Corinth is a city located in lower Greece about 40 miles west of Athens. During the first couple of centuries after Christ, it was a large metropolitan seaport with three safe harbors, all with easy access to shipping on the Mediterranean Sea. It is estimated that during its heyday this city was as large as 700,000 residents. It was a thoroughly pagan city, given over to the worship of the Greek gods, in particular Aphrodite, the goddess associated with love, beauty, pleasure, passion, and procreation. It was known for its elaborate temples, painting, and architecture. Because of the worship of Aphrodite, this city was given over to sexual immorality and drunken revelry. Though ancient Corinth was later destroyed by earthquakes, disease, and the rule of the Turks, the rebuilt city still exists to this day.
Because of its trade, a large Jewish community had been established there. A sizable synagogue lay in the heart of the city. Because it was the apostle Paul’s practice to preach the gospel in major cities along trade routes, he entered this city after leaving Athens on his second missionary journey. Luke was with him, but Timothy and Silas, whom Paul had left behind in Berea, would later join him in his labors. For a while Paul established himself as a tent maker along with a couple with whom he established a close friendship: a man named Aquila and his wife, Priscilla. When Paul took up his labors as missionary, he began by preaching in the synagogue, as was his practice. We learn that he persuaded both Jews and Greeks, even winning over several chief rulers of the synagogue: Crispus and Sosthenes. When opposition arose, the church moved for a time to the house of a Greek convert named Titus Justus. Paul spent a year and half in this city, during which time, through his labors and that of his coworkers, a large Christian church developed. Because of the much personal care and time he spent among these saints, Paul became very attached to this church.
Paul left this church in order to continue his work as a missionary in other places. He returned to Judea and then Antioch, his calling church, for some time. On his third journey Paul spent approximately three years laboring in Asia, with the city of Ephesus as his center. It is safe to say that it was well over five years since Paul had been in Corinth. The dynamic preacher Apollos had been there for some of these years, but it is hard to say how long he had preached there. For the most part this congregation was on its own, with the elders taking oversight of the life and labors of this church. While in Ephesus Paul received word from various individuals that the Corinthian church was fraught with problems. Members of the household of Chloe had visited Ephesus from Corinth and reported that there were horrible divisions in this church. It was a congregation divided among various factions, and for that reason there was tension and contention among her members. Out of this party strife had risen other unresolved problems, such as the preaching and the preachers. For this reason Paul wrote this first letter to the Corinthian church. In it Paul sharply, yet in tenderness, addresses many of the problems that were hurting this church. We are going to consider some of those problems in a few sermons on this important book of the Bible.
We begin today with the major problem, one that was the root of the other troubles in this church: the fact that this church was divided. Paul takes the church to task immediately for this in verses 10-13 of chapter 1. We read:
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
I. The Divisions
Paul wastes no time getting to the heart of the issue. In verse 10 he points out that there were divisions in the congregation in Corinth. In verse 11 he speaks of contentions among her members. In verse 12 he speaks of various parties or groups of people who claimed to themselves different spiritual leaders. So serious was this problem that Paul addresses it not only here but in future chapters too.
It is striking that the Greek word used for divisions in verse 10 is that from which we derive our English word “schism.” There were schisms in the church. Literally, that means a rent or a tear. When a person hooks his sleeve on a sharp object such as a nail, it rends. The material is torn apart and needs fixing. This was true in the church of Corinth. People were separating, or tearing apart, from one another. They were no longer one piece of woven fabric. The cause of these divisions is evident from the various chapters of this letter Paul writes. There were many issues that had arisen in this congregation, about which members had varying and strong opinions. So strong were these opinions that they virtually tied the hands of the elders. The elders were not disciplining properly. They were allowing people to come to the Lord’s Supper who did not belong there. The divisions that existed in the church were not over trivial matters, although these ought not to be discounted either, but were over major doctrinal and moral issues. But the result was that divisions, large tears, existed in the congregation that threatened the very existence of this church.
Paul also indicates along what lines the parties or groups of men and women divided. We find in verse 12 that each of the divisions in the church had claimed to themselves a spiritual leader. It was not as if these leaders had asked for this position at the head of these parties. They had nothing to do with the divisions. It is striking that this is what is often done when there are schisms in the church. In order to justify their views, men will claim for themselves the authority of approved theologians of the church. This lends weight to their arguments.
There were those in Corinth who claimed Paul as their authority. These members probably held Paul in high esteem as their church founder. But there was another large group of people who claimed Peter, or Cephas, as their authority. These were probably the Jews of the congregation. Although Peter had never visited Corinth, there was enough travel back and forth to Jerusalem to know that Peter was a pillar in the church in Jerusalem. Another sizable group of saints appealed to Apollos, the preacher whose oratory was skilled and persuasive. Then one last party appealed to Christ Himself as their sole authority. This party was no better than the others, however. They in pride claimed “no creed but Christ,” as some do today, despising the Word that was preached and was taught them by their spiritual fathers. Each party claimed to themselves a church leader in order to add some clout to their opinions over against the others. The striking fact is, these church leaders themselves were not divided in their thought! The parties claiming them as their own did not truly understand the preaching and the writings of these men!
But this did not remove the horrible reality that this congregation was divided and at strife. We read in verse 11, “there are contentions among you.” Contentions: that word keeps reappearing in Scripture in order to describe what actually happens at times in the church. The word in our text actually means arguing, heated strife, picking apart another. Words of anger were spoken against and about other members of the church. Involved in these contentions were gossip, slander, backbiting of every sort. Fellow saints in the church were beginning to look at one another through suspicious eyes. They were not talking to each other. Probably after church you would see these various parties gathering together in their own little cliques discussing what was wrong with the rest of the church.
That reminds me of what can easily take place in the church when there is serious disagreement between brothers and sisters in the Lord. After decisions are made by Classes and Synods a group of men and women break away and begin not only to criticize the decisions but also to call into question the orthodoxy of the men who made the decisions. Such party strife creates divisions—or literally schism—in the church. The church becomes divided, and members begin to treat others as enemies rather than as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Hatred develops that not only robs the church of her peace, but also actually threatens the very well-being and existence of the church. One thing after another arises, with which people take issue and collide with others who are of a differing opinion. The elders are at a loss as to how to keep peace in a congregation or in a denomination that is riddled with contentions—incessant arguing! One faction has a problem with this doctrine, another with that preacher, and still another with a moral issue in the church.
No one turns to God’s Word for answers. Everyone claims ministers to their side. No one is spiritual at all about the resolving of the varied issues that seem to take hold of the church. “Who is a wise man and endowed with knowledge among you?” Paul asks. When the church spins out of control as Corinth had, who is able to fix it? That is how bad it had become. As much as Paul loved this congregation, the immoral life of the city of Corinth had its influence on her members. The doctrinal errors of the day found a place to fester in this congregation. The church was a mess. And Satan was standing by, rubbing his hands together with glee. Jesus had warned his church in Luke 11:17, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth.” Satan’s chief battle tactic is that of divide and conquer. Divide the church against itself and he can have his way with us. Division and strife is always a threat to the church of Jesus Christ, of which we ought always to be deeply aware. We take to heart then the antidote that Paul now raises in verse 10: “I beseech you…that ye all speak the same thing…that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
II. The Exhortation
This congregation needed to be perfectly joined together. The idea expressed here is that the congregation had to readjust itself; it had to amend itself in order that it might as a congregation be brought back into the way in which it was supposed to walk. The term “perfectly joined together” means to be brought back into the right way by means of correction, so that there is unity and peace. Paul says, I exhort you to strengthen yourselves as a congregation in order that you might be of the same mind and judgment. That mind and judgment must be Christ’s mind! That is the key to all peace in the church: let the mind of Christ be in you, having the same love, being of one accord, being like-minded in lowliness of mind, esteeming others better than oneself! Attitude! In order for the church to be perfectly joined together, there must be an attitude adjustment—an adjustment our flesh is not all that willing to make. But the Spirit of Jesus Christ who dwells in us as believers is willing to do it. Party strife cannot be overcome when there is pride. It takes humility. We must put on the new man in Christ and be of one mind with one another. Members of the church must view each other as fellow saints and not as enemies. Is that not true? We are all sinners saved only by God’s grace and the work of Jesus Christ. We are all unworthy, yet all saved by God’s grace! We are of the same party in this world! We represent the cause of Jesus Christ.
We must also be of one judgment. The word used here refers to knowledge. We must be versed well in the knowledge of the Word of God. The better versed we are in the Scriptures, the better is the unity in the church of Christ. The Spirit of Christ and the Word will lead and guide us. We will not allow our judgments to be based on the way we feel or what others tell us. We will not allow ourselves to be led away by our own thoughts on the matter or on our own faulty reasoning. God’s Word will be our guide. And the judgments we make on matters will be consistent with each other. As a result, we will heed the injunction of Paul to speak the same thing. Does this mean that everything we say will be in complete agreement with others? Of course not! No one ever agrees with others on every single matter. There is certainly room for difference of opinion on various matters. That is ok. The church is made up of a diversity of members, each with his own way of thinking on certain matters. When Paul writes that the saints in the church must say the same thing, he is talking about the confession of the church. We need to agree on our common confession! We must find unity in the truths that we confess together as a church of Jesus Christ. We must confess the same truths of Scripture that we need to lead and direct us in our judgment.
It was at this point that Paul delivered the clinching argument in a series of rhetorical questions that he asks in verse 13: “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” Is Christ divided? No! The body of Jesus Christ is one body—a body that belongs to its head, Jesus Christ. Here is the theological ground for the exhortation of our text: The church of Jesus Christ is the body of Christ in this world. It is a body that was chosen from eternity in God’s eternal counsel for all things. It is one throughout the ages, from the beginning of time to the end. It is gathered from every nation, language, and tribe of the earth. It is united in faith and Spirit and is led by Jesus Christ its Head. Jesus Christ has purchased this church with His precious blood. When that church comes to manifestation in this world, it is found in the church institute. The congregation in Corinth was just one such institute. She was the body of Jesus Christ in her city. Not the universal body of Christ, of course. But wherever the body of Christ is instituted under officebearers, it becomes a local manifestation of the body of Christ. Christ was the Head of the church in Corinth. So the question is legitimate and conclusive: is Christ divided? Is the body of Christ divided? Absolutely not! Therefore a congregation of saints must live as one body in the church.
Christ shed His own blood on the cross for every member of his body! Was Paul or Peter or Apollos crucified for the church? Are the preachers in any denomination, no matter how acclaimed theologically they may be, crucified for us? Christ took on Himself the curse of the cross and suffered the punishment of hell for each one of His people. When I look at my fellow saints in the church, I see them as covered in the blood of Christ! They are fellow members with me in His body! I love them as they love me! This love God has shed abroad in our hearts because Christ alone is crucified for us! Likewise we were baptized in His blood! We were sprinkled with the blood of Christ, and He has cleansed us from the filth of sin. When we received the sacrament of baptism, we were baptized in the name of the triune God. That means we were baptized in the name of Christ. With His blood we were bought! We were not baptized in the name of Paul or Peter or any other. We belong to Jesus Christ. Now, say the same thing! Be of one mind and of one judgment. And therefore be perfectly joined together!
III. The Result
The result is implied! There will be no divisions in the church. Will there be differences of opinion? Yes. But there will be no schism because we will view one another as fellow saints who are members one of another. Where there are no contentions, there is peace, a blessed peace and harmony in the church of Jesus Christ. When we take the sword and shield to fight, it is not with one another, but we stand side by side and fight with the common foes of the church. Soldiers of Christ who fight in order to slay their fellow soldiers in an army destroy themselves. So Paul writes at the beginning of verse 10, “I beseech you!” We can read of Paul’s love for this church in this exhortation: “I beseech you brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ. I plead with you. I urgently and sincerely exhort you in deepest love: be perfectly joined together! Be unified together in the Word of God that was preached to you by Paul, Peter, Apollos, and, above all, through them, by Christ! Ah yes, this church could boast in 10,000 instructors, but Paul had begotten this church through his labors.
He speaks to his children out of the deep love of a father. This is the Word of our heavenly Father to His church of all ages, spoken to them in His deepest love! Let all things be done decently and in good order. Let there be no factions in the church of Christ. You are my people, the sheep of my pasture and the body of Christ! Let the mind of Christ be in you and dwell in unity!