Division - Under the Rug

Pastor Samuel Sutter - 2/9/2020

Division, polarization, "tearing our country apart". The issues that affect you every day are also issues that are hard to talk about. St. Paul opens that can of worms and deals with community issues in a way that just might start to transform everything about how you work together for a better community.

What impact and blessing might you be you missing out on because of division?

1 Corinthians 1:2 (NIV) 2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.

1 Corinthians 1:4–5 (NIV) 4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge.

1 Corinthians 1:10–11 (NIV) 10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.

1 Corinthians 1:18–21 (NIV) 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

1 Corinthians 1:28–31 (NIV) 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Paul refers to four problems he has heard about that are plaguing the Corinthian church—factions (1:10–4:21), incest (5:1–13), lawsuits (6:1–11), and sexual immorality more generally (6:12–20). The members of Chloe’s household, an otherwise anonymous but presumably Corinthian family, have brought him news of the first of these problems (1:11). Paul deals with the first of the four problems at greatest length, perhaps because the Corinthian divisiveness to varying degrees underlay all the other problems. First Corinthians 1:10–17 states the essential problem (rival factions) and Paul’s essential solution (an appeal for unity). First Corinthians 1:18–4:21 will unpack why that unity is so crucial and how it can become possible. This section in essence gives four methods for achieving unity: focusing on the cross of Christ (1:18–2:5), understanding true spiritual wisdom (2:6–16), recognizing the fundamental equality of all believers (3:1–23), and treating Christian leaders appropriately (4:1–21). Paul’s basic appeal for unity (v. 10) involves several key expressions. He exhorts the church in the “name” (power or authority) of Jesus that all of them “agree,” literally meaning that they all “say the same thing.” They must abolish “divisions,” a political term for rival parties or factions.1 They should become “perfectly united,” a verb probably better rendered “restored to unity,”2 in “mind” and “thought,” terms that include the ideas of counsel and choice. Together these two expressions embrace volition as well as cognition. Verses 11–12 then elaborate the nature of the Corinthian factions: people are quarreling because they are aligning themselves with different Christian leaders. - Craig Blomberg

In 1:18–2:5, Paul sketches how the gospel’s message strikes most hearers as foolishness (1:18–25) and how those who respond to the gospel’s call are regarded as foolish by the world (1:26–31). He then reminds the Corinthians how his deportment matches the message he preaches (2:1–5) and how that preaching takes effect (2:6–16). In 1:18–25, he reproclaims the message of the cross. It is the power of God to absorb all the blind rage of humanity and to avert its deadly consequences, but humanity, Jew and Greek alike, fails to recognize that truth because it does not fit their categories. Six citations of Scripture appear in 1:18–3:23 (1:19, 31; 2:9, 16; 3:19, 20). All make the point that humans “cannot grasp God’s wisdom through their own wisdom” The argument about God’s wisdom versus the world’s wisdom may seem to have nothing do with the Corinthian dispute, but Paul is covertly undermining the Corinthian party spirit....Paul uses the rhetorical mode of speech called a schēma. It is covert speech that forces the audience to puzzle over the true meaning or application of a statement... The two main general thoughts in 1:18–2:16 are (1) all human wisdom of this world is bound to perish (1:18–25), and (2) all Christian wisdom is exclusively God’s gift through the Spirit (2:6–16). They relate only indirectly to what P. Lampe believes is the specific issue: the Corinthian parties’ [division] Though Paul criticizes Jews and Greeks, his real target is the Corinthians’ misbehavior... Paul employs this rhetorical tactic “to avoid stepping openly on the toes of these two other apostles”—Cephas and Apollos. In my opinion, he steps gingerly to avoid offending directly the leaders of the Corinthian factions, who tout their own wisdom. His purpose is to puncture their pride in that vaunted wisdom that leads them into their factionalism. For those who claim honor on the basis of wisdom, Paul offers the folly (μωρία [mōria]) of the cross. Rather than impressive displays of wisdom, Paul challenges them to proclaim this shameful experience of their master’s crucifixion, a divine folly that overturns human wisdom. The problematic wisdom that Paul censures is not to be conceived solely in terms of its intellectual content. It has a social dimension. The Corinthians tied wisdom to social status. Paul does not reject a counterteaching or ideology, nor does he reject rhetoric per se, but he belittles, instead, the cultural values and high social status attached to so-called wise speech. - David E. Garland

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