Instead of dividing over personal preferences, we should find solidarity in the one thing we hold in common: our confession of faith in Jesus.
And as we get into the text today, we’re going to see him settle in and get to the heart of the letter: Paul begins to address the Corinthians on the areas that need work, calling them to bolster their faith, and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.
So, again, we’re in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. Let’s ask for God’s blessing, and then we’ll read His word. Beginning in verse 10 we read:
1 Corinthians 1:10–17 (ESV) - 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.
Right out of the gate, Paul makes it clear what he wants to address:
1 Corinthians 1:10–11 (ESV) - 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.
His “appeal” to the Corinthians is to cease divisions and quarrelling in the church. There had been relationships in the Corinthian church which had run into severe trouble; factions had formed in the body, and it was impacting everyone.
This cannot be. Followers of Christ are meant to live connected in relationship to God and one another... in a single unified covenant community. In “Communion” with one another. However, things like division, anger, rivalry, enmity and so on break that communion and are sinful acts that stand in contrast to the Fruit of the Holy Spirit – the character we should be growing in as we mature in Christ.
That said, the goal that Paul has in mind here is the restoration of unity to the church. He desires that the body of Christ would live in unity with one another, growing in Christ. So he appeals to the body to seek unity.
There are, of course, many things which can disrupt the unity of a church body. It could be false doctrine. It could be personal preferences about music or preaching. It could be worries about finances, or facilities. It could simply be people being harsh with one another.
However, in the case of the Corinthian church, one of the biggest issues had to do with favoritism and pride...
Paul explains what he’s getting at a bit further in verses 12-16:
1 Corinthians 1:12–16 (ESV) - 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.)
One of the primary lines upon which the divisions in Corinth had been drawn was on the issue of which preacher people wanted to follow.
Many of the people in the church identified themselves with Apollos, who had come to Corinth after Paul, and had been responsible for baptizing many of the folks in the church.
Paul, as a rule, didn’t baptize a lot of people. That’s not to say he didn’t value the ordinance/sacrament of Baptism. It’s simply that he allowed his associates to officiate while he focused on the preaching of the word.
However, this led those who were baptized by Paul to think they were somehow special. So those who were baptized by him went around saying “I follow Paul!” and those who were baptized by Apollos identified with him. And so on.
The issue, of course, is that Baptism isn’t meant to identify you with the person who officiates... It’s meant to identify you with Christ’s death and resurrection!
Romans 6:3-4 (ESV) - 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
We’re baptized due to our profession of faith in Christ!
You see, Baptism isn’t about the messenger. It’s about the message of grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Pastor Mike and I have done a lot of baptisms over the years. They are, without a doubt, one of my favorite things to do as a pastor. Some of them have been officiated by Pastor Mike. Some of them have been just me. And many have been both of us.
But each one is about Jesus, and the redemptive work He’s accomplished in the life of the person being baptized. It’s not about the person in the water picking teams or something crazy like that!
In fact, it’s that idea, picking teams, which is why Paul says he’s glad he hadn’t made a practice of baptizing many of them – not that baptisms are bad (on the contrary, they are commanded by God!) – but he was glad that not many of the Corinthians could look at their baptisms, and think ‘Hey, Paul dunked me... I must have a higher standing with God and in the church’.
Isn’t that crazy? Yet it’s how some people were thinking and talking.
And, understandably, it led to divisions.
So, we’re called to unity. And it’s about the message, not the messenger. Let’s tie those concepts together and discover where Biblical unity flows from, according to Paul, in verse 17:
1 Corinthians 1:17 (ESV) - 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.
Paul concludes this passage by making it clear to us that his calling was to preach the Gospel – the truth of Jesus Christ.
And I think it’s important to point out that this is what the entire passage has been building to:
Our Unity is in the Gospel.
The Gospel of Jesus, our common confession of faith, is that which we’re to be of the same mind, and in full agreement about. This is where we who all come from different backgrounds, perspectives, and even cultures can come to share a common table and common experience.
Unity. Not uniformity, but harmony. One body in Christ, with many parts.
It’s essential that we understand the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That we understand our total depravity, and need for redemption, which only Christ can provide.
We have to get the Gospel right!
Creator God à Sinful Mankind à Gracious Savior à Call to Respond
If we see God’s grace in redemption as something we can earn, or God’s favor as something which grows based on our efforts, we’ll have a skewed view of the Gospel...
In our passage it cautioned about saying “I follow so and so.” In other words, don’t create division, right? But the one thing that each of those people had was a solid view of the Gospel. They were followers of Christ, with a Biblical doctrine. People Paul would call brothers, even if they had a different preaching style, different number of baptisms, or took another approach to ministry.
These were not false teachers. They were not people who used “eloquent words” and “emptied the cross of it’s power.” They didn’t seek to use the philosophy of the day in a vain attempt to gain a following for themselves. They weren’t, as 2 Timothy 3:5 says,
2 Timothy 3:5 (ESV) - 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
Some of the “pastors” of the largest congregations in our country preach a different Gospel than the Bible presents us with. It’s all health and wealth. And the Jesus presented is a caricature of the savior who tells us to take up our cross and follow Him.
Sadly, this kind of thinking is found even in some local churches.
What this means is, we need to be sure we know what we believe, and why we believe it. We need to be rooted in the Gospel, and growing as disciples of Jesus. Developing intimacy with God, and the Fruit of the Holy Spirit.
We need to practice discernment. And as Paul says in 2 Timothy, if we come across folks teaching these false doctrines, we need to avoid them.
But most of all, as we’ve seen since the very first verse in our 1 Corinthians passage, we need to seek unity!
Unity in the Gospel.
If we’re going to do that – seek Unity in the Gospel – I would suggest we briefly revisit three commitments we have as a church, all of which Paul has touched on in this passage.