This week’s lesson, Divisions in Corinth, will be the first lesson of the spring quarter!  The title for this quarter of lessons is titled “Training”.  Last quarter we took a look at the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ which is the foundation of our faith.  After the ascension of Christ, the apostles went out sharing the good news and making new followers of Christ.  These new followers would need to learn and to grow in their faith and we will see the beginning of this in our lesson this week.  This week’s lesson is being taught from 1 Corinthians 1:1-16.

Paul’s Warning Against Divisions

The first chapter opens with Paul giving a warm greeting to those who were of the church in Corinth.  Notice that Paul states that he was called to be an apostle of Jesus in this opening verse (v.1).  This often becomes a topic of conversation because an apostle is considered to be someone who personally followed Christ.  So, the closest disciples (the 11) were considered apostles.  

Paul did not personally follow Jesus while He was in the world but Christ personally called Him on the road to Damascus and taught him as well (Gal. 1:11-12).  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul speaks to the three years that he was personally taught away from Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18).  After the three years, Paul then went up to Jerusalem and spent time with Peter and James (the half brother of Jesus) who went on to glorify God in him (Gal. 1:18-24).

Let us also notice that Paul is specifically speaking to those who are genuinely of Christ.  We know this because Paul writes, “to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus. (v.2)”  Those who are sanctified are sanctified (separated) through the shed blood of Jesus.  Now, as we will speak of divisions in this lesson, I want you to understand that this separation is for the holy purpose of God distinguishing the true believer from the non-believer.

No division in God

After this warm greeting, the first thing that Paul begins to speak about is the grace of God.  Paul states that through the grace of God the Corinthians were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge (vss.4-5).  Now, this was something that I touched on throughout the last month of sermons.  The Lord not only poured out His blessings on to the apostles, but also the Corinthians, as well as every other genuine follower of Him.

First, on the Day of Pentecost, we know the apostles received their gifts through the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-13).  We know that afterwards, all believers, whether they were Jew or Gentile, received the Holy Spirit and therefore the Lord’s gifts.   Philip, John, and Peter could testify of this also happening in Samaria for the believers there (Acts 8:4-18).  Peter also testified of this when he spoke to the other apostles and elders when they were arguing about circumcising and forcing the law on Gentiles (Acts 15:7-9).

You see, the testimony of Christ was confirmed by the giving of these gifts through the Holy Spirit (vss.6-7).  Let us remember that Jesus said to the disciples that He had to go away so that the Holy Spirit could come and give to us His gifts.  The Holy Spirit is to comfort us, guide us, and call to remembrance all that Jesus said and taught (John 16:5-15).

Now, when we think of the Lord’s gifts, we cannot speak about them without speaking to the fact that God is liberal in His giving.  Again, Paul said that the Corinthians were enriched by the Lord in all things.  Later in this letter, you will see that Paul spoke of the diversities of gifts.  Paul wrote, “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:4)”  He then spoke of how one could receive the word of wisdom, another could receive word of knowledge, and another could receive gifts of healing.  Though these gifts are different, it is the same Spirit that has given them all (1 Cor. 12:4-11).

Divisions within the church

So, the point that Paul is making here is that there is no division in the Lord.  Yes, there may be different gifts, ministries, and denominations but all gifts and ministries are to work together according to the Spirit.  Some will even point to the fact that there are different denominations within the Christian faith, but this is also not necessarily a big ordeal.  I say this as one who is actually annoyed by the fact that worldly factors divided us in the first place which is mostly responsible for the many denominations.

Even in the early days of the church, we can start to see the formation of denominations within the faith.  So long as each denomination’s focus is on Christ – His birth, death, resurrection, ascensions, and His second coming, there should be no problems.  If the spirit of a church is not confessing Christ in this manner but is denying Him, then you better believe that church or ministry is not of the Lord (1 John 4:2-3).

Now, the division that we see Paul speak to were the divisions (sects or cliques) that were developing within the church at Corinth.  This is confirmed to us by Paul stating that he was informed by those of Chloe’s household that there were contentions in the church (v.11).  We will see that Paul pleads that there be no divisions among those in this church at Corinth, but that they all be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (v.10).  Divisions within the church should not be a thing nor division in the body of Christ should not be a thing.  

Again, to reference what Paul wrote later in this letter, he stated, “now indeed there are many members, yet one body.  And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.  No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. (1 Cor. 12:20-22)”  In essence, Paul was teaching that every person who is a part of the body of Christ is to work together in unity just as all parts of our physical body work together in unison.

Paul gives us a hint at what the dividing point was within this church.  The dividing point seemed to be based on who one favored listening to – it came down to partiality (favoritism).  Partiality is a subject that I just focused on in my sermon – Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover.  One would say that they were of Paul and another would say that they were of Apollos, Cephas, or of Christ (v.12).  I would suggest that it seemed that they would choose to listen to one rather than the other, even though all were preaching Christ. 

So, for example, the ones that were saying they were of Christ, likely had heard Christ preach and felt that they did not have to listen to Paul and the others.  Others may have never seen or heard Christ, yet they had heard Paul, enjoyed his preaching, and did not want anything to do with Apollos or the others.  This was creating contentions as I believe the listeners were likely the ones arguing over who they should listen to and believe.

I believe that some of this still happens today in the church where it seems that preaching becomes a popularity contest.  Personally, I am not concerned about how many or how few listen to me preach – I just want to minister the gospel and hope that some will truly hear.  I believe it is far more important that what is being ministered in the world is sound doctrine, rather than how many people are of your congregation or listening/watching you preach.

Christ should be the primary focus

There were contentions over ministers who were all ministering one word which is the word of God.  Such divisions, again, should not be a part of the church.  Paul asks a very important question:  Is Christ divided (v.13)?  He then follows that question up with two more questions:  Was Paul crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

A few things are pointed out here from Paul’s questions.  First and foremost, Paul was pointing his attention back to Christ because that’s where it should have been in the first place for these believers!  Christ should always be every believer’s primary focus.  Again, there’s no division in Christ!  Christ, we must remember, was given to the world – that is all people.  Christ, therefore, died for all people to give all people an opportunity at salvation through Him.

Paul brings up the point that he did not die for anybody!  Not only did Paul not die for anybody, but neither did Apollos or Cephas.  So, let’s get this right – these people should not have been arguing over who they would follow when they should have simply been following Christ.  Paul did not desire for anybody to specifically follow him, but for those who would listen to him preaching the gospel to follow Christ (vss.14-16).  The same was true for Apollos and Cephas!

At the same time, those who were refusing to listen to them were also in the wrong in that Christ had/has commissioned us to minister the gospel.  When you discern in your hearts that one is genuinely ministering the word of God (Christ), know that there is nothing wrong with that person.  Again, we are not in competition with one another when we are doing the work of God.

So, we ought not divide ourselves in such a manner when it comes to the ministry.  Yes, there are different ministries, but again, let those ministries be focused on Christ.  Contentions as mentioned here in scripture are incredibly dangerous for the church.  These types of contentions can usher in jealousy and hatred which would do nothing but tear believers and the church apart.


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