It seems that some people and some churches are like magnets. They seem to attract trouble and problems. A part of that may be coincidental, merely a side effect of being in this sin-cursed world, but in far too many instances it is not coincidence. In many cases the problems are due to the mistakes, misunderstandings, misconduct, stubbornness and sinfulness of people. Problems and troubles of this nature are avoidable. But it requires a great deal of effort, prayer, study and patience to deal with these.
The Corinthian church had more than their share of problems – problems that should not have been – problems that could have been avoided. The apostle barely gets started into his first letter to these people before he launches into a plea for unity among them because of their divided condition and then an explanation of what he is talking about.
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).
Division. Quarreling. Contentiousness. Some of the ugliest words in existence – at least insofar as the people of the Lord are concerned. As with all divisions, that in Corinth was accompanied by quarreling and contention.
What was their division about? It was about men but probably not about the men who were named by Paul in these verses, given what he says later in 1 Corinthians 4:6.
“And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.
Here he says they needed to learn how not to think about men. This was their major problem. There are many different causes for division among brethren, but usually at the root of most is this problem of thinking of men above that which is written. There are usually a few prominent figures who are the driving force behind most problems in the church, no matter what the issue, and people generally line up behind these men. Perhaps they don’t name themselves after the men they follow, but it is evident that many people come down on one side or the other because they accept the man for his personal charisma and not because of the scriptural nature of his arguments.
People do have a tendency to line up behind popular and powerful figures as our current presidential campaign illustrates. How many people fall in line with a particular candidate, not because they have investigated his background and beliefs but because they like his speeches in which he tells them what they want to hear?
One commentator suggested that in Corinth, a congregation made up of both Jews and Gentiles, that the Jews lined up behind Peter and Christ while the Gentiles favored Paul and Apollos. That is purely speculation and conjecture. I have heard some suggest that some of the favoritism toward one man or the other may have been because of who taught them the gospel or who baptized them. That may be a little closer to the actual facts since Paul says what he did about not baptizing many of them and about not being sent to baptize but to preach the gospel. There is some indication from what Paul says that some of the figures involved in this trouble were eloquent, or powerful speakers. He told them that he did not come with fancy speech.
Whatever the particular issue(s) may have been, there were factions where there should have been unity and Paul was not going to let that stand. All of these factions were wrong. All of what was going on was sinful. You say, “But there were some who were following Christ. Surely they would have been right!” Actually, no. They were maintaining the division even in their profession of being followers of Christ. They may have been wearing the right name, but they were still part of the sectarian schism by proclaiming their separation from their brethren.
How can Christians avoid this kind of pitfall? In the very same way Paul told the Corinthians. And what did he tell them?
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:17-25).
According to the apostle, there is only one way to avoid the kinds of problems Corinth had. Paul’s answer was to preach Christ. Christ and him crucified. The cross of Christ. This was the solution to their whole mess. But how can that be? Wouldn’t they have had to have someone arbitrate their problems? Offer suggestions about how each side should give a little, making compromises, learning to go along to get along? Never! Never would Paul think of any such thing. For him – and for us – the only solution was Christ.
What does that mean? It means that the church is to be shaped and molded by the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. It means that he died for us to be the sacrifice for our sins. It means that the church is to be “Christocentric” and “cross-shaped,” not “anthropocentric” or man centered.
But what does that mean in practical terms? An illustration I have often used since I saw this first hand years ago involves brethren in a congregation where I once preached. They would go into a “business meeting,” some disagreement would arise and tempers would begin to flare. One of the finest, kindest, most beloved brethren I have ever known would observe what was going on and then in a very soft voice would say, “Brethren, let’s remember who we are here to serve.” That did more to calm the troubled waters than anything I have ever seen tried.
If everyone would just remember who it is they are here to serve most troubles would just go away. And if they remember that we are here to serve one another in the same manner in which Christ served when he was on the earth, more troubles would vanish. If we all were cognizant of the fact that we are to be manifesting the image of the Son of God in our daily lives and in our associations with one another we would avoid even more problems. If Christ remains central in every aspect of our lives, we would avoid almost all problems among ourselves altogether. Of course as long as we are human there will be problems, but the more we focus on Christ and not on our selves the fewer the problems we will have.