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Sermon Briefs: 1 Corinthians 12:12-30

On the text for the third Sunday after Epiphany, 1 Corinthians 12:12-30, John Wesley takes the 25th verse and expounds on the meaning of "schism," offering the idea that Scripture indicates its application is to be made to relations among Christians within the church, but a wider interpretation indicates a break away from the church, which he says is usually evil. Charles Kingsley, on verses 25 and 26, deals in a positive way with the union in spirit which we as Christians have and ought to have in Jesus Christ.
DeWitt Talmage, taking verse 21 as his text, applies its meaning to society as a whole, making particular application to labor and capital. While preached in another day, his message has definite relevance to our times as well.
These three sermons offer three very different but valid approaches to the basic theme of the Scripture passage.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, preached an eighteenth century sermon, On Schism, from the text 1 Corinthians 12:25, "That there might be no schism in the body." He is particularly interested in this subject in view of his nearness to the Protestant Reformation, and refers also in the introduction to those who have "disputed about separation from the Church of England." The great controversy concerning schism in his day was unprofitable largely, he contends, because those engaged seldom agree as to the meaning of the word.
Wesley considers first the nature of schism and second the evil of it. It is difficult, he points out, to find any who define it in a scriptural manner. It is not separation from a church, as both Catholics and Church of Englanders insist, but separation in a church. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:10, "I beseech you, brethren, by the name of the Lord Jesus, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you; but that ye be perfectly united together, in the same mind and in the same judgment." This indicates a division into cliques, or parties, as indicated clearly in verse 12, "I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas." Likewise he mentions in 1 Corinthians 11:18 and 20, "I hear that there are divisions among you," and "when you come together to eat of the Lord's Supper, every one of you taketh before another his own supper."
Wesley refers to heresies in verse 19, which indicates schisms or divisions rather than erroneous opinions. In 2 Peter 2:1, however, heresies is mentioned in a different way: not in reference to opinions, but that they will "bring in" destructive parties or sects, such as groups now swarming throughout the Christian world.
A causeless separation from a body of living Christians may be called a schism, although not strictly according to scripture. It is evil in itself, however, for it is a breach of the law of love. We are commanded to love each other, and a breach brings forth evil fruit--all kinds of evil speaking and evil works, turning many from the way of peace to everlasting perdition. A breach in any religious community will cause charges and counter charges, parties will be formed in the church, the love of many will grow cold, promotion of the work of God will languish, causing the power and every form of religion to die. Schisms are also a stumbling block to strangers to religion who will hardentheir hearts more and more against the truth and the church.
Should the convictions of one's soul require separation from a church, Wesley says, one would be justified in withdrawal so as to live in accordance with Scripture and God's commands. Without such a reason, it is an evil thing to separate from the body of Christ, or to form or encourage any party in a Christian group. Instead we should be peacemakers in the church of God.1
Charles Kingsley in 1855 preached on Public Spirit from 1 Corinthians 12:25 and 26. Posing the supposition that a handful of soldiers faced a mob of several thousands and put them to flight, he asks how such an apparent miracle could come to pass. Courage and a sense of duty may be the answer. A young man, idle and unmotivated, after a period of training in the armed forces, becomes a person of courtesy, intelligence, and self-respect. He is a member of a body--his regiment--of which he is proud. He fights for the flag and honor of a proud group with a glorious history.
We also are members of a Body, of Christ, and of the Kingdom. We should feel the same allegiance to Christ as the soldier to his country, that the honor of Christianity is our honor, its history ours, and the life of Christianity our life; but we do not. Our temporal citizenship is no mere accident, but a spiritual matter. God has knit us all together and we can be happy only by acknowledging each other as brothers. Inextricably we all suffer as does one, and share a common feeling. If we neglect or degrade the poor, we neglect or degrade ourselves. Epidemics of disease are spawned and spread by lack of cleanliness and good health practices.
We are members of a body, and should live like our Master Jesus Christ, who labored and cared for all but himself; who laid down his life to redeem us; and who placed each of us in his own place on earth to follow in his steps to live by his spirit the new and risen life of duty, honor and self-sacrifice.
St. Paul appeals to the honor of the Corinthians, not to any fears of punishment or God's wrath; and his appeal was successful. We owe a thank-offering to God for harvest, for our very lives, and our public spirit ought fittingly to be aroused in the church which has meant so much to our common life.
Kingsley concludes with an appeal for gifts: "Inasmuch as we have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."2
T. DeWitt Talmage, in a 1900 sermon entitled Epidemic of Strikes, on the text 1 Corinthians 12:21, "They eye cannot say to the hand I have no need of thee," had as his theme that all of society is an interdependent mechanism: all professions, all trades, classes of people, capital and labor. Labor and capital will be brought to peace when they find they are identical in their interests. We should understand that their roles are often reversed. Laborers often have cooperative associations by which they pool their savings and become their own capitalists. If they put money into such associations instead of into tobacco and alcohol, it could greatly benefit them. Men also work better without stimulants.
Trade unions are often beneficial, but unlawful use of trade unions is not helpful. Laboring persons often make unwise use of their income. They should save for good purposes, but miserly hoarding is not good. It is mean or magnificent to save, according to one's object.
Employers ought to take employees into their confidence, to let them know how matters stand with the business. Christianity is a democratic religion, and the same grace of God, not money, takes us all to heaven. Christian employers utilize good stewardship. One man died and left forty million dollars, and none to the church. Another left between five and eight million, but none to help aged working people or their children.
Laboring people are to be congratulated on their brightening prospects and opportunities, for Jesus Christ worked and understands, and will fulfill every need of the worker.3
A. F. McClung
1. John Wesley, Sermons on Several Occasions, Vol. II (Carlton & Porter, New York, 1857), pp. 161-167. 2. Charles Kingsley, Sermons for the Times (Macmillan and Co., London and New York, 1890), pp. 295-311. 3. T. DeWitt Talmage, 500 Selected Sermons, The Christian Herald (New York, 1900), pp. 215-227.
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