The Gospel As The Antidote To Division and Strife (1 Cor 1-4)

This is a sermon I prepared for a church in S. Massachusetts.  I didn’t make it through, but the main idea is that the gospel is not a message that we heard once and (perhaps) responded to, but it is THE central message that continues to unfold — growing in us and through us over the course of our lives.  In all Paul’s writings, the gospel is the under-current – or under-girding.  (The pic is a wordle cloud using the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians.)


A.   One commentator said that Paul was addressing the Corinthians “party pride.”[1] Another describes Corinth as a “child-church.”[2]

B.    It’s interesting to contrast Paul’s letter to the Corinthians with his letter to the Galatians.  Basically 1 Corinthians deals with the abuses of liberty — while Galatians deals with the abuses of legalism.  Both are expressions of the soul and not the Spirit.

C.    My point for today: The antidote to both excessive liberty and excessive legalism is the Gospel.

D.   Our passage today is: 4:14-21 (NASB). It is Paul’s concluding remarks of this first section of the letter – the section is an admonition to put a stop to their divisiveness and strife in the church.  (In chaps 5-6 he address moral and ethical disorders in the church.)

14I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.

15For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ,[3] yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus [an affectionate term describing is relationship with Jesus – as opposed to Paul’s more formal term: Jesus Christ: why??] I became your father through the gospel. [Gospel is our launch-pad.]

16Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.

17For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ just as I teach everywhere in every church. [He’s not saying he has it together, he’s saying his life is immersed in the gospel.]

18Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you.

19But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power.

20For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power. [i.e., resurrection power.]

21What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?

E.    Today I would like to take an extended look at the gospel: I believe that in the North American Church we have lost, or squandered, much of the power – and breadth of the Gospel.

F.    Pastor and author, Tim Keller reminds us the Gospel is not advice, it is news.  It is the ultimate Good News.  Sunday morning is not primary the place to give advice… Gospel-driven change is rooted in remembrance. We are to remind one another primarily of what Christ Jesus has done, not what we must do.

G.   We have tended to view the Gospel a message that many of us responded to many years ago – and then moved on from.  Yet the Gospel is more like an ocean.  It is deep, and wide, and vast.

H.   And the essence of Christian maturity is when the Gospel itself gets worked in – and through our lives.

I.      So, we are asking today: How is the Gospel the antidote to division and strife in the church?

J.     I would like to draw your attention to a theological concept that I believe helps to understand the Gospel in a more complete way.  We want to make sure we preach and teach a WHOLE, or COMPLETE Gospel.

1. Tri-Perspectivalism – A 10 cent theological word that means viewing something from different vantage points.  Think facets of a diamond…

a. Tri-Perspectivalism emanates out of the mystery of the Trinity

b.     The three persons, however, are not identical to one another. They are distinct in various ways – and yet they are one.

c.     We also see Perspectivalism in the 4 Gospels – Four perspectives of the same message.

2.     Tri-Perspectivalism teaches us about the Gospel by viewing it from 3 perspectives, or facets – one Gospel message with 3 aspects…

a.     The Kingdom of God.

b.     The Cross of Christ. 

c.     And the Grace of God.

3.     We often times run across churches, or whole denominations that emphasize one of these over-and-above the others.  And it creates an incomplete gospel.  What God has designated as whole has often times been divided and weakened.

4.     Without clarity and conviction regarding a whole gospel, there will be competition, confusion, and eventually compromise.

5.     So, I would like to define these perspectives – and then take a quick look back through the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians to see how Paul includes all three in his letter…

a.     The Kingdom of God – Quite simply is: The rule and reign of God.

  • Jesus established the Kingdom at his first coming and will consummate the Kingdom at his second coming. Jesus reaches into eternity and pulls it into the present – and stakes it into the ground with the Cross.  “We live in the presence of the future.”  “The already and the not yet.” 
  • As we live in the presence of the future there is paradox (seeming contradiction).  We are saved, but working out our salvation; we are sanctified, yet being sanctified; we are healed yet being healed.  We are filled with the Holy Spirit, but we leak.  It’s both present and future…
  • One of the most dynamic aspects of the present reality of the KOG, is that within it is the power that raised Jesus from the dead is made available to us.  The Greek word is dunamis – the same word we get “dynamite” from. 
  • The demands of the Kingdom are that we repent; we are to place God first, and follow him at any cast. 
  • Residing in the kingdom of God leads us to the Cross…

b.     The Cross – Speaks of the Atoning Work of Jesus Christ –

  • This is shorthand for the “5-Fold Christ Event”: 1) Virgin Birth, 2) Miraculous Ministry, 3) Degrading Death, 4) Victorious Resurrection, 5) Missional Ascension of Jesus Christ.
  • Apart from the atoning work of Christ, we would be forever guilty, ashamed, and condemned before God.
  • The way of God is suffering – and then glory.  This is what baptism is supposed to be about – I will die to my previous life and come alive to God – and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

c.     Grace – The unmerited favor of God.  Acceptance is given to us freely at God’s expense.

  • It’s important that we understand there is common grace and saving grace happens when we take up residence within the KOG.  When we realize that our sin killed Jesus.
  • Definition: All that God is, lavishly poured into you. 
  • Jonathan Edwards speaks of grace as, “the very Holy Ghost dwelling in the soul and acting there as a vital principle.”[4]
  • We have made grace too cheap.  As we surrender, as we die to ourselves and come alive to Christ — The grace of God comes to do in us and through us what we could never do on our own.
  • The ushering in of God’s grace announces the end of religion.

(i) Religion says, “I’m basically a good person…”

(ii) The person who is beginning to understand the Gospel of grace, moves toward total surrender admitting, “I can’t get there from here…”

K.   The essence of the Gospel:

1.     But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

2.     Martin Luther calls it, “the great exchange.”  My sin for his righteousness.

3.     **The gospel has the greatest potential to captivate us when we understand that we are more depraved than we ever realized and simultaneously more loved that we ever dared to imagine.

4.     I believe in total depravity… this doesn’t mean people are as bad as they can be. It means that (original sin) sin lurks/resides in every part of our being, including the spirit and the soul, so that we cannot save ourselves. “The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it” (Jer 17:9).[5]

5.     This is where the Church is most at odds with our culture.  And this is where, in my opinion, the Church often wimps out and lowers the bar.  (We don’t know how to speak the truth in love.)

6.     Do we want a revival?  Do we really? “To the church, a revival means humiliation, a bitter knowledge of unworthiness and an open humiliating confession of sin on the part of her [pastors] and people.  It is not the easy and glorious thing many think it to be, who imagines it filled the pews and reinstated the church in power and authority.  It comes to scorch before it heals; it comes to [convict] people for their unfaithful witness, for their selfish living, for their neglect of the cross, and to call them to daily renunciation and to a deep and daily consecration.  That is why a revival has ever been unpopular with large numbers within the church.  Because it says nothing to them of power, or of ease, or of success; it accuses them of sin; it tells them they are dead; it calls them to awake, to renounce the world [system] and to follow Christ.”[6]

7.     Is it that we tell others about the cross without really having experienced it for ourselves??

L.    The whole of this epistle is an explanation and unfolding of the Gospel that culminates in Chap 15 (Chap 16 is mostly concerned with administrative matters – although it contains one of the most potent passages for men in all of the Bible.)

1 Cor 15:1-4 — In what is certainly the climax of his letter, there is a brilliant and succinct rendition of the gospel…

Now I would remind you, brethren, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received [past], in which you stand [present], 2 and by which you are being saved [future], if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.


A.   In our remaining moments I’d like to quickly trace these Gospel concepts back through the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians.  Paul constructs his message in and with the Gospel…

1.     Paul is saying, your divisions (or divisiveness) are caused by immaturity, and you are stuck in your immaturity because you don’t really understand the Gospel.

a.     Paul speaks the same message to the Galatians – even though they’re stuck on the other side of the continuum.

b.     The letter is really a literary masterpiece.  It is filled with equal parts of hope, promise, affirmation, and rebuke – with a little sarcasm thrown in.

B.    1:1-9: Salutation and Benefits of Answering God’s Call

a.     Notice the use of the words, “called,” “calling,” or “call” used 3 times in the first 2 verses…

b.     Definition of the Church (1:2) – “Those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours.”

c.     You’d think Paul wouldn’t “lead” with grace if they were abusing it…  Maybe they didn’t really understand grace?

2.     Benefits of answering God’s call (1:4-9).  In the next 6 verses we see a grace-fueled ecclesiology with redeeming grace is given for the past, present, and future…

a.     Grace for the PAST – 1:4-6

  • (v.4) “grace was given” – in Christ Jesus (Christ Event)
  • (v.5) “in everything you were enriched” – in speech and knowledge
  • (v.6) “testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you”

b.     Grace for the PRESENT – 1:7 “you are not lacking in any gift – awaiting the revelation [revealing] of Jesus”

c.     Grace for the FUTURE – 1:8 – who shall also confirm you in the end, blameless on that day…”

3.     1:10 is a transitional, or thesis statement: division is overcome with spiritual maturity.

4.     (vs.10-16) Paul lays out the “what” of their division problem: They were “Choosing up Sides.”

5.     And he brings it back to the Gospel…in verses 17-18: 2:17For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. 18For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

C.    From 1:19 through the end of chapter 2 (v.16) Paul addresses the “why” of their division problemIdolatry.  Their idol was what Paul refers to as “the wisdom of the world” (1:20).  See also v.19 – “wisdom of the wise” – a quote from Isaiah 29.  The words “wise” or “wisdom” are used 24 times from here through the end of chapter 3.

D.   Within the depravity of the human heart there is a need, a hunger to idolize.

1.     Idolatry

a.     Tim Keller, in his recent book, Counterfeit Gods, explains that idolatry quietly and subtly slips into our lives when we allow good things to become ultimate things.[7]

b.     Another way to understand idolatry is to think of it in terms of defining where we obtain our hope.  At the heart of every culture lays its main “Hope.”  Any dominant cultural “Hope” that is not God himself is an idol.[8]

2.     In 1 Cor we find the dominant cultural hope of both Jews and Greeks in1:22: “Jews ask for signs [attesting miracles], and Greeks search for wisdom.” [Think Greek Mythology].  The words “wisdom,” or “wise” are used 24 times from 1:19 through 3:20.

3.     Paul is saying that both the Jews and Greeks are getting caught-up in soulish expressions of their faith, not Spiritual.

a.     For the Jews, it’s their emotions – want to continually see signs and wonders.  (Paul addresses the appropriate use of charismatic gifts in chapters 12-14.)

b.     For the Greeks, it’s their intellect – wanting wisdom; but Paul is saying their wisdom is worldly and not “born of the Spirit of God” (see 2:10).

c.     Much of their wisdom was contained in Greek Mythology, which is certainly worth reading as a collection, or body, of literature – but when it becomes a source of life for wisdom and practice, it is severely lacking.  It is polytheistic and there seems to be constant confusion between erotic love and sacrificial love – what we would call agape love.  (“When we lust, we cannot love.”) Chapters 5 and 6 of 1 Cor address moral and ethical disorders in the church.

d.     Notice 3:16: “Do you not notice that you are the temple of God…” Again, Paul is confronting and addressing their idolatry.

E.    There is a sub-theme inserted from 3:4-4:5:  The Corinthians have a wrong perception of Christian ministry (vs.3:5-4:5). Notice the “Therefore…” It’s an admonition to wait on the Lord – for insight/Godly wisdom and discernment regarding motives.

F.    From here Paul (with sarcasm) moves toward a summary statement for this section on:  division instigated by a shallow (or immature) understanding of the gospel while being bound-up in a cultural “hope” that was idolatrous.


A.   As we move toward communion this morning.  I would like you to ponder 2 things…

1.     Has the gospel – through the coming of the kingdom, the Cross, and the free and total work of grace saved you?

The great reformer Martin Luther rightly said that, as sinners, we are prone to pursue a relationship with God in one of two ways. The first is religion/spirituality and the second is the gospel. The two are antithetical in every way.

2.     Where is idolatry in your life?

From C.S. Lewis in “The Weight of Glory” Chapter 1, Paragraph 1:
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion…is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

[1] Jamieson, Fausset, Brown

[2] Kenneth Chafin, Communicator’s Commentary, 1-2 Corinthians.

[3] Jonathan Edwards said, “Even heretics speak truth.”

[4] Jonathan Edwards, TREATISE ON GRACE.

[5] “None is righteous, no, not one.” Romans 3:10 (ESV)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” Eph 2:1-2 (ESV)

[6] James Burns. Revival, Their Laws & Leaders.

[7] Ibid. Adapted from Keller.

[8] Andrew Delbanco. The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope. Quoted in Counterfeit Gods: 129-130.

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