Messy Church Series
  • The local church has had problems from her inception. The local church is about people from all different background trying to discover unity in Christ and enjoy an amazing fellowship with one another through the Spirit's power. But, it is not automatic nor is it easy. In many ways it is very messy. Yet, God promises that His church will overcome and even the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. In the local church is the personification of the Lord Savior Jesus Christ. He will insure that the local church will flourish into eternity.
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance - What are the central ideas of this text?
    • Human wisdom is empty. – Proverbs 21:30; 24:7; I Corinthians 1:21
    • Men and women need wisdom that leads to life. – Proverbs 1:1-7; 3:13; 4:5-9
    • The wisdom from God is Jesus Christ crucified and He give life. – Ephesians 3:8-12; II Timothy 3:15
  • Implications - What questions should the listener be asking?
    • Where does human wisdom and understanding take you in terms of life and eternity?
    • Why do we need wisdom from God for life?
    • What does it mean for you that Jesus Christ is Wisdom, and how do you obtain life from that Wisdom?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide 
  • Interpretation - What is the text telling/showing us?
    • What do you think of when you hear the words “factions” or “divisions?”
    • Why do factions and divisions have no place in the church of Jesus Christ?
    • What were the factions and divisions in the Corinthian church, and what were their cause?  Why were they “worldly?” 
    • Why is the wisdom of man foolishness?  How is Christ the Wisdom of God?
    • What is the foundation for one's faith, and where does one's power come from?
    • What does it mean to have the “mind of Christ?”
    • What is the implication of being God's fellow workers (I Cor. 3:9)?  God's field? God's building?  (same verse)
    • What does it mean to build upon the foundation of the gospel in one's life?
    • What have we received in Christ (cf. I Corinthians 4:7 & 8)?
    • What does it mean to be God's temple?  How does the Spirit live in us?
  • Implementation - What should the listeners response be?
    • What kinds of factions and divisions can potentially arise in our church?
    • How do we guard against factions and divisions in the church? 
    • How can we have genuine differences of view and opinions and yet avoid factions and divisions?  
    • What does it mean to be “united in the same mind and the same judgment?”  
    • Who was the “skilled master builder” (I Corinthians 3:10) who laid your faith foundation?  Who is building on your foundation?  What does it mean to build with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or straw?
    • What does it mean for you that you have the mind of Christ!
    • You have a trust given to you, namely the gospel.  How can you prove faithful to that trust?
    • How should we live as children of the king, untied in mind and heart, without factions or divisions?  How can we present ourselves to the world in a way that will point to Christ?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as compiled by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation - What's generally going on in this area of scripture?
Having written the Corinthians thus far as to who they are in Christ, and what they have, and so building them up in their faith, Paul gets to the first “mess,” namely factions, or divisions, in the church. Verse 10 of Chapter 1 summarizes the issue as Paul admonishes the Corinthians to agree with one another so that there might be no factions (or divisions), but instead that they be “united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Paul was certainly well aware of Jesus' prayer in the upper room where He prayed that His followers might be one, just as He and the Father are one (John 17:20-23). Thus, Paul's emphasis on unity within the church at Corinth. Recall that the church at Corinth was made up of house churches. Most of the believers in Corinth were of the “lower” class of society (which made up the vast majority of people in the ancient Roman empire), such that the homes used for the meetings were those of well-to-do believers.

These well-to-do believers were better educated, and hence familiar with the philosophies and philosophers of the day (including Stoics and Cynics, among others), and thus were influenced by the thinking of these philosophers. All this provided ready fuel for the divisions within the church. For example, most philosophers of the day considered manual labor as a less than honorable way to provide for themselves (as opposed to their charging tuition or begging, or being supported by a patron). Philosophers claimed to be “wise, powerful and truly honorable, as opposed to the foolish masses.” (so Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, p. 460). Philosophers thought they were the only true kings as their noble character made them uniquely qualified. Such ideas surely seeped into the thinking of the well-to-do who may well have studied under such philosophers. Thus, wealthy landowners considered manual labor to be undignified, and that they had become “mature” in their understanding of all things because of their advanced wisdom and learning.

Most everyone in the society was familiar with rhetoric (the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques; and language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, but often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content). Philosophers of the day tended to dismiss the trained rhetoricians as being devoid of content in their words. With the foregoing as the backdrop to the situation in Corinth, it is no wonder that as the church gathered at the homes of various well-to-do believers, those hosts would well incline to one or another teacher of the Christian message (whether Paul, or Apollos, or Peter, or whomever) based on the source of their hearing the gospel, or would think of the views of the uneducated in their midst as foolish, or would think of themselves as elevated in stature. These differences generated quarreling (I Corinthians 1:11; 3:3), jealousy (I Corinthians 3:3), unkind views of one another (I am wise, you are not; I have understanding, you do not; I don't need to work; no one can judge me, but I can judge you; etc.). In addition to these differences that cause divisions, the fact that some of the believers were Jewish in heritage as opposed to Greek brought about a clash of cultures and views as well. All of this was communicated to Paul by those from Chloe's household (most likely high-ranking slaves, or freedmen, in Chloe's employ, who were handling her business between Corinth and Ephesus.)

Paul's response to the situation is not only the admonition of I Corinthians 1:10, but a rather lengthy passage, employing some of the very rhetorical devices typically employed by the rhetoricians of the day, to make the case that divisions and factions are wrong because of the unity that is to come from the message and power of the cross (cf. I Corinthians 1:17, 18, 23- 25). In short, the issue behind the divisions was man's supposed wisdom and knowledge, which Paul proves is really foolishness (I Corinthians 2:6-16) as it is not from God. Paul, Apollos, Peter and other ministers of the gospel, are messengers and servants doing what they were assigned by God to do (I Corinthians 3:5-8; 4:1) to build God's building (I Corinthians 3:9). By lining up behind one or another of these servants, the Corinthians were being “mere men” (I Corinthians 3:3 & 4) who are deceiving themselves in thinking that they are wise in boasting about men (I Corinthians 3:18-20). They need to stop (I Corinthians 3:21; 4:6 & 7) and live in the reality that everything of the new life as children of God is wrapped up in Jesus the Messiah (I Corinthians 3:22 & 23).

The wisdom of the Greeks does not save (I Corinthians 3:18 & 19); the rhetoric of the rhetoricians does not save (I Corinthians 2:13); suave and persuasive speech in and of itself does not save (I Corinthians 2:4). Only the Wisdom of God, namely Jesus Christ and Him crucified and resurrected, saves (I Corinthians 1:24, 30 & 31). And Paul adds that ultimately, the truth of what he was writing would stand up to the test of God's judgment (I Corinthians 3:10-15). What a message to the messy Corinthian church which was piling up factions based on who brought them the gospel message, and dividing over different views of living drawn from the secular society in which they lived. Didn't they know that together they constitute God's building which is laid on the foundation of Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 3:11), and that the builders on the foundation (whether Paul, Apollos, or some other teacher or teachers, and each individual believer, for that matter, who builds on their own foundation which has been laid in their life.

I Corinthians 3:10-15) are completing the sacred temple in which the Spirit dwells, and all of which is God' (I Corinthians 3:16-23)? Apparently they didn't know these things, thus precipitating this letter from Paul, written and sent out of his love for the Corinthians. Paul did not write to “shame” the believers (I Corinthians 4:14), but as their spiritual father who was concerned for their spiritual growth(cf. I Corinthians 3:1; 4:2, 16). Indeed, Paul said he was sending Timothy to help them in this process (I Corinthians 4:17), and would come personally if necessary (I Corinthians 4:18-21). The end in mind was therefore always growth in Christ, and living together as a community of faith in the power of the risen Savior (I Corinthians 1:17, 24, 30 & 31; 2:5; 4:20), and “united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (I Corinthians 1:10) All that to the end that God's kingdom might advance in and around their city.