CHURCHES NEED TO BE UNIFIED AROUND THE SIMPLICITY AND POWER OF THE GOSPEL MESSAGE (THE CROSS OF CHRIST) RATHER THAN LOYALTY TO ONE PARTICULAR PREACHER
Divisions in the church undermine our testimony and replace submission to Christ with prideful agendas. The ministry gifts have been given to the church for the glorification of Christ – not for the formation of preacher fan clubs. The temptation is to divert our dependence upon our invisible Lord to some visible impressive figure. But we all need to focus our attention on the substance of the gospel message – especially on the cross of Christ which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. Too often churches strive for unity by trying to galvanize loyalty around the leadership of one strong leader personality instead of focusing dependence upon the true Head of the Church. Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified for all of the elect to bring us spiritual life and gift all of us all with the privilege of mutual ministry that can bring great glory to God. We need strong preachers and dynamic leadership – but that leadership must always be channeling our devotion and dependence to Christ in a unified focus. That is why the proper functioning of the plurality of elders is such an essential cornerstone to the health and vitality of the local church.
I. (:10) UNITY IN CHRIST IS THE GOAL FOR HIS CHURCH
A. Appeal to Church Unity (viewed as Family Unity)
“Now I exhort you, brethren”
Making an urgent appeal to them as a family member
B. Authority for Church Unity = the Head of the Body
“by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”
C. Affirmation of Church Unity – Requires a certain mindset
1. Positive: Stay on the Same Page
“that you all agree”
Goins: The first positive appeal is that they agree, or literally, that they all speak the same thing. This term is an idiom from classical Greek. It was always used to describe political parties or communities that were free from factions; all agreed on what the party platform was, and there was no competition. We commonly hear the same kind of language today from Democrats and Republicans who call for party unity, because disunity undermines their effectiveness. So Paul is calling the Corinthian Christians to make up their differences and let go of their party slogans.
MacArthur: For a local church to be spiritually healthy, harmonious, and effective, there must, above all, be doctrinal unity. The teaching of the church should not be a smorgasbord from which members can pick and choose. Nor should there be various groups, each with its own distinctives and leaders.
2. Negative: Avoid Choosing Up Sides
“and that there be no divisions among you”
3. Positive: Exercise Common Discernment
“but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
MacArthur: The basic idea is that of putting back together something that was broken or separated so it is no longer divided. The term is used in both the NT and in classical Gr. to speak of mending such things as nets, broken bones or utensils, torn garments, and dislocated joints. Cf. Ro 16:17; Php 1:27.
II. (:11-13) UNITY IS COMPROMISED BY FOCUSING LOYALTY ON A PARTICULAR PREACHER RATHER THAN ON CHRIST
A. (:11) Report of Divisions in the Church at Corinth
“For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you.”
B. (:12) Repetition of Misdirected Allegiance
1. Widespread Problem
“Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying,”
Points out to us today the natural human tendency of all of us to want to align our dependence with some visible, appealing figure. This was not some isolated problem affecting just pockets of people in the church. Everyone was at fault regarding this issue (or at least it was widespread enough that Paul was not just singling out some isolated groups).
2. Loyalty to Paul
“‘I am of Paul,’”
This must have been especially distasteful to the Apostle Paul who found that his preaching of Christ had not produced the desired affect of dependence upon Christ.
3. Loyalty to Apollos
“and ‘I of Apollos,’”
4. Loyalty to Cephas
“and ‘I of Cephas,’
5. False Spirituality
“and ‘I of Christ.’”
This problem presupposes that the believers at Corinth were exposed to large doses of ministry from multiple preachers.
Goins: The fourth party named was the Christ party. These were the purists, those who sounded the most spiritual. It was probably the worst of the four parties. There was a self-righteous smugness about these folks. They basically said, “We don’t need human leaders at all. Jesus is the head of the body, and we’ll just listen to him. We’re not going to listen to Paul or Apollos or Peter.” This group would have been religiously intimidating in the life of that fellowship, claiming superiority in Bible study and prayer and worship. These were folks you would have heard saying, “The Lord spoke to me on this matter….” They were spiritual elitists who were unwilling to submit themselves even to the apostolic authority that Jesus Christ had defined and put in place for the church. They were just as divisive as the other three groups.
Jeffries: There may or may not have been a “Christ” faction at Corinth.
“There was absolutely no punctuation in Greek manuscripts and no space whatever between words. [ 1 Corinthians 1:12 ] may well not describe a party at all. It may be the comment of Paul himself. Perhaps we ought to punctuate like this: ‘I am of Paul; I am of Apollos; I am of Cephas — but I belong to Christ!’ It may well be that this is Paul’s own comment on the whole wretched situation. “If that is not so and this does describe a party, they must have been a small and rigid sect who claimed that they were the only true Christians in Corinth. Their real fault was not in saying that they belonged to Christ, but in acting as if Christ belonged to them. It may well describe a little, intolerant, self-righteous group.”
– William Barclay: The Letters to the Corinthians
But Morris says the Greek structure makes this alternative interpretation unlikely.
C. (:13) Response to the Problem Focuses on Centrality of Jesus Christ
1. Unity of Christ – Proper Focus on the Person of Jesus Christ
“Has Christ been divided?
2. Cross of Christ – Proper Focus on the Substitutionary Atonement of Christ
“Paul was not crucified for you, was he?”
3. Baptism in the Name of Christ – Proper Focus on the Meaning of the Symbolism of the Sacraments of the Church Commanded by Christ
“Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
Sad that this area of baptism has developed into one of the most divisive areas in the church.
III. (:14-17) UNITY IS PROMOTED BY FOCUSING ON THE CENTRAL MISSION OF THE CHURCH = THE PROCLAMATION OF THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL IN ALL OF ITS SIMPLICITY AND POWER
A. (:14-16) The Central Mission Is Not: Trying to Compete For Disciples
“I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other.”
B. (:17) The Central Mission Is: the Proclamation of the Gospel = the Cross of Christ
1. The Apostolic Priority = Preaching the Gospel
“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel”
The church can so easily be diverted from its fundamental mission. This section is not to minimize the proper importance of baptism. Paul is not saying that the believers did not need to be baptized – only that he did not need to be the one administering it.
Ryrie: Though Paul did baptize some, it is clear from this statement that he did not consider baptism necessary for salvation.
2. The Apostolic Methodology = The Foolishness of Preaching – Simplicity of Spiritual Wisdom
“not in cleverness of speech”
Contrast this with present day marketing emphasis in evangelicalism;
The wisdom of the world accomplishes nothing for the sake of Christ.
3. The Power of the Cross
“so that the cross of Christ would not be made void”
Tragic when believers do not apply the message of the gospel with its freedom from the bondage of sin to their own everyday lives; a divided church is a weak and powerless church
Hodge: During the apostolic age, and in the apostolic form of religion, truth stood immeasurably above external rites. The apostasy of the church consisted in making rites more important than truth.