1 Corinthians 1:10–18 (NRSV)
Divisions in the Church
10 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. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 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.” 13 Has Christ been 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 can 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 proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
Christ the Power and Wisdom of God
(Cp Isa 29:14)
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.
Unity. It is a concept that most people want but very few seek. We would love to be united if every agrees with our position. This week has been one of the tensest in this regard that I have ever seen. Yet we are all crying for unity.
I too cry out for unity. We as people of Christ need unity today more than we have ever needed it before. We need unity because there are forces all around us pulling us away from the central message of Christ, distracting us to various ideologies. The problem with this is that the various sides are only speaking half-truths. When there is only a partial truth it also means that there is a partial lie. I want us to consider this. The world is crying for unity. The world is urging us to unite around what?
Division is the result of human sinfulness and pride. When our first parents chose to turn from the wisdom of God to trust in wisdom of mankind division entered the world. This division was seen when Adam cast blame on Eve for giving him the fruit, and was intensified in the lives of their children. Using the wisdom of man Cain offered a sacrifice that was unacceptable to God while Abel offered one that pleased the Lord. People have gone to great lengths explaining why Abel’s was proper and why Cain’s was rejected. They both brought offerings which in our day we would say was great, but Abel gave first, whereas Cain offered what was left after he took for himself.
This caused division between the brothers. Cain gave an offering shouldn’t that be enough? Half-truths. This division lead Cain into a jealous rage resulting in the violent shedding of blood and we have the story of the fist death. The very first recorded death of a human in history is the result of violence. This first act of violence created among humanity some interesting concepts: war, civilization, urban centers, and organized religion (which ended up becoming disorganized religions at Babel). All the things that the world is telling us to unite around are a result of godlessness, division, and selfish pride.
These divisive feelings run deep within our being. They have been instilled in us as children when we are reared to fear the perceived enemy. Nearly all of us view the people of Russia not as equals but as enemies. The generations prior to mine saw that a person’s race determined their value to a society. While reading the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer I was surprised to see that prior to the second World War, many outside the United States regarded us as simple and terrible people. Yet that is not the whole truth, many great things have come from our nation as well, probably the greatest technological advancements of humanity have come from the minds of our people. And we live in a nation where these minds are free to explore these ideas.
I mention these things only because we can become distracted by the half-truths the world throws at us. The people of Corinth in the first century were not that different in that regard. Corinth was a busy port city. They had a thriving economy, they had entertainment venues that rivaled every major city outside Rome, and they had a religious tourism market that brought people from across the empire. Right in the middle of this major city was the church; men and women who turned from the ways of the world and took on the lifestyle of Jesus Christ.
Paul praised the people of Corinth for their growth in knowledge and speech, as well the strengthening of their testimony of Christ. What this means is that they had taken on the lifestyle of Jesus; they made it their custom to join in worship to praise God and encourage one another through vocal ministries, they were entering a life of prayer where they were engaging scripture and deepening their relationship with God, and they were serving the people around them sharing the love of Christ in word and deed. Paul praised them because they were doing a lot right, yet today we begin reading in the tenth verse of the first chapter and Paul begins to show them that they are not perfect.
“Now I appeal to you,” Paul says. I earnestly plea, urge, and implore you. This is not merely something that Paul thinks would be better, this is something that is urgent an issue that has dire consequences if it is not heeded. What would cause Paul to speak in such a way to a group of people he just a few verses before gave praise to? Paul urges them in the name of Christ to be in agreement and to be united in the same mind and purpose, he urges them to terminate the divisions that have begun to form within the community. Paul ministered to these people, he began making disciples among them and now as their knowledge grow and their testimony is strengthening, at the base of that foundation cracks are forming because the worldly ideas that divide us have begun to enter the church.
Within the first years of the church there are already people fighting within the church, but what are they fighting about? The first thing I want to draw our attention to is who brought this to Paul’s attention, Chloe’s people. For all the disdain for Paul regarding his views of women, in one of his most well-known letters the first person he mentions is a woman’s congregation. One could argue that this is because she was the host of the gathering, but rarely does Paul mention people who are not leaders within the Church body, so Chloe is significant within this community, she is a leader of a congregation to the point that they are the people under her care. Chloe’s people reported to Paul that others among them are arguing about who they belong too, or for lack of better words who their bishop is. “I belong to Paul, I belong to Apollos, I belong to Cephas, or I belong to Christ.”
I want us to notice something in this passage. These are all names; Chloe, Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ. These people are attaching themselves to a personality or celebrity. But who are they attaching themselves to and why does this matter? Paul writes in other letters that he was an emerging leader in among the Pharisees he went as far as saying that there was no one in his generation that was greater than him in knowledge or righteousness among the Pharisees he was the best in the class. Paul was from the City of Tarsus which is a city located in the South edge of modern day Turkey along the border of Syria. We know Paul because he is the most prolific writer of the New Testament. Apollos is one whom we do not know as much about.
We first meet Apollos in the City of Ephesus where he is boldly teaching among the Jewish people. He is teaching things that were taught by both Jesus and John the Baptist and even teaches baptism for the repentance of sins. A ministry couple, Priscilla and Aquila, who were also in the city were impressed with him but also noticed that he did not know the entire story so they shared the full gospel of Jesus. There is a reason for Apollos’ ignorance because he was not from the province of Palestine but was from Alexandria. Alexandria was a center for learning and was the second largest Jewish community in the world, the largest outside of Israel at that time. They had knowledge of the various factions of Judaism so he had been aware of the newer teaching coming out of Jerusalem, but at that time they had not yet heard of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Apollos heard the gospel from this wife and husband team and embraced it with his whole heart. He left Ephesus going to Corinth where he became a great leader within the community of Christ.
Next, we have Cephas, who is also known to us as Peter. Peter was from Israel, a member of Jesus’ closest friends and was seen by most as being the leader of the Apostles. He was bold and from the sermon he gave in Jerusalem the Church grew by three thousand on its first day. So, we have a man from Tarsus, a man from Alexandria, and a man from Jerusalem. Each of these men came from Jewish center, one from the Holy City, the others from major settlements and educational centers for the exceled Jewish people. Each of these religious centers had various tradition, strengths and weaknesses.
Apollos spoke well to the more Hellenistic minded people. Paul spoke deeply to the rabbinical schools, and Peter was from the Holy City and was in the inner circle of Christ. The people of Corinth identified with these men, while others identified with Chloe, and others looked to Christ. They were dividing over personal preference and celebrity. And Paul urges them to stop immediately.
“Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” The gospel of Christ is that the kingdom of God is at hand. The influence of Christ is all around us, if we are willing to see it. The Spirit of God is active all around and in us if we are willing to listen and heed its urgings. We can often be distracted by the things of this world, things that are very important but may only be speaking to half of the truth. But are we disciples of the trending news or are we disciples of Christ? Are we concerned with the things that concerned Jesus or are we focused on the things that concern the kingdoms of the world? Divisions are all around us but this is not what God wanted. Throughout scripture God was encouraging his people to be the people of inclusion not exclusion. Israel was to be the light of nations. The people of Israel were to treat the foreigner as an honored guest not as a person to be despised. The people of Israel were to be the haven of justice and mercy in a world of injustice and war. Yet that is not exactly how history was written. Division entered and along with it discrimination and pride. The people set apart to reflect the ways of God became just another nation of man. But God chose them through whom the redemption of the world would come.
Jesus came because God loved the world. And not wishing that anyone would perish He gave himself to take our place, and to bear our judgement. So, that whosoever believes in Him, whoever entrusts their entire life and lifestyle to him will have eternal life. Whoever takes on themselves the life and lifestyle of Jesus is the church. Whoever loves God in worship, embraces the Holy Spirit through prayer in the isolated places, and whoever lives the love of Jesus while serving others in word and deed. Whoever looks at those around them not as enemies but as bearer of the image of God. Whoever lives in the community using their talents and gifts for the mutual benefit or profit of the community while proclaiming Christ in every aspect of their lives.
We live in an era that is defined by division, but God is greater than our discriminations. We live in an era where we define the value of lives based on what ideology they hold, but God is greater than our politics. Justice is what God seeks more than sacrifice. Friendship is what God seeks more than enemies. Mercy is what God seeks more than winning an argument. Are we disciples of men or of Christ?