Christ Divided


1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Acts 11:26 tells us, "It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians." (NLT)

The word "Christian" means "follower of Christ."  In 1 Corinthians 1:7-9, the Apostle Paul shows us a little of the benefits of being a follower of Christ when he says:
Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  (NLT)

With every spiritual gift having been provided and the promise that God will keep one strong, this is a privileged relationship.  One enters into this relationship with Jesus by faith.  As we are told in John 1:12:
But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.  (NLT)

Many other passages of Scripture address both what it means to be a Christian and how one becomes a Christian, but the two just quoted form a good representation.  By our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, God has invited us into partnership with His Son.  This partnership with His Son involves us being called His body.  1 Corinthians 12:13 says:
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.  (ESV)

We are made one in Christ.  Based on this, the Apostle makes an appeal.
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.  (1 Corinthians 1:10, ESV)

This is not a harsh scolding, but rather a gentle, loving appeal.  The Spirit comes beside us and gently calls for us to come to unity in the faith, reminding us of the name and character of our Lord Jesus.

1 Corinthians 1:10 literally says, "...through the name of our Lord, Jesus the Christ..."  The word name in this case refers to His character as made known by deeds and reputation.  Therefore, this appeal or admonition is based on the tender mercies of our Lord.  As the epistle has just pointed out, we have received God's gracious gifts, forgiveness and cleansing from our sins and partnership with Jesus.  It is based on these things that we are called to unity.

Since this is a call to unity, it is necessary that we define what is meant by unity.  The Apostle does this effectively in very few words.  First, he says, "...that you all speak the same thing..."  (1 Corinthians 1:10 literal translation)  The word used here was: 
...originally, "lay down to sleep," used later of "laying an argument to rest," i.e. bringing a message to closure; (http://biblehub.com/greek/3004.htm
This implies coming to agreement on the crucial matters of faith.  He further explains this when he says, "...having been knit together in the same mind and in the same judgment."  Here, in this context, mind refers to reason and judgment refers to knowledge or facts.  Therefore, taking in the knowledge we have, we are expected to arrive at a reasonable conclusion that should lay the argument to rest or bring unity.

This is precisely what the Gospel does.  We all are equal at the foot of the Cross. 

In 335 and 381 A.D., the Church crafted a statement that we all still use to summarize the basics of the faith:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds (æons), Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;
who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;
he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead. ;
whose kingdom shall have no end.
And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.

While this statement serves as a rudimentary statement of faith for the Christian Church, the Gospel can be summed up even more succinctly in the words of John 3:16.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

However, this does not deal with all matters of faith and practice.  For this reason, we hold the Bible to be the final authority in matters of faith and practice.

Given the tremendous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, His great love and the truth and nature of the Scriptures, unity of the faith is both possible and necessary.  However, divisions are inevitable.

Later on in the letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul says:
But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God's approval will be recognized!  (1 Corinthians 11:19, NLT)

We can understand this statement more when we read passages like 2 Peter 2:1.
But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves.  (NLT)

Necessary divisions result from perversion of the truth of the Gospel and denying the Master, who bought us.  For example, any religion, church or teaching that denies that Jesus is God is a perversion.  1 John 4:3 makes it clear that any teaching that denies Jesus is from the spirit of the antichrist.  Unity of the faith then involves the exclusion or rejection of such heresies.

The appeal, then, that the Apostle is making is for those who are true believers in Jesus Christ.  Through people associated with Chloe, who everyone in Corinth apparently knew, Paul learned of strife in the Church.

As he addresses this strife, Paul defines the nature of the conflict.  In 1 Corinthians 1:12 he 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.”  (ESV)

Paul is shocked by this.  He gives the equivalent of a literary shout.  If this were a text message, it would be in all CAPS!  He says, "CHRIST IS DIVIDED!"  Our translations treat this as a question, "Is Christ divided?"  However, the original is a statement, a statement of shock and dismay.

Paul then asks some important questions.  He asks:
Was Paul crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?  (1 Corinthians 1:13, ESV)

The obvious answer to these questions is "No."

Paul next spends time explaining that he baptized only a few of them.  He stresses that Christ did not send him to baptize but to announce the Good News.  In other words, Paul was not trying to gather a following for himself.  His entire purpose was to gather a following for Christ Jesus.

The problems that Paul points out specifically are strife and divisions.  He addresses these more in 1 Corinthians chapter 3 when he says:
For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?  For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?  (1 Corinthians 3:3-4, ESV)

Strife and divisions come from our flesh or from being human.  Because of this, the root of strife is hard to pinpoint.  Jealousy, greed, pride or malice could all be involved in the motive of the heart.  Some, wishing to gain a following for themselves, will cause strife.  Some, wishing to cause harm to a person or ministry, will cause strife.  Some, having pride in their superior wisdom or knowledge, will cause strife.

Whenever this happens, there must be an intervention.  Paul as an Apostle carried both the authority and responsibility to intervene.  Therefore we have the book of Corinthians.  Because of our human nature, strife is inevitable and there are battles that must be fought.  However, they must be fought without wrath, malice and all those things that characterize the flesh. Paul does not yell at the Corinthians.  He appeals to them as brothers.  In giving instructions to Timothy on pastoral leadership he says:
Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father. Talk to younger men as you would to your own brothers. Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters.  (1 Timothy 5:1-2, NLT)

While maintaining a gentle and humble approach, Paul makes his answer to the strife and divisions among the Corinthians.  He first points out that his ministry was not what he calls "eloquent wisdom" or "skilled speech."

The appeal of human wisdom is one of the dangers that Paul spends a lot of time on both in Corinthians and in his other letters.  He spends time on the subject in chapters 1 and 2 and then concludes chapter 3 with:
Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world's standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise.  (1 Corinthians 3:18, NLT)

To the Colossian Church he said:
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.  (Colossians 2:8, ESV)

To the Ephesian Church he said:
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  (Ephesians 5:6, ESV)

To the Hebrews he said:
Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings...  (Hebrews 13:9, ESV)

Being led astray by "eloquent wisdom" or "skilled speech" is a real danger.  One of the early heresies in the Church was that of Gnosticism.  Gnostics claimed to possess special knowledge known only to a certain few or the enlightened.  They also taught that the body was entirely evil and that the spirit was entirely good.  This is undoubtedly an oversimplification of their teachings, but it is accurate enough to point out that "special" or "deeper" knowledge is a dangerous thing. Paul certainly had knowledge and he used it.  He says in 1 Corinthians 2:6-7:
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.  But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.  (ESV)

In addressing the divisions, Paul says that he avoided words of eloquent wisdom "lest the cross of Christ be emptied..."  (1 Corinthians 1:17, ESV)  The word he uses for emptied means nullified or made nothing.  To add anything to the gospel is to make it meaningless.

The Scriptures tell us that evil people and imposters will continue to go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Timothy 3:13, ESV)  However, we must hold onto the simple truth of the Gospel.  We are not saved by special knowledge.  No teacher, leader, pastor or priest can save a single person.  Only Jesus saves.  We must faithfully proclaim the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation.

Colossians 2:3 tells us that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ.  In the end, He is our one and only pursuit and purpose.  When we value anything more than Christ, it will show itself in conflicts and strife, first internally and then externally.  Christ is, of course, not divided.  Therefore, strife is always a symptom of a spiritual problem.  We must begin to deal with it by returning to the cross, because only the cross has the power to heal our divisions.

We must not be like those that 2 Timothy 3:5 mentions who "...having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power."  (ESV)

Only the cross has the power to transform lives.  This is why the Apostle Paul says:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  Romans 1:16

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