Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
When I was in high school, Friday night meant, as it means around here, football. We were the Ooltewah Owls, and we took this stuff seriously. Just about every season during my high school career we made it to the playoffs. I remembers riding a bus with other students to go to some of those games. As exciting as that all was, nothing beats the excitement of when you play your rival.
One of our biggest rivals were the Central Purple Pounders. I mean, the purple pounders, what kind of name is that? How could you take a team seriously that had a name like that. That’s what you tell yourself when you are in a rivalry. I didn’t play football, but I would go through the ritual of dutifully cheering for my school over our inferior rival. These were big scoring games, and during my time in High School each team went back and forth on who would come out victorious. That’s part of what makes a good rival.
The students would get excited about this. And then you would hear the stories of the people that arrested for taking the game rivalry to parking lot at the Taco Bell. It was always the Taco Bell. I think tacos should be a safe, neutral ground for all to enjoy. The cops would come out— these things never ended well.
When I spend time with colleagues we have a similar rivalry when it comes to our seminaries. Now, of course, I know my school is legitimately the best seminary but for some reason other colleagues try to tell me their school is better.
Of course, School rivalry isn’t the only form of rivalry. I found this story about a sibling rivalry:
When I was about five years old, I got my boots stuck in deep mud and couldn’t move. After unsuccessfully attempting to pull me out, my sister walked home to get help. I waited in the rain for an hour and no one came, so I pulled my feet out of the boots and walked home barefoot. When I got home I found my sister watching TV. She had apparently forgotten about me. https://www.littlethings.com/sibling-horror-stories/
Countries do this to. The citizens of a nation are often patriotic and will view their country as better than another country. And think that their way of life is better than the way of life found just across a boarder. Through history, nations have started wars due to this rivalry.
Today I want to share with you a snap shot of a rivalry that was going on in a church. The church I want to tell you about is a church in a town know as Corinth about 2000 years ago. A guy named Paul started this church, then he left and encouraged to the church to continue to grow in ministry. The problem is, that after Paul left other teachers started popping up in the church. We don’t know what these teachers taught, but we know that they taught different things. And what happened is the church began to see division, to see rivalry, due to the fact that people within the church held different beliefs about different important topics.
Now churches are always made up of people that disagree about things. I love our sanctuary, but when we remodeled the sanctuary many of you held different beliefs about what color we should paint the walls or what kind of flooring we should install. This type of disagreement is not what was going on in the Corinthian church. They weren’t arguing over the color of the walls or carpet, they were fighting over big things. Now, we don’t know what fights were about, but people had sincerely held beliefs about what was right and what was wrong. I imagine it went something like this:
“I’m sorry, but I know what the Bible says and that lifestyle wrong.”
“I’ve always been taught that what I believe is the right way to live or believe.”
“You really must be this or you aren’t really a Christian.”
And different groups in the church would argue like this because they had been taught that whatever wisdom they had gained would get them closer to God. They had been taught that their beliefs were the right way to believe. And if you believe strongly that you are right, more likely than not, that means you believe someone else is wrong. This is at the core of the division and rivalry that was going on at this time.
So, Paul decides to write this church a letter, and this is what he writes: 1 Corinthians 1:10-12
10 Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose. 11 My brothers and sisters, Chloe’s people gave me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other. 12 What I mean is this: that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Christ.”
Paul left, and different teachers came in, Apollos, Cephas, perhaps others. And now the people of the church are following the wisdom of these leaders. Their thinking, their wisdom has built themselves and built up their beliefs. And they are beginning to think that they are smarter, that they are wiser, that they have it all together, and that these other groups just don’t get it.
Sometimes that happens in our lives too. We are in the midst of this message series on teaching and learning. And sometimes, education or sometimes a lack of education, leads leads people to begin thinking they are better than someone else.
If you go to a big school, study a lot, and come away with a fancy education, sometimes there is a tendency to think you are wise and wiser than the people back home. That now, since you are educated, you are smarter than them and better than them. So you divide yourself from those that aren’t as smart as you.
The same is true on the other side as well. Perhaps you didn’t go to some fancy school to get a fancy degree. Instead you started working to provide for your family, or you went to trade school or started a business, and did something different for yourself. If this explains your life, there is a tendency to also divide yourself from those who got those fancy educations. Because you might consider yourself the “real America,” part of the heartland. These others, have just forgotten their roots and now you imagine that they have forgotten you too.
Of course, there are different ways that we divide ourselves. But education is one of them, and because of this, I think this letter from Paul serves as caution to you—especially if you consider yourself a Christian. You see, after acknowledging the fighting going on in the midst of this Corinthian church, Paul continues:
13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name? 14 Thank God that I didn’t baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that nobody can say that you were baptized in my name! 16 Oh, I baptized the house of Stephanas too. Otherwise, I don’t know if I baptized anyone else. 17 Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ’s cross won’t be emptied of its meaning.
Paul reminds this church, you don’t ultimately follow Apollos or Cephus or me, you are supposed to ultimately follow Christ. And he asks them, “is Christ divided?” Paul might tell us, you don’t ultimately follow the Democrats or the Republicans, you don’t ultimately follow your own beliefs that you have built up. You aren’t ultimately a liberal or a conservative. If you are a Christian, you ultimately follow Jesus. Jesus is one.
You notice, Paul does not engage with the beliefs of each of these groups. He doesn’t look at the merits of the division in the church. In all likelihood these different groups had valid reasons for why they believed the way they did. There were reasons they followed Apollos or Cephas. They didn’t just blindly support division; I am sure they deeply believed that the Bible supported their beliefs. But Paul isn’t interested in the differences of their beliefs. Paul isn’t interested into why some of them believe one thing and others believe something else. He just goes straight to cross, forget about all this human stuff that divides you, he says.
And then Paul gets a little heavy handed and starts talking about wisdom. Humans have a tendency to think that we can get pretty wise and that this wisdom is something we can rely on to be successful in life. But we also seen how this wisdom tends to divide people so. So, Paul brings caution:
18 The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved. 19 It is written in scripture: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will reject the intelligence of the intelligent.[a] 20 Where are the wise? Where are the legal experts? Where are today’s debaters? Hasn’t God made the wisdom of the world foolish? 21 In God’s wisdom, he determined that the world wouldn’t come to know him through its wisdom.
In this, Paul says, God has made the wisdom of the world foolish. That God determined that world wouldn’t know God through its wisdom. Human wisdom says my way is better than your way. Human wisdom leads to strong division and rivalry. Human wisdom says that as humans we can do anything we want to do. As humans we can save ourselves and fix all of our problems. When I think about the height of human wisdom, I think about this story that we find early on in the Bible.
The Bible tells us that one time all humanity was gathered together, and all humans spoke one language. And these humans were filled with wisdom, and they wanted to protect their way of life. So they say, “we are going to build huge structure to protect ourselves.” We find this story in the first book of the Bible, in Genesis chapter 11.
3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them hard.” They used bricks for stones and asphalt for mortar. 4 They said, “Come, let’s build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and let’s make a name for ourselves so that we won’t be dispersed over all the earth.”
This action sounds perfectly reasonable. But God knew that human wisdom had limits and could never really save the people. And God dispersed the people because God knew that unchecked human wisdom could lead to dangerous things and lead to dangerous technology and division.
That is what Paul is telling us in this letter too. God has shown human wisdom to be foolish. While God has shown the best of human wisdom as foolish, God does not leave you in your foolishness. Paul continues in v.21:
Instead, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching. 22 Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. 24 But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. 25 This is because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Not only did God show human wisdom to be foolish and unable to save us, Paul tells us that we are saved by the cross of Jesus Christ—which is foolishness to humanity. If you are a Christian today, you probably don’t think of the cross as foolish, but if you stop and think about it, it is utter foolishness. Human wisdom says that power and weapons and intelligence can save us. Human wisdom says that death is the end and has no power to save. Human wisdom says that if you are put in prison and executed you have no more power, you are done. So if, so called, wise people see Jesus they can see him as foolish because there is no way a dead man save anyone. Human wisdom, says this idea of Jesus foolish.
But Paul reminds the church that “to those who are called [by God] … Christ [is not foolish] Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
Human wisdom leads us to choose different camps. Human wisdom says we need to divide the church and divide society into pure groups that agree with each other. Human wisdom says my way is better than your way and establishes rivalries and conflicts. God’s foolishness does away with our camps and our sides and our political parties and brings all together in the cross of Jesus Christ. God chooses foolishness to show the world that wisdom cannot save you. When humans view wisdom as the ultimate God, its makes us weaker, less secure, and more hateful. But God says that there is a better way. God says the way of Jesus is the better way.
So as we are teaching and learning. I pray that you will examine your own life. Where in your life do you rely only human wisdom more than God’s wisdom. What beliefs and practices do you hold that separate you from someone else who disagrees with you? What value or traditional belief do you hold that allows you to see people who disagree with you or look different than you or come from a different county than you as different from you?
Through the supposed foolishness of the cross, God shows that all of our supposed wisdom is foolish. Perhaps the most important lesson we can teach or learn is that in the cross of Jesus Christ, God brings us all together. May this wisdom of God help heal our human divides and rivalries and lead you to depend not on yourself or your wisdom but only on God.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.