In our passage for study, Paul begins by expressing his understanding and concern about divisions in the Corinthian church. In response to this situation, he encourages unity and exposes the absurdity of party spirit. Paul concludes by defending his own place in the life of the Corinthian church; he did not come to form a party, but rather proclaim life in Christ Jesus.
v10. On the issue of divisions in the church, Paul could command their obedience, but instead he encourages a response prompted by the grace of God in Christ. His "appeal" is that they:
i] "agree with one another." Paul means by this that there should be no "divisions" among them. Divisions, not so much in the sense of parties (he is not demanding uniformity), but rather rents or tears in their fellowship.
ii] "be perfectly united in mind and thought". Paul is calling here for a unity of opinion in the gospel. The Corinthians have divided theological opinions which are focused on different teachers, possibly without their approval.
v11.Paul now identifies the source of his information about the state of the Corinthian church.
v12. The information from Chloe's household is that church members have divided into factions which have grown to love theological disputation. Famous teachers of the faith have been used to authenticate their "wisdom", and this has resulted in growing division.
v13. Division within the church prompts Paul to utter three rhetorical questions. First, "is Christ divided?" This phrase concerns the unity of the people of God in Christ. It is a sin to divide the fellowship of believers into contending factions. Second, using himself as the focal point of one of the factions (but also read "Apollos"), he asks whether he was crucified for them, and third, whether they were baptized into his name? The absurdity of such a view underlines the worth of the divisions in the church.
v14-16." Thank heavens", exclaims Paul, that he never got to give water baptism to many in Corinth. No one can accuse him of working up his own group around a baptismal rite. Crispus is most likely the Jewish synagogue leader mentioned in Acts 18:8 and Gaius may be the person he stayed with when writing his letter to the Romans, Rom.16:23.
v17. Paul did not come to Corinth to form a "Paul" party. He was not some wandering philosopher whose system of logic and powerful oratory could be judged against that of others (possibly another reference to Apollos). Paul was an apostle, a sent one. Jesus sent him to communicate the gospel - the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. The message of the cross has its own power, its own dynamic, and must not be covered by clever rhetoric.
The divisions in the Corinthian church are small when compared with the divided state of Christianity today. We live in an age which can be compared with the period of the Judges in the Old Testament - "all do that which is right in their own eyes." In any one suburb we may find as many as six different Christian fellowships. The ecumenical movement has produced some organizational unity, yet there are probably more denominations, non-denominations and Christian sects today than when the ecumenical movement began to take shape just after the second World War. Even the Charismatic renewal movement began with the hope that it would unite the different denominations through a renewing work of the Spirit, but the Christian church has continued to fracture.
The fractured state of Christianity reflects human weakness; it reflects our limitations to transcend history and culture. We fail to deal with problems in the church and so end up in schism. We cling to our racial identity, preserving cultural churches. So, we live with massive division.
Yet, Paul's focus in his letter to the Corinthians is not organizational unity; he is not arguing for Christian uniformity. Different groupings of believers with different interests, or as it is today, different worship styles and organizational structures, are not really of interest to the apostle. He calls for a sense of common agreement on the substantial issues of their fellowship together - that they be "perfectly united in mind and thought". He calls for unity in the fellowship of believers, and this through a common acceptance of gospel truth, v10.
Christ is one and we are one in him, v13. Therefore, our life together as a church fellowship and our contacts with members of other churches, must reflect the oneness we have in Christ. We should do nothing to promote division nor accentuate division. In our relationship with those in our church fellowship, or those in other Christian fellowships, we need to focus on the substantial truths that unite us in Christ.
Jesus has not given us this moment to promote our own cause, our own individualism, v17. We are here to realize the kingdom of God in our own lives, in the life of our Christian fellowship and in our broken world. This we do in Christ's power. We are here to promote his cause in his power, not our cause in our power.
1. "Perfectly united in mind and thought". Discuss the practical expression of such union.
2. Identify any "party spirit" in your own church.
3. Discuss the different ways we are dividing Christ today.
4. Discuss the implication in v17 that "divisions" are produced when we rest on "human wisdom."