First Corinthians: Divisions in the Church

December 31, 2007

Division in the church is a clear sign that something is wrong. Paul had a long list of concerns about the Corinthian church, but it is no wonder that this one rose to the top of the list. When the Corinthians formed factions under their human leaders, they were missing the point of the gospel. The gospel brought them all together under Christ, but they were not acting like that. They were aligning under leaders like Paul, Apollos, and Cephas — three very different men.

Paul was a brilliant scholar, but an unimpressive speaker:

2Co 10:10 For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.”

Apollos was a brilliant orator and a powerful debator:

Act 18:24-25 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.

Act 18:28 For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

Cephas (another name for Peter, John 1:42) had been a common Jewish fisherman — not a group known for their scholarly achievements. (Notice Peter’s perspective that Paul’s teaching was “hard to understand” 2 Pet 3:16) Peter was seen as a leader of the Jews (Gal 2:7), and was not the strong advocate for Gentiles that Paul was (Gal 2:12). It is not hard to imagine why some Christians might prefer Peter’s leadership, while others might prefer Paul or Apollos.

Not only did Paul mention groups that were aligning behind himself, Apollos, and Cephas, but he also alluded to a group that insisted they followed Christ. Of course Christians should follow Christ. But it is not clear whether Paul was commending that group, or merely citing them as another problem. Perhaps there were some who rejected human leadership, considering themselves superior to those who followed men. Perhaps they even considered themselves superior to their leaders.

Paul immediately showed how absurd these factions were. Paul wasn’t crucified for them. They were not baptized into Paul. The gospel is not about Paul or Apollos or Cephas. They needed to live by the gospel. If they did that, they would not be forming parties behind these men.

Paul spent the first four chapters building his case to correct these factions. (see 1 Cor 3:5, 1 Cor 3:22, 1 Cor 4:6). In doing so he addressed the wisdom of God, the role and accountability of church leaders, and the humility we should have in Christ. We will look at these topics in the next few posts.

One comment

  1. Alan, your take on “some follow Christ” is intriguing. I have not thought about using Jesus as an excuse to form yet another faction, although in retrospect I have seen it happen. It is amazing how creative we are at division and what tricks Satan uses to deceive us. Phil

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