Third Sunday after Epiphany – “Divisions” (1 Cor. 1:10-18)

A-19 Epiphany 3 (Mt 4.12-23)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon this morning is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

Imagine this scene: you’re sitting in a room full of people. One person is talking and everyone else is listening. After the speaker is done, there is applause. There is a sense of unity of the words just spoken. One thing that is missing is dissension. Everyone is in complete agreement of what was just spoken. Can you imagine this taking place? Do you know where this took place? Actually, this is fictional. This never took happened. The place where this happened is not a real place, but it should be. The place where this should take place is the Church. Unfortunately, this is not true.

Listen to Paul’s admonition to the Church at Corinth: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Paul spoke these words when he should not have needed to. Of all the places for there to be divisions, the Church is not one of them. Unfortunately for Paul though, almost all of the churches that Paul either visited or wrote to had divisions. Some had false teachings. Some had the teachings of Christ, but added or subtracted to them. Some had teachings that were Jesus plus something else. All this and more Paul had to deal with. It was doubtful that in a single church that Paul visited was there a church without some sort of division.

Paul’s concern to the Church at Corinth was one of love for the people. Paul had visited Corinth on several occasions, at least 3 times on his missionary journeys. This was one of his churches to which he was the pastor of. He founded the church in the midst of Corinth’s reputation: sexual immorality, religious diversity and corruption. Paul shows a concerned, loving approach to divisive errors. There was a division over who they should follow. Christian unity depends on faithfulness to Christ, not chasing one’s own agendas or ideas. Unfortunately, not all of the Church at the time of Paul focused on the teachings of Christ and what He did through His life, death, and resurrection; namely, living to die, in order to give to us forgiveness of sins. There were those, as Paul said, who followed Paul, Apollos, Cephas and Christ. The problem that the Corinthians faced was that they were following others rather than Christ and accepting teachings other than Christ’s teachings. By creating factions in the names of these men and in the name of Christ Himself they were actually undermining the work of Christ’s church.

Paul’s overarching concern was the division happening over following other’s teachings. It was something so divisive that it could split the Church at Corinth, and if left unchecked, it could split the entire Christian Church. So what choice did Paul have other than to address the issue at hand?

We all know the saying, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” That same saying applies to the Church as well. The message which Paul is giving to the Corinthians is one of unity, not of division. Under the heading of religion these people think there is room for doctrinal variety, as if the Lord allows two diverse understandings to be true at the same time! That may apply to the philosophy and human ethics of some, but not so with our Lord. He is a God of order. There is only one way that is God’s way. There is only one doctrine and that is what is found in the Word of God. We can try to make our own doctrine. We can try to make the Word of God say what we want it to say, but in the end it remains the Word of God. The Word of God doesn’t change. It has been the same Word of God for 2000 years and will continue to remain the Word of God long after us.

It’s understandable why Paul was taking such a vested interest in the goings of the Church at Corinth. Paul was the pastor of the Corinthians. They were still relatively young as far as the Church went. In their early days of formation, now they are coming apart at the seams. The people were not getting along with each other. They were dividing into competing groups, based on which apostle led them to faith and that determined who they would follow. There is unity in Christ; there was only disunity and division.

Paul could see that the future of that congregation, set within the turbulent environment of bustling Corinth, was threatened. Paul was not just offering some sound advice, but was calling upon the authority of Christ Himself to set things right. It was immaterial who baptized them; the overriding truth was that they had come into a new kingdom of love and grace, and this determined that they should live in peace and harmony with each other in the name of Jesus Christ.

When we look at the history of the Christian Church from Paul to present day, nothing has changed all that much. There are many and various Christian denominations. These are largely based on doctrinal issues, though not always. When one takes a hard look at the doctrinal issues, they all go back to the teaching of Christ and the teaching that is found in the Holy Scriptures. What is the sole source of doctrine in the Church? It is the Bible and the Bible alone. God’s Word is the pure fountain and source of God’s truth.

Whenever the Church deviates from the Bible, then that is when the Church will have trouble. The Church at Corinth began to face troubles because they began to deviate from the teaching of Christ. Paul sought to bring them back to what the Church is founded upon: Christ and the Gospel.

Why is it so important that you and all God’s people throughout time continually hear one and the same message from Jesus Christ? Only from Jesus Christ do we receive forgiveness of our sins, accomplished for us by His death on the cross and His triumphant resurrection from the dead. No other teaching can give to us what Christ has given. In the case of Corinth, the teachings of Paul, Apollos, or Cephas could prove to be devastating should those teachings be different than the teachings of Christ. The young Corinthian congregation could have been torn apart by conflicting teachings of doctrine that may or may not have been centered on Christ and His teachings. Unfortunately, that same concern is very much present today. How a church body interprets Scripture; how a church body views Christ; how a church body views teachings of man in relation to the teachings of Christ – all of this can lead to the devastating destruction of the Church of Christ.

The question for Paul and the question for all of us is this: “Is Christ divided?” Paul set out to make sure that the answer to that question was no. So it is today. We as the Church seek out to answer Paul’s question, that no, Christ is not divided; for Christ is still the head of the Church and His teaching still reigns as the only rule and norm of the Christian faith. The Church continues “to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Whenever Christ is not proclaimed, whenever Christ is diminished, then Christ means nothing. But when the Word is God is proclaimed and upheld, then it is the power to save.

For those who are resting securely in Christ’s forgiveness, given to us through His life, death and resurrection, given to us at our baptism, given to us through Word and Sacrament, Christ cannot be divided because it is Christ and Christ alone who saves. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.