Sermon January 26, 2020

Readings: Isaiah 9:1-4 • Psalm 27:1, 4-9 • 1 Cor. 1:10-18 • Matthew 4:12-23

The theme this week is focusing on the light. Jesus is the “great light” Isaiah talks about. The Psalmist understood this and said, “The Lord is my light” and then talked about his desire to dwell in the house of the Lord and gaze on the beauty of his face. In Matthew, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah as he tells his disciples to drop what they are doing and follow him. Paul reminds the believers in Corinth that it’s not about who baptizes who, it’s about being in the light of Christ.

Unity, Not Uniformity

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

As we can see in our own families, every human being is unique. Even though our kids might have the same genetic makeup and the same home environment, all parents can attest to the peculiar eccentricities they’ve witnessed in their offspring.

In this regard, the church is similar. Even though every human being is valued, loved, and accepted by God, we are not the same. We don’t see the world the same way, mostly due to our individual perspectives that have been shaped by our temperament and experiences. Believe it or not, we don’t always view God the same way, despite having church doctrines and practices. This issue of diversity within the church is nothing new. In First Corinthians, the apostle Paul is writing to address contentious attitudes that were rising up based on whoever had baptized the members. Let’s take a look: [read I Cor. 1:10-18 NRSV]

What can we learn about unity in the midst of diversity?

  • Paul points out that all believers are in Christ and that there are no divisions. We can see that in this instance, the members were trying to see what “team” they were on. Were they on “Team Paul” or “Team Apollos”? Which team was better? It’s easy to recognize how silly this disagreement sounds, but consider how often our disagreements over minor doctrinal issues or other opinions foster negativity.
  • Paul also reminds everyone that baptism is simply a physical ritual to help human beings recognize their new life in Christ. Baptism is not judged more effective by who does the baptizing, nor does baptism have some sort of “magical” powers. Physical rituals like baptism and communion help to reinforce our understanding of where our new life comes from. They give shape and voice to abstract ideas.
  • Finally, Paul admonishes the Corinthians that by focusing on their differences, they were missing the power of Christ’s cross. That power is the self-emptying attitude of love, giving preference to others rather than serving the self. Those who are intent on boosting their self-image think that having a self-emptying attitude is foolish, but if we have moved beyond needing to be right or needing to have everything our way, we see that self-emptying is really the power of God.

Application:

  • Unity is not uniformity. Unity does not mean we all think the same, at least about the small stuff. It means that we need to incorporate a larger vision of our practices that includes influences from diverse cultural and generational backgrounds. Differences need to be viewed as assets, not threats. Maybe this means including some older hymns with our contemporary worship songs, or perhaps our traditional study groups discuss a current movie rather than a typical Bible story.

In this regard, the church is similar. Even though every human being is valued, loved, and accepted by God, we are not the same. We don’t see the world the same way, mostly due to our individual perspectives that have been shaped by our temperament and experiences. Believe it or not, we don’t always view God the same way, despite having church doctrines and practices. This issue of diversity within the church is nothing new. In First Corinthians, the apostle Paul is writing to address contentious attitudes that were rising up based on whoever had baptized the members. Let’s take a look: [read I Cor. 1:10-18 NRSV]

  • Listen more and listen better. Seeking to understand another’s viewpoint or preference without feeling the need to validate our own is a goal to work toward, especially for those in church leadership. Shifting our focus from ourselves to noticing where and how God is at work in another person’s life can help us stop emphasizing our differences, and instead, give praise for God’s individualized care for each human being.

Always remember that unity is not possible apart from the Holy Spirit. God in us seeks harmony, not sameness. Even as we somehow manage to love our children despite our differences, so we also can love one another in the church, permitting the safe expression of our diversity within the context of love and respect.

Other helpful links:


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Paul’s appeal is found in verse 10, that believers might be “united in the same mind and the same purpose.” How would you define “same mind and same purpose”? How does your definition differ from uniformity?
  • In verses 11-12, it mentions that the source of the arguments in the Corinthian church was their idea that being baptized by certain leaders meant a higher status with God. It’s easy to lapse into legalistic ideas that aim to give us a way to “earn” the grace that’s been given to us. Can you think of past beliefs you held that might be similar to these Corinthians
  • Paul speaks of the power of the cross of Christ in v. 17, referring to Christ’s willingness to empty himself on our behalf. How might we diminish the cross of its power in the way we interact with our church family?
  • Why would Christ’s self-emptying behavior on the cross seem like foolishness to those who might not yet believe (v. 18)? Why would his behavior seem like the power of God to those who do believe?

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