Problems Plaguing a Local Church, Part 2

In our message, CHRIST IS NOT DIVIDED (1 Cor. 1:10-18), we continued our new series in the book of First Corinthians.

People from “Chloe’s household” had written Paul back to request additional information from him on problems in the Corithian church (1 Cor. 1:11; 5:9, etc.), and from this call for help the book of 1 Corinthians was given to us as part of God’s holy Word. While we do not know a lot about this godly woman Chloe, it appears she, like Lydia in Philippi, was a widow or single woman who owned her own business and ran her own household with servants (Acts 16:13-15, etc.). As a new believer in Corinth, she also was very involved with and concerned about the well-being of the church to the point that her household “declared” specifically to the founding Apostle Paul what was going on in the struggling fellowship. Chloe and her believing household were not afraid to be mentioned directly by Paul in 1 Corinthians, nor were they afraid to seek out his help to resolve this problem. Sometimes, love requires us to be bold and bring things out into the open (Eph. 4:15; Rom. 12:9; John 1:1-3; 9:4; Matt 5:14; 1 Cor. 1:9; 13:6, etc.).

God then, through his human instrument- Paul, “plead[s] with [them in] the name of [the] Lord Jesus Christ [to] all speak the same thing” (1 Cor. 1:10a). That is, God calls His body there in Corinth to show outward unity to the lost world around them so the gospel can be effectively shared (John 17:20-21, etc.). While outward unity can be forced upon people, God wants this unity to come from the heart (Christ in us the hope of glory) as also verse 10 explains when He requests ‘inward unity’- “that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10b; Col. 1:27; 2 Thes. 3:16, etc.). The Greek word for “perfectly joined together” is katartízō, and, in that day, was used to explain what a person did in outfitting a ship for a voyage or a musician might do when he adjusted the parts of his instrument. But it was more commonly understood to be a medical term that spoke of making a person’s body physically whole again, as when a doctor would set a broken bone so it would be made well (1 Thes. 3:10; Heb. 13:21, etc.).

The problem declared to Paul by the faithful believers there in Corinth was “contentions” from at least four party groups vying selfishly for leadership and control within the church there (1 Cor. 1:11). Instead of emphasizing the message of the Word, the Corinthians emphasized the messenger! Some said they followed Paul; while others aligned with the “eloquent man” Apollos (Acts 18:24-26); yet more said they were of the Apostle Peter (i.e. Cephas here); and a fourth group (who also disdained the others) claimed supremacy and autonomy to do what they wanted by professing to be following “Christ” (1 Cor. 1:12; Prov. 18:1, etc.). While such party factions were normal for the culture of that day which boasted in wisdom from their teachers and always sought “some new thing” (Acts 17:21), they are inappropriate for God’s people as “contentions” (eris in the Greek) are a work of the flesh- the old Adamic nature which Christians are called to “put off” (Gal. 5:20; James 4:1-5; Eph. 4:22, etc.). The wisdom that is from above is “first pure,” and the Bible says “if it is possible, as much as depends on [us, we are called to] live peaceably with all men” (James 3:17; Rom. 12:18). To have God’s unity and peace within a church (and all human relationships), we have to turn from sin and walk with our Lord (1 John 1:9), and this is what the Apostle Paul/God is calling them to do here. This, of course, does not negate our call to do our part in each relationship loving one another as Christ loved us (Eph. 4:32; Matt. 5:2-16, etc.). When Christians allow the spirit of a culture to invade the church it hinders our ability to declare and share the gospel to the lost around us (1 Cor. 11:31-32; Gal. 2:20, etc.) God is calling the believers back to their identity in Christ here, and reminding them (and us) the church is not ‘their’ church to be controlled by them, but it is “the church of God” to be controlled by Him (1 Cor. 1:2). That is, they are the Lord’s church there just as we are the Lord’s church here- called to be used for His glory (Col. 1:18, etc.).

To remind them of who they are in Christ, God then asks them three questions (1 Corinthians 1:13):

  1. “Is Christ divided?” -The word “divided” here means to chop up into different parts. The very idea is grotesque as one would not want to ever chop up someone’s body, let alone our precious Lord Jesus Christ’s body! And yet, the Bible firmly shows us we as the church are in fact “the body of Christ” (Eph. 3:5-7; Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27, etc.). The sectarianism and party spirit of the culture that had crept into the fellowship at Corinth were in essence chopping up God’s body there! This should never be done! This is the opposite of God’s call to them (and us) to be “perfectly joined together” (katartízō) in 1 Cor. 1:10. Once again, the remedy for carnality which hinders the ability of the church to share God’s Word is the confession of and turning from of personal sin (1 John 1:9; Gal. 6:7-9; Rom. 12:1-2, etc.)
  2. “Was Paul crucified for you?” -The answer here is also a resounding, “NO!” We see here Paul takes no joy that people are following him at Corinth in this manner (i.e. “I am of Paul” 1 Cor. 1:12). NO HUMAN BEING, EVEN AN APOSTLE, CAN TAKE AWAY ANOTHER PERSON’S SIN. ONLY CHRIST CAN DO THAT (Acts 4:10-12, etc.). The Lord Jesus Christ, as the God-Man, paid a price that we cannot comprehend: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29; 3:16; Isa. 53:10, etc.). All glory, honor, and power is due to Him only as He alone is the Savior of the world (John 14:6; Acts 4:12, etc.). No human being should be lifted up or followed above our Lord Jesus Christ as He exclusively is the One who deserves preeminence (Col. 1:18; Rev. 4:8-11; Phil. 2:10-11, etc.)
  3. “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” -And again, we have a resounding “NO!” to this question… No Christian is ever to be baptized in the name of a man, but only in the name of the Creator God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). Paul is not saying here baptism is unimportant, but he is just placing it in its proper order. Baptism does not save a person, but it is a public testimony to other people of a person who has already been saved by grace through faith in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-9, etc.). Paul continues to explain this in the next few verses…

“I thank God that I baptized none of you except…” (1 Cor. 1:14a). Some cults will contend that water baptism is necessary for a person to be saved (Titus 3:5; Eph. 2:8-9, etc.). If this were true, Paul would never have written these words (1 Cor. 1:14-17, etc.). Once again, the ordinance of water baptism, though important and a command from the Lord Jesus Himself, is NOT how a person is saved (Matt. 28:18-20, etc.). It is a public testimony and picture of one’s inward faith AFTER he or she has been saved by grace (John 1:12-13, 3:7, etc.). In this way, it is also an important step of faith for a person to grow after he or she becomes God’s child (2 Pet. 3:18, etc.). In the early church, baptism was similar to church membership in that the person at that point officially became a public member of the local body of believers. This step of faith in a hostile culture often resulted in great personal cost to new Christians as family and others disowned them- but the church of God became their new family in Christ (Eph. 2:19, etc.).

In the case of Paul’s unique calling as an Apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people), God “did not send [him] to baptize, but to preach the gospel” in places where Jesus had not yet ever been heard (1 Cor. 1:17a; 3:10-11; Rom. 15:20, etc.). So, he thanked God for the providence that he had only baptized a few people in Corinth before moving on to share in other places because he did not want any making up excuses to follow a faction in his name, instead of Christ Himself. Paul apparently did not even have a list of those he baptized in the city of Corinth (1 Cor. 1:16). Instead, he “preach[ed] the gospel, not with words of wisdom, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect” (1 Cor. 1:17b). Cleverness of speech and words of human wisdom intoxicated Greek culture (and that is a reason why many were following different leaders within the church), but that cannot save anyone (1 Cor. 1:12). Indeed, the gospel does not appeal to man’s intellect, but to his sense of guilt by sin (John 16:8-11, etc.). It is a simple message that anyone can believe and be saved by (John 3:16). To people who do not know the Lord, “the message of the cross is foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). We see here the central theme in the book of 1 Corinthians for Christians to walk in fellowship and have our minds renewed day by day (1 Cor. 1:9; Rom. 12:1-2, etc.). We have been saved from the penalty of sin forever (justified) and will absolutely be freed from the very presence of sin one day when Christ comes for us and our bodies are changed to be like His body (glorified), but today, the Lord wants us to let the gospel message run through our veins as well as keeping us free from the power of sin now (sanctified- set apart from Him- Gal. 5:1, etc.). We are to know that we are “dead indeed to sin” and can walk in the newness of life today (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:11, etc.). The truth is, the power of the resurrection is also for us now as we look toward His coming kingdom tomorrow (1 Cor. 1:18; 4:20; 10:12-14, etc.).