“ For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you—whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” ~The Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 3:11, 21-23
There is a particular song by Jason Upton (“Power in Poverty”) that has a particular string of lyrics that have always made a strong impression on me. Jason writes, “Who will we praise when we’ve praised all our lives? Men who build kingdoms, and men who build fame, but heaven does not know their names?” These words have always reminded me of the praise we give all sorts of people, which come from different vocations in our world, because of the accomplishments or the achievements they have accumulated throughout their lifetimes. It is always different depending on the person and their interests, but, for me, professional athletes are group that quickly come to mind.
If you love baseball (as I do), you will know of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Cy Young, Ty Cobb and others. Baseball is known for its history, and the love it has for its own history. The people that love baseball respect and honor its lengthy history, and especially the players that have been a part of it. We have literal monuments to these men. Also, we buy their merchandise, wear their jerseys, and immortalize them in various other ways throughout our culture (The Baseball Hall of Fame). It is the same for the legendary athletes in every other sport (i.e., Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, and Jack Nicklaus). Ironically, Christians do the same thing with men throughout Church history, and men and women in present history.
The Apostle Paul was working with the same type of people in the church at Corinth. They placed mortal men where they didn’t belong and them as a means of identification. The result was division. They alienated themselves into parties formulated under the name of Paul or Apollos or Peter, and as a result the Apostle Paul is forced to address the issue with them to quickly rectify the error. He begins by explaining that there is no one that is particularly special in the kingdom of God (a theme continued with Paul’s explanation of Christ’s body in 1 Corinthians 12) and that they should not identify themselves with mere servants. Paul and Apollos (and Peter) are just men doing what God has called them to do, and the One whom they should have really been identifying with is God through Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:5-7). It is God who calls, God who converts, and God who causes things to grow. Therefore, only God is worthy of the honor we extend, and only God, through Jesus Christ, is the only candidate worthy of our identification. The premise of 1 Corinthians 3:21 is that everything is ours equally and that we equally belong to Christ, not to a servant of Christ. Therefore, there should be no divisions.
Unfortunately, the same issue continues within the Church presently. People identify with denominations, church leaders, theological perspectives, and all other sorts of insignificant things. It has come to a point where true Christians from different camps cannot work together to achieve the common goal of making disciples because they have unresolved differences based upon trivial doctrines, which they can’t fully comprehend anyway. Some might quickly justify division by using the story of Paul and Barnabas separating over John Mark. However, we must remember that Biblical narratives cannot necessarily be used as examples for Christian practice.
Biblical narratives were not always intended to indicate whether a recorded event was right or wrong, but the narratives simply verified that the event actually happened. In other words, just because Paul and Barnabas separated over unresolved differences in the Bible doesn’t make the actions right or justifiable. Division among God’s people is never the will of God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. Jesus prayed, “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (John 17:20-21). Therefore, it should actually be said (taught and practiced) that division is against the will of God, but it happens nonetheless.
We see it in theological circles devoted to John Calvin (“Calvinism”) who can’t seem to reconcile with those who are devoted to Jacob Arminius (“Arminianism”). We see it between Baptist and Pentecostal, Protestant and Catholic, and every other carnal discrepancy under the sun. I have seen Pentecostals (including myself) that have looked in condescension toward Baptists because Baptists (stereotypically) are cessationists (do not believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit are in operation today), which is far from the truth! It is honestly a shame and a stain on the house of God, and is the world scoffs at our consistent nonsense. However, I believe and have hope that one day (as the days become more evil and the Church becomes more severely persecuted – as David Wilkerson said) that the true Christ-followers will unite under the One person that does matter – Jesus Christ. Whether we are Calvinist or Arminian or Baptist or Pentecostal won’t matter anymore. What will matter will be the identification we have within the Messiah, and our only hope, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the only thing that should be of importance to any and every Christian. Who He was (and is) is that only thing that matters. As long as someone believes that He is God-incarnate, was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died a substitionary death upon the cross for our sin, rose again on the 3rd day (that we may rise too), is returning again to judge the living and the dead, and is the only way by which men can be saved, then that should be enough for us. Unfortunately, that is not the case. For example, whenever someone finds out I or you are a Christian their first question usually is, “What denomination or what Church do you go to,” right? Why should that matter (unless the church you go to is heretical)? The better question is, “Do you believe and place your hope in the Lord Jesus Christ,” and then you can proceed to ensure it is the correct Jesus as defined above. We need to understand that, ultimately, Jesus is all that matters, and He is the One who owns us.
The importance behind this understanding is unfathomable. How many churches have been split over fallen pastors? How many relationships have been broken by doctrinal discrepancy (in non-essential matters)? How many people have left the Church and despised God because they misplaced their faith in a Church leader, in a church’s congregation, or in a church’s doctrinal statement, which ended up failing them in one or multiple ways? I know I did. The result of placing one’s hope in someone else and identifying with that person (or church) is always failure. Why? Because we were never intended to identify and glorify the servants (or churches) of God; we were intended only to identify, trust, and glorify Jesus Christ – the HEAD of the Church. He is perfect, He never fails, His love in unconditional, His grace is immeasurable, His faithfulness is eternal, and His atonement is sufficient and acceptable. He ALONE is worthy of our glory, honor, trust, and our identification. When we practice what we were intended to do, then the result is unity. The result is oneness and a consummated identification with the Son of God, whom has saved us all from utter damnation.
What we have today are all sorts of men and churches placed upon broken pedestals. They are the platforms we create to honor men that are only doing their duty in service to the King of kings. Some are doing their duty for themselves, and find themselves smashed by a weight they cannot bear (Jesus will never allow competition in for glory in the Church or the world. He might allow it for a time, but do not mistake His longsuffering for impotence). Jesus is the literal King (in a political fashion – as RC Sproul points out) that we serve, and we all have our assignments within our King’s kingdom. Why should anyone of us receive unwarranted honor for completing the duty assigned to us? It is God who saves us, calls us, enables us, empowers us, and is before us. He is the one who causes all fruit to grow. We really have no part outside of obedience, and even that is only accomplished through God’s grace.
With that in mind, we should never place anyone in the place only Jesus deserves. I have seen it so many times and have done it many times as well. All throughout my church life, Bible College (especially), and in other places I have seen men and women glorified because they were “spiritual” or “power houses” or whatever. It’s simply ridiculous, and it’s dangerous. Some people have been placed far too high only to fall like a nuclear bomb and destroy everything within their reach. Only Christ can sit on the throne, only Christ is worthy to open the scrolls, and only Christ can bear the weight of responsibility that comes with sitting at God’s right hand. I am not saying that we shouldn’t honor those who have sacrificed their lives for the Lord, but we must understand that even the ability to live for Christ comes from Christ. I pray that we will put our petty differences aside, place our honor and trust where it belongs, and fellowship with one another in unity through our identification with the only One who is worthy, Jesus Christ.
“Then I heard every created being that is in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in all these places, saying,
‘All praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever to the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!’”