1 Cor. 1:10-17

1 Cor. 1:10-17

SERIES: Christ is the Answer When the Church is in Crisis

Contentious Christians

Introduction:  The old proverb says, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.”  The meaning of that proverb is, of course, that when people find themselves without proper supervision, they often conduct themselves without proper decorum.  This is exactly what was happening in the church at Corinth.  Paul had founded the Church there while on his second missionary journey, and he had stayed approximately 18 months.  But other cities needed churches too, so he left the core of believers at Corinth in the hands of the elders he had trained and moved his evangelistic tent across the Aegean Sea to Ephesus (in present-day Turkey). 

The time seemed right to move on.  After all, the Corinthian Christians were growing rapidly; they were solid on the basic doctrines; they were fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.  But the Apostle hadn’t been absent long before problems began erupting like a small volcano.  So he writes this letter, called 1 Corinthians, from Ephesus to encourage the believers but also to chide them, and at times to rebuke them severely. 

We were introduced to this letter last Sunday, so let me take just a moment to review a few important facts.  Corinth was a city of about 600,000 inhabitants, located about 50 miles southwest of Athens.  It was a city of commerce because of the boats traveling from Italy to Asia Minor that would invariably stop there to move their cargo from the Adriatic Sea to the Aegean.  But it was also a city of sin.  The term “to Corinthianize” was a popular euphemism for “go to the Devil.”  Ray Stedman and Chuck Swindoll, who both pastored on the left coast, referred to the book of 1 Corinthians as “First Californians,” because Corinth was more like Los Angeles and San Francisco than any other city of the ancient world–saturated with and driven by materialism, sensuality, and humanism.

Now we here in the Midwest are sheltered somewhat from the extremes of American culture, but even here this book is terribly relevant.  There isn’t a single issue addressed in this letter that isn’t an issue in St. Louis and, in fact, hasn’t at some point been an issue even here at First Free during the 17 years we have been in existence.  This book will show how pre-Christian culture crept into the church at Corinth; if we will allow it to, it will also help us prevent post-Christian culture from creeping into ours.  

The particular theme of today’s passage, verses 10-17 of chapter 1, is divisive politics in the church, a problem that has the potential of erupting in any local fellowship.  May our hearts be open to the instruction of God’s Word today on this important topic.  Please listen to the Word of the Lord, as found in 1 Corinthians 1:10‑17:  

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. {11} My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. {12} What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas “; still another, “I follow Christ.” 

{13} Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? {14} I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, {15} so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. {16} (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) {17} For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel‑‑not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

The curse of divisive politics in the Church

In a few short years the Corinthian believers had managed to turn the marvel that is the Church into a mess.  There was division, schism, party spirit, and an overwhelming sense of politics in the Body of Christ.  I used to enjoy political conventions.  They’re pretty boring these days, but they used to be downright exciting.  There were some true knock-down, drag-out fights back 30-40 years ago.  Who needed the World Wrestling Federation back in 1968–the fights were far more authentic at the Democratic Convention in Chicago.  But what used to be fun to watch at a political convention is very sad when it comes to the church.

Friends, what happens when the curse of conflict hits the Church? 

It dishonors the name of Christ.   We bear the name of Jesus when we call ourselves “Christians.”  Do we bear it as a badge of honor or do we sully it by the way we act?  Church splits and church fights are a reproach to the name of Christ.  The story is told about a young soldier in Alexander the Great’s army who was caught retreating when his unit commander had ordered an advance in a particularly bloody battle.  He was brought before the commander-in-chief, and Alexander asked him, “Soldier, what is your name?”  The soldier said nothing, but only looked at the ground.  Again Alexander demanded of him, “Soldier, what is your name?”  Meekly he replied, “My name is Alexander.”  The bold and courageous leader of the Greek Empire stood in rage and shouted at the young man, “Soldier, either change your behavior or change your name.” [i]

Alexander the Great couldn’t stand the thought of someone bearing his name and behaving in such a cowardly fashion.  I suspect Jesus likewise feels dishonored when we allow divisive politics to infect His church.  

It disgusts the enemies of Christ.  There’s almost nothing that invites the disdain of the watching world like fighting among Christians.  It was just a few short years ago that Greek Orthodox priests and Roman Catholic Franciscans engaged in a bottle‑throwing brawl over control of the birthplace of the Prince of Peace in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.  News reporters played up the scandal to the hilt.  

Christ taught nothing if He didn’t teach that we are to love one another.  And when Christians spend more time ridiculing one another, writing books denouncing one another, and even doing physical battle with one another, than they do fighting the Enemy of our souls, the disgust of the watching world is almost assured, and, I might add, richly deserved.

It discourages the servants of Christ.   I don’t know how many people have dropped out of ministry, or how many believers have vacated the pew, because of division in the Body of Christ.  I do know the number is large.  Some churches have more former members than they have currentmembers, and not because of deaths or job transfers.  Divisive politics discourages the servants of Christ.  

It disappoints the Spirit of Christ.  If we as believers sometimes get discouraged at what we see happening within the Body of Christ, how do you think the Holy Spirit reacts?  He is the Spirit of Truth, the Gentle Spirit of God, and He has established unity among us in the bond of peace.  All we are asked to do is to maintain that pace.  He must indeed be disappointed when He sees conflict in His Body.    

The cause of divisive politics in the Church

I believe it is possible to identify from our text two major causes of dissension in the Body of Christ. 

The strategy of Satan.  I am personally convinced that Satan is behind most of the conflict we see in the Church today.  He is very clever, you know.  He generally attacks us at our point of greatest weakness.  But I have come to realize that if for some reason he finds our guard up at our point of weakness, he is not at all averse to attacking us at our point of greatest strength.  He doesn’t care how he trips us up, just so he trips us up.  

Turn to 2 Cor. 2:11 for a moment.  Here we find a very interesting phrase: “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”  Let me tell you what is happening here in this chapter.  The Apostle is rebuking them for their failure to forgive a member who has repented of very serious sin.  In verse 6 we find these words:  

“The punishment inflicted on this man by the majority is sufficient for him. {7} Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. {8} I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.”

I am of the strong opinion that the person about whom Paul is speaking here is the same one who is discussed at length in 1 Cor. 5, a man who was guilty of gross immorality.  In the earlier passage the Apostle rebuked the Church strongly for not disciplining this person when he was living in open sin.  But now he has to rebuke them just as strongly for not forgiving him and receiving him back into the fellowship once he repented.  You see, Satan doesn’t care whether you’re too easy on sin or too hard on the sinner.  Either way it undermines the cause of Christ.  

I’m just amazed how easily we in the church can get on a pendulum and go off to one extreme or another.  Just a few decades ago it was difficult to get Christian people to speak up about the incredible evil of abortion on demand.  I’m sure Satan was delighted at our apathy.  But now the believing Church is much more aware and concerned about this national shame.  So what does Satan do?  He gets some hair‑brained anti‑abortionist, preferably a fundamentalist, to start violating the law, bombing abortion clinics, assassinating abortionists, and endangering the lives of many.  Nothing discredits the pro‑life movement faster than this kind of irrational behavior, and the whole Church pays the price.  

But Satan shouldn’t be blamed for everything.  There’s another major cause for Division in the Body of Christ, and that’s …

The stupidity of some Christians.  Someone has said the Church is the only army that shoots its own wounded.  I think that’s a bit harsh, but history reveals that the Church has a notorious reputation for directing its anger and criticism inward at fellow Christians rather than outward at the enemy. 

1.  Turning convictions into contentions.  I admire people of conviction.  If there’s anything I can’t stand it’s someone who’s mealy‑mouthed and changes color like a chameleon depending upon who or what’s around him.  Furthermore the Scriptures teach that convictions are not only to be held, but they are also to be contended for.  In the third verse of his short epistle, Jude writes, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”  Unfortunately there seem to be many Christians who don’t understand the difference between contending for the Faith and being contentious about the Faith.  

2.  Making mountains out of molehills.  This was in part the problem at Corinth.  Some in the church were elevating baptism to the level of one of the fundamentals of the faith.  Now I would never call the issue of baptism a molehill; I think it is much more important than that.  But the issue of who baptizes whom is certainly a molehill, and that seems to be what the believers in Corinth were getting hung up on.  Our first hint of it is found at the end of verse 13: “Were you baptized into the name of Paul?  I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, {15} so no one can say that you were baptized into my name.”

Apparently what had happened is that some individuals were considering themselves more spiritual than others because they were baptized by the Apostle Paul instead of by just a lay elder.  In 3:4‑9 we’re going to see that others were apparently basing their spirituality on the issue of “who led whom to Christ.”  It’s as though a person were to say, “I was baptized by Chuck Smith or Charles Stanley,” or “I got saved at a Billy Graham Crusade,” as if that earned an extra crown or two in Heaven.  In essence Paul’s response is, “You’re making mountains out of molehills.  It’s totally irrelevant who baptized you or who led you to Christ.”  

In fact, Paul expresses satisfaction that he personally had not done many baptisms, because otherwise he might have received some honor that was due only to Christ.  Nothing should be allowed to interfere with the priority of the Cross.  Listen to verse 17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”  I have never quite figured out how those who preach baptismal regeneration get around this verse.  Baptismal regeneration is the view that a person is saved by being baptized, and without baptism one cannot be saved.  Yet here Paul separates the Gospel from baptism.  They are two separate entities and should not be confused.  The issue of “who baptized whom” is an absolutely ridiculous issue over which to split a church.  It’s a personal molehill made into a theological mountain. 

Some make the gift of tongues into a mountain, either by advocating the gift for everyone, or by denying it to anyone. Some make minor prophetic details into major issues.  If you’re not dispensational, premillennial, and pre‑tribulational, then you’re out to lunch and out of fellowship.  Others make virtual fetishes out of Calvinism, eternal security, Elder rule, and any number of other issues.

3.  Elevating personalities into parties.  This was a widespread problem at Corinth.  Paul says in verse 12: “What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas (i.e. Peter); still another, ‘I follow Christ.’”  How do you think this problem of party spirit got so widespread?  I think it was almost inevitable, for when politics enters a church everyone feels forced to take a side.  

Let’s examine for a moment the specific personality cults that had invaded the Corinthian church. First there was the Paul Party.  This group probably represented the charter members of the Church–those who were the original core group established by Paul, the first pastor.  I can just hear some of them crying ruefully, “We’ll never have another pastor like old brother Paul.  Would that the good ole’ days would return!”  Of course, they fail to remember how often they were upset with that ugly little Jew and his cantankerous ways.  We do have short memories, don’t we?  

In my previous pastorate there was a particular family that gave me a lot of grief.  In numerous and not so subtle ways they let me know that the church had never been the same since Pastor Jones left (that was his real name, by the way.  Pastor Smith was followed by Pastor Jones).  Sometime later I happened to see Pastor Jones at a District Conference and sought his advice about how to deal with this family.  I said, “I need your help and I’m seeking it because you obviously had an excellent relationship with this family.”  He laughed incredulously.  “Where did you hear that?” he asked.  “They were on my case the entire eight years I was pastor!”  I concluded that probably the only way to become popular with that family was to leave and wait until their anger was redirected at the next pastor. 

Opposing the Paul party was a second group known as the Apollos Party.  Apollos was an Alexandrian Jew, an eloquent preacher, a skillful defender of the faith, and apparently the second pastor of the Corinthian church.  Apollos was mentored and discipled by Paul, but he had a very different personality and style.  While Paul was a teacher, Apollos was more of a gifted preacher.  While Paul was a very analytical thinker, it is thought by most scholars that Apollos was more of a synthetic, allegorical, or even mystical thinker. 

To put this in modern terms, I suppose the difference between Paul and Apollos might be similar to the difference between John MacArthur and Max Lucado.  These two men have both made a tremendous contribution to the Christian Church over the past several decades, but MacArthur is very analytical and tends to be dogmatic, while Lucado is more synthetic, irenic, and relationship‑oriented.  MacArthur majors on truth, Lucado on application.  MacArthur speaks to the mind, while Lucado speaks more to the heart.  Neither of these approaches is wrong; they’re just different, and they’re suited for different groups and different purposes. 

Unfortunately at Corinth these differences resulted in conflict between those whose allegiance was to the former pastor and those whose allegiance was to the present pastor.  I feel very fortunate that no one here can complain that I don’t measure up to the previous pastor.  That’s one of the blessings of being the first–there’s no one to compare you to.  Of course, there’s also no one for me to blame my mistakes on.

Then there was the Peter Party.  Apparently Peter never visited Corinth, but his name was well‑known in Christian circles everywhere, since he was one of Christ’s three closest companions. I suspect the issue at stake here may have been legalism or traditionalism. In Galatians 2 we read about a real heavyweight bout between Paul and Peter.  Paul denounced Peter for hypocritically kowtowing to the Jewish legalists in the church.  It may very well be that due to that incident Peter acquired a reputation as a champion for the traditionalists, as opposed to Paul’s emphasis upon Christian liberty. 

There have always been legalists in the church.  They are often known by the things they don’t do and the things they try to prohibit others from doing.  As a kid growing up I saw division come into churches over many legalistic issues–movies, hair length, whether women ought to wear slacks in church, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.   May God spare us from the Peter party.

The fourth party in Corinth was the Christ party.  They were the ones who could really turn your stomach, because they were the super-spiritual ones.  Though this group had the best name, they probably had the worst attitude.  I’m reminded of a lady I worked with in Dallas in the late sixties.  I overheard her talking one day about her church, so I asked her, “Where is your church?”  She responded, “I don’t have one.”  “Oh, pardon me,” I said, “I thought you were just talking about your church.”  “No,” she answered, “I don’t have a church; I go to Christ’s church.”  I felt like saying, “Well, bully for you!,” but I didn’t.

There is a spiritual pride in many Christians that causes them to say, “My denomination is the true church and if anyone else gets saved, it’s only by the grace of God.”  That’s kind of funny, of course, because the fact is, if anyone gets saved in any denomination, including ours, it’s only by the grace of God.  God doesn’t save because of denominations, but rather in spite of them.  I’ve mentioned before the little girl who told her playmate she was a Baptist and then asked her, “What abomination do you belong to?”  The Christ party was an abomination; they felt they had a corner on truth, that they had Christ on a leash and God in a box.  

The total effect of these political parties was serious division in the Body of Christ.  Now, believe it or not, underlying this 4‑way championship fight were no basic doctrinal heresies.  Had there been any, Paul would surely have denounced them as he did in Gal. 1:8, where he wrote, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!”  He would never have urged unity with heretics.  No, the whole problem here was wrong attitudes and personality clashes. 

I trust there is no doubt in your minds that divisive politics in the church is a curse.  We have also discussed the cause.  But the really important issue is the cure.  How do we prevent or resolve conflict in the church? 

The cure for divisive politics in the Church

Paul employed the following methods of dealing with divisive politics in the church: 

Honest confrontation (11).  Look at v. 11: “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.”  Paul didn’t mince words.  He laid out the facts and even identified the source of his information.  Some have suggested that Paul stooped pretty low to give credence to this town gossip named Chloe.  But that is an unnecessarily harsh judgment upon her.  As a matter of fact, she was not the one who informed Paul, but rather it was members of her household, perhaps even servants.  If early church tradition is correct, Chloe was a Christian businesswoman who had business in both Corinth and Ephesus, and someone close to her, while on a trip to Ephesus, had told Paul about the division back in the Corinthian church.  

I am impressed by Paul’s willingness here to identify the source of his information.  So often we’re tempted to hide under the guise of anonymous informants.  The words, “someone told me but I can’t tell you who,” are often a cover-up for deception.  Paul believed in honesty.  Perhaps this caused a bit of discomfort for Chloe back home, but better that she be uncomfortable than that the problem not be dealt with. 

I have found over the years that the best way to deal with a gossip is often to say, “My, that’s really serious!  What did the person do about it when you went to talk to them?”  Generally I find the informant hasn’t bothered to follow the biblical mandate to go to the person first.  So then I say, “Well, why don’t you and I go and talk to the person right now.”  Usually they protest, “Oh no, I just wanted you to know so you could pray about it and do whatever you felt the Lord wanted you to do, but please don’t tell them where you got your information.”  And then I have to tell them that God’s Word does not allow us to handle problems that way. 

Root problem identification (3:3).  You know, it’s possible to waste an awful lot of time treating symptoms rather than root problems.  I like the way Paul identifies the root problem causing all the division in the church.  Look at 3:3, where the subject matter is very similar to chapter 1: “Since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?  For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men?”  The phrase “mere men” implies a worldly attitude, one without any godly perspective. Worldliness is the problem, blatant carnality.  They are bringing politics into the church. 

Pointed interrogation (13).  In verse 13 Paul employs some very cutting questions as he does surgery on the church at Corinth: “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?”  We might ask similar questions today:  “Is Chuck Swindoll your Creator?  Is Charles Stanley the one who sanctified you?  Did Jill Briscoe die for your sins?  Was it Calvin or Arminius who was resurrected from the dead for your justification?”  

The answer to all of these absurd rhetorical questions is, “Of course not!”  Then why are any of these personalities getting the kind of attention in the church that belongs only to Christ?  In chapter 3 Paul will ask, “Who in the world is Apollos and who in the world is Paul?  Merely slaves of Christ, through whom you believed.”  Who ever thought of putting a slave on a pedestal?

Bold exhortation.  Look back at the first verse of today’s text: “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”  Paul’s appeal is based on the authority of Christ, and on their membership in the Body of Christ, for he calls them “brothers.”

The content of his exhortation is threefold: that all of you agree with one another, that there be no division, that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.  It would be hard to state the need for unity any more clearly, wouldn’t it?  But what does this mean?  Does it mean everyone in the Church should agree on everything, that if some person in the church disagrees on some minor theological issue he should be run out of the church, that all the votes taken at congregational business meetings need to be unanimous, that we should all dress alike, cut our hair the same, and never ask questions?  

No, of course not.  Paul actually believed strongly in diversity in the church.  In chapter 12 he will stress that there are varieties of gifts, varieties of ministries, and varieties of results.  And later he states specifically that “the Body is not one member but many.”  What the Apostle is seeking is notgroup‑think in the church; he’s not suggesting that we should all be carbon‑copies of one another.   Rather he’s seeking a united testimony and inward harmony.  There can be legitimate difference of opinion and difference of view‑point, without treating those with whom we disagree as enemies.  

The picture is that of a mosaic or a jig‑saw puzzle.  There is no piece exactly like any other piece.  But when each piece is put in its place, the design is clearly seen.  

Conclusion:  Friends, you have heard me say before that we don’t need to create unity in the church.  In Eph. 4:3 we are told, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  The Holy Spirit has created a unity among us–all we need to do is to preserve it.  One important step in that process is resolving personality conflicts.  Is there someone in church whom you can’t stand, and whom you avoid at all costs?  Has that led or could it lead to division in the Body?  Then I urge you to go to that person today and resolve the issue.  As much as it is within your power, the Bible tells us, live at peace with all men.  I’ve known a few who don’t want to be at peace, but not many.

May I add one more thing?  If you are here this morning as an unbeliever, you need peace with God first.  If anyone has ever suggested that you better make your peace with God, they may have meant well, but they’re wrong.  You can’t make peace with Him, but thankfully, He has already made peace with you.  All you need to do is to sign the peace treaty, which amounts to an unconditional surrender of your life to Jesus Christ.

DATE: September 10, 2000  


Politics in the Church




[i] I do not know the original source of this story.