2) The cross shapes our relationships
The symptoms of spiritual sickness at this church were jealousy and quarreling. This is related to the first point about our new identity in Christ because underlying the in-fighting was a skewed self-identity.
If you recall from the first few chapters of 1 Corinthians, this issue of division stems from their wrong concept of wisdom and power. While Paul is saying the cross is true wisdom and power, the Corinthians have been shifting away from the cross back to a human-oriented wisdom and power within the church. And as you would expect, divisions and factions began forming–I follow Apollos, I follow Paul, I follow Peter–and the church was being splintered around several prominent spiritual leaders.
This human-oriented wisdom applied in a church context was no different from the human wisdom that we find in the world. That’s the sad part. Individuals jockeying for power and causing divisions, you expect that kind of stuff in the world. We see this in politics. You see this in your labs. You see this at work. And you realize, any time people are gathered, this kind of human dynamics and politicking is at work. It’s human nature because we are all selfish and we want to be on top. It’s how the world operates.
But the church of God was supposed to be different. We were supposed to be one, we were called to complete unity and oneness under God. But the Corinthian church was becoming increasingly similar to the secular city of Corinth in which the church was called to minister. Rather than the church affecting the city, the city began corrupting the church. And the city of Corinth was a place where Greek philosophy was held in high regard and sexual immorality was being paraded around without shame.
Later on, we’ll see the sexual immorality of the society infiltrating the Corinthian church, but for now, we see the influence of Greek philosophy seeping into the church. Think about the mentality of someone who says I follow Apollos, or any human leader. Basically, that person is boasting, look at how great my leader is and how inferior your leader is in comparison. And by the transitive principle, I am great because I was able to recognize the most spiritual leader among the bunch. And I am under him, he is training me. This is pride rearing its ugly head in the church. The church became an arena where one has to struggle to establish self-importance. One person has to rise up and any time someone rises in prominence, he has to squash down the others.
It’s tragic, really. The Corinthian community was inaugurated correctly by the cross of Jesus, the gospel. They were saved. Their testimonies were confirmed. Spiritual gifts were being exercised. But after Paul’s departure, this community had degraded into a theater for self-aggrandizement and power grabs for these factional leaders.
What is the solution for this fractured church? I think you already know the answer. The solution is to return to the cross. Why is the cross essential in shaping our relationships?
Because we are all sinners. I am sure the Corinthian leaders and members did not intend on becoming this kind of fleshly church. But they became blind to their sins and they became proud and they became divisive. And I know that I am susceptible to becoming blind to my own sins and so is every single person here. It’s like you have a ketchup stain on your chin but you can’t see yourself unless someone points it out to you. We could go through the whole day and think nothing is wrong, but even in that small example, we don’t notice the ketchup stain because we can’t see our own faces. That is why being blind to oneself is such a real danger in the Christian life. And if becoming blind to oneself is so common and we are sinners, it is almost guaranteed, if we walk this faith journey long enough together, it is inevitable that we will sin against one another.
And when that happens, each party will think they are right and the other person is completely wrong. Isn’t that why family members stop talking to each other for decades? This is your fellow sibling, your own flesh and blood that you grew up with and loved at one point. Yet, something happens and you cut that person out of your life. And you feel that you are not fault at all, you’re blameless, you’re a saint and that other person is completely wicked. As kids growing up, you don’t know what happened in your extended family, you just know that years ago, you stopped visiting a particular uncle or aunt. So many families are fractured because we are all sinners.
And the same thing can happen at church. Of course, if we are very polite with one another and we only see each other on Sundays and we don’t really know one another, then I suppose that we can keep a safe enough distance from one another to not offend or hurt anyone else.
But assuming we agree with the Bible that we are called into close proximity and intimate relationships as members of one body of Christ, eventually we will sin against another brother or sister at this church. Let’s just put that on the table. Someone is going to do something here that is going to hurt another person’s feelings and if it is serious enough, there will be gossiping and slander and factions will form depending on which person you like better. It happens at the best of churches.
So what do we do when that happens? Because it will. What happens when we sin against one another? We have to go to the cross. It’s only at the cross that we learn to forgive one another because God first forgave us in Christ.
Because of sin, relational conflict is inevitable. When we become bitter or unforgiving toward others, we’re assuming that the sins of others are more serious than your sins or my sins against God. The cross levels the playing field. We are all sinners. There is no one righteous, not even one. Through the cross and through the cross alone, I realize that no sin committed against me will ever be as serious as the innumerable sins I’ve committed against God. When we understand how much God has forgiven us, it becomes possible to forgive others.
I pray that we can have the cross at the center of our relationships. We’re going to need it. Every church needs cross-centered relationships. Between me and Pastor John, I pray that there will always be a cross. Between you and your wife, I pray that there will be a cross. Between every one of us, when 2 or 3 are gathered, may there be a cross. A cross where we can learn to forgive one another. Cross-centered relationships.
The cross shapes our identity, the cross shapes our relationships and lastly, the cross shapes our ministry.