On the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, we focus on the Epistle with an excerpt from The Big Book of New Testament Questions and Answers.
1 Corinthians 1:10–18
Read the propers for today on lutherancalendar.org.
When the divisions within the Church cause us pain and confusion, we trust in the unchanging Word of God. True unity in the Church comes through Christ and Him alone.
1:10–17 Paul admonishes that there should be no divisions in the church, but today we see many divisions in congregations and church leadership. What can we do? Has there always been division in the Church?
Fallen human nature and congregations of fallen human beings don’t have the right attitude and will never listen to what God says (Jer 17:9). No matter how biblical or Christian a person intends to be, as long as we have this fallen human nature we will fail to live as God desires and commands (Is 64:6; Rm 7:14–21; 1Jn 1:8–9). No matter how much we might welcome unity and even work for it, we cannot bring about unity by our desire for it, nor can we force it. Unity—real, substantive, meaningful unity—is the product of God’s Word at work in us, bringing us to honesty about the truth and regenerating us as His own children (1 Jn 1:7–10; 2:18–19; Php 1:27–2:5). Jesus, Paul, and the history of humanity demonstrate that there must be divisions (Gen 4:3–8; 1 Ki 12:1–18; Lk 12:51–53; 1Co 11:19). Both the Old and New Testament require us to separate from people or groups who oppose the truth and grace of God (Lv 20:24–26; Ezr 10:1–3; Rm 16:17; 1Co 5:7–13; 2Jn 10).
There were no denominations in Paul’s time as we know them today. However, there were different Jewish sects (Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, Zealots) and different groups of people competing with one another in the same congregations (Lk 10:35–41; 1Co 1:12–22; Jas 2:1–9). Denominations exist because people have a greater commitment to their own opinions than they do to the truth (Jgs 21:25; Pr 26:16; Is 53:6; Jn 8:33–44). Churches don’t listen to biblical teaching about unity because they are made up of people with fallen human natures. If you inquire, you may learn that churches don’t listen to many other things that the Bible has to say, such as “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Lk 12:15) or “Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (Rm 13:8).
Regardless of times, places, or external associations or differences, the true Christian Church, the Body of Christ, is and will always be one (Mt 16:18; Jn 10:16; Eph 4:4–6). Honesty, truth, and Christian love do not seek to pretend or claim that there is unity where there is none (Jer 6:14; Mt 7:21–27; Lk 4:21–30; 22:48; Jn 1:11–13). The Christian mission is to bear witness to the truth and grace of God out of love for all people because God has loved us. True unity can only be the fruit of the truth and grace of God (1Jn 1:7).
1:10 How are we to be perfectly united when people have different ideas about everything?
God gives great liberty within a structure that exists to support, promote, and protect life (Gal 5:1, 13). Adam and Eve could eat of any of the trees of the garden (who knows how many there were?) and were only forbidden to eat of one. So much of what we think our lives are about can be decided upon by us and doesn’t affect our unity (Rm 14:1–15:6). Unity begins with the Word that reveals the truth (1Jn 1:7). Rebellion against the truth inescapably sets us in opposition to each other, and thus divisions are endless. We become united when the Law works repentance from our rebellion against the truth and when the Gospel regenerates us in the image of Christ and with the mind of Christ (Jgs 21:25; Lk 11:23; Php 1:27).
Devotional reading is from The Big Book of New Testament Questions and Answers, pages 410–11 © 2015 Michael Eschelbach. Published by Concordia Publishing House.
Lord, our God, You are merciful and kind, true and faithful. Preserve us in Your Word, and guard Your Church against all oppressors and faithless leaders. Grant peace to our country, and wisdom to our government to protect right and truth, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Prayer is from Concordia Psalter, page 66 © 2015 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.