It took 32 “master builders” 17,336 man (and woman) hours to create a life-sized Star Wars X-Wing fighter out of 5,335,200 Lego pieces. Originally unveiled in New York in 2013, it now resides at Legoland in California, boasting a 44-foot wingspan and weighing in at over 45,000 pounds.[i]
The Lego X-Wing is the extraordinary result of a unified vision and purpose. But what if along the way, a few of the Lego builders developed a new vision for what they wanted to create, altering the master plan to accommodate their personal preferences. These were master builders, after all. They were knowledgeable and experienced. However, we know if knowledge and experience are not tempered with humility, then knowledge and experience can become a recipe for pride… and with pride comes conflict and eventually, division and a derailing of the mission.
This is what had happened to the church at Corinth in the mid-50s A.D. just a few years after it was started by the apostle Paul.
This kind of conflict, division and derailing of the mission could happen to us as a church family.
Of course, our mission is not building Lego sets. Our mission is making disciples of Jesus who glorify God by coming alive to the wonder, beauty, and transforming power of God’s grace—the grace that changes everything.[ii]
In the presence of competing visions where personal preferences move from secondary to primary, this kind of conflict and division can take over a marriage, especially when there is not a unified vision for family finances or a unified philosophy on how to discipline the kids. Some of us have experienced division within educational institutions, on athletic teams, and in small businesses.
The principle is that conflict and division is the result of a lack of unified vision and purpose.
Therefore, in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, Paul is seeking to re-establish a unity of vision and purpose in the church, as he writes,
10 I appeal to you, brothers, for the sake of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions [lit, schisms] among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
On one hand, you can feel the love of Paul for this church, as he speaks to them as “brothers.” But on the other hand, we can feel his sense of exasperation, which is why he begins in verse 10 with…
In his plea for these “brothers” in Christ to “agree,” the word Paul uses is a Greek word that literally means “to say the same thing.” Or to be on the same page.
As you know, some churches use hymnals from which to sing in worship. Churches that use these songbooks have worship leaders who announce the page number of the song before they sing so that everyone may turn to and sing from the same page.
This is what Paul is asking the Corinthians to do. To get on the same page—not with every opinion or preference—but agreement concerning the mission—as he says, “that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”
The application for us is relatively clear.
We need to be on the same page concerning our own mission so that we keep the main thing the main thing. Yet this alignment of the mission is more challenging than one might assume. After all, we come from a variety of backgrounds with different church experiences, expectations, and preferences. It would be really easy to demand those experiences, expectations, and preferences be duplicated in Creekstone’s ministry.
This is one reason why we are encouraging as many of us as possible to take a course this year that I will be leading called Theological Foundations for Leadership– or TFL for short. This 10-week course was developed by Perimeter Church to provide theological alignment for men and women who aspire to roles of leadership and responsibility in the church, in the home, and in the workplace.
Being on the same page theologically (“unity of mind”) is the foundation for “unity of purpose” and mission.
Sadly, the Corinthians didn’t have TFL, which may be one reason that led to…
These factions in the church come to light in verses 11-12, 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling [arguing, fighting] among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”
In the same way Paul saw factions emerge in Corinth, we are about to see factions emerge in Georgia. Not because of the upcoming elections, but because of the opening of college football season. Who do you follow? Some say, “I follow Tech.” I follow the Dawgs. I follow the Tigers or Gators or Crimson Tide. Once the season begins, if you put rivals in the same room, things can get chippy.
This is what was happening in Corinth as believers began to choose preachers to follow like we choose football teams. Rather than work together toward a unified vision, they began to function like rivals, which led to conflict, division, and the derailing of the mission.
It is not difficult to see how this relates to us.
Many of us have been in church contexts where there was a traditional worship faction and a contemporary worship faction which produced all kinds of infighting, conflict and a derailing of the church’s primary mission. I’ve seen churches split over a new pastor who didn’t do things the way the previous pastor did them. I’ve heard of churches that experienced excessive conflict over the carpet color in the sanctuary, which sounds childish, but reveals the power of personal preference.
And I admit that I have a hard time distinguishing the main thing from my personal preferences.
I think what helps is restating the mission over and over again by asking the why question.
If we can answer that and agree there, personal preferences will be prevented from becoming divisive issues.
But the issue goes deeper than arguing over preferences as Paul exposes the real problem, which is…
Idolatry is when we substitute something or someone for God—when I look to someone to be for me what only Jesus can be.
In verse 13, Paul’s rhetorical questions reveal how the Corinthians had done this by putting Paul on a pedestal in the place of Jesus. He asks, “Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?“ Or Apollos or Peter or whomever.
Apparently, being identified with a certain leader gave these factions a sense of superiority over the others.
I think this is one reason why I feel so devastated when my team loses a big game. I want to be a winner—associated with the superior team so that my team’s victory and subsequent glory is vicariously my victory and glory. We may not want to admit it, but for some, including myself, we have turned one of the greatest team sports ever invented into an idol where we use our kids and 18-year-old boys to make a name for ourselves.
Do you see what this means?
Putting a pastor or preacher or conference speaker or professor or author or athlete or actor or politician on a pedestal… or a boyfriend or a son or daughter on the pedestal… is idolatry. It is putting the weight of saviorhood on someone who cannot possibly bear it.
You see, the vicarious victory and glory which our hearts most deeply desire—to be truly and perfectly righteous— can only be found in the victory and glory of Jesus’s substitutionary death.
This is why Paul shifts our attention to…
In verses 14-17, Paul removes the focus away from any religious rite he might perform in his ministry—like baptism—to focus on the proclamation about what Jesus has done, saying in verse 17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
For Paul knew that the message of the cross was the power of God to transform a divisive spirit into the spirit of humility required for unity of vision and purpose.
Author Philip Yancey describes a moment of transcendent wonder while driving through the Alaskan wilderness. At one point on his trip, he came upon a number of cars pulled off to the edge of the highway. Out of curiosity, he stopped to see what was attracting so much attention. Yancey describes the scene:
“Against the slate-gray sky, the water of [the] ocean inlet had a slight greenish cast, interrupted by small whitecaps. Soon I [noticed that] these were not whitecaps at all, but… silvery white beluga whales in a pod feeding no more than fifty feet offshore. I stood with the other onlookers for forty minutes, listening to the rhythmic motion of the sea, following the graceful, ghostly crescents of surfacing whales. The crowd was hushed, even reverent. For just that moment, nothing else… mattered. We were confronted with a scene of quiet beauty and [majesty]. We felt small. Strangers standing together in silence until the whales moved farther out. Then we [slowly] climbed the bank and got in our cars to resume… lives that suddenly seemed less urgent.”[iii]
Do you see the connection?
If a pod of beluga whales in Alaska can evoke such a reverent, hushed wonder among strangers focused upon “a scene of beauty and majesty,” what kind of power can beholding the cross of Jesus have in a community of believers? Beholding the Son of God loving us, dying for us, fulfilling the justice our sins deserve—in that moment, nothing else will matter.
In beholding such glory, rivalries will fade. Preferences will become unimportant. To be fully forgiven and reconciled to God as our Abba, Father as perfectly righteous sons and daughters. In that moment, no other hero will do except Jesus and Jesus alone. This is the source of unity that gives us purpose—a vision that like us, others may come alive to the wonder, the beauty, and the transforming power of God’s grace revealed in the cross of Christ.
[i] According to one of the builders, Erik Varszegi, plans for the model were created using Lego’s proprietary 3-D design software, and the construction team had to work with a team of structural engineers to ensure that the model was safe, master builder told Wired magazine.
[ii] What a glorious thing it is when the Spirit unveils a believer whose life is defined by the grace of God in Jesus. It is by far more glorious than even the unveiling of a 5 million-piece Lego set.
[iii] Steve DeWitt, Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything (Credo House Publishers, 2012), p. 68