United in Christ

1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Right after Paul’s thanksgiving, he addressed a critical issue in the Corinthian Church. For Church unity to be high up in Paul’s letter shows its significance in the community life of believers.

With Paul’s appeal and reasoning, we get a glimpse of the challenge faced by the Corinthian believers. At the same time, we see how Paul reasoned with his readers, convincing and appealing to them to be united as followers of Christ.

Verse 10 summarizes the heart of the passage. Paul appealed to the believers that they agree with one another so that no division exists in the Church, and there be perfect unity in mind and thought.

Consider Paul’s first words—“I appeal to you…” The King James Version used “beseech” in lieu of the verb “appeal.” No matter what verb is used, however, Paul’s point is nailed hard—He is begging, earnestly and urgently requesting, imploring, and praying for the unity of believers in Corinth.

This single word shows Paul’s overflowing concern for the Church, as well as the gravity of the issue plaguing the fellowship. The sense of urgency and distress is there, which is underscored by Paul’s direct confrontation of the issue of division.

Reading through the letter, we can even feel the sudden shift in the mood from the previous passage. There is no transition; Paul decisively and directly tackled the challenge of the Corinthian Church.

The appeal goes out to all believers not only to the men. Unfortunately, the use of the word “brothers” is wrongly understood by some Bible readers to mean exclusively for the male population of the Church. This is very careless reading of the passage. Paul uses “brothers” in all his epistles, but during their time, the Greek word was commonly used to address “a crowd or community that included men and women.”

The idea is perfectly captured by Filipino in its use of the equivalent word “kapatid.”

Paul’s appeal, however, draws power in the next few words within verse 10, “…in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Picking up from the previous passage, Paul coursed his appeal through the source of all unity, grace and love, the Lord Jesus Christ. In effect, Paul is saying, “I am but the mouthpiece and my appeal rightly belongs to Jesus. He is the one truly beseeching you to be united.”

Paul gets his authority from the King who met him and changed him on the road to Damascus.

After all these considerations, what is Paul pleading the Corinthian believers to do? Paul is earnestly asking them to “agree with one another.” In the original Greek, “agree” means “speak the same thing.”
We see, then, that the division within the Corinthian Church has something to do with differences in views, stands and opinions.

This is supported by v 11 where Paul reveals that members of the house of Chloe, most probably believers from Corinth, reported that there are “quarrels” among the believers. Quarrels here are originally understood as debates, wrangling and contentions.

In verses 12 to 15, we see that such differences are not really theological in nature. It appears that they stem from the believers’ misunderstanding of the roles of their leaders in the overall working of Christ’s Church. They appear to be arguing over who is the greatest among their leaders.

Four names were mentioned—Paul, Apollos, Cephas and Christ. Paul is the writer of the epistle and is the apostle of Christ to the Gentiles. He was a staunch persecutor of Christians, dragging many of them to prison, before he was called by Jesus to be His follower.

Apollos is also a follower of Christ who has carried a successful and fruitful ministry in Corinth. Apollos started out only knowing the Baptism of John before he came to know Jesus, becoming a bold evangelist of the Lord.

Cephas, though seemingly an unknown character is, in fact, Peter. In John 1:42 we read: "So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas" (which means Peter).” We know that Peter is the leader of the apostles. He was molded by Jesus Himself during His three-year ministry on earth.

Christ, of course, refers to Jesus Christ.

Driven by a desire to be greater than their brothers, the Corinthian believers were pitting their leaders—the people they chose to follow—against one another. Looking closely, however, selfishness appears to be their motivation. During their time, when one decides to follow someone, he is subjected to that person. He becomes the student and the other person, the master or teacher. Therefore, when one’s master is greater than another person’s master, logic says that that student is greater than the students of the inferior master.

This desire to be greater, to be someone, to be distinguished, to have a name is tearing the Church apart. That is why Paul’s questions in v. 13 are very fitting. He asks them “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?”

He asked these questions to redirect the believers’ focus from the workers to the Master. He asked these questions to remind them that the Christ who died on the cross is the ultimate source of everything they are enjoying—salvation, new life, eternity—thus, there is no use arguing who among the leaders is the greatest. The answer is obvious.

Finally, Paul asked these to rebuke them. He showed them that their mindless and useless quarrels are causing the degeneration of the Church. These are no longer edifying the body of believers. In fact, they are stumbling blocks to the growth and spread of the Word in the city of Corinth. If the believers themselves cannot agree among themselves, what testimony do they have to prove Jesus’ offer of salvation and new life?

As side explanation in v 14 to 16, Paul admitted that he did baptize a number of people in Corinth. I believe he needed to explain himself because some may misunderstand his point in v 13 and accuse him of lying. When he asked, “Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” the obvious answer is no. This is because everyone is baptized into the name of Christ.

What Paul meant here is that Jesus is the source of their spiritual cleansing. Those who administer the physical ceremony are not the sources of renewal. They only embody the cleansing as public testimony of changed lives.
This may be overlooked so Paul had to explain in three verses that he did baptize a number of people in Corinth, but only in the physical way. And he even underscores that his calling is primarily to preach and teach, not to baptize. This is not to minimize baptism. Instead, Paul is showing that even leaders are called to do specific tasks which are complementary.

Paul is primarily an evangelist. Jesus called Him to spread the Good News to the Gentiles. His great knowledge of the Scripture brought by his training as a Jew coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit made him very effective in this task.

What Gospel was he preaching? He is teaching that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. He died but rose again. By placing one’s faith in the Son of God one is saved from the punishment of sin which is eternal spiritual death. Paul continuously clarified that it is by grace through faith that one is saved. It is not through good works or by obeying the law (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Such boldness, power and authority in preaching, however, rightly belong to Jesus. This is what Paul emphasized in v 17. It is consistent with the point he has driven in v 13. Christ is greater than all, thus, the achievements of his sent ones are but products of His own doing. In Paul’s case, though he had the power of speech, he pointed out that it was not in the manner of speaking that people are changed.

The power of the Gospel did not rely in the “words of human wisdom.” It is not from man; it is entirely from God. Paul drove this point because the sinful nature of humanity can easily become proud. It may boast that the conversion of men is no longer the work of God but is due to their ability in speaking, their tactics and strategies in mission. When this happens, the Jesus is stripped of His glory. The cross, the ultimate sacrifice and symbol of God’s love, is emptied of its power.

The Greek word for “emptied” means to be “deprived of force,” “rendered vain, useless, of no effect,” “void,” “hollow”. Paul is guarding the Church against this. Unfortunately, in the Corinth, the believers have started to rob the Cross of Christ of its power when they have lost sight of the Savior and have fixed their eyes on His followers.

They are slowly ascribing to the servants the glory which belongs only to the Master.

Paul encouraged the believers to agree with one another. His extensive explanation and illustration showed that they must all agree that Jesus is the only source of power. The Church leaders are nothing compared to the Savior. They are but servants. Instead of focusing on them, the believers have to go back to the source of all grace, power, love and mercy—God.

When they agree on this, Paul sees no division and he sees perfect unity in the body of Christ (v.10). In the same verse he explicitly identifies unity in mind and thought. In modern English, mind appears to be the source of thought. Mind creates the ideas. In the original Greek, mind has something to do with intellect and understanding. Thought, on the other hand, is rendered judgment in the King James Version and it refers to cognition, opinion, and resolve.

These are but wordplay, but we see that because the disagreement began in their opinions and stands, Paul tackled the root to bring unity in the body.

Paul’s plea is an echo of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. When Jesus prayed for his apostles and for all believers, he asked the father twice that all His followers be united (John 17: 11, 21). The measure he used for this unity is the fellowship that exists in the Triune nature of God. This means, perfect unity.

Paul’s plea, then, is very fitting. He sought unity in the Corinthian Church which is being plagued by differences in opinion and stand. Paul urged the believers to set their eyes on Jesus, to focus on Him, because in doing so, they get to understand that He is the source of all and He is the only one who matters.

Everything begins and ends with Christ. A poor view of who He is distorts the fellowship and disrupts one’s spiritual walk with the Savior. A full understanding, reverence and awe of His glory, power, grace and majesty, however, produce holy fear. When the believer sees the face of God, he gets to understand his nothingness and Jesus’ fullness. Amen.
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