TEXT: 1 Corinthians 1 : 10-17
TITLE: “ What causes divisions in the church ? “ #1
DATE PREACHED : 21/02/2010
The opening nine verses of this letter present an extremely high view of the church . We have seen that this is the
Church of God that is in . This church was experiencing the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit , and therefore the members of this church were ‘saints’ ( holy / separated ) and therefore this church was the recipient of grace and peace. We saw that the apostle Paul thought of this church with great thankfulness as he saw the gifts of God outpoured in them , and as he reflected on the great sustaining faithfulness of God to them, in and through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ . Corinth
So , against this background Paul must have been sad at hearing the news of division among the Corinthian Christians : “ It has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarrelling among you , my brothers…”
What had caused this division ? At face value , personality cults were emerging. People began to divide into Paul, Apollos, Peter and Christ factions. We may be certain that none of these three leaders in the early Christian church would have encouraged such followings. But this is what has happened.
There are plenty examples of this in church history .
A great and godly leader arises and soon there is a group of people that gathers around him: The Waldensians, named after Peter Waldo ( 1140? – 1218) ; the Hussites after Johannes Huss of Prague ( 1371-1415); the Lutherans after Martin Luther , the German Reformer (1483- 1546) ; The Calvinists after John Calvin the French / Swiss Reformer (1509-1564); The Wesleyans (or Methodists) , after John Wesley (1703-1791) . His contemporary and associate in the Methodistic movement was George Whitfield (1714-1770) . But the two were in two separate theological camps . For this reason there came a threat of division into the Methodistic ranks. His followers were calling themselves “Whitefieldites” . George Whitefield responded : “ Let my name be forgotten , let me be trodden under the feet of all men , if Jesus may thereby be glorified…. What is Calvin, or what is Luther? Let us look above names and parties; let Jesus be all…. I know my place… even to be the servant of all. I want not to have a people called after my name.” 
I mention this in passing , for this phenomenon has continued through the history of the church , and we have already observed that it would have been hardly likely that Paul, Apollos or Peter would have wanted to have people divide over them.
I do want to comment just a little on the existence of the “Christ Party” . This group is difficult to evaluate and at face value they sound very spiritual . They are the people that would have typically said : “ Oh, we don’t follow any human teachers – we just believe the Bible and Jesus, and that is that…”, but you get the distinct impression that those who say this, have ‘a chip on their shoulder‘, setting themselves apart from others, and by their prideful attitude they subtly deny the attitude that was in Christ (Phil 2: 1-10) . Their ‘hotline’ to God can be very intimidating , and the net result of being in the company of such people is that others feel spiritually inadequate. David Prior in his commentary has the following helpful psychological insights of this group : “ Often the psychological basis for this kind of emphasis lies in a mixture of strong individualism and latent insecurity. This leads to an inner resistance to being told what to do and manifests itself in the need to bolster uncertainty with the validity of strong subjective experiences...” . I have met a good number of people like that, who hide behind such spiritual talk, but who are in reality full of pride and at the same time theologically insecure, hiding behind strong statements like this .
Whatever the case may be , the result that this cliquishness had achieved was a quarrelsome spirit - a division of the members of Christ in the same church. The members of the church had largely ceased to act as a body. Strong individualism became the order of the day. The members of the body began to act without deference or respect to one another. They were no longer acting in submission to Christ (Eph 5:21) . They did not submit to the appointed leadership (1 Cor 16:16 ; Hebr 13:17). They were even despising the leadership of the apostolic founder of the church ( 1 Cor 9 ; see 2 Corinthians).
How do you deal with this ?
What do you say to a church that is in the process of being torn in pieces by division and fractions? Paul is not prepared to ignore this development, and it is highly instructive for us to take note how he deals with the matter :
(i) He makes a very strong appeal for unity in v.10
(ii) He gives three powerful arguments against disunity in verses 13-17
1. Paul’s appeal : v.10
“ I appeal  to you brothers” : He comes alongside them in a brotherly fashion and he reasons with them . The appeal contains three strong words :
(i) That all of you agree – literally to ‘ say the same thing’
(ii) That there be no division  - literally no “tears “ or cracks), graphically conveying the idea that the division was splitting the church apart
(iii) That you be united in the same mind - lit. to repair and restore something that is broken. Repairing action was clearly needed in this church. Paul looks to them to mend their relationships by having a united mind and judgment.
2. Three Powerful Arguments : Vv 11-17
But how shall they do this ? How shall they agree ? How shall they be undivided and of the same mind ? Note, that all Paul’s arguments against this disunity focus on Jesus Christ , and it needs to be uncompromisingly stated that generally all division and disunity arise in the church because the eyes of Christians are elsewhere than on Christ! So , it not surprising then that Paul’s solution to this problem is focused on Christ in the same way as John the Baptist , when He pointed people to Christ when he said: “ Look, the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world “ ( John 1:29) . In the same way Paul is saying here : “Look to the Lord Jesus ! Look at his wholeness ! Look at His cross ! Look, He is the Lord !
Consider this fact by looking at the three rhetorical questions asked in v. 13 , for these will deeply challenge our divisive tendencies - our default position.
- Is Christ divided ? Look at His wholeness !
- Was Paul crucified for you ? Look at His cross !
- Were you baptized into the name of Paul ? - Look He is the Lord !
- Is Christ divided ? Look at His wholeness !
The first question he asks the divided church – the divided body of Christ at
: Can you imagine to have Christ cut up into pieces and divided? Can there be parts of Christ divided among different groups? It is like saying “ Come inside , but leave your legs outside !” Ridiculous ! If you have Christ you have all of Him. Christ cannot be divided. Christ is whole , and if there is anyone that is divided it us! In that case we must look to Jesus to make us whole. Corinth
- Was Paul crucified for you ? Look at the cross of Christ !
The second question is equally startling. I imagine the apostle Paul reasoning with them : “ Now tell me – you who claim to be of my party – the Paul party . Was I crucified for you ? Did I lay down my life for you so that your sins might be forgiven?” The answer is plain . The Corinthians owed their life to none of the people to whom they now claimed allegiance . They owed their life to Christ alone !
We must comment here . Whenever Christians follow gifted preachers or pastors,and begin to refer everything back to them … saying “ Pastor so and so says this, or he doesn’t say that …”, they have taken their eyes off Jesus Christ and there will inevitably be disunity. Jesus is the only One that can be our source of unity, and it is His work on the cross in particular that secures our wholeness, redemption and forgiveness - not simply our personal wholeness , but our corporate wholeness as a church , for that it’s the issue here! When we move away from the cross, we move away from the place of reconciliation! This is the importance of the Lord’s supper . It is a place of reconciliation . At the table we remember that God in Christ reconciled us to Himself , and that He reconciled us to one another. To regularly participate in the Lord’s supper means to be reminded that there is only one who was crucified for the church. In all our sinful excursions away from Christ and from each other , we must return to His cross! When the church is divided , the members of the church must make their way back to the cross !
- Were you baptized into the name of Paul ? Look , He is Lord !
To be “ baptized in “ the name of someone means to be immersed into that person . Literally it means that you sign your life over to that person. Paul makes it very clear that the Corinthian church through baptism had come to be immersed and identified with Christ ! They were His possession. The mere fact that Paul or Peter or Apollos might have performed the ordinance of baptism is incidental. Baptism is not about the one who baptizes you, but it is the One into whose name you are baptized. Isn’t it strange how easily we are able to turn the tables and make the lesser into the greater? Oh that we all may have the godly attitude of John the Baptist, who when he was told that “all are going to Him (Jesus) to be baptized “ ( Jn 3:26) said : “ My joy is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30) . Paul was just like John in this regard. Although he has been instrumental in bringing this church into existence, he must decrease. These are Jesus’ people. It is significant therefore that he downplays his own involvement in the act of baptism (vv 14-16) . It seems that Paul left the actual act of baptism in the hands of others. Is it really more important to have been baptized by the ‘ very Right Reverend so –and- so‘ than to have been baptized into the Lord Jesus Christ?
It is not as if Paul plays down the significance of baptism by his statement in v.17. No , he simply is asserting the primary fact over the secondary fact : The gospel is before baptism. Christ is before baptism , and baptism is subservient to Christ. Hold them together without divinding them , but hold them together in proper priority !
It is on the basis of these three grounds then that Paul appeals to the Corinthian Christians to give up their divisiveness and to express their unity in that for which Christ had died :
- One united body whose salvation was secured once for all ,by …
- one cross , by…
- one Lord into whom we were baptized .
Division happens when it is all about us. Division disappears when we focus on the wholeness of Christ , the cross of Christ and the Lordship of Christ. Brothers and sisters love the church of Jesus Christ for all its worth by looking first to Christ. And the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Dallimore : George Whitfield ( Vol 2) , p.257 -258 Arnold
 David Prior : The Message of 1 Corinthians , p. 34 (The Bible Speaks Today series)
 Gk. parakaleo – literally ‘ to come beside’ hence to “ to exhort” or the stronger emphasis ‘ to implore’
 Gk , “schismata “ - lit. a crack or a tear
 Gk . “ katartizo” – to mend or repair e.g. in Mk 4:21 to repair nets ; to restore or perfect