As we’ve hammered home again and again, the Corinthian church was undoubtedly the most screwed-up local body of believers in the 1st century. Paul starts off with words of gratitude and hope and then spends the rest of the book raking them over the coals.
And what’s the first problem he addresses, before he gets to anything else? Church divisions. He appeals to them in the name of the Lord Jesus (the Husband of the Bride who bled for her) that they put aside petty bickering.
Now, we need to approach this with wisdom and knowledge of what the Bible says on this topic. Not all unity is good, and not all disunity is bad. The builders of the Tower of Babel were unified. Germany was mostly united behind its “Leader.” People can be unified in a bad purpose. If Christ hadn’t come, all humanity would have been unified under his wrath and all of us would end up in the Lake of Fire. He didn’t come to bring peace on earth but a sword which will divide families.
And the Bible certainly isn’t against disunity when the issue is important enough. I mean, we just finished reading a couple of days ago in the book of Romans a warning from Paul about false teachers. They’d been presenting a message contrary to what he (Paul) had proclaimed, and he flat out told the believers in Rome to “keep away from them.”
So what were the issues over which these believers were fighting? Did anything in the last two paragraphs apply to what was happening here? Um, no. Here the issue was supposed loyalty to a certain leader or teacher. Paul calls them “quarrels” over who was a follower of certain leaders: Someone might say “I follow Paul,” while another claimed to be a follower of “Cephas” (Peter), Apollos, or even (supposedly) a follower of Christ (as opposed to all those heretics over there who follow Paul or someone else).
He rattles off a series of “no brainer” questions: 1) Is Christ divided? (NO), 2) Was Paul crucified for you? (as wonderful and important as he is/was, the answer’s a resounding NO), or 3) Was anyone baptized in the name of Paul? (Um, NO).
Let’s take a look at the 1st question for a moment. The point he could be making is that we’re all children of God through faith in Christ, all baptized by one Spirit into the Body. Or he could be making the point against the followers of “Christ”: No, Paul or Apollos or Peter weren’t crucified for you, but they're all servants of the same Lord. And in the case of Peter and Paul, their writings have the same authority as those from Christ’s own lips (that’s what an apostle is). But even Apollos, who wasn’t an apostle and who didn’t write any Scripture (unless you think he wrote the book of Hebrews, which is a possibility), inasmuch as he was teaching accurately from the word of God, he also was teaching with Christ’s authority. Christ isn't divided in his Body, nor are his true servants divided amongst themselves.
We’re going to talk a little more about our attitude towards leaders in a few days when we examine chapter 3. But for now, let’s talk a little bit about unity and division. Jesus said that “a house divided against itself will fall,” and even though in context he was speaking about Satan’s “house” and kingdom, the principle still applies generally to the church as well (along with a whole host of other areas in life). On issues like the Good News, or the nature and work of Christ, the reality of Heaven and Hell, and other essentials, we can't negotiate or compromise. These are “hills” we must “die on.”
But we need to pick our battles carefully. And especially something so foolish as picking one leader over another leader (when they’re both serving the same Lord) is not just bone-headed. It’s damaging to the Body of Christ. And anyone who hurts the Bride had better be prepared to deal with her Lord. He takes these things very seriously, you know.
Lord Jesus, you’re the Wisdom of God in the Flesh. Please help me carefully distinguish between essentials, nonessentials, and my personal opinions. If I’m damaging the Body in any way, please point it out to me so I can repent and change, by your grace.