I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, 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. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 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.”
1 Corinthians 1:10-12
As we enter the first section of the letter, we might notice that Paul hasn’t provided a thesis statement, a statement that tells us what he is going to talk about in this letter. If I were writing it, I might say it this way: “It has come to my attention that there are some serious problems in your community, and I am writing to you today in an attempt to help you to correct the situation.”
I point this out because this is the first level of context that we need to keep in mind as we continue through the letter: Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to identify and correct several major problems they were experiencing in Corinth, c. 55 AD. If we forget that, we may run into difficulty understanding Paul’s comments later on in the letter.
While Paul didn’t announce his overall reason for writing the entire letter, he does clearly mark his change from one topic to another, and here we can easily see that he has moved on from prayer and thanksgiving to a discussion of disunity among the members of the congregation beginning in v. 10: Quit fighting amongst yourselves! To add gravity to his appeal, he cites his source of information, eyewitness accounts from Corinth itself from members of Chloe’s household. According to his sources, people in the church are divided by their support for individual church leaders: Paul himself, Apollos, Cephas (Peter)… and Jesus. Ironically, Paul, Peter and Apollos are all on the side of Christ – they are not supportive of this division:
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 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.
1 Corinthians 1:13-17
Apparently, people were being divided along the lines of who was baptized or brought to belief by whom in a sort of rivalry between leaders that was concocted by followers. Could this thinking be like we might find when several people are fans of a sports team, but then divide over who the team’s best player is? Naturally scholars divide over whose theory on this subject is the best, but whatever the reason for the division Paul is telling the people to knock it off.
Paul then goes on, in an interesting way, to say that he’s glad that he personally hadn’t baptized very many of them so that his faction isn’t a big mover in this division and goes on to point out that many came to relationship with Christ through his teaching, which hadn’t been terribly eloquent, lest his performance should in any way, overshadow the cross of Christ, which is the whole point of everything.
This is a lesson that would be important for all of us to take notice of, particularly those who are leaders in the church: We must never overshadow the real reason for everything: Christ. We must never encourage people to become followers of us, for we follow Christ, and anyone who is influenced by our leadership or teaching, must be focused on Christ, for in the end our jobs are to bring others face-to-face with Jesus Christ, and then we must get out of His way.
Much has been said this week about Billy Graham, and rightly so, for his was a simple message of salvation through Jesus Christ. His message was simple, clear and centered only on Christ, and so must ours be simple, clear and centered entirely on Christ.