Dividing the Indivisible
Topic: Pauline Epistles Passage: 1 Corinthians 1:10–1:17
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. 12 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.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else). 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
My earliest recollection of hearing and using the word “indivisible” was during my grade-school days when, at our teacher’s instruction, we would rise from our desks at the start of each new day, place our right hands over our hearts, and recite the “Pledge of Allegiance” to the American flag. “One nation, under God” we would all say together, “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
I wasn’t quite sure at the time what “indivisible” meant, but it sounded a lot like “invisible,” so I just assumed that whatever I was “pledging allegiance” to was something that couldn’t be seen, and therefore must not be all that important. But I was wrong.
Later on I would learn the significance of the word, and that it actually meant “unable to be divided or separated.” That certainly was Francis Bellamy’s hope for this nation when he originally composed the “Pledge of Allegiance” in 1892. You don’t have to be much of an observer of today’s news to realize that we are living in a time when such optimism is a far cry from reality. The fact is that not only in our nation, but in our world at large, unity or indivisibility is a rare commodity.
That is something we might expect, given that we live a fallen world. What saddens us, however, is that similar evidence of division and disunity is found in many churches today. Despite the fact that we have been called to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), Christians at times find it hard to get along. This was one of the many problems facing the 1st-century church in Corinth.
The Apostle Paul had helped to plant the church in that city and had ministered among the new believers there for a year and a half (cf. Acts 18:11). Following his departure from Corinth, he subsequently heard reports that factions had arisen among the saints that required his apostolic correction. What’s more, he received a letter from some of the believers in that city which alerted him to a number of practical matters that were beginning to further divide the fellowship there. Led by the Holy Spirit, Paul crafted a response in the form of a letter to respond to the troubling situation. We know that letter as 1st Corinthians.
As we saw last week from the first 9 verses of this epistle, Paul did not immediately launch into harsh criticism regarding the disorders that had been reported to him. Instead he gave thanks for the new believers there who had been called into a saving relationship with the Lord, and he reminded them of the firm foundation upon which their faith rested. No fewer than nine times is Jesus Christ mentioned in this prelude as the Source and Sustainer of their salvation. In Him alone was their security, and in this truth they must stand united.
It was important that they not only understood this foundational truth, but that they consistently reminded themselves of its practical significance. The correction he gives is at times harsh and direct. If they were to received it as Paul intended for it to be received, they needed to understand that he was not only concerned for their individual maturity in the Lord, but with the health and Gospel witness of the church of which they were a part.
The apostle’s instruction on this subject begins here in verse 10 of chapter 1 and will extend through chapter 4. The brief paragraph that we will look at today is but the introduction to what we will more fully examine in the weeks ahead. That he invests the better part of four chapters to the matter of unity within the church attests to its critical nature.
So, beginning with verse 10, we find the writer making...
The appeal to unity (1:10)
When Paul says that he is “appealing” to them, he chooses a word that conveys the idea of “encouragement” or “exhortation,” rather than one of command or as a direct order. Having established the firm foundation upon which their lives in Christ had been built, he makes a swift transition here in issuing a call for Christian unity.
As we consider “unity,” we should understand that it is not the same thing as “uniformity.” Paul’s “appeal” was for harmony, not for the elimination of diversity. He desired a unity of all the parts, like a quilt of various patterns and colors blended together into a harmonious and attractive whole. The Lord loves unity amidst diversity, as evidenced by the description of the ransomed Church of the Lord Jesus Christ assembled in heaven in Revelation 5:7 through 9. They are said to be those “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Because that is so, this Jew is able to refer to these Gentiles as “brothers.”
Once again he cites “the Lord Jesus Christ” as the basis for his “appeal.” This is now ten times in the opening ten verses of this letter that Paul makes reference to Christ, who is indeed the lone true Source of Christian unity. As the Galatians were earlier reminded by this same writer, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). It is in His “name,” meaning “by His authority,” that this unity is created among those who are His by faith.
The substance of Paul’s “appeal” comes out in the rest of verse 10. Notice the repeated references to unity. First, “that all of you agree.” Literally, the Greek text says, “in order that all of you same the same thing.” Then he adds, “that there be no divisions among you.” The term “divisions” was used of “rending a garment” or “tearing a piece of cloth.” Paul’s implication is that they find healthy ways of relating to one another as members of the same body. In the third place, Paul urges them to “be united.” That is actually a medical term that was used of “the resetting of a bone that had been broken or dislocated.” Figuratively, it conveyed the idea of being “knitted together” or “restored” with one another.
In addition, he urges them to have “the same mind and the same judgment.” The Holman translation reads, “the same understanding and the same conviction.” This is not meant to suggest that there is no room for individuality or honest differences of opinion in matters that are secondary and tertiary to the faith. On the so-called “cardinal doctrines of Christianity” we must agree and hold firm without wavering. Included among such doctrines would be the Deity of Christ, His virgin birth, His substitutionary atonement through His death on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, and that salvation is received by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Apart from agreement on these essential matters there can be no real foundation for Christian unity. Thus Paul makes his appeal.
But as anyone who has been a believer and a church member for very long can attest, the practical outworking of our faith within the community of others—even others of similar conviction—can at times present...
The obstacles to unity (1:11-16)
Beginning in verse 11, Paul informs his readers of a report he had received from “Chloe’s people.” We cannot be certain who this may refer to. Was Chloe herself a Christian? Were her “people” the members of her family, or maybe her servants? We simply do not know. What we do know is that Paul had been made aware of a troubling situation that was taking place within the church at Corinth, namely that their gatherings were becoming better known for their “quarreling” than for their union in Christ. In effect, the apostle was alerting the members that he was aware of the unhealthy situation that was taking place among them.
Specifically, as Paul explains in verses 12 and following, there were divisions among these believers that were based on their personal preferences of the Lord’s messengers. He alludes to four distinct “parties,” into which the membership at Corinth was divided. Some were saying “I follow Paul.” Others proudly boasted, “I follow Apollos.” Still others confessed, “I follow Cephas.” And a fourth group declared, “I am of Christ.” These appear to be slogans, not unlike the mottos and “catch-phrases” that are used of politicians or of sports teams today. Without being too dogmatic about what each of these groups may have been following after, let’s consider them one at a time.
Paul was, of course, the founding pastor of the church at Corinth. He planted the seed there (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6), and, even long after his departure, there remained some who still looked up to him as their real “spiritual leader.”
It is always difficult when a well-loved pastor vacates his post for whatever reason. This can create an extremely difficult situation for the one who replaces him. W.A. Criswell was the pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas for nearly fifty years before announcing his retirement. When his replacement was named, it didn’t take long for that congregation to remind him that he had some rather large shoes to fill. The story is told that while concluding a lengthy but pleasant visit with an elderly church member, the new pastor prayed with her and stood to leave. The lady responded, “That was very nice, young man. But when you get back to the church would you tell the ‘real pastor’ to come and see me?”
Apollos was the one who appears to have replaced Paul in Corinth. From Acts 18(:24-28) we learn that “He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures.” No doubt it was his rhetorical skills and biblical proficiency that persuaded many to “follow” after him. Whatever Paul may have lacked in oratorical ability, Apollos possessed. It is quite possible that he was the pastor to the “second generation” of converts in Corinth. These may have only known Paul by reputation, but they were well familiar with Apollos. In their mind, there was no one who could “turn a phrase” quite they way he could.
There is no reason to doubt the integrity of Apollos as a messenger of God or to in any way dispute the message he proclaimed, but we do need to sound a word of caution about following a preacher simply because we are captured or entertained by his communicative ability. We need to guard against valuing form over content, and that only comes with maturity and by every member growing in their ability to be “rightly handling the word of truth” (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15). Genuine messengers of God speak truth, but merely what his listeners may want to hear.
We cannot be certain that Cephas (or Peter) ever visited Corinth, and so the reference to him within this context is less clear. Perhaps aware of Paul’s earlier confrontation with Peter in Antioch as reported in Galatians 2:11-14, this third group may have had greater sympathy toward the Law and would have, therefore, have been more “legalistic” in their approach to Scripture.
Another possibility is that, because Peter was known to have been one of our Lord’s “inner circle” of disciples, his word of instruction would have for them carried greater authority than other ministers of the Word. Therefore, Peter was “their man.”
As for those who claimed to “follow Christ,” there is even less clarity to know what that designation means. William Barclay offers an interesting solution when he suggests, “Their real fault was not in saying that they belonged to Christ, but in acting as if Christ belonged to them.” In other words, rather than commending them for boasting such a claim, Paul may have been taking aim at an intolerant, self-righteous group within the church.
Our speculations regarding who these groups represented may shed some light, but we need to exercise care in not going beyond what the Scripture says plainly. It would seem that Paul is not so much citing differences in the message that had been taught by these various teachers, but rather to the methods and manner of teaching to which these Corinthian believers were attracted. In other words, they were drawn to personality rather than substance. One commentator has expressed it this way and, as we advance into this epistle, I think you will agree:
The rivalries do not seem to be doctrinal in nature...Nothing Paul says points in that direction...it is not that various denials or aberrations of the gospel are dividing them. Paul’s point is that they are not living in accordance with the gospel. They have not seen its relevance to how they should behave...“the smoke of division does not necessarily imply the fire of doctrine.”
Rather, the Corinthians are divided according to social stratification or class, or corresponding...with the leaders who had baptized them, or in allegiance to their respective house (church) groups.
What is noteworthy is the self-centeredness that prevails in each of these four groups. Each begins with the first person pronoun “I”, which suggests that selfish personal preference was more important among these immature believers than was divine discernment. It was this “me”-focus that highlighted their lack of unity. As a result they were inadvertently dividing the indivisible.
So what is the apostle’s response to this division of which he has heard? It is to ask three rhetorical questions, each of which demands a negative reply.
“Is Christ divided?” No! it is impossible to divide the indivisible. As will be strongly emphasized in chapter 12, we all need one another, and together we all need Christ.
“Was Paul crucified for you?” Of course not, it is impossible for one sinful man to bear the sins of others when he was already weighted down with his own. There is no way one sinner can take the place of another sinner when we all stand equally guilty before God.
“Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Again a negative response is required. There is only One in (or into) whose name any of us can be rightly baptized, and that is in the name of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 2:38, 10:48, 19:5, et al). Baptism signifies identification and relationship with the One is whose name we are baptized. It does not bestow grace or convey salvation in any sense. When a dry unconverted sinner goes under the surface of the water and then emerges, he or she does so as a wet unconverted sinner. I hope we all understand that.
There is only one undivided Christ, and if you know him and belong to him, it is trivial whether you attach yourself to any human messenger. Conversely, no devotion to any servant of God—no matter how much integrity he has or biblical truth he espouses—can make up for not knowing Christ. Christ is not divided, but the Corinthian church was behaving as if He were. And when the horizontal relationships within the church are out of kilter, it is a clear sign there is also a vertical disconnect. What happens is that there is a tendency to relate in an accepting way toward others only if their practical system of theology fits with ours.
As with those who were members of the church at Corinth, we too need to remember that it is not our personal preferences and perspectives that hold us together, but rather our common identity in the Christ of Scripture.
Perhaps that is why Paul has raised the subject of baptism at this point. In verses 14 through 16, he reminds the Corinthians and shares with us his experience of having baptized very few converts when he was among them. In fact, he says,
“I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else).”
It isn’t as if Paul is saying that baptism is unimportant. To the contrary, it is extremely important because it marks one off publicly as a follower of Jesus Christ. Charles Ryrie makes this point in his small but helpful commentary on the Book of Acts. There he writes,
Baptism was the line of demarcation. Even today for a Jew it is not his profession of Christianity nor his attendance at Christian services nor his acceptance of the New Testament, but his submission to water baptism that definitely and finally excludes him from the Jewish community and marks him off as a Christian.
That isn’t meant to imply that baptism saves or in any way adds anything to the salvation that was purchased on our behalf through the death of Chrtist. We have already noted that, and we emphasize it because it is precisely Paul’s point. Just as “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), so there is no other name by which we should be identified and linked in our baptism but the name of Jesus. It is to Him alone that we belong and have our identity. To do otherwise is to invite divisions within the body.
Stephen Um points out in his discussion of this section how Christians are not immune from falling into the cult of “name-droppers.” Especially is this true among ministers who often compare which seminaries they graduated from or which professors they studied under. But it also happens among the average church member whenever they boast of which radio ministers they listen to or Christian authors they read, as if those and those alone have an exclusive hold on the truth. As Um concludes—and rightfully so, though we don’t like to admit it—it may seem we are lauding others, but in reality we are praising ourselves. “I am of ‘so-and-so,’ what about you?” The result is what that author has labeled “horizontal-factionalism” for the sake of self-validation, but which instead produces “vertical fracture.” In other words, such partisanship not only injures our relationship with our fellow believers, but seriously hinders our relationship with the Lord as well.
I find it interesting that John, the first “baptizer” declared at the height of his own public ministry that “He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). He got it right, and so must we.
It is clear from this passage that Paul does not understand baptism in any way to contribute to salvation. The preaching of the cross united with the effectual work of the Holy Spirit does that. Baptism is subsequent to the hearing and response to the Gospel message, and it is the God-ordained means by which one’s faith is initially and publicly declared.
In verse 17, the apostle places the exclamation point on this discussion, and shows us the path to...
The restoration of unity (verse 17)
Notice again what Paul writes: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
Preaching is the spearhead of the Christian mission. John Calvin called it “the chief thing.” It is only when Gospel-preaching does its work and people repent of sin and trust Christ that baptism is to be sought. Baptism apart from conversion is an empty ritual that “renders void” the power of the cross. Let’s not get the cart before the horse.
But even the preaching of which Paul speaks comes with a qualifier. Brilliantly persuasive eloquence may win a person’s mind but not his heart. Conversely, the unadorned words of the Gospel, though seemingly weak and foolish by human standards, are made powerfully effective by the Spirit of God.
Partisan attitudes and rhetoric disrupt the free, life-giving flow of grace displayed through “the cross of Christ.” In the sections that follow, Paul will make some stark comparisons between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. Clearly, as the verses we have looked at reveal, the Gospel calls for a unity among those who are willing to take up their own crosses and together follow after Him. Our union in Christ and with one another is one that we must earnestly strive to preserve.
It is not difficult to see the urgency of a paragraph like this for the contemporary church, which can easily fall prey to experiencing quarrels and becoming fragmented. Much too frequently we hear of “church splits,” often over the most trivial of issues. Such fragmentation brings shame to the Christ who surrendered His life in order to build His Church. The only clear antidote lies in the public preaching of the Gospel as the great contradiction to human wisdom.
Many of the Corinthian believers were saying that they belonged to their favorite leaders. In boasting about the inherent wisdom that they derived from following certain messengers of God, they at the same time jeopardized the power of the Gospel. In order to move toward healing their divisions, Paul reminded them that they did not belong to their leaders but rather their leaders belonged to them...and beyond that, they and their leaders belonged to Christ. It was to be through their unity, that their Lord and Savior would be more clearly displayed.
There is not only a warning here for church members, but for those who are charged every Sunday to bring God’s message to His people. It is entirely possible for those of us who preach each week to embed within our sermons words of worldly wisdom—such as “worldly philosophy,” the latest “pop psychology,” and even “comedic relief”—that may tickle the ears and prove interesting and entertaining, but end up proving harmful to the sincere purity of the Gospel. Here is how the late Dutch theologian, Frederik Grosheide put it:
We may think here of the various phrases of Greek philosophers, of the time honored expressions of men of the world, which were regarded as wisdom. All those forms harmed the gospel since they captured the attention of the hearers and this the gospel of the cross did not come to its full rights.
Both pastors and members alike have been entrusted with the Gospel and charged with the sacred duty of proclaiming it...and in this duty we must stand united. Though there will be differences and preferences among us, these must not be allowed to divide us. The indivisible must never be divided. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glory of God the Father, and the salvation of lost sinners are at stake.
Therefore, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters of Temple Hills Baptist Church, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we all agree, and that there be no divisions among us, but that we be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
This is the will of God as well as the prayer of the apostle. May it be ours as well.