being derived were the foundation of our faith, the beginnings of what we regard as theology. There is nothing wrong with seeking answers to your questions, I myself ask many and listen to many various answers. So why would Paul be upset about the pursuit of knowledge?
Scripture teaches us that we should pursue wisdom, it speaks of wisdom in romantic terms like the courtship between lovers. It even gives wisdom a name Sophia. Wisdom is the lady to be pursued, all the great patriarch of faith pursues her. It is the ultimate quest that is said to be the pursuit of God. To pursue wisdom to gain knowledge is to fear God and to fear God is the beginning of wisdom. Paul would not disagree with this, in fact he encourages it. But what do we do with the wisdom we gain?
Paul says that the wisdom of God is foolishness to those of the world. He says that those that grow in the wisdom of God gain a secret knowledge, knowledge of the Spirit and that no one knows the Spirit unless it is connected to the one that possesses the Spirit. You cannot know my spirit unless I allow access to my spirit to you. And even if I give you access to portions of my inner mind you will never know my spirit fully because as a human only I can know my own spirit. But God can know my spirit, and through His spirit we are opened to the mind of God. As we grow in this knowledge, the secret knowledge that can only be sensed through intimacy with God, we begin to reflect more of God’s mind and less of our own. This is what happens with intimacy, as we grow closer to another our sprits begin to unite, I become less and we become more. This is the mystery of marriage, which is the mystery of our relationship with God.
But at times I want to exert myself in the relationship. I am important, I have needs, and you are not meeting them. When this happens, there is a facture in the intimacy of a marriage, this fracture causes division and instead of two becoming one, one becomes half. This is not God’s desire for us. God created us to have fulfilling lives. He wants us to have joy, he wants us to have pleasure. But this only comes through mutual profit within a relationship. Two becoming one. Every relationship has some aspect of intimacy, in business my profit should be equal to the profit of those that purchase the goods or service. If there is inequity there is exploitation. Where there is exploitation there is no relationship only my flesh seeking that which it has no right to possess. Corporations can exploit their customers, customers can exploit corporations, employers can exploit labor and labor can exploit their employers. Individual can exploit others if they desire more from a relationship than they are willing to give. Inequity is exploitation, mutual profit is justice.
Why do I speak in this way? Because sin is inequity. Sin is placing my desire above that which I am willing to give. There is no relationship when we live in this manner only exploitation. And this is the core of what Paul is speaking about. Who is Apollos? Who is Paul? And why is there jealousy between them? These factions within the church are focused not on their relationship with Christ and the kingdom of God, but they are focused on who is right. If one is right, then the other is wrong and if one is wrong then they must be cast out if they do not agree. There is a desire for power, control to be the broker of grace and proper doctrine. These factions were formed around the perceptions of man to exploit not only their fellow men and women, but God. In a sense, they say I am the gate keeper no one comes to the father except through me. Do you see the sinfulness in that? These factions are taking on the very roll of Christ. They are taking the authority of Christ from God and placing it in their own hands. Where then is Christ? What is His role? If I am the one who extends and retracts grace, then why do I need a savior when I have myself? And if I am my own god then why do I need a relationship with others?
John 3:16–21 (NRSV)
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
God loved us so much that he gave his son to save us, to give us eternal life through him. The most interesting thing about this is that he did this for everyone. Everyone has the same opportunity to respond to the love of God or to reject the love of God. We can debate over the nuances of this theologically, but ultimately that does not matter. God is doing it. God wants the relationship because it brings him pleasure, he offers it to us because it will make our joy complete as well. So, what is sin? Jesus taught that there is only one unforgivable sin, all other sins have been forgiven when Jesus said it is finished. The only unforgivable sin is rejecting God, or grieving the Holy Spirit. The only unforgivable sin is placing ourselves in God’s place and taking what is not ours to exploit God and man. When we do this, for whatever reason we condemn ourselves because we have turned our backs on God.
Paul tells the people of Corinth, that they have increased in knowledge and their influence has expanded yet they live in the flesh because they live in division. They have sought knowledge and wisdom to exert power over others, when that knowledge and wisdom should have drawn them deeper into the grace of God. They sought to exploit those around them by being the gatekeepers of grace, when Jesus taught that the only access to the Father is through him. Through their divisions, they removed the cross, through their arguments they had turned the eyes of the world away from God instead of drawing them into His loving embrace. They believed but then they allowed the great divorce to fracture their relationship once again and where two became one the one became less.
We are living through the ending of an era, but we are also living in the beginning of another. We era that is closing is one that has been fractured by the wisdom of mankind, but there is a revival about to emerge. The revival comes when we return to the center. Not by crying out for our religious right, but by returning to Christ the true gatekeeper of hope and grace. Revival will come when we seek to believe in Him, when we not only know His words are true but to entrust every aspect of our lives to him. Trusting that through the intimacy with God that we have we will have mutual profit and joy with the divine. Revival will come when we follow Him. Do you believe?