(1 Corinthians 1:10-17)
As I read this section of scripture there was one question that Paul posed to the church at Corinth that strikes to the heart of the church down to this day. At the start of verse 13 he writes, “Is Christ divided?”
The answer to that question is clearly…No. Christ is certainly not divided. There is only one Christ and His word, His ministry and His purpose for man had and still has only one true path. There is only one truth and that is the truth of Jesus Christ.
However the same cannot be said about the church, and that is the focus and the point of what Paul was writing to the Corinthians. Paul had a concern about how people were behaving and the focus of their beliefs. It was part idolatry, part party spirit and partly to do with division in the church.
The first problem that comes to mind when we look at Paul's concerns is the issue of idolatry. Of all the sins of man, idolatry is the one that God most despised and it was idolatry amongst the original nations of Cana for which they were judged and dispossessed. It was idolatry in the making of the calf that the Israelites who had left Egypt were judged and found unworthy to enter the promised land.
And what we see here in these verses is a manifestation of this same sinfulness when it says,
What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” – (1 Corinthians 1:12)
What were the people in Corinth doing when they indicated these preferences for Paul, Apollos or Cephas? Were they not putting these men ahead of Christ and looking to man rather than looking to God and the teachings of Jesus Christ?
And whenever anything or in this case anyone, stands in the place of God, it is idolatry. The people were setting Paul, Apollos and Cephas up as idols through looking to them rather than looking to Christ.
This was no reflection on these three men as I am sure they were not putting themselves up or setting themselves up as anything special. Rather it was the fault of the people for looking to men rather than to God through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
What was important is what these three men had to say as they taught the people. Their message would certainly have been consistent as all of them spoke the words of truth and the gospel of Jesus Christ. But the men themselves were not to be looked at as anything other than the servants of the Lord, no better and no worse than anyone else.
The second aspect of this is that by looking at these men as if they were something more than just servants of the Lord, preaching and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, is the issue of party spirit.
Party spirit is one of the passions of human nature that is to be despised for it sets up divisions. Note these words from Galatians 5.
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. – (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)
I have highlighted the word “divisions” in the verse above for this is the word that pertains to the question at hand. The Greek word from which this is
Definition: haíresis from (hairéomai) ? properly, a choice, i.e. (specially) a party or (abstractly) disunion:–heresy (which is the Greek word itself), sect.
This same word in the RSV is translated as “party spirit”, in the KJV as “factions” and in the YLT as “sects” all of which give us a reasonable insight into what Paul was driving at. All of these show the attitude where people choose one party over another.
Consider for a moment how much this is a part of modern life, and even promoted as a good thing. We are sought after to choose to side with political parties, we are brought up to follow sporting teams and we are encouraged to join churches.
This is a competition for our allegiance, our resources, our time, our money and even our souls. And competition in the church is a real problem. Competition does not build up but it tears apart. Competition is about fighting, going head to head against another. It is about pride and arrogance and being the top dog, and that is not the way of Jesus Christ.
These things lead to divisions in the church, which is what Paul was concerned about in the church at Corinth. This is what he said in the first verses of this section.
10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. – (1 Corinthians 1:10-11)
The people at Corinth were quarreling and were divided in thoughts, views and opinions over the message. But it was not even the message that was their focus but rather the servants who delivered that message. They were not focussing on the truth but on the divisive passions of the flesh.
Division in the church is not a good thing. Paul's appeal to them was that they should be united in mind and spirit and not divided. And he further went on that they were to be united in worship of Jesus Christ, looking to Him as Saviour and not to those who were His servants.
Division is the work of the devil. It is he that seeks to divide brothers against each other and to build up parties and sects that fight amongst each other, for when he achieves that the brethren are no longer looking to Christ Jesus.
Divisions will happen and we are told that in some cases they are necessary for they separate those who are true and seeking the truth from those who are seeking their own devices and ends.
But divisions whether necessary or not are always difficult and stressful and to be avoided if possible.
Impact for the Church Today
The impact of the words Paul wrote all those years ago are incredibly important and salient to us today.
When we look at the global church what we see is the outcome of the very things Paul cautioned the Corinthians about. Constant and ongoing divisions in the church over the past two millennia has led to the structure of the church as we see it today.
There are countless denominations, sects and even cults amongst the churches today. And more arising all the time as more and more Christians become disillusioned with the traditional church and divide off to form independent churches.
This is the fruit of the seeds of division that Paul saw being planted in his day. And the challenge we have today is the issue of trying to sift through the mess as we each seek the truth.
As we go back to Paul's question, “Is Christ divided?” we still say, No! But today we do not have Paul or the other disciples who were taught by Jesus to help us see the path.
Should we be concerned about this? No, for if we started looking for men to guide us we may end up in the same place Paul was concerned about that led to his letter. If we look to a televangelist or pastor or minister or bishop or spiritual man to guide us, we may fall as Corinth fell.
Are we then without hope? Absolutely not! For the answer today is the same as it was in Paul's day. We look to Jesus Christ. He certainly knew that the divisions we see today would occur and although we do not have Paul, Peter, John or the rest of the early disciples who were taught by Jesus directly, we do have their words written and collected for us so that we can learn all we need to know. And when we follow Jesus according to the definite plan and process He set forth for us, we receive the Holy Spirit whose job it is to guide us into all the truth and to open the doors to the truth that we can only see with the help of God.
All is not lost. But finding the path can be difficult amongst the litany of false teachings and false doctrines that exist in the modern church, all of which have caused many of the divisions to occur in the first place.
The truth is there for the finding. Are you prepared and willing to seek it out, to knock at the door of Jesus Christ and to receive His teachings that lead to salvation? When you begin to look to Him and not to man, that is when He will be found and will lead you to His kingdom.
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