1 Cor. 1:10-18 / 26 January 2014 (Epiphany 3)

The chief weapon in the hands of the devil is division. Drive a wedge between Christians. Divide congregations. Divide the church. “Divide and conquer” is his strategy against the church. Weaken the enemy by dividing the troops against each other. He’s a wolf looking for the lone sheep, the isolated one who is wandering by himself in the wilderness away from flock and shepherd. There is nothing more vulnerable than the solitary sheep, the one left all alone. There is nothing more vulnerable to crafts and assaults of the evil one than the individual believer all by himself. He is easy pickings for the old evil wolf.

The devil’s strategy is deceptively simple – use sin to isolate the sinner. And so you sin, and the devil uses your sin to cause you to doubt that you are a child of God or that you are forgiven. He stirs up guilt and shame so that you begin to think God doesn’t want to have anything to do with you. You stop praying; stop hearing the Word, stop communing. You may not even notice the change at first, but eventually it doesn’t matter to you any more. You may still show up at church once in a while just to check in or to stay on the rolls, but it really doesn’t mean much, if anything. Or he may simply just stir up some good old fashioned apathy and boredom. Who needs those old boring hymns and tired sermons on Christ crucified when there is so much entertainment available at the touch of a button. And if I’m feeling vaguely “spiritual” and need a lift, I can dial something up on TV or read a sermon on the internet or listen to some inspirational music. And the devil’s got you right where he wants you. Eyes off of Jesus and on to your spiritual self.

That’s half the job. The other half is to isolate you from your fellow believers. Again the devil uses sin to get the job done. You sin against your brother and vice versa. It may be something big or, as is usually the case, something trivial. Someone said something you didn’t like. And then he stirs up anger and resentment and before you know it, you’re at each other’s throats. Or he puts this bug in your ear that things aren’t going the way you want them to go, and so you take your toys and go somewhere else. Or just stay at home so you don’t have to deal with “those people” any more. And now you are in the perfect place for the devil. All alone in your own little world. Isolated from the flock, isolated from the shepherd. Just the sort of sheep a hungry wolf is looking for.

There were divisions within the Corinthian congregation. The apostle Paul heard about them from some people who came from Chloe’s household to visit Paul. Members were suing one another in the secular court. There was quarreling and dissension. There were disagreements. They were talking in terms of “we” and “they.” They were divided along party lines. Some said, “I follow Paul.” (Those were the Lutherans.) Others said, “I follow Apollos.” (Those were the ones who loved learning and rhetoric and fancy words.) Others said, “I follow Cephas.” They were even on a friendly first name basis with Peter, the foremost of the Twelve. Some even dared to boast, “I follow Christ,” as though they were the only ones who did. Those were likely the most dangerous ones of them all. The high-flying spiritual Christians who had no need for Word, sacrament, or pastor. No longer “carnal,” they were “spiritual.” No longer babies, they were mature believers. There is nothing more dangerous than Christians who think they are more spiritually mature than everyone else.

Into all this nasty division, dissension, and party pettiness, Paul fires the arrow of his apostolic appeal. I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. Unity is the way of Christ and His Spirit; division the way of the devil. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

Every single picture of the church in the Scriptures is a corporate image. There is no notion of the isolated, individual believer. The church is a priesthood of priests. The household of God’s children. Spiritual temple built out of living stones. Even the word church means “assembly, ones who are called out and brought together.”

The front running image is that of a body with many different kinds of members. “We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” A body consists of a variety of parts or members. Some 2000 of them, according to the soap commercial. Each one of them is different and serves its own special purpose. Big toe, little toe, ear, eye, nose, finger, and all the rest. One is not more important or indispensable than the others. The little toe may seem insignificant until you lose it, and then you’ll see what it’s been doing down there all along, keeping your balance and stride. And you’ll miss it. You literally need to learn to walk all over again when you lose your little toe.

A body can function more or less without some of its parts, though not without a certain amount of hardship and suffering. But the parts cannot exist without the body and without each other. A severed toe or ear will die apart from the body. The ear cannot say to the big toe, “I don’t need you; I can get along just fine without you.” Without the big toe and the foot to which it is attached, the ear cannot move anywhere. And without the ear to hear the traffic and the warning signals, the big toe won’t know to stop when the car is coming. Parts of the body need each other in order to function. And they all need to be joined together as a body and not some random collection of individual parts.

If we are going to be guided by the Scriptures and see the church as God sees it through the lens of the Word, we need to adjust our thinking when it comes to the congregation. While we are many individuals of different opinions, ages, skills, perspectives, etc., we are all members of one body and members of one another. We share the same baptismal bath. We eat the same Bread that is the Body of Christ; we drink the same Cup that is the Blood of Christ. We are literally “bodied” and “bloodied” together in a unity that transcends our individuality. The church is much more than the sum of its parts.
One of the great heresies against the church is the notion that the church is a gathering of “like-minded individuals.” In other words, the church is like a country club where people who agree with each other get together to agree with each other. And while this is certainly what Paul urges the Corinthians toward – that that they agree with each other and be of the same mind and judgment – this is not what makes them the church. It’s the other way around. In other words, you don’t become a member of the body of Christ because you agree and have the same mind; you have the same mind because you are a member of the body of Christ. Unity is God’s doing, the work of the Spirit working through the Word, calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying, and keeping the whole church with Christ in the one true faith. God works unity; Sin works disunity. The devil, together with our own sinful natures, is what divides the church and isolates its members.

Unity was threatened in the Corinthian congregation. Divisions are not simply sins of members against members; they are sins against the body of Christ, the very body that was nailed to the cross to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under His lordship. To perpetuate division and discord is to be an instrument in the hand of the devil, to be the knife in his hand hacking away at and dismembering the body of Christ. You don’t want to be in that position, I assure you. If you ever find yourself referring to fellow members as “those people” or “that group” you need to stop, drop, and repent. You’re playing into the devil’s hands.

The antidote is not compromise or some phony version of “playing nice,” but the cross of Jesus. Paul squares the divided Corinthians up to the cross of Christ. He preaches “nothing but Christ and him crucified.” He literally holds before their eyes dead Jesus hanging on a cross, taking away their sins, rescuing them from sin, death, and devil and says to them, “How do all your divisions stack up against this?” How do your cliques and quarrels look when viewed against the cross of Jesus? We read about how the disciples bickered over which one of them was the top dog on the night Jesus was betrayed and we shake our heads over how silly they are. Didn’t they hear Jesus? Didn’t they realize what He was about to do? He was talking about His body being given into death and His blood shed on the cross, and they are arguing over which one of them is the greatest!

We’re appalled by their lack of hearing and understanding, yet we ourselves do the same thing. We can go from the altar directly to each other’s throats in just a few short steps. The same mouth that eats and drinks the Body and Blood of Christ and sings His praises can curse and slander a brother in the next breath. One body can quickly become many scattered members if left to our own devices.

The answer lies in the cross of Jesus. Not the symbol but the fruits. In Baptism, where we die to self and rise as members of Christ’s body. In the Word that kills Sin and the sinner and raises up the saint. In the Supper where we partake of the one Body of Christ and are made the one Body of Christ. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread,” Paul reminds the Corinthians later in his letter (1 Cor 10:17). There are many grains, but one loaf. There are many grapes, but one Cup. There are many members, but one Body. God does this, we don’t do it. God is doing this here too, among us. By the Word of the cross, which is utter foolishness to the world but the power of God for salvation to all who believe, we are being made one. In spite of our selves.

You are one Body in the Lord. Baptized with one Baptism. Forgiven by one Word. Fed by one Body and one Blood. You are one in Christ. And when you agree with one another, and strive to work together and are united in mind and judgment, when divisions are healed instead of perpetuated, you are being the Body of Christ that you are.

In the name of Jesus,