Lesson Two: Divisions in the Church
I Corinthians 1:10-17
Have you ever heard the Bible story of “the Muddites and the Touchites? It arose during the first few years after Christ’s return to heaven. Nobody is exactly sure how it all started; it all happened sort of gradually, but it was all based on two of the miracles of Jesus! It seems that back in Matthew 9:27 Jesus healed two blind man by simply touching their eyes, and immediately their sight was restored. And verse 31 tells how the story spread throughout the whole country.
But interestingly enough, there was another blind man who was involved in a very similar miracle, and it, too became a well known story. That story is told over in John 9:1-7. And it involved another blind man whom Jesus healed, and the text says that Jesus spat on the ground and made mud, and put it on the man’s eyes, Then He told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam, and when he did he regained his sight! Now both of those stories are true, and they are recorded in the gospels of Matthew and John.
But guess what happened next? The friends of the men whom Jesus had touched and healed heard about the man that he put the mud on and immediately denounced it as a fraud, because everybody knows that Jesus heals blindness just by touching people. So there arose in Jerusalem two great denominations: the Muddites and the Touchites. And to this day their descendants will have nothing to do with each other! (I have to admit, however, that the part about the two denominations didn’t really happen. It is just to demonstrate how easily we Christians can get out of fellowship with each other.)
But there is something very important to notice in this facetious story: what were they arguing about? About methods! They agreed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and that he could and did heal blindness, and that God should be praised for it. But they disagreed about how He went about it.
From time to time we hear about a church that has gone through a “church split.” And sometimes it is over genuine doctrinal differences. When it is, it is inevitable, and, in a certain sense even good. John makes reference to this kind of thing in I John 2:19 – “they went out from us because they were not of us . . .” (Notice carefully, however, that he was talking about heretics, not just people who disagreed on the color scheme in the sanctuary) But more often than not, it is about something like the muddites and the touchites or the color scheme in the sanctuary.
And that was one of the problems the Christians at Corinth were facing: arguments about methods and preferences. And God knew that it would be such a common problem among Christians that He inspired the Apostle Paul to write to them (and us) about it. And it is such an important problem that he devotes the first four chapters of the book to it.
By way of outline, in verses one through nine he had begun the letter very graciously with a commendation of the Corinthians. So the second third of the chapter has to do with this important challenge to the Corinthians in verses 10 through 17 And it has to do with the presence of divisions in the church. Notice first the very unique admonition concerning divisions that he makes in verses 10 through 17.
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment.
First, it was an admonition based on his love for them – note the word “brethren” and the phrase “I plead with you.” He was an apostle – and they knew it. – he could have easily said, “Now cut that out.” But no matter what the problems may be between Christians, it is always better to deal with them from a position of love and respect. But notice also that it was an admonition of authority – note the phrase, “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!”
It is interesting to notice the differences between God’s priorities and ours. We would think that only something extremely important – like murder or adultery -would be approached “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And the use of that name does imply that it is important, but notice the subject; disagreements between Christians! Then in the last part of the verse he gives a kind of summary analysis of the problem and its solution: “speak the same thing.” This demonstrates, in the first place, that the problem was largely complicated by talk. Verse 12 fits in with that – “each one says . . .” Now you might be thinking, “what’s so bad about that?” It’s only a little talk, not action.” But in the last part of verse 10 and verse 11 Paul points out the adverse nature of the divisions.
I plead with you . . .that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgement.
The word “divisions” is a translation of the Greek word “schismata,” often used to describe a torn (and therefore useless) garment. And the phrase “perfectly joined together” is a translation of one Greek word which in Mark 1:19 and Matthew 4:21 to describe the disciples “mending” their nets. And in secular Greek it was used to refer to the “harmony” of a symphony. And that really fits well here. What kind of symphony would it be if every instrument just played its own note? (as in the “tuning up” time before the concert) But people pay money to hear a group of instruments play together.
Another aspect of the adverse nature of these divisions is in the use of the word “contentions” in verse 11. This same Greek word is used in Galatians 5:20 in describing the works of the flesh. And here is a key to the whole problem: using human reactions to spiritual problems! There is a clear statement of this over in chapter 3 verses 3 and 4:
For you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you are you not carnal and behaving as mere men? (4) For where one says, “I am of Paul” or another says, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?
Notice the phrase, “mere men.” “aren’t we all “just men”? No! the believer is a man with the holy Spirit! It is so easy to disagree, isn’t it? And sometimes those disagreements are in areas in which there can be no compromise. But much more often they are about things that really are matters of “preference” or “opinion.” And to let those kinds of disagreements come between us is to tear the beautiful fabric of unity among believers. Later in this letter Paul is going to go into a lot more detail about the solution to this problem – but here is the summary: Ask the Lord to help you with those with whom you disagree! Not necessarily to help you agree with them, but to help you listen to them and see if perhaps you are wrong. It sounds so simple, but have you tried it?