1 Corinthians 1:10–17
Sometimes we look at the church and we scratch our heads. How did it get like this?
What often happens next is that we look for reasons. A favourite is to blame Constantine and trace our problems back to the beginning of Christendom. I know, I’ve done this. There is a lot of truth in it. Overnight Constantine turned pagan worship places into Christian worship places. He just renamed so many things that were pagan, and called them Christian. I have a whole book on it.
And then we get romantic. We fondly imagine how wonderful and pure the early church was. How we need to be like the church in Acts. And again there is a lot of truth in this. But we mustn’t loose sight of reality.
Paul can help us here. It was Paul who established the church in Corinth. It was Paul who pastored the flock in Corinth. Wouldn’t you have liked to be a member of that church? Paul had baptised Crispus and Gaius and the household of Stephanas.
In reality, those were times of great persecution. Paul was chased from cities, including Corinth. Most apostles did not die normal deaths. Except John, they were all martyred.
Corinth was not an easy place to spread the good news. It was a rich city and the people worshipped idols. There was a temple to Aphrodite (Diana) with 2,000 prostitutes. Aphrodite, in Greek mythology, was the goddess of love, beauty and fertility.
None of Paul’s churches had more problems than the church at Corinth. Thankfully they have left us with some wonderful teaching to help us when we have the same problems. Sadly we do have some of the same problems as this church. Thankfully not all of them. The solution that Paul lays out for us in 1 and 2 Corinthians is love.
In our passage of Scripture this morning the problem Paul is dealing with is disunity. It is the first problem he tackles in his letter. Paul first reminds them of who they are in Christ. They ‘have been called by God to be his own holy people’. He gives them hope and encourages them. In verse 7 Paul says, ‘you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns.’
And then he dives straight in to what is really bothering him. Church unity is the main point of concern.
In the early church there were no church buildings. Believers met in each other’s homes.
So usually the wealthy were the ones with enough space for meetings.
There was only one church, but several meeting places.
What seems to have happened is this. The Greeks were just like us.
Look at politics. People love to join a party and be part of a tribe. Then they love to join together in opposition to their rival parties. Each one claims to be the very best for the country and declares the others to be the worst. We do the same with baseball and football. In fact in Europe the supporters of football clubs can be extremely violent.
As a result of this competitive way of thinking, today we have over 33,000 denominations of Christianity in the world. I dearly love our fellowship because among us we don’t have any denominations. We are from all over the world, but here we are just fellow believers.
In the church in Corinth they were forming factions. They were making rival groups. They were picking a leader and holding them up above the others. They were creating divisions. Paul listed four examples in verse 12.
‘Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.”’
The philosophers and rabbis of the day actually encouraged this kind of loyalty. It is recorded that in Corinth rival students and disciples sometimes came to blows. That is the way of the world, but it is not our way. The world was creeping into the church in Corinth.
First of all the loyalists said, “We belong to Paul. Paul started our church. Because of Paul we have life in Christ, and we’ll listen to Paul above all others.” Perhaps a big group followed Paul.
The stylists were attracted by exciting preaching. They flocked around Apollos. The book of Acts shows Apollos as an outstanding orator and the Greeks loved oratory. He was especially capable in the allegorical style of teaching of the Old Testament. Lots of people in Corinth probably gushed, “Ooh, I love to hear Apollos! Apollos is a great preacher. He’s just so great. And he’s warm. Such a capable man, Apollos, and so eloquent. No one is as great as Apollos. He can make Scripture come alive!”
Then there were traditionalists. There always are traditionalists. They said, “Well, I don’t know about Paul or Apollos. Let’s get back to basics. We want the original.” Peter had probably been through Corinth and preached there. So they felt on solid ground with Peter. He was one of the first disciples called by Jesus himself. They were arguing and quarrelling over the relative merits of various teachers.
The fourth group seems a little proud perhaps, or maybe arrogant. Sounding superior and extra spiritual, they said, “You may be of Paul or of Peter or of Apollos, but we are of Christ! We follow only Jesus. When he speaks, we’ll listen. We don’t care what anyone else says, it makes no difference to us.” These self-righteous people were separating, dividing the congregation and quarrelling.
As you well know, we still have this problem in the church. It’s not a question of being right. It isn’t a matter of whether Apollos really was a better speaker than Paul.
Paul says it is wrong. Their attitude is wrong. They are placing value on the wrong things. They are sacrificing what really matters for things that don’t matter at all.
So Paul says in verse 17: “Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power.”
We should go to our church service whoever is preaching. Some people only attend for their favourite preacher. If they don’t like the preacher, they won’t go to church. But the good news is about us all being citizens of the kingdom of heaven. We are all one family, brothers and sisters. We are partners with God in building his kingdom on earth. Church is not at all about what we want. Church is about what God wants.
Following Jesus is about doing what he asks of us. To love is to obey. His clear command is for us to love each other and be united as one. Paul says in verse 10 that we should be in harmony.
Titus 3:10-11 says, “If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.”
What we are to have is one mind. That is the mind of Christ. We are not to have our own minds in this sense. Of course we do have our own minds, but they have to submit to the will of Christ. Christ is not divided.
In John 17:20–23 we have Jesus praying. He says to God the Father, “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you.”
If we aren’t united, we have to find ways of becoming united. United with Christ and united with each other. And if it means we need to change our minds, pray for God to change you.
This week is the week of prayer for Christian unity. Around the world this past week believers have been praying for the unity that Jesus prayed for. It is what God wants. If we believe in Jesus we should all want it too. We should pray for it.