How would you have responded to the sectarianism that plagued Corinth? This issue was so potent that Paul addressed it twelve verses into 1 Corinthians saying,
Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” (1 Cor 1:12)
Perhaps some said, “I’m sticking with Paul. After all, he rebuked Peter and set him straight so I will be his disciple.” The Apollos crowd might have responded by saying, “Have you heard Apollo’s speaking ability? He is not only eloquent, but he is mighty in the Scriptures! Surely the anointing of God rests more mightily upon him.” To which Cephas’ crowd might have said, “Don’t forget to whom our Lord said, ‘You are Peter (Petros) and upon this rock (petra) I will build My church.’ Granted, Peter may have had his ups and downs but he is our guy.” And then the Christ-crowd might have responded by saying, “I’m not following any of those guys; I’m just gonna follow Jesus.”
Quite a mess huh?
So, if you were entrusted with the oversight of the Corinthian church how would you go about fixing this issue?
I’ll tell you what my reflexive response would be, you could think about what yours would be, and then we’ll compare that with Paul’s Spirit-inspired attempt to address the issue. I think my instinctive, ‘knee-jerk’ approach would be – I would warn the church about the danger of division and what God’s Word says about that. Granted, I am looking back at this problem with the New Testament canon fulfilled and so I might include portions from Paul’s letter to Titus (Tit 3:9-11), to the Romans (Rom 16:17), and even Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 1:10). I would also probably reference all three verses of Psalm 133.
Let us notice, then, what Paul did. Yes, he did chastise them for the existence of divisions among them and he pleaded with them for unity (1:10); but, after mentioning this issue at the beginning of chapter, he didn’t address the issue in greater depth until chapter three. What is in between is predominantly an extended discourse on the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. He reminded them that Christ is not divided and that none of the men mentioned were crucified for them (1:13). He showed them how the cross is the antithesis of worldly wisdom (1:18-21; 2:6-9), how it ought to be at the center of their boasting (1:30, 31), how it was the center of his preaching (2:1-5), and how it is not comprehended by the natural man but seen as foolishness (2:10-16).
In other words, their pursuit of prominence based upon affiliation showed a misunderstanding and misapplication of true Cross-centered theology. Factionalism, then, was the outworking of worldly wisdom – the kind of wisdom that is the antithesis of the wisdom of God demonstrated in the cross of Christ. That was to be their boast, their joy, their wisdom, and the center of their discussions. Not men. And not their affiliation with certain servants of Christ as opposed to others.
Perhaps the issues that you may face today, in your life or in your church, are not the immediate problems that faced Corinth; but nonetheless, may you be exhorted to find Cross-centered solutions to whatever problems are before you.