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This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Author: Rev. John Pasma, Edmonton, Alberta

Theme: Living in the power of the cross will bring unity and the revealing of Christ

Most of us don’t consider ourselves saints. We see ourselves as very ordinary people, caught up in the things of this life. We like making money, we like shopping, we like sports, we like hanging out. When we think of saints we think of people totally dedicated to God. A saint is a person who is a model of excellence, a spiritually developed person. Maybe we even think such a person doesn’t have a life.

But saints are exactly what we are according the apostle Paul. That’s how he addresses the church of Corinth—“those called to be holy” v. 2 (NIV), “those called to be saints” (NRSV). He even lists some of their advantages enabling them to be saints “for in every way you have been enriched in him” v. 4 (NRSV).  

All that is well and good, but here in the scripture passage we are focusing on, we see that their sainthood has slipped; their halos have dipped. Much was lacking.

What strikes anyone who observes the church, or for that matter, anyone who is a member of it, is that Christians so easily lose it. We aren’t what we confess to be. We talk about being the body of Christ, we talk about love and unity and all these good things but somehow the church doesn’t live it.

The biblical example that we often hold up is the example of the Pentecost church in Acts 2: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers … Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceed to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”

This is the first instance of the church, and it seems to be an ideal that we can’t attain. Why not? Is God setting us up for something impossible? Is this something we can’t aspire to? Is it, as I heard someone say once, the first flush of something new, and no one can keep that up? Are we just setting ourselves up for failure?

On the other hand, I think everyone of us would like to be in a community like this. Wouldn’t it be great to have something like that at the center of your being, your life? Somewhere where you can be a true community! Where you can be yourself, where you don’t have to pretend, where you don’t have to be afraid, where you can live in a deeply relaxing free way with others. Is all this really out of our reach for us?

It’s interesting that the first thing that the apostle Paul writes about when he communicates with the Corinthian church that has some pretty big problems, is the lack of unity in a general way. Obviously it’s an important thing on his mind; he doesn’t like their situation and he wants them to do something about it. It’s not the status quo. It can’t stay that way. The ideal is not out of reach! Vs. 10: Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.  

So what is the specific problem in the church of Corinth: what can we learn from it? How can we be the church that God wants us to be? And it’s not out of reach. It is do-able.

The problem is that there is “quarreling” and “divisiveness” among them. One says, “I belong to Paul”, or “I belong to Apollos” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” But then you can ask: “Why are they doing this? Why is there that competitive spirit among them that for some reason they feel the need to identify with one or the other church leaders? It doesn’t seem that the church leaders themselves were in on it, at least not Paul, because he doesn’t know about it until somebody from Chloe’s people informs him. So this seems to be something among the people.

When you look a little closer you get a hint of what lies behind this. Paul writes in vs. 17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.” The word “wisdom” is key. If you read on into chapters 2 and 3 this word “wisdom” comes up a number of times.

The Corinthian church is very much part of the Greek and Roman world and at that time there were many itinerant philosophers traveling around. They were sophists (people of wisdom) and they were often more concerned with a polished presentation than with content. It was style over substance. Could they move the crowd? Could they dazzle them with great rhetoric and witty presentations? Something similar it seems happened in the church. The apostle Paul comes and stays for a while, then Apollos (who was a great speaker Acts 18:24f), then Peter, and some even connect themselves with Jesus, who obviously was never there, but they identified with him anyway. It’s a little like buying the sweater of your favorite hockey or football player, focusing only on him and being a cheerleader for him.

In this kind of situation the Christian leaders were linked with a certain slant and way of doing things, or at least the way the followers presumed. The attention becomes focused on the person and his followers. And this attention served to minister to the followers own sense of exaltation; they would brag about the people they followed—and in this bragging they were really boasting about themselves. So in a very ordinary way the gospel message loses its power. The church loses something basic as triumphalism and one-upmanship creeps in. It’s not that church members threw everything out, but their energy was going into silly things and they were getting caught up in the competitive thing. Their pride was getting connected to the things they were talking about. Community is lost.

The apostle Paul reminds the people about the basics as he stresses his apostolic authority: For Christ did not send me to baptize … (apparently baptism was a way of identifying with your favourite leader—and Paul is not minimizing baptism at all—does it really matter who baptizes our kids? Of course not. Baptism doesn’t save us or our children. It doesn’t matter which pastor baptizes our children). Christ did not send me to baptize,but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”

He adds to this in chapter 2, vs. 1: “When I came I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom…for I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith may not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”

The apostle Paul makes it very clear that there is very little personal baggage that should get in the way of the presentation of the gospel message. He doesn’t come as an actor; he doesn’t come as a smooth polished orator. Rather it seems, he comes (and this is surprising) as a speaker who is timid. In 2 Corinthians he writes about how people experience him: 10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” Or as the New Century version put it: “Paul’s letters are powerful and sound important, but when he is with us, he is weak. And his speaking is nothing.” At the very least, his preaching was not marked with the eloquence and persuasive words that characterized many of the teachers of the day but he presented clearly the unblemished message of Jesus crucified.

The point is that Paul wants the church to focus on the center of the gospel, the good news that is the story of God coming to us in Jesus. Jesus, crucified, died, and risen. This is God’s secret wisdom. Later in the chapter he takes it back to the individuals: Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The point is very clear: For us to be a community, for us to be the body of Christ, we have to be rooted in the basics—the cross of Christ cannot be emptied of its power. Each one of us needs to be convicted deep in our hearts. Each one of us needs to experience that joyful understanding of truly knowing Christ. Says Paul: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…” (Philippians 3:10). This truth absolutely must mark and energize each of our lives. The moment we start linking ourselves with the polish or glitter of smooth and powerful speakers, we lose something very basic to our faith and to who we are.

Let’s take this a step farther. We easily drift into “ideologies” and “theologies”. It’s easy for us to start getting suspicious of people and their ideas. We let our categories shape our thinking and acceptance of them. Is this person Reformed? Is she an evangelical? Is she conservative, or is she progressive? Does he like contemporary worship or traditional? Or perhaps the person’s old or too young; or a male or a female, or an American or Canadian or whatever the stripe of the day happens to be. When we live at that level, the gospel loses its power. The message of the cross is the power of God—that’s our strength and our motivation. When you root yourself in the message of the cross all that other stuff becomes secondary. There will be much less emphasis on division and quarreling.

Let’s look more particularly at how this affects Christian unity and our being saints.

Ruth Graham (daughter of evangelist Billy Graham) has written an autobiography with the title is: “In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart.” The book deals with Ruth Graham’s difficult journey through three marriages and divorces. She is a Christian and her father of course, is very famous. But for one reason and another, things didn’t work out for her with respect to marriage and family. She has a daughter who herself is a single mother with two children. The first child given up for adoption after much difficulty and stress and the second she is raising herself. So the story revolves around her family stresses and failures especially considering she’s the daughter of such a prominent Christian leader. She has had huge problems dealing with guilt and failure, but what really comes through in the story is that she finally realizes that she is valued by God, not because of what she has done, or not done, but because of the cross of Christ. For a long time she kept many struggles and feelings to herself was deeply afraid; but finally decided to share them with friends. The friends helped her by taking her daughter and herself in. She also tells how meaningful it was when she phoned her parents she was coming over as her third marriage was breaking up. She tells how her father was waiting for her on the driveway and he embraced her.  

The point of this is that we often begin with our views of things, our stereotypes that come about as we look at people around us and even identify with them. Views of what a Christian family should be like, views about how we should be strong and good parents. Views on how we feel others want us to live the Christian life. We try to hide weakness, bury it. We pretend and wear masks, trying to be the perfect people, trying to live up to expectations and identifying with people who we think have it right. But it doesn’t work; we are all weak fallible people. “In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart.

What the apostle Paul is getting at is that for us to deal with the messy issues of our lives our focus can only be centered on one thing—the cross of Christ; that it might not be emptied of its power. If we do otherwise, we will miss the healing saving power of God in our own lives; we start living lies; we will not be real. We will start losing our groundedness, we become inflexible and hard; we will lose our softness. We will lose our joy; we will lose our vision.

It’s hard to be a saint in today’s world. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It seems to me that Ruth Graham was forced to go back to the heart of the gospel—the power of the cross.  When people start getting competitive and they follow this person and that person—I belong to Paul, I belong to Cephas, we start wearing masks and we lose our authenticity. We can no longer be real because we have things to pretend—we aren’t connected to the cross.  

Of course, having the same mind and the same purpose does not mean we are clones in thought or anything else. The apostle Paul and Scripture nowhere talks about the fact that we can’t have different ideas or outlooks on life. In any community there is a wealth of ideas. Ideas need to be refined, they need to be worked on and tested. Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, (1 John 4:1). We are easily caught up in the spirit of this world, spirits of competition and pride. The history of the church is a history of our failure and God’s faithfulness.

Christians rooted in the power of the cross of Christ are called to do the hard work embracing ideas and throwing out ideas. We need to do the hard work of humbly submitting to each other out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). In fact, only Christians rooted in the cross can do this! People who aren’t rooted in the cross of Christ forget the God who chooses the “lowly things of this world” and they tend to get defensive. Our pride easily gets in the way. We gravitate to those of like minds and kindred spirits and there it goes. But really; we have been “enriched by him in every way.” We all have different gifts, we have different insights, and we are all led by the same Spirit. So of course, it’s through being that community, and interacting together in the Spirit of God that we grow and move forward.

In chapter 2 Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah 64:4 and he writes: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” And then he adds “but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” Each of us, and all of us together, need to remain grounded in the power of the Cross, and when we do that, then we will start to live out of God’s Spirit and the church community will become a community of saints, the kind of place where we truly find a home. The kind of place where Christ is revealed! Amen.

All Bible passages quoted from here on are from the NRSV translation.



Liturgical Help

Gathered for Worship

Gathering Songs:

“Come All You People, Praise Our God” 242 PsH.

“Great is Thy Faithfulness” 556 PsH

Call to Worship

God anointed Christ to console the afflicted.

Come, let us worship the Lord our Comforter!

God anointed Christ to emancipate the enslaved.

Come, let us worship the Lord our liberator!

God anointed Christ to bind up the wounded.

Come, let us worship the Lord our healer!

God anointed Christ to deliver the troubled.

Come, let us worship the Lord our Savior!

God Greets Us: May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ fill us as we worship him. Amen

Song: “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty” 249 PsH.

God’s Way to Renewal

Prayer of Confession

Song: “My Jesus I Love Thee” PsH 557

Assurance: Responsive Reading to the Law page 1017 PsH.

Song: “Blessed Assurance” 473 PsH.

God Speaks Through His Word

Children’s Message

Song: “Clap Your Hands”

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Message: “Seeking His Kingdom, Sharing His Gifts”

The People Respond

Song: “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” 474 PsH.

Congregational Prayer



God Blesses and Sends Us

Parting Blessing:

The peace of God, known in this sanctuary,

will go with you, empowering you to meet adversity.

We carry God’s peace into a troubled world,

seeking to be peacemakers wherever we go.

The blessing of God, who touched believers’ lips

and set them free to sing praises,

will lift you up each day to use your gifts.

We carry God’s blessing into our daily lives

and dare to share the riches entrusted to us.

The strength of God, seen in wind and fire,

will set you ablaze with vitality and purpose.

We commit ourselves anew to live by God’s will

as it is revealed to us day by day. Amen.

Closing Song: “There’s No God As Great” 517 PsH.

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