Unity in Christ Manuscript

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Last week, the seniors at Nicaragua Christian Academy International put on a “Color Run,” in which people ran a certain distance, either three or five kilometers, while other people, stationed along the race route, sprayed the runners with water and then threw colorful powders on them. It was hilarious. It was fun. I ran with my 9-year-old and we had a blast. AND, a certain blonde daughter of mine ran…and her hair is now what she terms “aggressively strawberry blonde.” Or you might call it pink.

The humorous part of this is that Nicaragua Christian Academy International, the school at which I teach Bible classes and coach basketball and soccer and do a few other things, also has a rule against dyeing one’s hair. The rule states specifically that the student’s hair may not be dyed any “unnatural” colors.

Aria, and a few other students, have of course been attending their classes faithfully, with dyed hair.

Now what does that have to do with Unity in Christ? I have no idea, but I think it’s really funny.

Just kidding.

In I Corinthians, Paul is addressing the Jesus followers in Corinth about their conflicts and arguments. “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

They are fighting over which person discipled them, who helped them to know Jesus Christ, from which teacher or pastor they learned the Gospel.

Paul goes on to say in verse 18, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Here’s the thing about the Cross of Jesus Christ: why? Why does God choose to became a helpless baby and then a young man who argues with Rabbis in the Temple instead of being where his parents thought he was supposed to be and then a rabbi himself with, seemingly, with no formal training who calls utterly underqualified disciples many of whom probably can’t stand each other, judging by their conflicting backgrounds, and why does he walk around Galilee and Capernaum and all over Israel teaching women and holding children on his lap and casting out demons and touching lepers and even walking on water and raising the dead back to life…and then just dies. No, doesn’t just die, is tortured to death in the most horrific, brutal manner, while his enemies mock him—his enemies mock him while he’s dying, and then he’s dead.

But of course that isn’t the end of the story—not even close to the end of the story, considering that we’re part of the story. But it looks like a foolish story—a love-preaching, healing rabbi rises up, gets a few thousand followers by feeding them and teaching them to love not just their neighbors but their enemies, their enemies for Pete’s sake, and the bad guys—some of those very enemies he was talking about—grab him by paying off one of his closest disciples to sneak them information about when they could ambush him without being caught in the act by his thousands of enthusiastic followers. They stage a travesty of a trial, getting witnesses to lie about what he’s said and done. And then they find him guilty—for telling the truth—and they beat him brutally. He dies a ghastly death.

But the after story is even more foolish-sounding than the story. He rises from the dead.

He does what?

But wait, it’s more than that, not merely that he has somehow not stayed dead but that during the time he was dead, he was doing what? Changing the past? Changing the future? Talking with the spirits of people in hell? Absorbing all the guilt of all the bad things ever done, or ever will be done, into himself, into his spirit because his body is dead at this time?

That’s a crazy story. That’s foolishness. What on earth do you believe? You say something awful to your wife or husband or child or friend this morning and you think this guy who lived and died like I described has anything to do with that? You ask forgiveness not just of the person to whom you spoke nastily but also to this guy? And you think because he died and then something happened while he died, that means you’re forgiven for saying the bad thing? Or for doing much worse than that, you’re forgiven. Or that you can be forgiven for literally anything you’ve done?

What?

Nope, that’s not all. This guy’s death doesn’t only mean your forgiveness, it means your life. You will live forever, in God’s Presence, in God’s love, because A)what happened when this guy died, and B)you ask him to forgive you and make you part of his deal.

And of course that’s not all, either, not by a longshot, because once you ask him for help and forgiveness, then it turns out this guy has big plans for your life, that he has this whole radical kingdom which most people around you don’t even realize is happening, based on that whole “love God and your neighbors and your enemies and yourself” (sometimes even harder than loving our enemies) and people’s lives are getting transformed and turned upside down because they asked to be forgiven and made part of this guy’s deal. This guy who died a really long time ago.

I get why some people are atheists. This sounds crazy. It sounds impossible.

It sounds like foolishness.

The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God, this guy’s death, letting himself be killed, is stronger than human strength. People think they have power. Human beings have enough weapons to kill everyone in the world how many times over? That sounds powerful. This guy’s idea of power is loving people who hate us and watching that love change both us and them. It’s more powerful to love an enemy than it is to kill a human being. The weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Or, as this guy Jesus put it, Do not fear the one who can kill the body and, after that, can do nothing else. No, fear the one who can cast both body and soul into hell. Saying the weakness of God is stronger than human strength doesn’t mean God is weak, it means even his weakness surpasses human power, just as his foolishness, or what appears to us as foolishness, surpasses human wisdom.

Here’s the thing about the Cross of Jesus Christ: it doesn’t matter how crazy it sounds to us if it’s true. People want to say, “Well, why did God do it that way?” And that question sounds like it makes sense until we think it through and say, “Hmm, why did God himself, incarnate in Jesus the Messiah, die on a cross to forgive our sins and reconcile us to himself, instead of what? Instead of that much more rational sounding plan for salvation that God used on some other planet? In some alternate universe?”

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

I know it sounds nuts, but that isn’t the point. The point is, is it true? The point is, are we forgiven because Jesus died and resurrected?

Paul is breaking up the Corinthians argument by reminding them that the things they have as distinctives, the things that separate them, are nothing when compared with what brings them together. Was Paul crucified for you? Is Christ divided? No, and no.

I’m going to read from verse six to the end of chapter 2 so you will have Paul’s argument in context.

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7 But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.13 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

14 Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.

16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

We have the mind of Christ. Remember I told you there was more to the crazy-sounding story? That guy who lived and walked on top of water and stopped storms from happening by saying “stop” and claimed to have the authority to forgive other people’s sins—and who can forgive sins but God alone?—and who died not by accident but because he laid down his life for our sake, that guy Jesus has given us his Spirit. We have God’s spirit within us. That makes us able to recognize the gifts God has given us, meaning the spiritual gifts that God gives each of us so that we can partner with him in this work of love and redemption and justice that is his Kingdom.

We have the mind of Christ. Listen again:

14 Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.’’

For who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.”

Jesus did die on a cross, he did resurrect from the dead, he does forgive our sins, he has given us his spirit, and we have the mind of Christ. God has given us his wisdom, specifically that this entire “foolish” story I’ve been describing this morning is not only true, it’s the one truth that matters most. This truth gives meaning to every other truth. It’s true that the earth orbits the sun and that light travels at 186,000 miles per second and those facts have meaning because God created this universe in his wisdom and it works perfectly because of his artistry and those mind-boggling facts reveal something about God to us because God’s creation reveals his eternal power and divine nature, even though they’re invisibile, they’ve been understood and seen through the things God has made. Because we discern the world spiritually through God’s spirit, we know, we can see that the sky and sunsets and the ocean and brown and blue and green eyes are reflections of God, revealing his eternal power and divine nature.

And now, at last, I’m getting to the point. We have Jesus Christ in common. We have our unity in Christ.

That isn’t a small thing, an afterthought, or merely a point to remember when we’re arguing.

The wisdom of God, which is foolishness to those who do not have God’s spirit and do not discern things spiritually, reveals to us the central, unifying truth of the Universe, that this isn’t just some guy who taught some nice things and died a long time ago. This is God in the flesh, the Creator of the Universe making himself just like his creation so that they can understand who God is. When I say this is a story, I don’t mean this is fiction. We all have our life stories. And we are all part of the one story, God’s Love Story, His redemption of his Creation, which is through Jesus Christ, eternal and almighty, Jesus who is both Savior of the world and coming again in power, next time not in meekness but in a way that will be unmistakeable that he is, in fact, Almighty God.

When we have conflict or disagreement, which we do, our unity is deeper. I will tell you, honestly and bluntly, that I’ve bee discouraged lately. I see a lot of disunity, a lot of arguing and name-calling and demeaning others. Let’s be clear, I’m not Paul in this scenario, calling out the believers in Corinth for saying, “I am of Apollo,” “Oh yeah? I belong to Cephas!” I’m also one of the people in conflict.

And don’t misunderstand me, there are things that are worth disagreeing over. I don’t believe that our unity in Christ means that we pretend to agree on everything or even that we automatically set aside any differences as if those don’t matter. If you’re convicted in your spirit of a truth, you have to figure out how to act on that conviction. But this requires very careful discernment. Our unity in Christ is the core of what we believe.

But Paul urges the Corinthian believers, “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

So let’s be honest. We’re not all in agreement. We have conflict sometimes. We disagree. So how can there be no divisions among us?

We are united in the same mind and the same purpose.

What mind are we united in? We have the mind of Christ. I’m not spouting platitudes up here, feeding you with cliches to send you home full of spiritually empty calories. We have the mind of Christ. Jesus who is Christ has given us both his Spirit to be with our spirit and his mind to guide our minds and give us wisdom and discernment.

In what purpose are we united? We’re united in God’s Kingdom that is becoming present in our lives and through our lives. Jesus introduced it in Luke, quoting Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then Jesus sits down in the synagogue, all eyes are on him, and he says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus is the good news to the poor, he is the release of the captives, he gives sight to the blind and lets the oppressed go free. Our work in his Kingdom is to be agents of what he has proclaimed.

And this: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

We are agents of God’s kingdom, we are ambassadors for Christ; God makes his appeal to people through us.

Our unity comes not through agreeing on everything but through agreeing on the deepest things and remembering that all we do, and all we are, is part of God’s Kingdom. Being part of God’s Kingdom is not only something we do, it’s who we are, just like being God’s children is not something we do, it’s our identity.

God’s life in us, foolishness to the world, is true. We are forgiven. We are loved. We are one in Christ, even when we fail and argue and say stupid things and make terrible mistakes, because our unity is in God’s Spirit. Because of course God’s grace, which we depend on for our very lives, applies to our unity in Him, as well. We don’t have unity in Christ because we try really hard; we have unity in Christ because God’s Spirit unites us. That doesn’t mean we are absolved of responsibility, it means we have confidence that when we fail, God will be faithful to restore us.

Bottom line, what is our bottom line?

Who saved us? Who died for us? Our unity is through Jesus Christ’s spirit and it’s bought with Jesus Christ’s blood.

That’s our agreement. And now we work everything else out.

Oh, and the pink hair?

I think the pink hair is a great reminder not to take ourselves so seriously. Our school both has the rule against pink hair and put on the Color Run that caused the pink hair. It’s a reminder that human wisdom is foolishness to God and that we’re just not as wise as we imagine, so we need to be able to laugh at ourselves. We need to be able to keep our sense of humor, even in our disagreements, remembering that even though we think we’re right, there’s every possibility that we don’t have it figured out. We need God’s wisdom, not our own.

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