Menu Close

“Christ the Center”

1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Bob DeGray
February 5, 2006

Key Sentence

Our unity is in Christ alone because our salvation is in Christ alone.


I. Our Unity is in Christ (1 Cor 1:10-12)
II. Because our Salvation is in Christ (1 Cor 1:13-17)


        As far as I can see, there have always been fashions in the body of Christ. What do I mean by fashions? Popular movements which have attracted the attention, or popular people who have attracted the allegiance of some believers and not others. This morning we’re going to look at one of the earliest examples of this, and there are many from church history, but I want to open by describing some current today.

        In America, fashions cling to success. Two of America’s most successful churches are Willow Creek and Saddleback. Both of these churches have created widely imitated ministry models. At Willow Creek, in South Barrington, Illinois, Bill Hybels model is called ‘seeker-driven’ and it contends that the Sunday morning church services, in particular, ought to be aimed at reaching those who are unchurched and unbelievers. It does so through an emphasis on entertainment, drama, and simple messages that challenge listeners to belief. The price of this emphasis, on Sunday morning at least, is the loss of compelling worship, deep study of Scripture and real challenges to growth and maturity. Those things are theoretically handled at the mid week service, and at Willow Creek all those pieces work together pretty well. But it has been widely imitated, and the sad thing is that many churches in the ‘Willow Creek Association’ have not made this model work; it’s a very difficult model to export, and a lot of damage has been done to churches that have tried to follow it. Nonetheless, it has become fashionable among American churches to describe themselves as ‘seeker sensitive’ or ‘seeker friendly’ or ‘seeker driven’. A church or a pastor or an individual might say ‘I am of Willow Creek’.

        Saddleback Church, in Orange County, California, is pastored by Rick Warren. His model for an effective church is called ‘The Purpose Driven Church’, and there is a lot of merit in his analysis of the purposes of the church: fellowship, discipleship, ministry, evangelism, and worship. The visibility of this model has been raised recently by the success of Warren’s best selling ‘The Purpose Driven Life’. Now Warren learned from Willow Creek, and there is some ‘seeker sensitivity’ in this model, but there is also a challenge to believers to grow and mature. Over 50,000 churches have adopted all or some part of the Purpose Driven model - including ours. But the problem tends to be that churches adopt Rick Warren’s methods, and imitate the details of the way Saddleback does things, without having Saddleback’s culture and the core values that actually make this work. One thing I find especially disturbing is that many pastors, even some I know personally, have taken to buying and using Rick Warren’s pre-packaged sermons and series, without even doing the Scripture study that lies behind preaching, and often without even personalizing the message to their situations or congregations. That’s one way of saying ‘I am of Saddleback’

        So this thing of the church following fashions bothers me, but it isn’t a new problem. As Paul begins to write 1st Corinthians, the problem that has captured his attention is just this: that the people are dividing themselves up by attaching themselves to the name of a church leader they consider superior and therefore, inside their church, they are losing the essential unity of the Gospel. And Paul is quick in this first chapter of the letter to counter that tendency by reminding them that their unity is found in Christ – because their salvation is found in Christ. Fashion can’t save you; personalities can’t save you; fads can’t save you: only Christ can save. So what we’re going to see in this text is the very simple and central truth that our unity is found in Christ alone because our salvation is found in Christ alone.

I. Our Unity is in Christ (1 Cor 1:10-12)

        Let’s begin with Paul’s heartfelt plea for unity, 1 Corinthians 1:10-12, I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 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. 11My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."

        Paul does not begin with the problem of divisions but with a positive exhortation to maintain Christian unity. He ‘appeals’ - the word is both positive and challenging, and has been translated many way, so that an extremely amplified version might say I ‘appeal, beg, beseech, encourage, entreat, exhort, implore, plead, request, and urge’ you. He also calls these Corinthians ‘brothers’ or ‘brothers and sisters’, which was an affirming and intimate form of address in the Greek world. And his appeal is that ‘all of you agree with one another’, literally ‘all speak the same thing’. He’s not actually saying they all have to agree on every subject, but that they not allow the things they disagree on to divide them into parties, factions and fashions so that some are continually shouting one thing and some another. His goal, as we’ll see, is that they all shout the same thing - the name of Christ.

        Paul’s desire in exhorting this unified focus is that ‘there be no divisions among you’. The Greek word here is ‘schismata’ from which we get the word ‘skizem’ or ‘shizem’ or ‘sizem’ - all three pronunciations are acceptable. But this is one of those times when the current English word does not mean exactly what the historical Greek word meant. In Greek it did not mean two groups that came completely apart, but rather a certain amount of division or disunity within one group. It’s like a clay pot that has a pattern of cracks in it but has not yet broken. In this context it’s talking about fashions or at worst factions, but not yet out and out splits. A good illustration of that usage is in the Gospel of John, where various groups are said to have divided opinions about Jesus, meaning they were arguing with one another as to his significance. Thus Paul does not refer to distinctly formed groups of ‘parties’ here, but to divided opinions over their various leaders - fashions in following.

        His desire, then, is that they be perfectly united in mind and thought, or in their thinking and their judgement. ‘Perfectly united’ translates a verb used of restoring anything to its right condition. The most picturesque New Testament use is of mending nets in Matthew 4:21. Paul is saying ‘let the net of your relationships be whole.’ Or, as one commentator, Robert Deffinbuagh says ‘If we were speaking in musical terms, Paul is not calling for the church to sing in unison—everyone singing the same note at the same time—but rather he is urging the entire church to sing the same song, in harmony. This is what Christian unity is about.’ Later in this letter Paul will picture the church as a body with many parts, each part having a different function, but united in Christ and by the Spirit.

        So Paul’s call to unity in verse 10 sets the standard. Unfortunately, the Corinthian saints were not living up to the standard. There were quarrels and divisions in the church, which Paul had heard about from ‘those of Chloe’, that is people from Chloe’s household. It’s impossible to know whether Chloe was a Corinthian who had sent messengers to Paul, or an Ephesian family with unusually good ties to Corinth. But whoever they are, they have brought Paul a convincing report of quarrels and disputes among the Corinthian believers. These disagreements are due to different allegiances or fashions within the church, each focused on a particular person or leader with whom certain members have identified. Each of the personalities — Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ — is viewed as the one leader an individual member has chosen to follow.

        And yet, at this stage in the growth of the problem, none of the leaders is seen as responsible for the problem or thought of as encouraging any to follow them and not Christ. The problem as introduced here is a “follower problem” rather than a “leader problem,” in that the followers are at fault, having developed an ungodly devotion to godly men. We should bear in mind that the problem here is just being introduced in its early and undeveloped form. As time passes and as Paul’s interaction with the church continues, the problem will more fully develop and manifest itself through local leaders, and Paul will begin to address them directly.

        Finally, we can discern that the root problem underlying the Corinthian quarrels and factions is pride. In chapter 4 Paul will explicitly say that the Corinthians have been taking “pride in one man over against another.” This same pride is evident in our text. “Each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ’” The first three examples take pride in the leader they have chosen to follow. The last takes pride in thinking he or she is following Christ. But each is proud in feeling superior to the rest of those referred to in Paul’s example. In fact, in some ways the group with the greatest arrogance may have been the fourth group. Those who think of themselves as being “of Christ” also think of the rest as not being “of Christ.” It is true that we all should be followers of Christ. But we should not put ourselves above others in doing so.

        So the problem in Corinth is one of internal division into factions or fashions, and a hurtful sense of pride that goes along with that. And since the time of Paul such divisions, sadly, have never ceased in the church and in individual churches. It’s clear that there is one such potential division here at Trinity. Because we’re a family oriented church, and because we’re open to home schooling, a lot of home schoolers have come here - and that’s a great thing. But for many years there has been a tension in which some could be interpreted as saying ‘I am of home schooling’ or ‘I am of Christian schooling’ or ‘I am of public schooling’. And just as Paul and Peter and Apollos were all good teachers and worthy models, each with different emphases or strengths, so too public school and home school and Christian school have different strengths or emphases and one is not necessarily better than another, except for particular parents and students at particular times. And yet these fashions can be the cause of pride and of hurt - that has happened at times here and I’m always saddened by it. I’m convinced that Paul’s teaching in this text - to find our unity in Christ alone because our salvation is in Christ alone - is a tremendous response; the perfect appropriate response to such issues of faction and fashion.

II. Because our Salvation is in Christ (1 Cor 1:13-17)

        Let’s read the next verses and see how Paul focuses us on our salvation in Christ. 1 Cor. 1:13-17 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16(Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

        Is Christ divided? With a stroke of the pen Paul takes us to the core question: is salvation about the work of men or about the work of Jesus Christ? Is our unity found in the pursuits of men or the sacrifice of Christ? Is our enthusiasm to be focused on the achievements of men or on the victory of Christ? Is what unites us our opinion on this subject or that, or is the real ground of our unity our redemption in Christ?

        Is Christ divided? Paul is probably asking ‘when you go off into fashions, does Christ get divided into pieces so that he is contending with himself?’ Again, is the work of Christ so insignificant that he can really be given second place to men or men’s programs in our allegiance? I don’t think so. C.S. Lewis wrote about this in ‘The Screwtape Letters’ in which the senior tempter encouraged the junior tempter, saying “The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And.” You know – Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian coloring.”

        The examples Lewis uses may be dated, but the dangers of “Christianity And” are real. “Christianity and Home Schooling”, “Christianity and Politics”, “Christianity and the Intelligent Design Movement.” All of these causes are good, and have laudable objectives, but what unites us is mere Christianity, merely and sufficiently, Christ.

        So, allegiance to Christ or allegiance to men and their causes? All four of the groups mentioned by Paul in verse 12 were man-centered. The fourth group was a little more subtle about it, but all of these individuals took pride in themselves, based upon their perceived allegiance. Paul wants to make the point clear and unmistakable: Our salvation is totally about Christ’s work. Those who are man-centered need to be reminded of the gospel of their salvation, and of the inimitable work of Christ. As we emphasize in our church’s mission statement and in the wheel diagram by which we illustrate it, Christ is at the center of our vision.

        So Paul says that it was not Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or any other mere man who died on the cross of Calvary; it was Christ whose shed blood cleansed us from all sin. The Gospel is not good news about Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or Bill Hybels or Rick Warren or John Macarthur or Chuck Swindoll. The Gospel is good news about Jesus, about the work of Christ for our salvation. Later in this letter Paul will say to these Corinthians: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, as you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” That’s the Good News in a nutshell, and that’s what we remember and celebrate on a communion Sunday like this - that Christ died on the cross for our sins, that he was truly dead, buried in a grave, but that death could not keep him and by God’s power he rose to eternal life, victorious over sin, victorious over sin’s penalty.

        Was Paul crucified for you? No. Was Apollos? No. Sinful men cannot die for the sins of others - they have to die for their own sins. But Jesus, when he went to that cross, went as the perfect, sinless God-man, the only man ever to have lived without sinning. All of us, you and me, we sin; we fail to keep God’s commands, we fail to remain pure, we hurt and we hate and we are incurably self centered and prideful, so much so that we even try to make being self-centered a virtue, rather than the rebellion against our creator that it really is. But Jesus never sinned, never defied God his father, never hated or hurt those he had come to love and save. Hebrews tells us he was tempted in everything just as we are, yet without sin. So when he was nailed to that cross, he was able to do something no one else could do - he was able to pay the price of someone else’s sin.


        And because he was God the value of his life was infinite - he was able to pay for all the sins of those who would trust in him in that one awful sacrifice, in his separation from the Father and his acceptance of our punishment, God’s justice, the cup of God’s wrath. So when Paul asks ‘was Paul crucified for you’ he’s forcing these Corinthians to recognize the incredible value of salvation in Christ and the utter worthlessness of depending on anything man-centered for salvation.

        Baptism, which Paul talks about in verses 13 through 16, testifies to this fact. All of the Corinthian saints were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. They were not baptized in the name of any man. This is because salvation is through Christ alone, and not through mere men, even apostles. So Paul is thankful that he himself, like Christ whom he followed, didn’t make baptism his own personal priority. He did at times baptize, especially the first believers in any city, but after that he left it to others. He says that in Corinth he only baptized Crispus, who was the synagogue ruler who trusted Christ, and Gaius, apparently a Gentile Corinthian, from whose home Paul appears to have later written the letter to the Romans. In a very natural occurrence for a dictated letter he starts to go on and then parenthetically mentions that he also remembers baptizing the household of Stephanus, whose family were the first converts in Corinth. And he admits that he doesn’t remember whether he baptized anyone else, but in any event it wasn’t many.

        It appears that as time went on in Corinth, some, at least, took pride in the person who had baptized them. Some people appear to have looked down on others who were not baptized by as great a celebrity as their baptizer. Paul lets the air out of the tires of these proud name droppers by telling them that baptism is not a celebrity affair, and compared to the preaching of the gospel, baptizing is a lower priority. Do they take pride in the one who baptizes them? Paul is glad he hasn’t made baptizing a priority - he’s made the good news of Christ, his cross and his sacrifice the highest priority.

        It is thus evident that Paul viewed the preaching of the gospel as having more significance than baptizing new converts. It can hardly be overlooked that Paul saw salvation as something independent of baptism. Baptism is important. It is the believer’s public identification with Jesus Christ, and Paul did not skip baptism. But baptism is not viewed as the means of one’s salvation; rather it is an outward manifestation of salvation. If Paul thought baptism was the means of salvation, he would have made it a much higher priority than he did. People are saved by believing the gospel, and it was Paul’s priority to preach it. Here at Trinity we try to have the same priorities. Salvation through faith in Christ is at the core of what we believe and preach, and I’m here to tell you that if you take hold of this Gospel, believing that Christ died for your sins and paid your penalty, you are saved. And saved people should be baptized - it affirms the truth of salvation and pictures it. Here at Trinity we tend to have baptism services during the warm months. We’ve already started talking about one for the spring, and if you haven’t been baptized we encourage it.

        But it is not the baptism that saves - it is Jesus Christ who saves you by his death on the cross. All of which leads to Paul’s brief summary in verse 17: 17For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. This verse both summarizes and looks forward. It solidifies the relative importance of baptism and the Gospel and makes it perfectly clear that the Gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection is far more important than the act of baptism. Christ saves through the Gospel, and in fact it is the Gospel that is witnessed to by the symbolism of baptism. But Paul also divorces the Gospel from human wisdom and eloquence. He’s about to launch into an extended discussion of the wisdom of God as contrasted to the foolishness of men. And so he says very starkly that to preach from human wisdom is to rob the cross of it’s power. The Greeks admired rhetoric and philosophy, but eloquence in these things would serve to do exactly what Paul didn’t want to do: it would draw people to the preacher and not to what he is about to call ‘the foolishness of the cross’. People have to be confronted by that foolishness - they have to recognize that God’s way of salvation is radically different and more powerful than any scheme men can come up with. The faithful preaching of the cross leads people to put their trust, not in any human device, but in what God has done in Christ.

        And so Paul ends this section with the graphic image of a cross ‘emptied of its power’. The cross represents the power of Christ in saving people, power that could walk through suffering, death, and sin-bearing out of love for those he rescues. When we focus our attention, or cause others to focus their attention on anything other than the cross of Christ, we empty the cross of its power because we imply by our priorities that there is something other than Christ that is as important or more important to the theory or practice of our faith. Heaven forbid that we should rob the cross of it’s power by giving people any other priority, any other preoccupation than the Christ of the cross. Our unity is in Christ alone because our salvation is in Christ alone. There is no other who can save than Christ; there is no other place of salvation than the cross; all believers come together at the food of the cross. Let’s focus our hearts on the cross as we remember Christ in his sacrifice.