BIBLE INSIGHTS in 500 words
Why Can’t Church-folk Just Get Along
Richard Leslie Parrott, Ph.D.
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
I love early summer mornings on the porch with my cup of coffee. The songs of the birds are sweet and uplifting. However, let me tell you something about bird songs. The singing means, “this is my part of the yard and you do not belong here!”
The song is a claim of territory. The church in Corinth was filled with bird songs – squawking, whistling, chirping and it all meant the same thing – this is my vision of the church and you don’t belong here! Paul passionately addresses the issue of division and unity:
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought (vs. 10).
Corinth prided herself on being a Roman city, and they were. particularly proud of their intellectual culture. Traveling philosophers, call “sophists,” were regularly hosted. These teachers of wisdom were bloated by their own importance.
Paul launches an attack on prideful and foolish wisdom:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Choose: the world’s wisdom or the power of the cross.
-Worldly wisdom produces prejudice, fights, coercion, and violence.
-The cross of Christ provides forgiveness, grace, acceptance, and compassion.
The traveling philosophers were out to gather disciples who would follow and support them. Disciples of these philosophers quarreled among themselves as to who was the greatest teacher. When Paul received a disturbing report (vs. 11): The Christians in Corinth had begun to treat him, Apollos, Peter, and even Jesus, as a group of teachers to be played against one another (vs. 12). Here are the four factions:
- There was Paul, the founder of the church. A group of loyalists in the congregation had determined that no one could replace Paul.
- There was Apollos who came from the prestigious and intellectual city of Alexandria and was a better speaker than Paul.
- There was Peter (Cephas) who, as far as we know, never visited Corinth but represented the founding church in Jerusalem.
- A fourth group declared, “I follow Christ.” This is a well-known power-play in the church, to cloister in self-woven garbs of spiritual superiority. They turned their backs on all the rest.
Do you see similar divisions in today’s church? The church was not and is not all it was called to be. Paul confronts this issue of division in the church with two rhetorical questions (vs. 13):
- Is Christ divided? – Has Christ been cut into pieces?
- Was Paul crucified for you? – Was Paul nailed to a cross for you?
The point is clear:
Jesus Christ is the One who matters;
all others are simply members of his body.
* I am indebted to NT Wright’s 1 Corinthians for Everyone, for insights in this lesson.