• Pastor Mark Driscoll
  • 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
  • January 22, 2006

Father God, we thank you for allowing us to come together as a church family to study your Word. As we study Scripture today we come under its authority. We accept it as your means of speaking to us. And so we ask that as we study Scripture, Father, that you would reveal to us the Lord Jesus; that you would give us a heart that is inclined toward him and a mind that is committed to obeying and following and loving him. And God, we ask that for this to be made possible that you would send us your Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit, you would lead and guide and encourage and convict and conform us to the image of Jesus; that you would enable us to see him and to love him, and by grace to be more like him. So we give our church and ourselves and our time to you this day, and we ask these things in Jesus’ good name. Amen.

Well, it’s interesting. When Jesus Christ, our great God and Savior, was on earth, he made a promise and he also offered up a prayer that are inextricably linked. In Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 16, Jesus made the promise, “I will build my church,” and so he absolutely guaranteed the establishment and the continued furtherance of the church. And then in John 17 he offered a curious prayer. He prayed to God the Father that Christians in the church would be unified, one people, loving each other as the Trinitarian God, Father, Son and Spirit, is lovingly united, knit together in trusting community.

So Jesus guaranteed that the church would come, and he prayed for unity knowing that that was going to be far more difficult than causing the church to come into existence. Jesus then died for our sin, taking away our sin at the cross so that we could be reconciled to God as Christians, reconciled to one another as the church. It is sin that separates. It is Jesus that unifies and brings us together. And then we see Jesus being buried, three days later rising, then ascending back into Heaven. Shortly thereafter, the church explodes – goes from just over 100 people, and three thousand people are added in one day.

Christianity does begin to be established. Jesus promise that he would build his church did indeed come to pass. God then decided that this one man named Saul was on the wrong team; that he was persecuting and harming Christians, and he was really hindering the forward progress of this new movement of Christians, this early church. And so Jesus made one cameo appearance from Heaven, came down, knocked the apostle Paul to the ground and roughed him up a little bit. Told him he was to be a Christian; that he was to worship himself, Jesus. That Paul was to worship Jesus and that then he would be the one that would go out and found and lead the church for non-Jews.

This man then changed his name to Paul, and he indeed obeyed Jesus. He became a Christian. He started new churches, and he went from town to town and city to city founding new congregations. We looked at it where in Acts chapter 18 he founded a church on Mars Hill. Then he moves to the city of Corinth – a crazy, up-and-coming, young, hip, cool port city. At that point, he serves in that place for 18 months, founding, establishing the church. There’s about 50 or 60 people, perhaps, meeting in a home as this infantile new young church.

He believes that it is now established well enough that he can move on, and then he moves to other places like Ephesus and Antioch. And he moves from place to place establishing more new congregations, doing exactly what Jesus Christ appointed him to do, exactly what Jesus Christ had prayed for. But then everything back in Corinth began to fall apart. As soon as Paul was no longer in the room with his church on Sunday people ran into crazy doctrine. They started getting drunk and running off into sexual immorality, and lots of problems came. And so in an effort to correct the problems in this young church that he founded in this hip, cool city, Paul wrote a letter to them. That is the letter of 1 Corinthians that we’re studying today.

And in it he is trying to counsel them and lead them and teach them and rebuke them, as a good pastor should. So we pick up the story in 1 Corinthians 1:10. If you’ve got a Bible you can read along with me. If not we will put the verses up on the Power Point for you. But Paul says this in 1:10: “I appeal to you, brothers,” – so he’s making a very compassionate plea with his people – “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” – that’s where he gets his authority; he’s speaking on Jesus’ behalf. “That all of you agree with one another, so that there may be no divisions among you, and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

So Paul’s first point to this immature church is that they need to acknowledge that they are not unified, and the way that they are thinking and acting is leading to great fragmentation in the church. And some of you may have lived through church fights, church splits – painful divisions in the church where people don’t love each other, don’t like each other; they’re on multiple teams. That was starting to happen in this church. And so Paul makes a plea to the whole church, not just factions within the church, for the cause of unity.

So let me speak for a moment or two if I may about unity in the church. First let me tell you what unity is not. Unity is not just absolutely tolerance of all people, perspectives and views. My fear is that we have this perspective that unity means we sort of get rid of all of our convictions and all of our distinctives and everything that makes us uniquely Christian so that we can be close to everyone. And we do then elevate unity above the truth, and in so doing we are no longer operating as faithful Christians.

Unity does not mean open-handed tolerance of all things. Paul says a little later in 1 Corinthians, “If you don’t listen to me, I’m coming with a whip.” That’s a guy who’s wanting not just unity, but he’s wanting obedience and truth. This is like your dad, and that’s what he’s saying; it’s like the church is all being juvenile and childish, and he uses this language of a dad, saying, “Don’t just all get along, but obey me. Otherwise, I’m coming with a whip for discipline.”

We also see that Paul is not a very weak man who is afraid of confrontation and conflict. He in fact is a man who is well known for conflict. The reason he keeps getting beaten and people hate him throughout the Bible is he is a very strong, combative, confrontive, truth-telling kind of guy. We see this in Galatians. You may not like it, but what he tells these false teachers and heretics in the church is that they’re so into circumcision he wishes they would go all the way.  

And he is so bold that he also says elsewhere that when Peter, the leader of the disciples, was acting in a hypocritical manner because he would have these friends who were new Christians. And he would hang out with them and love them, but when his old Christian friends would show up, they didn’t really like his new Christian friends. So he would ignore his new Christian friends and he would pretend he didn’t know them so he could hang out with his old Christian friends.

And Paul said that was hypocrisy – that you’re not two people living a double life. And you’re two-faced; showing love to these people, and then ignoring them so that you can gain the favor of another crowd. And what Paul says is that, “I confronted Peter to his face.” So the first thing I wanna say is simply this: that unity does not mean that we tolerate sin, that we tolerate error, that we tolerate false teaching, that we tolerate immoral conduct. That is just simply not what unity means, and when most people in our nation hear “unity” they hear “Embrace everyone – all perspectives, all moralities, all lifestyles, all religions.” That’s not what Paul’s talking about.

He’s a man who fights for the truth, defends the truth, is not going to compromise his convictions about Jesus. And he is telling the church that they need to be unified, not in spite of the truth but around it. The second thing that unity does not mean, it does not mean uniformity. It doesn’t mean we all need to be the same. Have you ever been freaked out and walked into a church and all the guys were dressed the same, and all the gals were dressed the same, and all the kids were wearing the same clothes? That’s a cult. That’s freakish and weird, right? It doesn’t mean uniformity. It doesn’t mean that we all need to dress the same. That we all need to look the same and sound the same, and that we need to agree on how we do everything.

You go to some churches, and if there are parents there, “We all homeschool,” or, “We all go to this Christian school,” or whatever it is. There doesn’t need to be uniformity for there to be unity. What there needs to be is diversity that is gathered around principle unity. Let me explain it this way: the Bible gives us many principles, many principles. And then it allows us to have a certain freedom in the methods we use to implement those principles. So it says for example to worship God – that’s the principle. Method – well, there’s lot of different ways to arrange your music and your church service. It says that fathers, in Ephesians, should raise up their children – that’s the principle. The method – well, there’s different kinds of schools. There’s different books you can read to your children. There’s different curriculum you can send them through for school.

There’s different methods. Christians need to be unified on the principles, not necessarily the methods. The unity is not uniformity. You’ll see in 1 Corinthians 12-14 that Paul in fact argues for diversity as an expression of unity, not as a contradiction to unity. That if people love Jesus and were gathered around the same principles of Scripture and were doing in principle the same things, then our methods have the freedom of being different. This even comes down to the issue of marriage. There are principles for how the home is to be governed. Not every family needs to do everything. Not every marriage needs to organize itself in the exact same way. As long as families, as long as individuals, as long as parents are faithful to the principles of Scripture, then the methods allow them some freedom on how to organize their lives.

And so what Paul is arguing for in unity is not tolerance of all things, and also not such a narrow view that does not allow us to have some creativity and freedom. So he is trying to eradicate, I believe, just an open-handed tolerance, and also a narrow-handed intolerance. So let me tell you what unity. First, it is theological unity. We have a two-handed philosophy. We believe that there are things that go on the closed had that we will fight for – that is the authority of the Bible, the person and work of Jesus Christ, salvation through Jesus alone, forgiveness of sin at the cross alone, salvation by faith through grace because of Jesus Christ alone. We believe in Heaven.

We believe in hell. We believe God made us male and female. There are things that go in the closed hand. We’re not gonna change our mind on those. Some people come and say, “Well, are you open to new views?” Not on these things. Not on these things, but we also have a second hand, an open hand. These are things that we do acknowledge that there are faithful Christians who do love Jesus and believe their Bible that have a variety of reasonable opinions. And what we’re willing to do is we’re willing to die for these things, and we’re willing to discuss these things.

Over here is such things as speaking in tongues, when is Jesus coming back – also known as eschatology. Over here is ministry philosophy and styles of doing church. Over here in this hand are worship styles and music. There’s things that go in this hand. People come along, and they wanna argue about the finer points of doctrine. We say, “Well, that may be in this hand.” The big things are here. The secondary things are here. Primary things we unify on. Secondary matters are things that we will discuss, but not divide over. So first unity has to be about what we will and will not fight over theologically.

Secondly, what we mean here by unity is that it’s relational – that people love each other. And I know that it is hard coming to a Sunday service and seeing lots of people and wondering, “How in the world can I get connected?” People have meals together, pray for each other. When their baby is born they bring meals to the mom. When someone gets married they throw a party. When someone’s sick or in the hospital they do visits.

This is a small expression of the larger, greater church. This is where relationships are built, people get to know each other. If you are married this is where you bring your kids and they get to play together. And it has to be relational unity. We can’t just be an event that people pour in and out of. We have to be a family where we know and love each other, pray for one another and are serving one another and helping take care of one another. So unity for us is theological – what we will and will not fight over. It’s relational, where we’re breaking bread and being friends and taking good care of one another.

It’s also philosophical unity; the way we do things. That we embrace technology, that we embrace video, that we embrace current musical styles. That we’re not a church that is afraid of or hides from cultural advancement; that philosophically the way we do things, without having a massive Sunday School program, but pushing things out to community groups and homes during the week to scatter throughout the region. And then fourthly, what holds us together in addition to the theological unity, the relational unity, the philosophical unity – the fourth is the missional unity; that you agree that we’re here to love and serve on behalf of Jesus.

That our mission is to be as faithful to Jesus at all times and places, in our work, in our school, in our play. That our mission is to be a church that doesn’t dislike the place that God has called us but loves the place that God has called us. That God is a loving and good God. That God cares for people, and that God puts Christians in their path so that they can be loved and served. So that they can be prayed for and encouraged, their questions can be answered, and that they could come to know Jesus as well, and agreeing on that kind of mission.

And so Paul is appealing for unity among his people, and one of the scholars that I read in my commentaries says that what Paul is literally meaning here when he says “that there may be no division among you…that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” He said that a reasonable translation is simply this: that the whole church would say the same thing.  

I think that’s what Paul’s talking about. Rather than coming in and the reporter asking, “So what do you like about it?” “Well, I like the fact that we have this kind of music.” Or “I think that Mark is funny” or “He’s not funny.” Or, “I like this” or “I like that.” Or, you know, “This is my favorite department” or “This is my favorite member.” No – Jesus.

The Jesus of the Bible is really what we’re about. And if we had to summarize what we’re about in one word, that word should be, must be Jesus. That’s what we’re about. And so Paul is telling his church lots of people are asking about this new church, and the problem is you’re not all saying the same thing. You’re not saying Jesus. Everybody’s got their own crazy answer, and the answers are not congruent and people are getting confused. The answer must be Jesus; that’s what your about. So Paul’s first appeal is for unity.

His second appeal is for maturity, so if you’ll read with me in verses 11-12 he says this: “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household” – Chloe was probably an affluent, wealthy businesswoman; maybe a new Christian who was bankrolling a lot of the church. She perhaps is like this other woman Lydia, who has sort of the same kind of reputation in the book of Acts. Women figure very prominently in the ministry of Jesus and Paul – Godly women who are sound, solid business leaders like this woman probably is were able to travel. So they were very helpful in going with him to establish new churches and do ministry. They had disposable income, so they often would underwrite and fund his ministry. Just some very good, Godly, helpful, generous women – Chloe is likely one of those.

It says, “Some from Chloe’s household” – that may be her kids or her servants – “have informed me that there are quarrels among you.” So Paul’s in one city, and the church in Corinth is in another city, and there are reports coming to Paul saying that boy, the church is not doing good, right? Everybody’s fighting, and church is not good. People are chucking chairs and putting caps on each other, and it’s like a really bad East Coast-West Coast hip-hop vibe going on here at the church. And we really gotta straighten this out. “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.’”

Okay, let me explain this to you. What happened in that culture was they had orators and communicators and philosophers who would speak publicly, and they were known as the Sophists. And these were like their version of rock stars and celebrities and athletes and social commentators, and we still have these people today, right? On the right you’ve got Rush Limbaugh. You’ve got Sean Hannity. You’ve got Michael Medved. You’ve got James Dobson. You’ve got Pat Robertson, and then over on the left you’ve got Michael Moore, right? You have got Al Franken. Who else is over on the left?

But you get my point, that there are the left and the right, and that there are social commentators and they’re speaking to the daily issues and they’re giving their perspective. And they have lots of groupies and fans and people that are very loyal to them. And because of that, the teams fight; they don’t like each other, right? So liberals don’t like conservatives, conservatives don’t like liberals, and then in the middle there are like funny commentators.  

And this is – we all know these names because they’re celebrities. They represent teams, perspectives. Some of them are real serious and sort of furrowed brow. Some of them are real funny and entertaining, and they give you nice edutainment and cultural analysis. Well, the same thing was happening in that day. And so everybody had their team.  

You know, what happens is they get these teams and they fight. Everybody gets a jersey, and it’s like you’re rock stars. And the indie rockers don’t like all the teeny-bop pop fans and everything’s sorta – and they carried this sort of cultural arrogance into the church. And they said, “Well, Paul’s my guy”, or “Peter’s my guy, Cephas.” Or “No, Apollos is my guy.” And they broke off into teams in the church. So they’d show up with their jerseys on, you know. The Raider fans over here in their silver and black, and then the Hawks fans over here on this side, and the East Coast hip-hoppers, and the West Coast hip-hoppers. And the whole church is divided and fighting, and they need not be.

They need not be the team of Paul, the team of Apollos, the team of Peter. Because Paul and Peter and Apollos all love Jesus, all said the same thing. They all serve the same God. Apollos was a great preacher. Peter was the leader of the disciples. And also Paul was the one who had founded the church. There were good reasons to respect each of these men. And what happened was that the church had an elevated sense of human leadership, and they adored, appreciated, admired and almost worshiped their leaders too much. This still happens in Christianity, right? Some of you love John Calvin. Some of you love John Wesley. Some of you love whomever it might be.

Some of you have teams that you consider yourself to be on, theologically or philosophically insofar as how church should be done. And what happens is that certain Christians get elevated like rock stars, and it’s not good. It’s not good at all.  

So we need to be careful that we do respect spiritual leadership, that we do honor pastors and leaders and elders and deacons, that there is a respect for people who God has appointed to lead the church. But there shouldn’t be an over-emphasis on our leaders, and they should not be the final authority. And when someone comes and asks the question, “Why does your church work?” they should say the name of Jesus, not their pastor. And as well there was another team in this church – very, very sadly – that not only over-emphasized – see, the one team over-emphasized human leadership. The other just disrespected it altogether. And I guess these are the two extremes of Christianity.

This was the fourth team, Team Jesus, all right? Some said, “Oh, you like Apollos, you like Peter, you like Paul? I hang with Jesus, all right? I went varsity – me and Jesus.” And these are the super-spiritual folks that drive me nuts, right? You come in, “So have you ever gone to church?” “I don’t need to go to church. Me and Jesus – he’s my copilot – we’re like this. We hang out all the time.” “So who do you listen to?” “I listen to Jesus.” “Well, do you have anybody who speaks into your life?” “Don’t need to – Jesus talks to me. I have unlimited cell phone minutes. If he needs me he can get me, any time he likes.” “Is there anybody that you’ll respect their authority; they can help correct you?” “No, no, because I – me and Jesus. Me and Jesus, we’re super-fly tight, me and Jesus.”

It’s like, “Well, you’re supposed to have leaders and community and teachers and be accountable, and you need that to grow in your faith.” “Nah, me and Jesus.” Ah – you’re that kinda guy. Gotcha. All right. That team in that church was so arrogant they said, “We don’t care what Paul says. Who’s he?” Well, he’s the guy who founded the church, led you to Christ, baptized you, taught you for 18 months – should count for something. “Ah, who’s Peter?” Well, head of the disciples, trained by Jesus for three years; wrote a book – two books of the Bible. “Ah, but you know. Apollos? He’s a good preacher, good guy, good Bible scholar, but you know me. I don’t need a pastor, I don’t need a church.”

It’s amazing how few Christians have a pastor and have a church that they actually are connected to, involved in, and growing in. There is a growing number of people who profess to be Christians and just claim to be on Team Jesus. “I don’t need a church. Just me and Jesus, we hang.” These are people who have no respect for spiritual authority. They don’t have any real heart to show up and contribute to and benefit their church. They just tend to be people who are very – quite frankly – arrogant and proud. They’re so close to Jesus and they’re so much like him that they don’t need anybody else.

And this was the problem in that church – the hyper-spiritualists who didn’t want any spiritual leadership or pastors or deacons. And those who so took the rock star / celebrity / jock / athlete / social commentator sickness of their culture into their church that they loved their pastor more than Jesus. And they were willing to kill their church just so that their leader could be the one who was the little god ruling over the little kingdom. So let me say this about this issue of maturity and unity: first thing is that among faithful Bible-believing Christians there are differences, but not divisions. This is true in the church.  

And this is true between churches. I’ll give you some examples. We recently had a free training time, and over 100 pastors showed up from lots of different churches, denominations, backgrounds. And they all showed up and we trained them and fed them. We have differences, but not divisions. Those pastors all love Jesus. They believe the Bible. On the things that really matter we’re like-minded, we’re in agreement.

I hear people all the time say, “Well, Christians just disagree with each other. They can’t agree on anything.” Well, that’s not true. Christians actually have differences, not divisions. On the things that matter, faithful Christians agree. Walk up, “Who’s your God?” “Jesus.” “What book do you like?” “The Bible.” “What’s your problem?” “I’m a sinner.” Faithful Christians will give you the same answer. Now, on other things, secondary matters, there are differences, but not divisions. And sometimes what happens is some people will shove their differences to the degree that they make them divisions. Some of you speak in tongues, some of you don’t. Some of you believe in the Rapture, some of you don’t. Some of you like me, some of you don’t.

I understand; that’s cool. And there are differences – but they don’t need to be divisions. And this even happens between churches, where churches don’t have any sort of friendship because the differences have escalated unnecessarily into divisions.  

It just breaks my heart what Christians will say about one another. I understand when someone’s in sin, or I understand when they are teaching false doctrine.

But if it’s just differences and it doesn’t need to be a point of division, then God’s people need to be mature enough to say, “We have principles and methods. And we agree on principles, and we love the same God and we read the same book, and you just do things a little differently. But God forbid that we would declare war and pull our guns out over that.” That’s what Paul is arguing for in this church; in this church, that’s what he’s arguing for; that they can have differences without it being divisions. That they can agree on what is primary, and they can be generous and gracious on that which is secondary. And it doesn’t mean that they get rid of all truth and they tolerate all people and all positions and all behaviors, but that they also don’t become so narrowly focused – sort of like what we would now refer to as kind of a mean-spirited fundamentalism.

Whereby people who do love Jesus get shot for no apparent reason just because they’re a little different. So we as Christians – I need you to know this – we can have preferences, but they need not be prejudices. When it comes to let’s say worship music, you all have preferences. Other churches have preferences. Some people love singing out of a hymnal. Some people love an organ. I don’t – I just don’t. Like an organ seems a bit dated to me, to be honest with you. I don’t know a lot of people who have one, other than churches.  

And I also too I don’t like like three-chord happy-clappy acoustic guitar camp praise music, right? I don’t. I went to one church – I was preaching at a retreat – and they were doing, “Shine, Jesus, shine, fill the land” – and they had these hand motions and stuff. And I was like, “What the heck? I learned that Christian camp music is an acquired taste, right? Like you don’t just come out of the womb and just go there. You have to be led there. And they were singing this song, and the kids all had their eyes closed and their hands up – “Shine, Jesus, shine!” And I’m like, “Hm.”

So I asked one of the kids, I said, “How do you feel when you sing that song?” She said, “I feel so great! I feel like I’m focused on Jesus, and I love him, and I’m worshiping him. And I just feel connected to Jesus.” She said, “How do you feel?” Honestly, I feel like hurting someone. But that’s okay – that’s preference, right, not prejudice. And it’s okay to have preferences, okay? You may say, “I like electric.” “I like.” Whatever. “I like blues.” “I like rockabilly.” “I like punk.” “I like indie.” Okay, good. Principally the Bible says, “Sing to the Lord.” Okay, great; that’s the principle. Method? “Shine, Jesus, shine,” right? “Rock, Jesus, rock.” Whatever – it’s okay, it’s okay.

And what this can be is preferences. You like one thing, you don’t like another. Some of you like expository preaching where we go through books of the Bible. Some of you like more topical and thematic and theological. That’s okay. Some of you prefer to take classes and get intense teaching. Some of you prefer to be in community groups and to build deep relationships. That’s okay. That’s okay. Some of you are married, and you really have a heart to develop relationships with married couples and to build friendships. That’s great. Some of you have a preference to invest in singles and college students, and to bring them into your home and to encourage and to love them, and to be sort of like aunts and uncles who encourage those who don’t otherwise have family that is in proximity. We say, “Great!”

Preferences, not prejudices; it’s okay for a church to have diversity; it doesn’t need to have division. It’s okay if we agree on what the Bible says, and our styles and our forms and our methods have variety. And to me, this is very, very important. This also includes church size.  

Because at the end of the day it’s not about the style; it’s about the Savior. It’s not about the prejudice; it’s just preference. And we don’t need to divide; we could just have differences. We’ll be a multi-lane highway, lots of different lanes you can drive in. Different sizes and styles and methods, and that’s okay. If it’s obeying Scripture and going to Jesus, then we say that’s okay. Multiple lanes are a good thing, not a bad thing. That means more people can obey the Bible and make progress in their relationship toward Jesus.

Now, what this will require of you and what this directly does in relation to 1 Corinthians is this: that you will need to be mature. See, everything was fine at Corinth until Paul wasn’t in the room with them on Sunday, and then everything fell apart.  

Some of you will find mentors and friends that you really love and respect. Some of you will be working in various departments with various elders and deacons that are leading, and you will love them, be close to them. You will know them and you will be loyal to them, and we say, “That is wonderful, glorious and good.” Have preferences, not prejudices. Have differences, not divisions. And you could say, “Well, I love Pastor So-and-so.” Great, great – just don’t split the whole church over it, because all your pastors – like Cephas, Peter, or Apollos or Paul – all are working together, all serving the same Jesus, all on the same mission. We’re all united. There’s no division among us. There need be no division among the different people in their sites, styles, services, departments and such.

Verse 13 – Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions. Philosophically we call this a reductio ad absurdum. It means you assume your opponent in the argument is right, and then you logically tease out their argument to its conclusion, showing that it’s fallacious and wrong. It just doesn’t work.

So he says, first question, in verse 13: “Is Christ divided?” Does Jesus only love some people? You know what – Jesus loves Episcopalians, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Independent Bible Church, charismatics, non-charismatics, people with organs, contemporary music, churches that meet at night, churches that meet in the morning, churches that have services in English or Korean or Cambodian or Vietnamese. He’s asking, “Does Jesus only love a few kids in the family of God?” No. Jesus loves the whole church. Right? What we learned earlier in verses 1-9, all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ are the church.

So everybody that worships Jesus is the church, and Jesus loves the whole church. What happens is sometimes you would think that some churches own Jesus. They lost sight of the fact that they’re owned by Jesus; that all churches are owned by Jesus. And one church does not own Jesus – we don’t have any rights to Jesus. We don’t patent or copyright Jesus. He’s not our possession. Second thing he asked, “Was Paul crucified for you?” This is the issue of salvation. Paul says, “I don’t remember dying on a cross for your sins, so don’t write any songs to me and sing them in church.” Right? “Don’t put my name over the church and have me be the focus of attention.”

“In the center of the church, have a cross, but don’t have a big picture of me.” In some churches you would get the impression that people are gonna go to heaven because they’re connected to that pastor. Not because they’re connected to Jesus. A good pastor’s sole job is to point to Jesus. That’s a good pastor’s sole job – point to Jesus. You need Jesus. You need to love Jesus. You need to be loyal to Jesus. You need to confess your sins to Jesus. You need to pray to Jesus. You need to worship Jesus. You gotta run to Jesus. You need to die, and you’ll be forever with Jesus. A good pastor points to Jesus, not themselves. That’s a good pastor.

And Paul says, “I thought I was a good pastor. I was pointing everybody to Jesus, but now all you’re talking about is me in your Bible studies. You’re not talking about Jesus. You’re talking about me. Over meals with your friends and family, you’re not talking about Jesus. You’re talking about me. You’re saying how great it is that I’ve changed your life. I didn’t change your life. I pointed to Jesus. Jesus changed your life.” The point is that the pastor is not the most important person in the church – Jesus is.  

That’s what Paul’s saying. “I don’t remember atoning for the sins of the world. I don’t remember living a sinless life and dying as a substitute in your place and rising to forgive your sins. Was I crucified for you? No!” And his third question: “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Is your ultimate allegiance to me, or Jesus? This is so important. I want you guys to respect me, the pastors and the leaders in this church. I don’t want you to have too low a view of leadership, too high a view of leadership – the extremes that we see in the church in Corinth.  

He goes on then to explain this in verse 14. “I am thankful,” he says, “that I did not baptize any of you” – and he has a little senior moment here – “except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say they were baptized in my name.” What’s happening here is people are saying, “Paul baptized me. Who did you get baptized by? Oh, Deacon Dan? Whoopee. Paul wrote a bunch of books of the Bible. Paul’s a big deal. I got baptized by Paul.” They’re walking around with shirts: “I got baptized by Paul”, you know? The other guy’s got, “I got baptized by Dan and all I got was this crummy shirt.” So everybody’s frustrated over this.

It doesn’t matter who baptized you, because baptism associates you with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It’s about Jesus, not the person who is getting you wet. That’s not the big deal. That’s not the big deal. He goes on to say, “Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas.” Some would say that this includes children, so you can baptize children; it doesn’t infer that. It says in 16:15 that their whole family, whole household, also served God. I’m not gonna go down the baptism rabbit trail, but Jesus said to make disciples and then baptize those who are disciples, not baptize babies and that be the beginning of their discipleship process. That belief – repentance of sin, belief in Jesus is the beginning of discipleship. Baptism shows that you’re dead, buried, raised in Christ.

Some will argue that when you hear words like “household” or “family” being baptized they assume or infer that children – little children – were present. And I’ll tell you what, little children can love Jesus. I baptized one of my kids when he was like three because he was rock-solid with Jesus, and that is certainly possible. But a newborn infant like my son Gideon Joseph, who was born last week, is not ready to get baptized yet. He’s part of our household, and when he loves Jesus we’ll baptize him. Here, the whole family was baptized, and in 16:15 of the same book we see that the whole family served God – which probably means that they were at least of a certain age that they were capable of doing so.

Goes on – “I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anybody else.” What Paul says is this: it’s not about who your pastor is. It’s not about who serves you communion. It’s not about who teaches your Bible study. It’s not about who baptizes you. It’s about whether or not you love Jesus, you’re focused on Jesus, you’re following Jesus. If you have a passionate heart of devotion to Jesus, Paul says that’s what matters. And people get so sidetracked on everything. “Oh, I go into this communion line because this pastor serves me communion.” It doesn’t matter – we’re remembering the body of Jesus. Baptism – “Oh, so-and-so baptized me.” Well, great – but we’re remembering the burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Who does it is not as important as who is being honored in the act, that being Jesus. He then goes on in verse 17 with his great closing – and I love this. For any of you who aspire to preach and teach, this is the verse. Verse 17: “For Christ” – right, Jesus – “did not send me” – I’m on a mission from Jesus; he told me what to do. I understand where Paul is going. When God calls you into ministry he tells you what to do. Remember God speaking to me, telling me to plant this church and to preach the Bible and to train men and to marry the woman that I am now thankfully married to for 13 years. And when Christ tells you to do something, there’s a confidence that comes with you.

And everybody in the church is just saying, “Paul, we think you should do this, and we think you should do that, and we want this, and we want that.” And Paul says, “That doesn’t matter – here’s what matters. Here’s what matters.” “Christ did not send me to baptize” – right, I don’t want any more baptism notches in my belt. Not that I’m against baptism, Paul says, but that’s not our main priority. Our main priority is this: “to preach the Gospel.” Okay, let me talk about preaching. Preaching is getting hammered like never before that I have seen or heard of. People today are saying, “Well, we need to walk around the labyrinth and encounter Jesus. We need to meditate on the painting.”

Look, I like paintings – go for a walk or whatever. But you need to be yelled at every week by some guy who’s a little ticked, right? Otherwise you’re gonna end up being hard people because all you get is soft words, or no words at all. Hard words produce soft people. Soft words produce hard people. Preaching is supposed to take the Word of God, which is sharper than a double-edged sword, use it to penetrate your heart, to cut you open, to filet you, lay you bare, to expose your sins, to bring you to repentance, to reveal to you the majesty of Jesus Christ to enable him to be your greatest treasure and your heart’s deepest desire. And the means by which you have salvation relationship with God and membership in the family that is the church.

And preaching is under attack. There are young, hip pastors, emerging pastors, pastors that I think are too cool for Christ, who are saying, “Preaching is dead.” It’s only dead if you don’t have a firm love, devotion, passionate belief in the authority of Scripture and person of Jesus, because then you have nothing to say. And so preaching is dead for you. But if you’re a Bible-believing, Jesus-loving pastor or Christian leader, the teaching and preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is something that you never get tired of. I’ll be honest with you – every week I tell you about Jesus. Every week, because I believe – I’m whole-heartedly convinced based on the words of Jesus in John chapter 5 that the teaching of the Bible is not accurate unless the subject is Jesus Christ.

They come to Jesus and they want to argue about everything, and he says, “You search the Scriptures diligently, thinking that in them you will find eternal life. You forget to realize – that Bible is about me. That Bible is about me.” That’s what Jesus says. I just can’t believe that people would say preaching is dead. No, preaching is not dead. The Word of God is living and active – it’s not dead. Some say, “Well, preaching isn’t the best medium.” I understand that. Paul uses fools, like me, to say foolish things, like a virgin had a baby who died to forgive sin, to save fools like you so that we could all be fools for Christ and he would get the glory. That’s how it works.

We don’t want to be too hip, too cool for Christ. We just want to be faithful, you know, and I wanna say this publicly as well. I’m grateful that this church is a church that accepts and responds to preaching. I get to preach longer, harder, say crazier things than anybody I know. And I always get e-mails saying, “I wish I could say what you get to say!” You can. You must. You must preach. You must preach the truth of God’s Word. I had one guy – and I get this all the time – one guy call me recently and I talked to him. He said, “If I told my people that they were sinners and that they were wicked and that their only hope was Christ, they would fire me.”

I said, “Then get fired in Jesus’ name. Get fired today. Just tell them the truth.” Because again what we’re wanting is unity – I’ll tell you the best way to have unity. A bunch of people who are repentant and humble, that’s how you get unity. A bunch of people who say, “I’m a sinner. I’m humble. I’m willing to change.” Boy, you can have unity there. A bunch of proud people who are unrepentant – you’ll never have unity, because their agenda will be anything but the preaching of the person and the work of Jesus. It will be about them, their preferences, their divisions, their priorities, their distinctives, their agendas – not Jesus. The only way that a church maintains unity is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is continually preached.

The good news of Jesus – that he is God become a human being to reconcile human beings to God through his sinless life, his substitutionary death on the cross, his literal physical resurrection; the grace that he provides, the faith that he gives, so that we can trust in him. That’s why Jesus says, “If I be lifted up I’ll draw everyone to me.” Unity is around Jesus. It’s not around the church. It’s not around morality or politics or a mission or a cause. Unity is around Jesus. If Jesus is the center of the church, people come together around Jesus. That’s what causes what Paul is arguing for – unity and maturity. The people are together as they come around Jesus, and people are mature because they realize it’s about him – it’s not about them.

That he is the center and focal point of the Bible, and human history, and the church. So Paul says, “Lay down all your agendas. Lay down all your preferences.” The benchmark of what we do is, is it faithful to Scripture and is it fruitful for people? Not “is that what I want?” That doesn’t mean jack squat. That doesn’t mean anything. What matters is people meeting Jesus, and him changing their life. That’s all that matters. And so Paul is trying to dismiss all their arguments, and he’s trying to refocus them to their primary priority.

“Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel” – the good news about Jesus – “not with words of human wisdom” – not just by being fly and hip and cool and having a smoke machine and being able to just be the coolest cat on the block. Paul was a good preacher, but when he showed up in Corinth, I think he notched it down a bit. Because they were so into rhetoric, and they were so into their orders, and the Sophists and the philosophers, that they didn’t really care about substance; all they cared about was style. And Paul said, “I’m just gonna go with pure substance. I’m not gonna be hip, flashy or cool for you guys. I’m just gonna tell you about Jesus, because otherwise you’ll think that Christianity spreads because people are cool.”

What he says is this: “Lest the cross be emptied of its power.” What he’s saying is this: Christianity works because Jesus Christ is really God, who takes away sin. Really is the one who reconciles us to the Father. Really is God become a man to connect men and women to God. And he says at any point that we do anything other than talk about Jesus and his death on the cross to forgive our sins, we have emptied the cross of all of its power. That’s why Paul says in Romans 1, “I’m not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone and anyone who believes in Jesus.” See, and that is the beauty of it.  

Jesus on the cross, dying for our sins, forgiving us, reconciling us to God as Christians, reconciling us to one another as the church – that is the secret. And people roll their eyes and they say, “Well, everybody knows that.” Yeah, but not everybody believes it. That’s the difference. Do you believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is God who takes away sin? Again, everything was great until Paul was not in the room, physically present, preaching on Sunday. And then people sinned and picked their own leaders and got their own agendas and got off mission.

Lost sight of the cross, lost focus on Jesus, lost passion for others, and started to turn inward, narcissistically, only caring about themselves. And Paul is saying, “No, you all need to see Jesus, and you all need to see your city, and you all need to see the needs of others, not just yourself.”

And I believe that, and I trust that, and I’m begging you as a people to be people who are unified and mature, because the power is not in our preachers. The power is not in our teachers. The power is not in our systems, or the power is not in our music. The power is in the truth of the person and the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. And also, we know that the problem is sin. We know that the answer is Jesus. And Paul will continually go back to that. He opens the book talking about the cross. He ends the book talking about the resurrection. And the key to turning around a messed-up people is that they would get the Gospel right – the death, burial, resurrection of Jesus in my place for my sins.

Now, Paul couldn’t be there by video, but he could be there in a letter, so that was the media he used. Let me close with this: there are lots of different teams. They all come in here. The media comes in here. Everybody wants to know, “Mark, what’s your position on this?” Here’s my position on everything: our position on homosexuals is that they need Jesus. Our position on heterosexuals is that they need Jesus. Our position on married people is that they need Jesus. Our position on single people is that they need Jesus. Our position on fornicators is that they need Jesus. Our position on virgins is that they need Jesus. Our position on tall people is that they need Jesus. Our position on short people is that they need Jesus.

Our position on right-handed people is that they need Jesus. Our position on left-handed people is that they need Jesus. Our position on young people is that they need Jesus. Our position on old people is that they need Jesus. Our position on Chevy drivers is that they need Jesus. Our position on Ford drivers is that they need Jesus. Our position on Mac users is that they need Jesus. Our position on PC users is that they need Jesus. Our position on country-western fans is that they need Jesus. Our position on hip-hop fans is that they need Jesus. Our position on football fans is that they need Jesus. Our position on basketball fans is that they need Jesus. Our position on rich people is that they need Jesus. Our position on poor people is that they need Jesus.

Our position on educated people is that they need Jesus. Our position on uneducated people is that they need Jesus. And if we ever lose that, we’re a wicked church because some other team, some other team has taken priority over what we’re here to be and do. Amen?

Response: Amen.

Amen. Well, I love you. In a moment we’ll give you an opportunity to respond. Just go ahead and bow your heads.

Lord Jesus, I ask today that you would be the focal point, the center, the sum of our lives. Jesus, there are a lot of differences in this room, but I pray that there wouldn’t be any divisions. There’s a lot of preferences in this room, but I pray there wouldn’t be any prejudices. I pray that around those things that are central, we would be unified. Over those things that are secondary, that we would discuss and disagree and debate in love, as brothers and sisters in the family of God. I pray, Lord Jesus, that the center of our lives would not be some leader, some tradition, some writer, some theologian, some systematic – that it would be the living, risen, reigning, interceding Lord Jesus Christ.

I pray for us as a people, Lord God – that we would demonstrate Biblical unity and Biblical maturity; that it would come through repentance and humility with a focus on Jesus. We love you. We thank you for our church. We pray that it would be most effective in doing what you have called us to do, and this is lifting up the name of Jesus that he might draw people unto himself. We thank you that we get to do that as the church. Amen.


Unity among God’s people in the church is an expected byproduct of Jesus’ work on the Cross. The Corinthian church, however, was divided amongst themselves by arrogant and immature prejudices, forgetting that their church should be about Jesus and not their personal preferences.
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