It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to realize that the church of Corinth has some serious problems. It does take a student of the word, however, to find out what the root of those problems are. That’s what will be learned today in the opening section of our study of 1 Corinthians. These Christians have a lot of problems, but he path to those problems is shockingly easy to go down. Today we’ll learn what the root cause of the Corinthian’s division was, and what we can do to keep that from happening to our churches today.
Grab a Bible, pick up a pen, flip your notebook open, and join me as we study God’s word together.
The Grace of God (1:1-9)
Paul begins as he always does, with a greeting, though this greeting is a bit more grand than the ones he’s written in his other letters. He introduces himself, his apostleship, and his coworker Sosthenes (1:1). He follows with his typical naming of the church to which he’s writing, in this case the “church of God that is in Corinth” (1:2). He even closes his greeting with his traditional “Grace to you and peace from God” (1:3). The reason I say this greeting is a little more grand than normal is because of what takes place in verse two after he identifies his letter’s audience:
“…to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…”
With these words Paul is setting the stage for the rest of his letter (which we’ll see more of in verses 4-9). He wants to remind these Christians that:
- They have been “sanctified” in Christ Jesus that is to say that they’ve been set apart from the world around them.
- They have fellow Christians all over the world fighting the same battle against sin that they are currently having to fight.
- They are to be servants of the Master Jesus Christ.
Many of these Christians, as we’ll see shortly, aren’t living as if they’ve been set apart from the world, aren’t fighting against the sin in their culture, and aren’t serving the Master as they should. They’ve forgotten who they are and Whose blood has stained them. Paul endeavors to remind them of these things both here in 1:2 and in 1:4-9.
Paul gives his typical thanksgiving section at the opening of his letter, but he very specifically thanks God for the “grace of God” that was given to these Christians. He reminds them not only of that staining grace they’ve received but also of the:
- Enrichment they received through Christ in their speech and knowledge (1:5)
- Testimony of Christ confirmed among them (1:6)
- Spiritual gifts they possess from God (1:6)
- Hope they have of Christ’s return (1:7)
- Sustaining provision Jesus provides for them (1:8)
- Faithfulness of God (1:9)
- Fellowship they have with Jesus Christ (1:9)
All of this is being said to them in order to remind them of what they have received from God through Jesus Christ. If we stopped here the book would begin and end on a beautiful note concerning all of the wonderful blessings these Christians had received through Christ. Unfortunately, these reminders of Paul serve as a greater condemnation of the life these Christians are currently living.
Divisions in the Church (1:10-17)
The church at Corinth should be a letter about how a large church in a rich metropolitan area shaped the promiscuous culture they lived in for Christ. Instead, the letter is about a church who has allowed their beliefs to be shaped by the people and practices around them. The rest of the book of 1 Corinthians chronicles the specific problems this church is facing. Every single one of them comes down to the same root cause that we’ll see here in this section: They have stopped being united on the cross of Christ.
If the Christians here would center themselves back on Jesus, all of the troubles they have would sort themselves out. It is this unity that Paul will keep coming back to as we go throughout this letter.
“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.” (1:10)
Paul effectively says the same thing three different ways here. Agree, have no divisions, and be united. He can’t stress it enough! The divisions that they have in this church, as reported to him by Chloe’s people (1:11), are causing this church body to fracture and splinter apart. What are they divided over?
Evidently the church divided itself into groups based on four men: Paul, Apollos, Peter (Cephas), and Jesus. Christ here is the camp that they should all be in, instead some have chosen to follow God, and the others have chosen to follow either Paul, Apollos, or Peter. Some have suggested that this division is based on the various teaching styles of these men. Others have suggested that perhaps this division is based on who baptized these Christians. Regardless, Paul’s point here is that the divisions they’ve created are not befitting of the church, and they need to get back on the right track.
The suggestion that maybe these people are divided over who baptized them (assuming that the mention of Christ is merely a mention of the good group they should be with) seems to be more likely based on what Paul says in verses 14-17.
Paul didn’t keep a running tab of all the people he “saved” because ultimately 1) he wasn’t doing the saving, God was and 2) he was just doing as he was instructed to by God. That being said, Paul is aware of a few people he had baptized in Corinth (1:14-16) and is glad that he did not baptize more so that his name wouldn’t be used as a division within this church.
Based on that Paul then says “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel…” (1:17). This is a go-to verse for many who believe that baptism isn’t necessary for salvation. This may feel like side-stepping, but I have no intention of going into great detail about whether baptism is necessary for salvation or not (you can read several articles about that subject here). The point of this article is to discuss the beginning part of 1 Corinthians chapter 1, not to discuss baptism. The attitude I’m presenting to you here is very similar to what I believe Paul is doing as well. Did Christ send Paul to immerse people in water? No, he sent Paul to preach the gospel. This doesn’t mean that baptism isn’t a part of that gospel teaching, but it isn’t the main part. The main part of gospel preaching, and what these already baptized Christians need to hear, is the preaching of Jesus, His death, and His resurrection (1:17).
The people that Paul is writing to are baptized already. They don’t need to have the practice defended to them. What they need is to hear about the important of focusing their lives on the cross of Christ (something they are currently not doing, leading to their division). It is here that Paul is going to plant his flag for the book. These Christians who are terribly stained with sin, need to be reminded of the grace-staining blood shed for them on the cross if they’re ever going to be the church God wants them to be.
That same fact can be said for us today church. If we want to be the church God expects us to be, we have to continually focus our eyes and actions on the cross of Christ. The further we drift away from the cross, the more we’ll divide and fracture His body. This week, after you’ve studied this post, take a few minutes to write down the things Jesus did for you on the cross. Write about His grace, His forgiveness, and the hope you have through Jesus’ actions on the cross. Turn your eyes to the cross this week, and join us next week as we continue our study through 1 Corinthians.