Acts 18:23-21:26; 1 Corinthians 1-6
Lecture: Acts 18:23-21:26; 1 Corinthians1-6
We’re just a little over half way through and we’re going to be looking at the third missionary journey and specifically the first five chapters of 1 Corinthians today. This is a general outline of 1 Corinthians; it may help you keep your place in where we are.
Paul’s Third Missionary Journey
We are on Paul’s third missionary journey picking up in Acts 18:23. As you can see, Luke wasn’t much concerned to provide a transition for us. Paul got back from the second missionary journey and took off right away on his third. What Paul is doing on this missionary journey is he’s taking out west to go to modern day Turkey; he travels through the areas of Galatia and Phrygia; he’s going through strengthening the disciples and encouraging them in their walk. He’s headed pretty much due west toward Ephesus which is on the southwest corner of Asia Minor in modern day Turkey.
Ephesus (Acts 18:23-19:41)
Apollos (Acts 18:23-29)
Luke jumps ahead and tells us quickly the story of Apollos at Ephesus. Apollos was a man who probably was a Jewish pilgrim, who probably had traveled to Jerusalem before Jesus came on the scene, while John the Baptist was preaching. All Apollos knew was John the Baptist. He didn’t know the actually story of Jesus. He was out preaching about Jesus only having known the stories that John the Baptist had told them. It was interesting. Priscilla and Aquila, who Paul left in Ephesus in his previous journey, took him aside and explained the fuller Gospel to him. Right away Apollos takes off to Achaia, probably Corinth since it’s the only major city in that area, and he was preaching “that Christ was Jesus.” Even in a new convert’s life you see the kerygma, the essential preaching of the early church and that was, “who is Jesus.” He’s the Messiah; he’s the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies.
That story ends and in verse 29 of chapter 18 when Paul finally arrives at Ephesus. Now remember, Ephesus is the major city of Asia Minor. This is a huge city, pretty close to the water and it would have had a lot of trade; it was very rich; it was the Roman capital in the area. This is again another major city. Paul decides to stay here for quite some time to have a ministry there.
Disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-7)
In Acts 19:1-7, we read the story about these twelve disciples of John the Baptist, who are probably again, people like Apollos—people who had heard the preaching of John the Baptist. Jews regularly made pilgrimage to Jerusalem, at least Israel, at least once a year. There would have been a lot of impact of John the Baptist’s preaching on these Jews who came from other areas for these pilgrimage times, but again, they had not heard about the Holy Spirit. Paul says in verse 2, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” He said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” These people were not Christians, that’s the important point in this story. They had heard the message of John the Baptist, but they hadn’t heard about Jesus so they couldn’t have been Christians. That’s an important point because after they become Christians and Paul lays hands on them, then the Holy Spirit comes upon them and they speak in tongues and prophesy. This is the last incident in Acts where you have this praying in tongues business happen. Again it was the final affirmation that God gives his Spirit to all people—Jew, Gentile, and Athenians. You have this story. Some people will tell you that these people are Christians, but just haven’t received the Spirit. I just don’t think that’s possible because they didn’t know who the Holy Spirit was. How can you be a Christian without the Holy Spirit? Paul says you can’t. They definitely weren’t Christians.
Paul’s Ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:8-20)
Then starting at verse 8, Paul realizes this is where he wants to stay for a while, and he launches into a ministry that actually goes two years and three months. It’s the longest time that we know that Paul stayed in any one location preaching. Well, there are the fourteen years that he went away after his conversion, but in terms of where we know he was, where he was in his evangelism, he stayed longer in Ephesus than anywhere else. He spent the first three months preaching to the Jews. They eventually rejected him and so he continued to preach to Jews and Gentiles alike. Verse 10 says, "This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks." Paul was using Ephesus as a central area and the message of the Gospel went out. Probably he traveled; I can’t believe he would just stay in Ephesus for two years so he most likely traveled in and out. You have a story starting in verse 11 of some itinerate Jewish exorcists, guys who went around from place to place casting out demons and they got in trouble for trying to use Paul’s and Jesus’s names.
Writing of 1 Corinthians in Ephesus
It is sometime during this two and half or so years in Ephesus that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. In terms of where you want to put 1 Corinthians, it belongs sometime during this time span. We don’t know when exactly, but he knows he’s headed that direction. He planted the church in his second missionary journey and so now he is writing a letter because there are all kinds of problems in Corinth and so he’s writing to them while he is in Ephesus knowing that he is going to be headed there eventually.
Riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:21-41)
In Acts 19:21 you have this final story of the riot. Paul was getting ready to leave and sent some of his co-workers on ahead. Then this fellow named Demetrius, he’s a silversmith, was realizing that the effect of Paul’s preaching is that people were turning away from idols to the true and living God and that was affecting him at two different levels. It was affecting him at the level of wealth because he sold these silver idols of Artemis for a lot of money, and there may have been some city pride in all of this that the great goddess of Ephesus, Artemis, was being ignored because of this fellow Paul. For a combination of reasons, there was this huge riot. One of the most phenomenal things to do when you go to Ephesus is to go to the stadium, it’s very much intact, and you can actually stand where for two years these people shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians,” and it’s a pretty powerful thing.
I mentioned this one other time, some of these archeological sites they have rebuilt so you don’t know if they got it right or not. You don’t know if the rebuilding is real. I think it’s the Swiss that are doing Ephesus, I’m not sure, but whoever they are, they are not changing anything. If you see it, Paul saw it. They are not rebuilding stuff, they are not moving stuff around so when you walk on the stones you know that Paul walked on the stones and when you see the stuff in the hills you know that’s what Paul saw. It’s the best archeological place I know of to go. The amphitheater is quite an amazing place to stand and watch. There was this huge riot and finally Paul takes off. What he’s doing is now he’s going back towards Jerusalem. He starts in Antioch and he goes through southern Galatia and Phrygia that area, goes up to Troas, goes north and he’s going to swing around and end up in Corinth. When he’s done in Corinth he retraces his steps, he goes on boats more than he did before and ends up back in Jerusalem.
Travel toward Jerusalem (Acts 20:1-21:14)
Paul leaves Ephesus and travels towards Jerusalem rather quickly. There are not a lot of details being told. He goes up through Macedonia, he’s going south, and he’s encouraging the churches. We know from 2 Corinthians that what he also was doing was collecting an offering for the church in Judea. There had been a famine in Judea, the Jerusalem church, the Jewish church was very poor and in need of help and so Paul was collecting an offering from the Gentile churches to take back to the Jewish church. I’m sure part of it was to alleviate the problems and I’m sure part of it, and we’ll look at this next week, was political—he was trying to illustrate to the Jewish church that they were all the church and the Gentile Christians were part of the church just like the Jewish Christians were. He’s collecting money from the Gentile churches to take back to the Judean area.
Writing of 2 Corinthians in Macedonia
As he’s traveling somewhere through Macedonia headed toward Corinth, he writes 2 Corinthians. He’s got communication going on all the time; he’s not just sitting in Ephesus. His team’s out working getting information and bringing it back. Even when he’s traveling he has sent people on ahead. What he found was that the 1 Corinthians didn’t solve the problem. We know he actually wrote another letter between what we call 1 and 2 Corinthians and it helped a little more, but there are still problems, so Paul writes what we call 2 Corinthians, and he’s headed down towards Corinth when he writes this.
Writing of Romans in Corinth
Eventually he gets to Greece, probably Corinth, and he stays at Corinth for three months. Again after what we call 2 Corinthians was received, the Corinthian church was somewhat repentant and so he’s going to stay there. Then Paul’s doing something else when he’s in Corinth: He writes the letter that we call Romans. Because Paul always planned to have a fourth missionary journey, what he wanted to do was shift his base of operations to Rome, because he really wanted to go to Spain. You remember Paul’s mantra—he wanted to preach where no one else had preached. He didn’t want to do any follow up; he wanted to do the evangelism, that was Paul’s way of doing things. He wanted to shift his center of operation away from Antioch to Rome because he wanted to go to Spain. While he’s in Corinth, I think it’s through the winter, he writes the letter to the Roman church. 1 Corinthians in Ephesus, 2 Corinthians when he’s in Macedonia on his way to Corinth and then Romans when he’s sitting at Corinth. We’ll obviously come back and spend quite a few weeks on those books.
Return to Jerusalem (Acts 20:3b-6)
After 3 months in Corinth he goes back to Jerusalem and he retraces his steps. He goes to Philippi and Troas, and then one of the interesting stories is that as he goes back down, he doesn’t want to stop in Ephesus. Maybe he’s thinking, “Okay, you’ve already had more of my time than I want to give. I’m not going to spend a lot more time in Ephesus.”
What he does instead is he goes to Miletus. Most ancient cities were built back from the ocean a little way. Ephesus is about two miles back from the ocean. That was because of pirates, diseases, and all the different stuff that happens when you’re on the water. Most major cities have a port city where the ships actually come in, and Miletus is the port city for Ephesus. Paul bypasses Ephesus and he goes to Miletus. All the Ephesian elders come down and there’s something I want to read to you because it’s very important. They come down and Paul preaches to them and in Acts 20:28, in the middle of this discussion, he says to the Ephesian elders, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock,” do your job in other words, you’re elders, act like it, “in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,” that’s a tantalizing phrase and when we talk about leadership we’re going to come back to that because our tendency is for us to make elders, but evidently God makes elders, “to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock (29); and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them (30).”
Can you imagine how that felt? Imagine the church planning, the pastor—the senior pastor who started the church leaves and he comes back and he tells the elders in the church, “By the way, you’re going to fail miserably and fierce wolves are going to come in and some of you are even going to go bad and start teaching twisted things,” Imagine how they felt. We know from the books of 1 Timothy and Titus and a little bit of 2 Timothy that that’s exactly what happened because Timothy was back in Ephesus dealing with the mess that the Ephesian church elders had allowed to happen. Paul makes a prophecy here about the historical context of what happens in the Pastoral Epistles.
He does this and then he takes off to Jerusalem. He’s being warned all the while that he goes that he is going to be imprisoned, that hardships await him, and Paul says, “Here I come.” Evidently he ends up back in Jerusalem. Now we’re going to stop in Acts because I need to cover 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and Romans, since they all fit in to Paul’s third missionary journey. We’re going to spend about four or five weeks dealing with those books, then we’ll pick back up with the story of Acts and his trials and the rest.
I spend quite a bit of time talking about leadership issues when I talk about the Pastorals. I really wish Paul had left us a clear message on how you appoint elders—wouldn’t that be nice to know? In the Bible, Paul appoints them, then when Paul’s not here anymore and he says God appoints them. I wish he had left a little more substance to that. It would help us know how we are to do things, but he just teases us, but we’ll come back to it when we talk about the Pastorals.
What I want to do this time is introduce 1 Corinthians. We only have time to look at the first 5 chapters. Next week we’ll look at the rest of 1 Corinthians and some of the highlights of 2 Corinthians.
In terms of commentaries, there are actually a lot of good commentaries on 1 Corinthians. I can’t quite figure out why on some books of the Bible the commentaries are so weak and on others there are tons of good ones, but there are two very good ones on 1 Corinthians. The one by Gordon Fee is a little more technical with all the Greek in the footnotes, but this is the one you go to if you want lots of detailed information. The one by Craig Blomberg is a very good commentary, more along a lay level, but they are both very good commentaries. There are others, but those are the two I go to the most.
Let me give you some information on the historical setting of Corinth for this letter. In terms of timeline, we are at 55-56 AD. If you’re wondering why in biblical dates we usually give two years, it’s because our calendar starts on January 1 and the Jewish calendar calendar started somewhere in the summer I think. 55-56 AD is when this was written, near the end of Paul’s stay in Ephesus in Acts 18.
Corinth again, like Ephesus, was a very large city. It was on the place where you could portage so you wouldn’t have to sail all the way around the Peloponnesus. It was a sinful city, I guess you could say any large city has its districts right, but I think all of Corinth had its districts. It was a highly commercialized city. There is a very large temple there and there is a tremendous amount of temple prostitution.
There’s not a lot of excavation that has happened at Corinth. The pictures of Corinth are not especially fascinating. It’s in a neighborhood. There’s a huge mountain behind it and a couple of the pillars of the temple are still there. If you’re ever able to go there, try to get into the museum. Usually there’s an onsite museum and they keep the best stuff. The other junk they sell to other museums around the world. If you go, they kept all of one thing. When they started excavating the temple they found all kinds of porcelain body parts—ears and noses and lots of other body parts. What they figured out is that part of the worship was that they would go and if their ear was ailing them they would buy one of these ears and they would put it in the temple. It was part of the worship service. From the amount of excavations, a lot of people that went there had problems with infertility.
It’s interesting—where do we hear about the church being the body of Christ with various parts? Later in 1 Corinthians, Paul picks up a lot of local culture that we often miss. What I like to see on these old places are the facts that all these temples are destroyed. It’s just a good lesson because they exerted such a phenomenal attack on the church and yet there they lay in ruins. There’s something pretty cool about that. It was a big city, but not a really nice place to live I don’t think. By the way, you know the meat offered to idols passage in 1 Corinthians 8? What you see in Corinth is they have a cooling system that’s still there. They ran water through gutters and it was over the gutters that the meat hung. It was a cooling process to keep the meat from spoiling quite so quickly and you can still see those gutters.
1 Corinthians breaks into two halves. Someone from Chloe’s family, whoever that is, had reported to Paul about all the mess that was going on in the Corinthian church. In the first 6 chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul is responding to all the things that Chloe had told him. The second half is from chapter 7 to 16, and evidently the Corinthians sent him a letter because he says, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote (1)” and he starts answering all the specific questions that the church had for him. That’s in general how the books splits in half: first, what Chloe has told him, and then, what they specifically asked.
Divisions in the Church (1 Cor. 1:10-4:21)
Paul starts this letter as he often begins letters with his normal greeting and his thanksgiving. Then in 1:10 through chapter 4, Paul addresses what appears to be the main issue in the Corinthian church—at least as far as Chloe’s family is concerned, and that is divisions in the church. The church had split along different lines and it was creating havoc in the church. I know that in this day in age, it is hard to imagine a church being divided (sarcasm).
What was the problem? On one hand what appears to have happened is that the Corinthian church moved away from proclaiming the cross, from the central focus in evangelism on the cross, Jesus Christ having died on the cross and what that entails. What had happened is that they had moved away from their focus. Stated another way, what had happened is that the church had divided itself based around personalities. In verses 10-12, Paul says, “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 (10). For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers (11). What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’” or the really religious one says, “‘I follow Christ (12).’” What had happened instead of maintaining a focus on the essentials of the Gospel was that they had started this split based on personality cults where they had divided themselves based on these different people in the church.
Now there’s something else going on in the background, and especially if you do much reading on the rest of chapter 1 about wisdom. The other piece of background is that there were a group of people called sophists in the ancient day. What sophists did they would go from city to city, and everything happened in the market place—a place called a bema—which is where the judges would sit and that’s where all the legal discussion happened. These sophists would come for the purpose of arguing. They were eloquent. They were good with words, but the important thing about these people is that there was no substance to what they said. In other words, it was the ancient version of the victory of form over substance. Have you ever been to Hyde’s corner in London? Hyde’s corner is a place in a park in London, and they have modern day sophists. I have heard people argue about the silliest things, they’ll just pick a topic and they’ll get into these ferocious arguments with people. The trick is to be a better user of words than the other person. There’s nothing to what they’re saying—they’ll argue about why the grasshopper is a better insect than a slug. There’s no substance to what they’re saying. I don’t watch much of Monty Python, but it is a bit like that. That’s the stuff that was happening in Corinth. These sophists would travel. This is why it’s important, look at verse 17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Should we not speak eloquently? No, Paul’s reflecting the sophists and he’s saying, “I’m not one of them; I’m not like the people who are going to say ‘this is wisdom, this is what is right,’ and argue, but not have content to the arguing.” That’s a little complicated, but that’s behind the whole first part of 1 Corinthians, that these people who love to argue with fancy words, but no substance, are in Corinth. So that’s in the background, you’ll see how it comes up.
Lack of Focus on Jesus
The first problem was the church had moved away from preaching of the cross. They had divided around popular people and so Paul has to address this issue first and foremost. What’s his answer? He does a couple of things in these chapters. The first is that Paul’s goal is unity and it’s a unity that is centered around the preaching of the cross. You see the call to unity in verse 10 that I read earlier, but you can see it also in the beginning of chapter 2. This is a great passage, “I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom (1).” Now that doesn’t mean he didn’t use words well, but he’s saying I’m not a sophist, that’s not what I did. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (2). I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling (3),” see he’s trying to distance himself from these traveling sophists, rhetoricians, “and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom (4),” in other words, I wasn’t convincing by rational logic anyone of the truth of the Gospel that’s not what I was about, but I was convincing them “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (5).”
One of the interesting questions that comes out of this is, can you argue anyone into Heaven? The answer is no. The wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God are separate—you can’t move from one to the other. Paul’s trying to say, “I didn’t come in with a well seasoned argument and the right examples and just the right words to try to convince you rationally of the truth of the Gospel. Though it was just me, I came in with a demonstration of the power and the Spirit and preaching the cross. Don’t confuse me with those other people.”
What Paul wants the church to do is become unified, but he wants them to become unified around the preaching of the cross. That’s a pretty good model, isn’t it? That’s not saying you can’t teach about other things and be involved in other things, but at the core of the church needs to be the proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified on the cross and risen from the dead. That’s the focus that holds a church together. I’ve used this illustration several times, but I really like it. I got it from one of Tozer’s books. The question he asks is, “How do you tune a hundred pianos to all play together?” The answer is one at a time, tuning it to the same tuning fork. In other words, you don’t tune them to each other; you tune them to the same tuning fork. That’s been a very powerful picture in my mind. We’re going to disagree on lots of things, right. My understanding of unity allows for a lot of disagreement on secondary issues, but the way that we are unified is that we’re unified on making fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ—that’s the tuning fork. The evangelism and the discipleship, Jesus Christ and him crucified, and what that means to us. That’s what Paul is saying. Just get focused on that and quit worrying about Paul and Peter and Apollos.
Later on in chapter 3, he also addresses the issue with a pretty famous phrase, verse 5, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.” In other words, God gave Apollos certain people; he gave me certain people to preach to. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth (6). Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (7).” This is a famous passage and an important passage. Paul says, “Look, I’m just a servant, I just talk to the people that God sends to me. Everything is God’s—he is the one that does the growing, not me.” Part of the answer is to have this goal of unity and a unity-centered on the preaching of the cross.
Human Wisdom vs. Divine Wisdom
There’s something else going on in chapter 1 that I want to look at because what Paul is doing is differentiating divine wisdom and human wisdom. It almost reads parenthetical in this chapter if you don’t know about the sophists. What the church had done is that they had moved off center, they had been influenced by the sophists, these guys who were proclaiming human wisdom, saying, “this is true, this is the right thing to believe, this is how you should live” but they had shifted from the Gospel to that and Paul’s saying that their wisdom is of the world and it doesn’t amount to anything. God’s wisdom is over here and it’s different. It’s all tied up in the foolishness of the cross so that’s why he’s talking about wisdom.
In 1:25, Paul states the thesis, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Whatever you have in wisdom in the human arena is infinitely below the wisdom of God, and you actually can’t move smoothly from the wisdom of man to the wisdom of God. I was at a church once that was in the middle of a hub of Ivy League schools and it was Easter. The pastor, who was very bright, knew there was going to be this instant influx of Ivy League students from all around the world. He spent Easter arguing for the rationality of the resurrection, that it made sense that Jesus rose from the dead. Someone invited me to come to the church and so I went and afterwards was asked, what did you think of it? I go, “Well, not to be critical, but how many people do you think he argued out of Hell?” There was a blank look on my friends face and they said, “None.” I said, “That’s right, you can’t argue anyone out of Hell. It’s not a rational problem; the wisdom of God and the wisdom of men are disconnected. You can’t get smoothly from one to the other. I think it’s a shame that he lost the opportunity to preach about Hell to about 5,000 Ivy League students.”
I think that’s what’s going on here is this idea that the wisdom of the world that holds itself up as being so wise is infinitely inferior to the wisdom of God, and you can’t move from one to the next. That’s the point that Paul is trying to make. A couple of verses, look at 1:18, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing,” this is someone who God is not at work in their life helping them to understand, and the Holy Spirit is not quickening their spirit; theologically that is what’s going on. If you talk to someone who is not a Christian, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” You are in two totally different arenas. In 2:14, “The natural person,” and by that they mean the Christian without God’s Spirit, hence, natural, “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Now I’m not saying that as you and I talk to non-Christians we shouldn’t give reasons. I think we all need to have a reason for how you’re going to handle the problem of pain. How can an all-wise, all-good, all-loving, all-powerful God allow 40,000 children a day to starve to death? We’ll never have an answer for that until we get to Heaven, but you need to have answers to these kinds of questions. But ultimately they are not going to be able to understand the things of God. As you and I talk to people we need to understand that we cannot reason them out of Hell—it just doesn’t work. That’s exactly what Paul’s conviction is and you see it in his preaching. In 1:22, "For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom (22), but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (23)." Think back to Acts 17 and Paul’s discussion in Athens. As he’s talking about the resurrection, it’s foolishness to them, it’s foolishness, "But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (24). For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (25).”
What you have is this call for unity centered on the proclamation of the Gospel with the understanding that while the Gospel may be an offense to some, to others it’s the vehicle by which God’s Spirit works in their lives and brings them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and then they can start to understand the things of the Spirit. That in essence is what Paul’s argument is.
Paul closes with this final warning in terms of divisions of the church. In 3:16-17, the key to these passages is to know that the “you” is plural and the translation at the end of verse 16 “in you” is really more “among you.” “Do you not know that you are God’s temple,” that’s not you individually—sometimes he talks about that, but he’s talking about the church as a whole as a temple of God, “and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple,” if anyone destroys the church, “God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple (17).” This is a pretty powerful admonition that there should not be divisions within the church.
One of my favorite seminary professors was a guy named George Ladd, who wrote in biblical theology, and he told us a story one day of a church in inner city LA that he went to for years and was on the elder board. He tried to get them to start seeing that LA was changing and that they were all whites, and if the church was going to be effective they had to be open to the people on the street, the other ethnic groups within LA of which there are about 800,000. He said the racism was intense. He was told very clearly that this church was for whites only. Theologically he knew how bad that was, but it was this passage that stopped him from doing something. He told us in class, “That wasn’t the time to do it because if I had pushed it I would probably have destroyed the church.” There was something in him that told him not to do it now, so he made a statement and left the church. Twenty years later it’s the most multi-racial church in LA. He started the process and then let the Spirit do it in his way and in his timing, but he took this passage so seriously he did not want to destroy the church. George Ladd was one of the preeminent theologians in the English speaking world. He had the political clout to destroy the church, but he chose not to do it. That was a cool story I thought. Chapter 4 is a defense of Paul’s apostleship, it’s all part of this division, and people are always going after him and his authority. That’s just Paul’s life.
Practical Issues Regarding Division in the Church
I’ve been reminded this week that life is fragile. One of our friends is physically getting worse. They were going to decide today whether to take his spleen or not and they haven’t decided yet, but his blood count is going to wrong direction. Another friend found out that his mom is in the 2% of the people who react badly to chemotherapy, and what they thought was possibly bone cancer is leukemia because of the chemo. There are prayers that that family needs. Another 18-year-old girl in our church just found out a week and a half ago that she’s a type I diabetic and will be taking shots. The doctor said that in about a year they will have inhalable insulin. Wouldn’t that be incredible. They have a patch, they have a pump, there is a girl in the church that has a pump, but the doctor said about 5 years out they should be able to make synthetic pancreases. They already make synthetic hearts. Life is fragile and we need to remember these people and to keep our own priorities straight. We just need to remember life is fragile and keep living with the right focus and the right set of priorities if for no other reason than that if it happens to us we will not have wasted our life. If you ever read John Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your life, it is really good. I think it is one of the very best. He’s so serious about joy, at times he weighs you down with it. This book is good.
I want to move into just some practical applications things in talking about divisions in the Gospel before we get going on. Let’s talk first of all about divisions in the church. There are several things I’d like to say and only a few of them I can say. One is that we have to remember that the goal is unity. Most of us have probably left a church for one reason or another. Some of us have left because we moved; others have left for other reasons. We have to remember that in the midst of this, and I can say this because I have left churches, we have to understand the goal is unity. It’s easy to lose that in the midst of the pain and the baggage. The goal is unity. The warning in verses 16 and 17 of chapter 3 is very strong. Jesus’s prayer likewise is very strong in John 17:21, “that they” (the disciples and you and I) “may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us,” that’s Jesus’s prayer for unity, “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” There’s a lot at stake in this unity thing. I think we all know that don’t we. There is a lot at stake if church starts to fracture.
Having said that, what does unity look like? That’s just one of those practical questions. In a moment I’m going to say what does it not look like—but what does unity look like? I would like to suggest that in terms of external things, as we can see with the Corinthian church, there is a central focus. We’re not splintered, especially splintered around different people, but we’re centered around the biblical agenda of preaching the cross. Now of course that is going to come out in many other ways and it doesn’t have to be John 3:16 every Sunday, but unity looks, I think from the Corinthian passage, like there is a central focus. In terms of attitude I think the Philippians 2 passage is the most helpful because it describes what unity looks like. In Philippians 2:1-4, Paul writes, “if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy (1),” and the implicit answer is, and there is, then “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind (2).” If you’re not reading the ESV you’ll probably have quite a different translation at that point—“being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” It’s like you want to say okay, that’s nice Paul, but what does that look like, what does that mean—one mind? Paul says, I’ll tell you “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves (3). Let each of you look not only to his own interests,” and that’s fine, “but also to the interests of others (4).” I think that’s the best biblical description of what biblical unity is in the church. We have the same mind, we’re all going the same direction and that means that we’re in love, preferring the other person. We’re putting the other person ahead, saying how may I serve you. Again, at the Pastor’s Conference, I must have heard it thirty times from the staff at Bethlehem Baptist, “How may I serve you?” It’s just that approach to life that they as a general whole have mastered. I think that’s what unity looks like.
Now the other side of the question is important, what does unity not look like? I see no reason in Scripture to define unity as believing exactly the same thing. Now there is an agreement on the fundamentals, I think that’s easy to understand. I’m not going to worship with someone who doesn’t believe in the Deity of Christ. They are welcome to come to the church and hopefully they will become a Christian, but that’s a fundamental truth and without it you can’t be a Christian. I don’t think that unity means that we have to believe the same thing. It doesn’t mean that we blindly have to follow the leader, it’s not a cult, but that’s the other side of the spectrum I think. Sometimes it’s easy to think that unity means that we’re all just going to believe the same thing, and I just don’t find that in Scripture.
Is disunity ever a good and proper thing? We’re all hoping the answer is yes. This came up the other day and I’d never thought of it. In 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 they are talking about divisions in the church and Paul says, “When you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. I believe it in part (18), for there must be factions among you,” I thought that was interesting, “in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized (19).” This picture that some people have is “can’t we all just get along?” and that’s their idea of unity. The answer is no, we can’t because some are Christians and some aren’t Christians. There’s supposed to be disunity at some level so that believers and non-believers can be identified.
Student: I don’t know that disunity in itself is good, but I think that in some cases it can result in much good happening. Response: There has to be disunity, unless we all believe exactly the same things and the right things, and assuming we are all imperfect, there are going to be problems and conflict. The reason I think that is important is that I’ve heard some people say in the name of unity in the church, that you never raise a question, you never raise a hand. Whatever the preacher says goes. That’s just not, speaking as a preacher, what any healthy preacher should want. There’s a place for debate, but what I’ve found is that this is one of the lessons I’ve learned that there are some people who go to this particular church who probably would not have been here because we differ so much in eschatology, but we are so focused on the preaching of the Gospel and becoming a fully devoted disciple that all those other things don’t matter anymore. You can handle this stuff if it’s focused, but there are other times in which the conflict, it it’s handled properly, while it may be painful, can result in something that is good. Student: It can result in sharpening if the disunity is a disagreement say on a peripheral issue, but it sharpens our knowledge of God’s Word and what is meant. Response: As long as it’s not a fundamental issue. Our Statement of Faith is about two pages long so it’s longer than most, but it leaves a tremendous amount out for discussion and debate. The only thing that we hold fast to is that we agree to disagree, and that’s important because it’s iron sharpening iron. I don’t want to go over this topic without giving you a chance to say something because I know there is a lot of pain and a lot of hurt. I was reminded about it again yesterday—there’s a lot of hurt. This is the primary passage on divisions in the church, that’s why we had to stop and look at it for a bit.
I do want to say one other thing of application before we move on, and that is the whole issue of Gospel preaching. I think this is, at least for me, a central passage that says my preaching, that our church, must be radically centered on the cross. It doesn’t mean you don’t talk about anything else, but everything has to go there. Everything has to be centered on that. Among other reasons it is why I don’t preach a social gospel, I just don’t think that’s the heart and soul of why Jesus came to earth, to alleviate human suffering at a human or a surface level. There are a lot of different churches that have a lot of different focuses, but I think that this passage says if you try to use human reason to convince people that Christianity makes sense, which is what a lot of churches do, you’ll fail because human wisdom and divine wisdom are so separate from each other.
In what way does preaching move off of the cross? We can see what was happening at Corinth. They were creating personality cults and they were hooking on to these different people and they were arguing about that. Maybe that’s a rhetorical question. It just seems that it is interesting to think of all the ways in which preachers and non-preachers can move our focus off of the cross, move it off the centrality of Christ onto other things. I have a different view on topical preaching. I think topical preaching is fine as long as it’s based on the text. The problem is a lot of topical preaching isn’t.
Are denominations a good or a bad thing? I think the answer is yes and no. See, I’m learning to be a politician. The reason I think that it is an interesting question is that as you talk to non-Christians, this is one of the big issues: “There are so many of you—you are so different—are you a Christian or a Methodist or a Baptist?” as if these are mutually exclusive categories. It’s helpful to have an answer for that. I think that in some way, yes, the labels in a very general sense are helpful. If someone goes to an Episcopalian church and someone else goes to a Baptist church, you might be wrong if you apply a generality to them, but in terms of liturgy and the focus of the preaching and that stuff, there are some generalities. The trick is not to assume that everyone who walks out of an Episcopalian church is like all the other Episcopalians you know. I think that’s where you have to be careful. When you get into the evangelical denominations I think it gets a little harder to answer that question because if we’re Christians, we’re Christians and some may prefer to sing more choruses and some may prefer to sing more hymns and some may prefer organ music. Others may prefer more formal service, some may prefer more informal. My position has always been that if we agree on the fundamentals, then people ought to see that there is some unity among those churches. But how you get to unity in this town? It is really hard. Churches tend to work within themselves, and at a secondary level, with others within the same denomination, but it’s really hard to work with other evangelical churches because you are so busy you don’t have time. It’s an interesting question I think, but a good one to have an answer for because you most likely will be asked it.
Student: What’s the difference between a Christian and a Baptist Christian?
Response: That’s a great question. There are Christians in Baptist churches—denominations are religious social organizations. Churches start other churches that are like them. How you define whether this church is like that church can be based on things like how formal is the service, what singing do you do, and that kind of stuff. There can be Christian Baptist and Christian Episcopalian—there can be Christians in any of these churches. It’s not Christian or Baptist, I hope, or Christian or Presbyterian, but Christians are scattered all the way through these denominations. The biggest example is the Southern Baptist Convention. Over the years, the more liberal side of it which was an extreme minority took over. Then the conservatives got control back, and it’s been a pretty ugly battle, but they would say worth fighting. Meanwhile, most of the Southern Baptists don’t have any idea what all the fine parts of the debate are—they just don’t know because that’s just not what they are into. Leadership doesn’t always represent the people they claim to represent.
Moral Issues (1 Cor. 5-6)
The next category of discussion starts at chapter 5 where Paul deals with a series of moral issues. He’s going to deal with sexual immorality, lawsuits, and temple prostitution.
Sexual Immorality (1 Cor. 5)
Chapter 5 is dealing mostly with immorality. The problem was that there was a man who was sleeping with his stepmother. Now Paul says it nicely: “for a man has his father’s wife,” but what he’s doing is he’s sleeping with his stepmother. The Corinthian church not only permitted it, but they were proud of it, saying something along the lines of, we live under grace not under law, we’ve risen above those day-to-day regulations that other Christians have, obviously we can allow this to happen because we are free—we’re tolerant. I have real baggage with that word—tolerant is normally an excuse for sin in my experience, but that may be just me. The solution to the problem is social ostracism—kick them out of the church. In the second half of verse 2, “Let him who has done this be removed from among you.” Then down in chapter 5 he says it even stronger, “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Delivering this man to Satan is the idea that you have the realm of the church and the spiritual protection that we afford one another and outside the sphere of the church is Satan’s realm, Satan’s rule of this world. When Paul talks about handing them over to Satan like he does in 1 Timothy 1 and here, what he’s saying is kick them out of the church, put them outside of the spiritual protection of the church, and let Satan deal with him and he will experience the consequences of his sin.
I find verses 6-8 interesting, "Your boasting is not good." This is boasting about being tolerant of sin. “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” If you tolerate even a little of this sin it will permeate and it will eventually destroy. He takes care of that issue as only an apostle can—he’s absent in the body, but there in my spirit and tells them to get him out of there. In a related vein then in verses 9-13, Paul needs to correct something. They had misunderstood something he had written earlier. See what we call 1 and 2 Corinthians is really 2 and 4 because we know that Paul wrote a letter that we don’t have, and then he wrote a second letter which we do have. Then he wrote another letter that we don’t have, and then he wrote another letter that we do have. Our 1 and 2 Corinthians were really the second and the fourth letter that he wrote. Of the first letter that he evidentially wrote the church he says, you misunderstood me, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people(9)—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy,” which is always an interesting combination, “and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world (10). But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one(11).” There’s your social ostracism. Then the end of verse 13, “Purge the evil person from among you.” Paul has some pretty definite things to say that if you have someone who claims to be a Christian and is obviously living in a way that is clearly not Christian you must deal with it and you must deal with it forcibly before the little leaven permeates the whole loaf.
That raises the whole issue of what we call church discipline and I have a few things to say on that. Church discipline is simply the title we use for how to you deal with someone who is living in sin, is in the church, and refuses to confess and repent and change. This is such a controversial topic that I wrote a position paper, “A Policy on Church Discipline,” where I collected all the verses I could find and I went through and just organized them. Let me say some things about church discipline—dealing with people who live in sin, where the answers are specifically in this passage. First of all, what is the goal of church discipline? I think sometimes we forget that. It’s restoration, it’s salvation, you’ve got it in 5:5, “Deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Punishment is remedial in Scripture, and whenever church discipline is done, it needs to be done firmly, but in a way that would encourage a resolution of a problem. The goal of church discipline is to stop the effects of evil from spreading throughout the church, the leaven in verse 6. There are a lot of different goals, but those are a couple of ones that are here. Some churches, most churches in my experience, are so scared to death of this that they won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. At the other end of the spectrum are churches that seem to get a little too much joy out of it. The answer is where it normally is—in the middle. The goal has to be resolution of the conflict, the sinner’s salvation if that be the case, but the stopping of the spread of the leaven, the stopping of the gangrene.
Another question that comes up in this passage is, what sins fall under this process? This is much harder than I thought it was. I thought this was really easy to answer and I find that it’s not. When you think of what sin should we do church discipline for, we tend to think of the grossly immoral or the serious theological errors. By default, that’s what happens, and so in the position paper I said, anything that is contrary to the membership covenant (a bunch of verses), consistent willful sinning, significant moral sin in clear contradiction to biblical teaching, denial of the central doctrines of the church (infallibility of the Bible, the existence of a personal God, the Trinity), sins that over time are especially disruptive of the church body, and sins that over time will bring the cause of Christ into disrepute. When we think of those we tend to think of the larger things don’t we.
Look what Paul thinks of when he thinks of church discipline, 5:11, “Not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality.” Now, sexual immorality is the most general, broad term there is. Paul doesn’t say “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother who has committed adultery.” He doesn’t say that there, the term porneo in Greek is a very broad, general term. I think it includes a serious addition to pornography and in general, adultery. That’s interesting because statistically 50% of the men in the church visit porn sites once a week. All of a sudden here’s half of the church kicking the other half out. That gets interesting doesn’t it? He goes on, greed—is anyone here greedy? I drove up on five-mile the other day and coveted a lot—are they going to kick me out of the church? I love a view. I’ve never had a view, and I just go up there and look out over the Chewelah Mountains. I was greedy. Or an idolater—any of you put anything ahead of God in your life? You’re an idolater. I’m not sure what reviler means. Drunkard, that’s pretty easy. Swindler—any involved in any dishonest business dealings?
You can’t even eat with me because I was greedy once? Obviously that’s not what it says. What it means; we are not talking here about one individual act; we’re talking about persistent sin. Otherwise we’d all have to be kicked out of the church at one time or another. Paul is coming in the backend of the process. It’s gotten so bad that he’s by-stepping those processes, and I believe as only an Apostle can do, executing the final step of judgment. We have to go through all the processes.
2 Thessalonians 3:6 and 14-15, “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” Okay, stay away from someone who is lazy. “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter,” in other words, Paul has little toleration for deviant theology—you have to believe everything that Paul says as an Apostle, “take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed (14). Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother (15).” You regard them as a brother by saying, “I love you, I care deeply about you, but what you are doing is wrong. It is wrong what you are doing. You can’t do that. It’s theologically wrong; it’s leaven that is wrecking the church and you have to stop. I want you to stop; I’ll pray for you to stop and when you stop, come see me. I’ll call you occasionally to see if you have repented of your sin.” That’s how you do it. That’s one reason why in the statement we put things like, “consistent willful sinning, sins that over time are especially disruptive of the church body (for example, gossip, slander, critical or divisive spirit and anger).” Paul widens the scope. I don’t like church discipline, we’ve only done it once here and I hated it, but we had to do it. Don’t read me wrong on this, but it’s just very interesting that the scope is larger than just these gross acts of immorality and major theological deviation.
In terms of the process of church discipline, Matthew 18 is the primary passage. If you’re at the altar and you know your brother has something against you, you go and seek them. If you have something against a brother, who initiates it? You. Either way, you and I are stuck initiating the process. Whether we have sinned against them or they have sinned against us, it is my responsibility, and that’s hard for me. I hate conflict at all levels, but it’s my responsibility to initiate contact, no matter who is at fault. If you won’t listen to me, you take a second person. We’ve interjected, like most churches, an extra stage in here, because if it’s two witness and if he doesn’t respond to that, we take him before the elders. If he doesn’t respond before the elders, then you bring him before the whole church. That’s the process laid out in Matthew 18. It’s not a fun process, but you know what’s even worse? Letting the leaven go through the entire loaf. The final stage of all of this is to remove a person from fellowship, which is where Paul is here in chapter 5. It’s important that in the first step, you get your information right and communicate to see what the problem is and to hear the other person.
A. 1 Corinthians 1:18 : 1 Corinthians 1:21, 23, 25; 1 Corinthians 2:14
B. 1 Corinthians 1:18 : 2 Cor 2:15; 4:3; 2 Thess 2:10
C. 1 Corinthians 1:18 : 1 Corinthians 15:2; Acts 2:47
D. 1 Corinthians 1:18 : Rom 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:24
A. 1 Corinthians 1:18 : 1 Corinthians 1:21, 23, 25; 1 Corinthians 2:14
B. 1 Corinthians 1:18 : 2 Cor 2:15; 4:3; 2 Thess 2:10
C. 1 Corinthians 1:18 : 1 Corinthians 15:2; Acts 2:47
D. 1 Corinthians 1:18 : Rom 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:24
A. 1 Corinthians 1:13 : 1 Corinthians 12:5; 2 Cor 11:4; Eph 4:5
B. 1 Corinthians 1:13 : Acts 8:16
C. 1 Corinthians 1:14 : Acts 18:8
D. 1 Corinthians 1:14 : Rom 16:23
E. 1 Corinthians 1:16 : 1 Corinthians 16:15, 17
F. 1 Corinthians 1:17 : 1 Corinthians 2:1, 4, 13; 2 Cor 10:10; 11:6; 2 Pet 1:16