The Divided Church
What is it that sets your church apart from other churches?
In the introduction to his letter, Paul praised God for calling the church in Corinth into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ their Lord. It is God who has given them every spiritual blessing in Christ. They are blameless in God’s sight and God is faithful to keep them firmly established in Christ until the day that Jesus is revealed.
You would be forgiven for thinking that this church then had it all together! If God is faithful and will bring them to eternity blameless, then what an amazing group of people they must have been! Well, the heart of the gospel and the message of the entire bible is that human beings are in a battle against selfish sin and this church was not quarantined from the effects of it. We see in this week’s reading that Paul has a matter to raise with them. Let’s allow the text to teach us what the issue was as well as the solution.
Read 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,t in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
What did you see?
- The appeal (10)
- The accusation (11-12)
- Let’s keep it about Jesus (13-17)
- Am I Jesus? (13)
- Was my mission to baptise? (14-16)
- It’s not about me but about Christ crucified (17)
The appeal (10)
“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters…” The great apostle Paul uses reason to speak to this church and calls them his brothers and sisters. (The Greek word adelphoi is for brothers only but the implication is both genders. One major change with the NIV2011 version is the inclusion of both gender language.) Rather than ordering the church or demanding them to listen to him, he addresses them as equals and wants them to understand rather than simply obey. The Christian church must always have this type of approach to people. There is no room for leaders to appear superior or somehow more important than others. Christ died for the church and there is no hierarchy other than Christ as head and everyone else as the body. Pastors and teachers have gifts for this area but not in order to boss or demand obedience. Rather, we appeal to and exhort people to listen to the gospel and see how this gospel impacts all of life. Going deeper into the Christian faith is not about grand lessons but about seeing how all-impacting the gospel is.
“…in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Paul provides Jesus as the authority and the basis of his logic. To us, living in the 21st century and having 2000 years behind us developing the religions named after Jesus, this line from Paul may seem ordinary. But in the 1st century, this was paramount to preaching the gospel and declaring that there is no authority greater than the name of Jesus Christ. This is not old news but new news! There is only one name through whom we can be saved and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the reason we know we are blameless before God.
“…that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Let’s be careful not to put the cart before the horse on this one. Seamless unity is not the goal. Rather, it is the result from the church all loving the gospel, the cross of Christ, the headship of Jesus, the authority of the Holy Spirit through the word of God and so on. The flavour of our society at the moment is to strive for unity achieved by promoting individuality that does not impose on others. For example, as long as what you believe is your choice and not to be imposed on others, then you are accepted and welcome. Everyone will love and celebrate your decisions to be who you want to be as long as you are equally happy for others to express themselves in their own way. This is striving for unity for the sake of unity – not for the sake of truth and life. The gospel provides access to eternal truth that is open and available free of charge for everybody and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved AND in unity with all the brothers and sisters who have also been called by God. This is not dictatorship, rather, enjoying unity among all who have found the truth. The outworking of submission to Christ is the absence of divisions and unity in thought and mind. The church is not a political battle for strength and unity – it is established by Christ to be equal and all on board with growing in Christian maturity.
The church in Corinth had taken their eyes off the way they had been formed and were divided over method, quality of preaching, and who their allegiance was to…
The accusation (11-12)
“…some from Chloe’s household…” This name does not appear anywhere else in the New Testament and so we can only fill the missing information with assumptions. Obviously, Chloe is a person known by both the Corinthian church and Paul and who has been in contact with Paul.
“…informed me that there are quarrels among you.” I don’t think that it is gossip if Paul is confronting them directly about what he has heard. Rather than writing off the church or grumbling about how pathetic they are or whinging that Paul wished God had raised up a better bunch of people for him to lead, Paul has given thanks to God for what has been happening and addresses the accusations head on. He is ready to rebuke or correct what they are doing, which is what the bible is designed to do for us (2 Timothy 3:16).
“…quarrels among you.” Paul will later declare that this is the very nature and habit of unsaved people (1 Corinthians 3:3). He wrote in Romans to embrace relationships at all levels and not to quarrel over disputable things (Romans 14:1). He addressed quarrelling a number of times, always concluding that it was of no value and unprofitable since it does not produce growth in others, rather it ruins people (1 Tim 6:4; 2 Tim 2:14, 23; Titus 3:9). James, the brother of Jesus, blames selfish desires as the cause of quarrelling (James 4:1-2). Compare the negative view of quarrelling with the up front of Paul’s to appeal to his equals on the basis of the gospel.
“What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow…” another. “I follow…” Pauls’ discussion is not based on a feeling but on quotable facts that he has heard reported to him. This is the first place where the Corinthians can stop Paul and tell him that he has misheard. If Paul’s report is wrong, then they can dismiss what comes next. If they agree that he has heard correctly, then they must continue to listen to his appeal. The division hinges on the church taking team leaders and declaring themselves to be disciples of different groups.
“…Apollos…” Acts 18:24-19:1 give a great summary of the type of person Apollos was. From that we know, a) he was a genuine Christian, b) smart and well taught c) he spoke passionately d) had much to do with the Corinthians.
“…Cephas…” This is Aramaic for Peter and is clearly the Apostle Peter, formally known as Simon. John 1:42.
“…Paul…Apollos…Cephas…Christ…” Four extraordinary men to choose from as your object of admiration and inspiration! Each has some reason for loyalty – even Apollos is the local legend. It is not hard to name people in our day who are worth “following”. I love listening to John Piper, Tim Keller, as well as John Calvin and JC Ryle. Some of those are still living and some are dead. The issue is not that the church had found bad people to follow and the issue in this passage is not against any of those four. But Paul will go on to say that the amazing speakers of this world are all pointing us to Jesus – not themselves.
Paul may have been flattered to be listed in the report but he is deliberate to correct this misdirected loyalty.
Let’s keep it about Jesus (13-17)
“Is Christ divided?” This is a peculiar thing to say. But the required answer is “no”. So why create subdivisions of the Christian faith. We are one in Christ and it is his work and substitution that we celebrate. He did not do a partial work on the cross and then hand it over to the next legend to continue.
“…Was Paul crucified for you…” No leader of the faith can claim that! Church leaders need to watch that they never imagine themselves to be the reason that their church exists. Also, answer Paul’s question here and see what you get – No! But Jesus was crucified for…YOU! Our saviour died for you. Your minister never died for you! Jesus died for the minister of your church! Christ died for Paul!
“…were you baptised in the name of Paul?” No! Because Paul is not the reason for the community! See, baptism is about committing to the identity of a community – Paul ain’t it!
“I thank God that I did not baptise any of you except…” I love this little natural phrasing of Paul. Thank God! But he uses it in the true sense with no room for blaspheme. He knows that it has been a blessing for him that his “career” is not on baptising but on preaching the gospel. The least that can be said right here about baptism is that Paul is giving every reason to say you don’t need to be baptised to be saved! This was not his priority – but he didn’t avoid it either since he lists several names he remembers.
“For Christ did not send me to baptise…” So, the Great Commission commanded the disciples to go and baptise disciples. But the command was not to baptise but that when baptising, it is to be in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus was directing all future baptisms to be in his name and no other! Paul knew that his calling was to preach the gospel.
“…but to preach the gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” The power of the cross is the simple message and reason of the cross. Greeks look for wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:22) meaning that they look for some kind of powerful representation of truth. A beauty in the words expressed. They look for a strong narrative to get behind and celebrate. But Paul’s message is a crucified leader! His goal was to present the truth of the gospel so that God would call his people to the cross to be saved. The power of the cross is the redemption that it brings to all who believe. There are some people that you just don’t get into an argument with because they are so good with words. It doesn’t matter if they are wrong, because they present their argument so forcefully and persuasively. But the cross of Christ is where God’s justice, wrath, love and mercy all meet.
What did we learn?
Paul hopes to remind the church in Corinth that their identity and legend is the gospel itself. The Lord Jesus Christ was the one who was crucified and commanded that all who want redemption are to be baptised into His name and no other name. No church is built upon the legend of a sinner who needs saving. The one true, united church is the one that loves the Lord with all their heart. They are one in mind and thought because they are united under one sacrifice for sins, once for all.
Topic A: The centrality of the gospel in Christian community. Every church that loses its way will show that at some point they lost sight of the cross of Christ. They added to it, subtracted from it, ignored it, got bored of it, undervalued it or misunderstood it. The point of church is to encourage and mature the saved in Christ and the way that you do that is to remind one another of the source of our salvation. We do that through song, preaching, teaching, and bringing every activity that we do in the church under the banner of our mission which is to be Christian community devoted to maturing in Christ for the glory of God.
Topic B: Disagreeing in order to agree. This passage illustrates the difference between quarrelling and disagreeing. Paul expressed his disagreement with the way that the church had begun to quarrel over who is right. Paul saw this as nonsense because the very issue they quarrelled over should have been the reason for unity. Paul’s method of disagreeing was to appeal as an equal and to present his case to them with examples and logic. Quarrelling, rather, results in factions and side-taking. As Paul and James point out, quarrelling does not come from a gospel heart but from an unconverted selfish mind (Romans 14:1; 1 Tim 6:4; 2 Tim 2:14, 23; Titus 3:9; James 4:1-2).
Topic C: Name some differences that could create division. There are different international preachers that we can declare allegiance to. The different styles of worship, ie, music and liturgy. Fine-lines of theology such as baptism, church eldership and the last days. Overemphasis on certain truths like “I am a Calvinist”, “I am an evangelist”, “I am about feeling faith”, or “I am a pragmatist.” Can you think of any other divisive things that exist only because the followers make them too important?