Text: 1 Cor 1:10-31
I used to work for a dot.com in West Hollywood for about 4 years and during that span, I saw a bunch of celebrities: Ron Howard, Bill Murray, the Japanese character Hiro from the TV series Heroes, the cheerleader from Heroes, Baron Davis, the American Idol winner from 2-3 years ago, a contestant from So You Think You Can Dance. Some of you may envy me, but I am not like those crazy fans who stalk celebrities. I don’t run up to them for their autographs. Why should I react like that? We are all human, we all go to the bathroom, we all eat cereal in the morning. To me, celebrities are nothing special.
During my stint in West Hollywood, across the street was a hair salon and some famous celebrity was getting her hair done and about a dozen photographers were camped outside to take her photo. This is Hollywood. This is the crazy city we call home.
Like I said, unlike Brother Daniel who has a tendency to worship mere men like former Cal basketball coaches, I am proud to say that I am totally unaffected by this celebrity culture. Kobe Bryant might be right next to me, and I might acknowledge him, hey, what’s up, nice game winner last night? But that’s about it.
Except one time when a few of us were attending the Desiring God conference and we went up to John Piper between messages to take a picture with him. I don’t what it was. Standing in front of this holy man of God, I suddenly forgot how to talk. Instead of Pastor John, can we take a photo with you, I said, Mr. Piper, can we take a P-P-P-Piper with you. I was so embarrassed.
Celebrities are no longer reserved for the silver screen and home LCDs. Even among Christians, we live in an age of celebrity Christian leaders. Billy Graham, James Dobson, Tim Keller, NT Wright, Rick Warren, Francis Chan, Mark Driscoll, Joshua Harris to name a few. With technological advances, we now have youtube and podcasts and these mega-church pastors and leaders are now able to reach people thousands of miles away and grow their fan base.
I’ll admit — in this arena of Christian celebrities, I am not immune. I do keep up with a few of them. Mainly out of respect and appreciation for their teaching. And as I keep up with these Christian celebrities, I have noticed a disturbing trend. For leaders who have been doing ministry for 30 years or more and who have reached a certain level of stardom, a growing number of them stumble. They all start well, they are out of the gates in a hard sprint, guns blazing, with humility and compassion, but they don’t always end strong. The reason? Pride. As their celebrity status grows, the focus begins to shift away from God to the charismatic leader. And instead of Jesus being center stage and receiving all the glory, it is so easy for gifted leaders to steal some of the spotlight and to claim some of the glory for themselves when all of the glory belongs to God alone.
The celebrity culture was not created in the 21st century. On a much smaller scale, we see the same thing happening in the church at Corinth. We see the beginnings of the secular culture and value system infiltrating the church. As a result, the church at Corinth is divided. It is fractured. And they are in danger of losing the true gospel and adopting a false one.
Into this mess, Paul writes this letter to the Corinthian church.
Summary Statement: According to human wisdom and worldly power, the cross is utter foolishness and seems so weak. The cross of Jesus is so scandalous and so preposterous that without God taking the initiative and saving us, you and I would never have a chance to become Christian.
Key verses: 1 Cor 1:22-24
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
In those verses, we see Jews demanding miraculous signs and Greeks looking for wisdom. In those 2 groups — Jews and Greeks, we see 2 of the most common idolatries known to man.
The two things that we idolize and that we are attracted to the most are:
1) We are attracted to worldly wisdom.
2) We are attracted to power.
22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom
I am going to tackle the second half of the verse first — how the Greeks are looking for wisdom. We are attracted to worldly wisdom. That’s one of the main idolatries of man.
The city of Corinth was a wealthy port city influenced by Hellenistic culture where Greek philosophy and thought reigned supreme. And in this opening chapter, we see how the secular society’s value system was already affecting and influencing the Corinthian church starting with its leadership and spreading to the members.
10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
3 times – Paul appeals to the Corinthians to have unity. I appeal to you that all of you AGREE, and that you may be perfectly UNITED in MIND, perfectly unity in THOUGHT.
Agree, be perfectly united in mind, united in thought. 3 times – Paul pleads for unity.
Based on insider information that Paul received from members of Chloe’s household in v11, Paul becomes aware of the quarrels among various church members.
Some are saying, “I follow Paul”; others are saying, “I follow Apollos”; another says, “I follow Cephas,” and I suppose the super spiritual ones in the group are saying, “I follow Christ.”
In the Greek, it is translated literally, “I am of Paul” which means something to the effect — “I am Paul’s person.” He’s my guy. This sounds stronger in force than the translation, I follow someone.
There is no evidence that there are actual parties or factions in the church. What is clear, though, is that the whole church has fallen prey to a love for debate in which various members exalt themselves and boast because they think they are wiser than others. Why? Because in their minds, they deem that their leader of choice is wiser than the rest according to their own criteria.
It’s like when I was in the fourth grade, I didn’t want to fight with my hands because the white kids in my school were bigger than me. And I was not that great in terms of speech either. But words hurt less than punches so I chose to spar with my words. So when I got into a verbal match with another fourth grader, my best comeback was, oh yeah, well, my dad is smarter than your dad. I was dead serious. I believed it with all my heart. And by the transitive principle, if my dad is smarter than your dad, that means that I am smarter than you.
A similar thing is happening at the church at Corinth. My leader is smarter than your leader. The Corinthians were attracted to human wisdom and formed their alliances around certain leaders who had wisdom and probably good oratory skills. Because if you are the smartest guy but you can’t speak well, then it’s probably going to be hard for you to build a following.
Hearing about this quarreling, Paul must have been dumbfounded. To him, this kind of worldly evaluation of leadership and boasting is so absurd. And to show how absurd he thinks it is to place leaders on a pedestal using worldly criteria like intelligence, Paul cites v13-17. There, he links this methodology of evaluating leaders based on worldly wisdom WITH the ceremony of baptism.
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Paul tended to downplay his eloquence, but his use of rhetoric here is quite impressive in my opinion because he uses this writing technique to show the utter folly of their human evaluation of leadership. To be baptized into the name of someone means that the person being baptized has turned over allegiance, has given himself, to the one named in the act of baptism. That is why when we baptize, we baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We are saying, I am turning my allegiance to God in a public profession of my faith.
Here, Paul is exposing the wrong view that the Corinthians held not only in their evaluation of leadership but also regarding baptism. For them, it can be implied from Paul’s reaction that the Corinthians held somewhat of a magical view of baptism. That there is some divine activity going on during the rite of baptism. And the Corinthians took it a step further to say, if baptism is magical and something divine is occurring, then the person baptizing you also matters a great deal. That is why the Corinthians held the baptizer in high regard. Since few at the Corinthian church were physically baptized by Paul, therefore, not many could lay claim that they were baptized into Paul’s name, and by that very fact, not many could say “I am of Paul” or “I am baptized in the name of Paul.” Do you see the rhetoric that Paul is using to expose the absurdity of their stance on leadership and how that is tied to baptism?
It’s like me saying, you see that brother over there, Isaac, yeah I baptized him a few months ago. He is indebted to me. Because he is baptized into my name, I have a claim over his life. He’s under me. He’s in my camp. That’s absurd and kind of grotesque. We don’t possess one another. God forbid that we ever use ministry to boost our ego.