My pastor preached a message last night on 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 which I thought showed great insight into how the Internet has affected Christianity—and what Paul says we should do about it. Here are my notes to that sermon.
Immediately after Paul’s greetings and his thanksgiving for the grace of God in the lives of the Corinthians, he tackles the issue of division. It’s such an important issue that it takes him four chapters to cover it all, and he relates it to many other matters.
The kind of division the Corinthians had was perhaps the most common and the most dangerous: differences over leadership. All three men who had become unwitting party heads—Peter, Paul, and Apollos—were orthodox and agreed together theologically, but parties formed behind them anyway.
Now not all division is bad, and not all division over leaders is wrong. In some cases division is healthy. Paul constantly draws lines in the sand between right and wrong. At Antioch he withstood Peter to the face!
But age, personality, background, even accent can give someone a following (even one he doesn’t want). These may have been some of the factors in the situation at Corinth.
But Paul in 1 Cor 3:21-22 fingers another issue, excessive loyalty. Paul says clearly that that all belongs to the Corinthian church, including all three of those men Paul names. This church was completely at liberty to profit from any of those men, in fact from any good God-given teacher.
All Are Yours
The technological revolution has given us an incredible number of teachers in Christ. There are nearly 10,000 of them at SermonAudio.com alone, and that site has over 350,000 sermons. This kind of exposure would have been physically impossible not long ago. And all of these teachers are ours to benefit from.
But the final note Paul sounds on this issue in 4:16 is "imitate me"! Even if all the teachers God gives the church are owned by the church and free for their benefit, Paul was the Corinthians’ only father in the faith. God does give Christians spiritual fathers, men who have special influence and care over them individually. If He didn’t, passages commanding submission to spiritual authority (1 Pet 5:1ff, etc.) wouldn’t make sense. And Paul wouldn’t have the authority to make the intensely personal applications and exhortations that he makes in the rest of the book of 1 Corinthians.
The incredible number of teachers we have access to has sometimes weakened the God-given position of our spiritual fathers. We have been tempted to exalt well-known names and pressure our pastors to be like them.
The Corinthian church was undoubtedly reflecting the values of it’s culture. These people were viewing Paul and the others through the lens of their own cultural ambitions. That’s why Paul focuses on worldly wisdom: Greek culture exalted its philosophers and even its sophists.
Eloquence and wisdom are not wrong, and Paul never casts any aspersions on Apollos’ skills (Acts 18:24). But in 2:1-2 and elsewhere he warns against glorifying individuals simply for those skills. He walks a careful tightrope: eloquence is to be neither condemned nor trusted.
Our culture has its own influential people: politicians, military men, educators, inventors, entertainers, but the last of those is the most celebrated. (Pastor includes athletic entertainers in that group.)
Is it possible that that cultural fact is affecting the way even the church is evaluating the effectiveness of it’s teachers? Is our culture warping what we are supposed to value about our teachers? Do we then have a parallel in contemporary Christianity to what was going on in the first century, a division over leaders arising in part from cultural conditioning?
How is this to be corrected? Each section in the first four chapters has something to contribute. Evidently Paul felt he needed to reason through why this is wrong rather than merely telling people not to do it.
- So Paul’s discussion in chapter 1 of who baptized whom tells us that our loyalty to Christ is more important than our loyalty to men.
- Paul’s last paragraphs in chapter 1 show that the word of the cross cuts cross-grain to cultural values. God has called very few of the world’s beautiful people. He calls the lowly and base to exalt the cross.
- In 1 Cor 2:1-5 Paul tells of his decision (which anyone who communicates truth, including music, must reckon with) not to do anything that cause people to exalt himself rather than Christ.
- Paul then reminds people in 1 Cor 3:5-14 that any true “increase” comes from God Himself. Paul and Apollos and Peter are only ministers, seed planters and waterers.
What a delicate balance has to be struck: honoring all God’s ministers but reserving a special place for the fathers in the faith God has given us—and then reserving ultimate loyalty only for God.
Addendum from This Blogger
My pastor is an avid listener of others’ sermons and lectures, and he has been since before MP3s. He’s an avid reader of others’ books, and he has been since some time before Amazon. His eagerness to take in these influences reflects what Paul said: “All are yours in Christ.” But he is rightly concerned that the ready availability on the Internet of so many sermons and articles and books can undermine the authority he and the other elders are supposed to wield for our benefit. I felt that his sermon was a significant help to me: I am free to benefit from Christ’s gifts to His church (Eph 4:10–16), but I must also give special respect and attention (even obedience, 1 Pet 5:5) to my own spiritual fathers, the various elders and shepherds at my home church.