Build Unity

Feeling overwhelmed by broken relationships and conflicts? Don’t miss this Sunday’s sermon as we explore the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and his timeless wisdom on resolving relational meltdowns. Discover how the power of the cross can heal and transform your interactions with others.

I have to say, I’m more excited about the passage we’re going to look at than I have been in a long time.

Today we’re going to talk about a very important subject.

||

What is it that causes disruption in community?

What is it that causes relational breakdown in community?

We all suffer from this. What’s the answer? What’s the solution for this?

||

Well, this has been a problem for a long time.

||

In his farewell address when he voluntarily relinquished power, which was relatively unprecedented at that time, George Washington pleaded with our nation not to become divided, not to get separated and factional. He talked about the danger of a partisan spirit.

This is what he said:

[A partisan spirit] serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.

What do you think George Washington would say if he could see us today?

These amazingly prophetic words (progressive versus populist, red state versus blue state, left versus right, global versus nationalist).

||

I have a good idea — wouldn’t it be great if we could just make everyone who disagrees with us politically move away?

No! The correct answer is, “No.” That’s not the solution.

||

Maybe it’s just too hard for our country.

Maybe the real place to build true relational harmony, community, and love is in the workplace where you can use the mission of the company, its culture and paychecks as leverage.

||

Except you might know the number one complaint in the workplace is people — broken relationships, office politics, silos, turf wars, favoritism, incompetent co-workers, bad bosses.

||

Maybe that’s the wrong place. Maybe the pressure of having to make money is too great.

Maybe the only truly stress-free, genuinely peace-filled community you can expect is with your relatives, your family, and your in-laws — with the peaceful tasks of household chores, division of labor, getting everything done, conflict management, and the condemnation engineering that so often leads to.

||

Where can you find a place where everyone just gets along?

There are no factions.
There are no divisions.
There are no complaints.
There is no grumbling.
There is no small-mindedness.
There are no petty quarrels.
There are no egos battling.

The church?

No church I’ve ever been a part of, because I bring all of those problems with me.

||

This topic is huge for everyone in our nation and our world.

||

We’re studying this remarkable book of 1 Corinthians — this letter the apostle Paul wrote a couple thousand years ago to a church in Corinth.

We’ve looked at how Corinth was a lot like the Bay Area. If you didn’t catch that, I encourage you to go online and listen to the first two messages in this series.

Corinth was a lot like us — it was an enormously competitive startup culture rebuilt by Rome generating unprecedented wealth with lots of people trying to climb the ladder that were status-obsessed.

||

Paul brings to this culture the message of Jesus — all of the wisdom that Jesus brought to earth (We studied that a lot last year in the Sermon on the Mount).

Paul is summing up the teachings of Jesus, expressed ultimately in the cross and the resurrection.

He’s writing to this new church he helped start in this amazing place called Corinth.

He’s most likely far away in a town called Ephesus when he writes this letter.

||

In the words we look at today, he lays out the real reason he’s writing to Corinth — he has an issue he’s trying to address.

Which is — they’re having a relational meltdown with factions, divisions, and quarrels.

||

This is what he writes:

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, [He’s using family language now.] 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.

My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. (1 Corinthians 1:10-11)

||

I want you to imagine you’re in Corinth when this letter is being read.

Paul started the church there. And now he needs to address an issue that has surfaced.

The church is just getting started and, already, it’s splintering into factions and divisions.

||

It’s very interesting how Paul finds this out. The Corinthians have already written him a letter previously. We know this because later on in 1 Corinthians, he writes:

Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:1-2)

They’ve already written Paul, but they don’t write to him about how they can’t get along with each other because they’re behaving like little kids.

They want to know about marriage and sex — always a popular topic in churches.

||

So how does Paul know they’re having relational problems?

Some people (servants, slaves, or relatives) from Chloe’s household have informed Paul.

||

Let me say a word about Chloe. She’s kind of an interesting character.

We don’t know a whole lot about her. She’s a woman. She’s the head of her own household, something of a rarity in the ancient world.

She’s wealthy. That’s rare in the church.

She’s crazy about Jesus. She’s put her property, her household, and her wealth at the disposal of his church.

She’s thought to be from Ephesus, so she may be one of those who made her money trading from Asia, because Ephesus is in the continent of Asia, through Corinth.

In other words, she’s a crazy rich Asian.

It’s kind of cool that there’s one of those in the New Testament.

||

Remember, most people in the ancient world were illiterate, so Paul’s letter wouldn’t be read by each person. It would have been read out loud to the church.

They’re all gathered together just like this.

Then, these words come from Paul:

My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. (1 Corinthians 1:11)

At this point, everyone who’s not from Chloe’s house is looking at the people who are from Chloe’s house like, “Are you kidding me? How could you say that? Why would you tell Paul? Now we’re going to get criticized in the Bible! People will be saying bad things about us for thousands of years because you were little tattletales to the apostle Paul!”

||

Let me say a word about this.

Thank God someone from Chloe’s house said something.

This letter has had incredible influence in the world for the last two thousand years.

It might not have been written if someone from Chloe’s house hadn’t said, “Paul, we’re having problems here, and we can’t solve them.”

||

Maybe the people from Chloe’s house should have gone directly to the people who were causing problems initially.

Maybe they tried going there and that didn’t go too well.

All I know is relational problems always occur, and they never get cleaned up unless someone has the courage to take the heat for naming them.

And it’s always messy. Trying to deal with relational conflict is always messy.

And very often what people do, instead of acknowledging and dealing with the relational problems, they focus on the process.

“You didn’t say it the right way. You didn’t go to the right person.”

Process is almost never perfect.

The real question is — am I going to respond with an open heart when someone names the problem?

||

Do you have anyone from Chloe’s house in your life?

||

When someone from Chloe’s house speaks the truth about me, do I listen? Am I openhearted, or do I get defensive and stubborn about this?

||

Well, that’s what was going on in Corinth.

Paul writes this letter. It’s a real interesting moment when it gets read.

“Some from Chloe’s house have informed me.”

This is an interesting dynamic going on in the church at this moment.

||

Then, he describes how the relationship breakdown is happening.

What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:12)

He comes back to this a little later.

You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? (1 Corinthians 3:3-4)

That is, operating apart from God’s power and God’s direction.

People are dividing the church over which teacher they like best.

Paul started the church, and some time later Apollos comes along, and he’s apparently a great, riveting teacher.

He’s described in the book of Acts by a word that means educated or eloquent or possibly both. Paul, maybe not so much. We don’t know what Paul’s teaching was like.

It’s very interesting that in his second letter to Corinth, Paul writes:

For some say, “His [Paul’s] letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” (2 Corinthians 10:10)

How do you think Paul felt when he heard that?

Paul may have been a boring speaker.

||

One time we read this in Acts — Paul was speaking in an upper room. There were people gathered together. A kid named Eutychus is sitting in a window sill listening, and the text says, as Paul goes on and on, Eutychus actually falls asleep. That’s always a depressing thing to have happen when you’re talking.

Eutychus falls out the window, lands on the ground several stories below, and dies.

“Paul, your sermons are killing people!”

You can read about this in Acts — Paul goes downstairs, picks this dead guy up, and brings him back to life.

So Paul does have that going for him, which is kind of handy.

||

Every teacher, every pastor wrestles with this — “How do I compare to other people?”

||

Many years ago, a young pastor was leaving his first church.

A woman was saying goodbye, and she was in tears because he was leaving.

This feeds his ego, so he said to her, “Don’t be sad. I’m sure the next pastor will be even better.”

She said, “That’s what everyone says, but they keep getting worse.”

||

This comparison thing goes on, and some people say, “I prefer Peter.” Maybe they could relate to Peter more.

Some people say, “I follow Jesus.” Of course, that’s the churchy thing to say, and it’s the right answer.

But you can give the right answer with the wrong heart and do more damage than you would if you were wrong.

||

The surface problem is factions and divisions, but there’s a deeper problem, and this gets to you and to me and why there are factions in this world and how they get healed.

||

I want to take a look beneath the surface at Corinth.

||

Remember, the gospel, Jesus, and the way of the cross are brand new for Corinth.

But comparing, wanting to climb a ladder, wanting to have status, and wanting to be in the best group is not new to Corinth. It’s not new to us.

||

Paul is actually battling a mindset and a cultural practice that involved speakers coming to Corinth.

This will help us understand what’s going on here.

||

In ancient Greece, rhetoric (the ability to command language in order to gain a hearing) was highly valued.

It was valued in legal settings, in politics, and eventually in entertainment.

By the time the Roman Empire arose, which is what was in power in Paul’s day, those who had the ability to use language had largely morphed into kind of traveling celebrity sages or speakers who were known as sophists.

That comes from sophía, the Greek word for wisdom. Our name Sophia comes from that.

When Paul uses the term wisdom, you have to put quotes around it, because he talks about the “wisdom” or the “eloquence” that in Corinth these sages or sophists would use to gain status for themselves.

By Paul’s day a sophist was like a professional performer with dazzling verbal skills who could please an audience and win applause.

They would enter into competition with each other.

||

Corinth had a 14,000-seat theater, so it was a natural mecca for entertainment in all of Greece — kind of like America’s got talent in Corinth.

||

These guys were kind of a combination of hip-hop artists, pundits, and rock stars, and they could dazzle people with their verbal skills.

They could charm you.
They could alarm you.
They could make a crowd jump to its feet and cheer them on.
They were rock stars, and they mastered the art of self-promotion.
They built their brand.
They extended their platform in order to win glory, wealth, fame, and honor.

||

Eloquence and verbal skills were a means toward their status, and we know about lots of them from history.

There was a sophist named Favorinus who was so successful his oration actually got written down and they built a statue to honor him.

No one is building a statue to honor Paul.

||

When the historian Plutarch went to Rome, he asked if he could dine with a quite wealthy sophist named Herodes Atticus.

No members of the Roman elite were asking, “Could we dine with the apostle Paul?”

||

Another guy, Philostratus, wrote about the groupies of another sophist that got so mad at insults from a rival of his, they had their slaves beat that rival sophist to death. That’s how fierce the rivalry was.

No one is fighting for the apostle Paul.

||

There’s another sophist named Licinius who actually got paid 400 silver drachmas (that’s more than a year’s pay for a Roman soldier) for one single performance. That’s how fabulous he was.

No one was paying Paul 400 silver drachmas.

As a matter of fact, Paul was working like a slave making tents.

||

The way the game worked was these rock stars, these sophists, used their artistry to get rich.

There would be real wealthy people in Corinth who would become their patrons who would sponsor these guys.

Then, these sophists would flatter their patrons and say whatever their patrons wanted to hear. They would get wealth and be looked up to. That’s where status was.

||

Precisely because of those problems, that’s part of why Paul will not do that.

He actually earns his own money making tents like a slave, which is an insult to these wealthy people who want to sponsor him.

But he does that so he can be free to speak the gospel with no strings attached and to challenge people who had resources who weren’t caring for the poor and so on.

||

The sophists used their artistry to get rich. They competed to see who could get the most followers. They called them disciples.

When some Corinthians start this new thing called the church, and this man named Paul comes along to speak to them, and he has quite a remarkable message, they think, “I know what this is! I know how this deal works. He’s one of them.”

Paul has to say, “No, you don’t. You have no idea.”

He comes and speaks and has this remarkable message, but he does these odd things.

He doesn’t have a patron.
He doesn’t get money.
He works like a slave making tents.

He says, “Apollos is not my rival. I’m not in competition with him. He’s my partner. He’s my brother. Everyone who is helped by him is a win for me.”

||

To treat the cross and to treat the church as a vehicle for self-promotion, or reputation, or self-seeking, or the gratification of your ego — if anyone who does what I do or what someone else in a church leadership role does — is to turn the cross upside down and empty the church of everything it is supposed to offer.

||

By the way, can we say in this church it is Jesus and the cross that matter above all else?

||

Can we say in this church we will not have disunity over stupid stuff?

||

That we will not have disunity over preference for different teachers, or a preference for different worship leaders, or a preference for different styles of music, or preferences for different instruments, or different styles of clothing, or the use or nonuse of different kinds of technology?

||

That we will not have disunity over any individual’s pet ideas or pet programs, or partisan party politics, or furniture, or formal versus informal, or planned versus spontaneous, or young versus old?

Whether you’re in the hip category or the hip replacement category, we will find our unity in the person of Jesus and the way of the cross. Can we just agree on that as a church?

||

It’s so ironic. Jesus came as the Messiah, but the problem was everyone thought, “I know what that is! That’s power. That’s success. That’s the dazzling ability to control.”

Jesus had to teach everyone, “No, it’s the way of humbling, self-sacrificing love,” and eventually it lead to his death on the cross.

||

Then, Paul comes to Corinth as an apostle, and everyone says, “I know what that’s all about! That’s all about power, and success, and dazzling strength, and the ability to gain control.”

And Paul has to figure out how to reeducate them in the way of humble, self-sacrificing, servant, low-status, love.

And it lead to his death as well, we’re told by church history, also on a cross.

||

At Corinth (This is just human nature. This is us.) they could turn anything, even good things, into a source of division, because all of this ego stuff gets involved.

||

Paul goes on.

Is Christ divided?

This is why the unity of the church and the oneness that starts with our relationships and care for each other by living as servants is the signature of the church.

We are the body of Christ. We cannot tolerate divisions.

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?

No, Jesus was.

Then he goes on this little riff about baptism.

Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) (1 Corinthians 1:13-16)

Why is he getting into this stuff?

In Corinth, followers of these celebrity, rock-star sages would claim a special relationship with their guy or with their leader, and they would want to have status through that.

“He’s my special guy.”

Baptism was being turned into that in Corinth.

Church people were starting to use who they got baptized by as a way of saying, “I get some of his status because he’s kind of my guy. I’m connected with him. Who did you get baptized by?”

||

It’s amazing how for 2,000 years churches and whole denominations have fought and split over baptism, for crying out loud.

Some churches say you have to sprinkle the water.
Some say you have to pour it on the forehead.
Some say you have to immerse the whole body or it doesn’t count.
Quakers don’t use water at all.
Some say you can only baptize adults.
Some say, if you don’t baptize infants and they die, they’ll go to some place called limbo.
Some say you must baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Some say you can only baptize in the name of Jesus.
Some churches dunk you three separate times.
Some churches call baptism a sacrament.
Some churches say there is no such thing as a sacrament.
Some churches will fight over whether or not to count another church’s baptism as a real baptism. I kid you not, in some Independent Baptist churches, even if you were baptized by immersion as an adult in a Baptist church, it doesn’t count unless it was an Independent Baptist church.

Now, Paul took baptism extremely seriously. It was a very costly move. It was a very courageous move.

A lot of times, when someone would get baptized in that world, it meant they were cutting themselves off.

They would be cut off from their families because religion was basically a tribal and family thing and there could be tremendously high financial costs, opportunity costs, and relational costs.

It was stepping into a new way of life. It was identifying with Jesus.

It’s a very powerful moment.

||

If you haven’t been here when we celebrate baptisms, make sure you get our email updates so you can know when we’re going to do baptisms again.

And if you follow Jesus and you have never been baptized, I hope you take that step.

That’s something you will remember the rest of your life.

||

But what Paul is saying here, and the reason he says — “I only baptized a couple of people. Oh, yeah! One more. I can’t even remember…” — The reason he says that odd little thing is he’s saying, “I’m not baptizing to build my brand.”

This is not about extending Paul’s platform.

||

The main thing that happens in baptism, by the way, is I die. My ego dies.

Paul writes:

Don’t you all know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3)

||

This is what now points to this secret of community that our world so desperately needs to hear, to the only way relationships can actually get healed.

||

Contrary to conventional wisdom, unity and harmony and community are not a product of being with people who are like us or who have been educated about us.

We often think what kills relationships are differences —

And if we just had the same ideology.
Or if we all had the same politics.
Or if we all had the same identity.
Or if we all had the same culture.
Or if we all had the same ethnicity.
Or if we could educate people about those differences.

— that would make everything okay.

But you try a little thought experiment.

Get a whole group of people together who are all in the same political party, all have the same ideology, the same education, the same culture, the same language, the same ethnicity, even the same gender.

It will not usher in utopia.

Because the problem is not differences of opinion but brokenness of the will. It’s the stubborn, self-seeking, me-first ego. It’s evil in me and you — to will the bad.

||

That’s why what people need and what relationships need is to be brought to the cross.

At the cross I die to my need to get my own way — to the way I sin and damage other people, people I even want to love — and I come alive to God’s love.

||

Community always begins with self-giving love.

||

Every family begins this way. — A mom gives nine months of her life, of her body, to make a tiny, little person.

||

God’s family begins with self-giving love. — “God so loved the world that he gave…”

||

Jesus said:

I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32)

And he said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. He would be lifted up on the cross.

What a strange idea! —

“I’m going to heal this broken, sorry, bleeding world and its violence and its hatred not with a new educational movement, not with a new program, not by starting the perfect country with the perfect political system. I’m going to die. I’m going to die on a cross and heal a fractured humanity.”

What a strange idea! Who would think that up?

||

Yet, he was right.

Whatever you think about God or the supernatural or faith, whatever you think as a matter of historical fact, he died on a cross, and that gave birth to a community the likes of which not only had never been seen but no one had ever thought of before.

||

The ancient Romans didn’t even know what category to put the church in.

Was it like a religion? Sometimes they thought it was a burial guild. They didn’t know because there had never been anything like it — Male and female? Jew and Gentile? Rich and poor? Slave and free?

||

There’s not a person for whom Jesus did not die.

There’s not a person you can look into the eyes of who does not matter to God.

Who thinks up something like that?

||

This is what Paul knows (this strange death that brings life).

That’s why he writes:

For Christ did not send me to baptize,

You understand he means, “He didn’t send me to build my own brand, to climb my own ladder.”

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel

The good news of the availability of life now with God.

—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17)

How in the world can a cross, a means of execution, have power?

Because it’s the plan, the symbol, the vessel, the vehicle, the expression of the suffering, self-giving love of God.

||

How do I save my life? Lose it.
How do I get ahead? Go last.
How do I become great? Serve.
How do I get rich? Give.
How do I get even? Forgive.

What a strange idea!

Now this is where it gets personal.

||

Whatever you do to harm relationships —

Whatever you do to hurt people, or harm people, or create divisions, or create enmity, wherever there is brokenness, bring it to the cross.

||

Maybe I use people.
Maybe I flatter people.
Maybe I gossip. Maybe
Maybe I’m selfish.
Maybe I get impatient.
Maybe I get really angry.

It was kind of funny. Last week, we all took a cross as a reminder that we want to be people of the cross.

We want to lay every burden down at the foot of the cross. We want to lay our brokenness down and receive new life at the cross.

||

So many people took crosses. Some even took them for friends. More than we anticipated, so we ran out of crosses.

Someone came up to me in the parking lot after church and said, “I can’t believe this church wasn’t organized enough to have enough crosses. I didn’t get my own cross! What a rip-off!”

This week, we have more crosses. We have a crosspalooza. We have lots of crosses, and if that person was you, I want you to get your very own cross and nail your anger to it.

||

Bring all of your relationships to the cross.

Bring your relationships at work to the cross.

Bring people you want to love who have disappointed you and crushed you.

||

I had conversations about that this week with people. — “I’m a parent, and I see my child going down this road, and it hurts.” Bring it to the cross.

“I’ve been through a divorce, and it hurts. I’ve been betrayed, and it hurts. I’m guilty and it hurts.” Bring it to the cross.

||

Bring your family to the cross.

In the Corinth in which we live it’s possible even for a good thing like a family to become an idol, and when it becomes an idol, then it will enslave you.

And the pressure we put on people around here to make the idol of their family look perfect is just destroying people.

||

This is written by a woman author. Confessions of a Domestic Failure. She wrote an article recently called, “How to Be a Mom in Our Generation.” This is amazing. This is what she wrote.

Make sure your children’s academic, emotional, psychological, mental, spiritual, physical, and social needs are met while being careful not to over-stimulate, underestimate, improperly medicate, helicopter, or neglect them in a screen-free, processed foods-free, plastic-free, body positive, socially conscious, egalitarian but also authoritative, nurturing but fostering of independence, gentle but not overly permissive, pesticide-free, two-story, multilingual home preferably on a cul-de-sac with a backyard and 1.5 siblings spaced at least two years apart for proper development. Also, don’t forget the coconut oil.

Then, she added this.

How to Be a Mom in Literally Every Generation Before Ours. Feed them sometimes.

||

We’re going to be a people of the cross.

Last week, you got one of these. If you didn’t, get it this week.

||

This last week, hopefully you did some unusual act of humility — a cross thing.

This week, do another cross thing.

At home if you don’t usually do these, take the low place and sweep the floor, fix a meal, do the wash, or run the errands under the cross.

At work this week, let someone else shine. Give them the credit.

If there is relational heartbreak in your world, and there probably is, bring it to the cross right now.

Be one of the people from Chloe’s house.

Name the brokenness and confess whatever you need to do.

The other person may handle it. Or they may not. They’re not under your control.

You bring your stuff to the cross. Ask God for help.

||

When you mess up, and you will, remember the greatest power you have in your life is not the power of your IQ, high though it may be, or charm, great as it may be, or persistence, strong as it may be.

The power — the only power — that will heal this world is the power of the cross.

||

Alright, let me pray for you.

Now, I want to invite you, as a son or dad, as a daughter or mom, as a brother or sister, as a husband or wife, wherever you need to, you just bring that relationship to the cross.

Wherever there is pain, wherever there is a need for healing, wherever you have regret, or wherever you’re scared to death about what’s going to happen to someone you love, bring it to the cross.

Blue Oaks Church
Pleasanton, CA