“Pursue Unity in Christ”
Lesson Text: 1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:6-9
Background Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:1-17
Devotional Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-20
1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (KJV)
10 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.
11 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.
12 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.
13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.
16 And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.
17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
1 Corinthians 3:6-9
6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.
To know that focusing on the Lord Jesus will result in unity.
To explain how one ought to look at the role of leaders in the local church.
To pray for the ministry staff of your church that God would bless their work and that the congregation would rally behind them to bring glory to God.
Let’s All Get Along
Pastor and author Charles Swindoll tells the story he heard about two unmarried sisters who lived together in the same small house. When they had a minor disagreement with each other over a very small issue, they decided not to speak to each other anymore. For years they lived this way, coming and going, eating and sleeping, sewing and reading, but never speaking. Neither was willing to take the first step toward reconciliation or forgiveness.
Sound ridiculous? What about churches where factions sit on opposite sides of the aisle, or part of the congregation meets upstairs while the other part meets in the basement? Or what about one group forming an entirely new church when a congregation disagrees about the color of the church carpet?
Paul had heard about the divisions occurring in the new church he had helped to start in Corinth. So he wrote to them and urged them to set aside their differences and divisions and find unity of mind and heart in the Lord Jesus. It is a message worth repeating in many divided, and divisive, congregations today.
Paul’s second missionary journey began as a trip to visit the congregations he had planted on his first journey (Acts 15:36). After doing so (15:41), the restless Paul desired to move on to new territory with the message of the gospel.
God influenced Paul’s itinerary through a vision that directed him to cross the Aegean Sea to the region known as Macedonia (Acts 16:9, 10). He eventually arrived in Corinth in about A.D. 52, where he remained for some 18 months (see 18:11, 18). Corinth was a busy and wealthy center of trade in Paul’s day, a cosmopolitan city with residents from many regions. It was a place of lax morals and influential pagan religions.
Acts 18:4 tells us that Corinth had a synagogue (as was the case in most of the large trading cities of the Roman Empire). Paul began his preaching in that synagogue, which was composed of both Jews and Greeks (vs. 4, 5). But opposition caused him to leave and focus on the Gentiles of the city (vs. 6, 7). Nevertheless, there was a strong contingent of Jewish believers in the Corinthian church (v. 8), and it was to this mixed congregation that Paul wrote the two Corinthian letters while on his third missionary journey. The four or so years that elapsed between Paul’s time in Corinth and his first letter back saw ungodly trends develop—trends that needed to be corrected.
Divided Church (1 Corinthians 1:10-12)
1. How did Paul encourage the Corinthian brethren not to cause a division in the Church? (1 Corinthians 1:10)
While the believers at Corinth were abundantly gifted, major shortcomings existed within their ranks. Perhaps the chief issue plaguing the congregation was the people’s divisiveness and quarreling (1 Corinthians 1:10). Nevertheless, Paul is thankful for his Corinthian brethren in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:4). We should remember this as we work through today’s lesson, because Paul has some difficult things to say to them. He does not wish to come across as one who merely criticizes, but as one who cares deeply and seeks to correct problems for the Corinthians’ benefit (compare 2 Corinthians 13:10).
The verse before us begins this corrective agenda, and Paul uses a strong phrase to open: “I beseech you.” He is speaking of serious matters—matters so important that he makes his exhortation in “the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This invokes Paul’s authority as an apostle, one commissioned by the risen Lord himself (compare 1 Corinthians 1:1; 9:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 12:12; 10:8; 13:10).
Paul desires unity in the Corinthian church in what the people say and do. Unity in the church is desirable both for the peace of the congregation and the effectiveness of its message to unbelievers. This is God’s ideal.
What Do You Think?
What actions are we responsible for taking when disunity threatens our church?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Because of personality clashes | Because of doctrinal differences | Because of ministry methods
2. How did Paul hear about the contention going on in the church at Corinth? (1 Corinthians 1:11, 12)
Paul acknowledges learning of contentions within the church at Corinth. This is not mere rumor. It has been reported to Paul directly by them which are of the house of Chloe—perhaps family members or workers involved with her business dealings. We have no information about Chloe except her name, but she is obviously known to the Corinthians, probably a member of the congregation. It is not common to speak of “the house of [a woman]” in the first century, so perhaps she has no husband.
Regrettably, the believers began favoring different ministers (v. 12). Some followed Paul, their spiritual parent, while others favored Cephas (Peter). Still others listened only to Apollos, an eloquent preacher who had ministered in Corinth after Paul left (Acts 18:24-19:1). Even today, some choose to revere prominent Christian leaders in a way better reserved for Jesus. Rather than being followers of the Savior, they have become overly devoted to a magnetic personality. Naturally, when this occurs, as it did in Corinth, disharmony and rivalry arise within the church. At first glance, Paul may seem to contradict himself when he scolds one group for saying it follows Christ (1 Cor. 1:12) after urging all the groups to be united in the Savior (v. 10). However, it is possible that this group thought it was superior to the others by claiming to follow Jesus. They may have believed that their pride-filled allegiance to Him made them better than those who claimed to follow the teachings of merely human leaders.
What Do You Think?
What reasons for church disunity in the Bible still present themselves today? How can proper handling of such challenges result in a church that is even stronger than before?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Acts 6:1-7 | Acts 15:36-40 | Philippians 4:2, 3 | 3 John 9, 10
Dealing with Divisions in the Church (1 Corinthians 1:13-17)
3. Why did Paul feel it necessary to ask three rhetorical questions to the Corinthian believers? (1 Corinthians 1:13)
The Corinthian believers had lost sight of the source of their unity. They had become divided over which one of their spiritual teachers they liked most. Paul now drives his point home with three rhetorical questions. A good principle for proper reading of the Bible is to recognize questions like this and answer them as we go. Is Christ divided? Answer: no. Was Paul crucified for you? Answer: no. Were ye baptized in the name of Paul? Answer: no.
The questions and the expected answers emphasize two things. First, activities that cause the church to be divided should be questioned (compare Romans 16:17), since Christ intended that His followers “be one” (see John 17:20-23). Paul’s language is vivid, for the word translated divided has the sense of being cut into pieces.
Second, Paul refuses to allow human leaders to usurp the place of Jesus Christ. Our ultimate master is the one who died for our sins and rose from the grave. He is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23). It is Christ who loved the church and gave His life for her (5:25). Paul’s great reminder here is the name of the one the Corinthians were baptized into, and that is the name Jesus Christ (compare Acts 19:5). This is the common experience, regardless of who did the baptizing.
4. How did Paul interpret his role in baptism? (1 Corinthians 1:14-16)
The preceding situation is why the apostle Paul de-emphasized the baptisms he performed while among the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:15). Paul was not minimizing the importance of baptism, but rather was emphasizing the supremacy of the Jesus in all situations. The solution to the Corinthians’ problem was to shift their attention away from prominent leaders and back to Jesus. This did not depreciate the value of those who led them. It just meant that no one could replace the Lord Jesus and be given more prominence than Him. Accordingly, Paul realized his place in the church. That is also why he declared his thankfulness for restricting the number of baptisms he had performed in Corinth.
It is wrong to identify any man’s name with your baptism other than the name of Jesus Christ. To do so is to create division. I have read accounts about people who had to be baptized by a certain preacher, using special water (usually from the Jordan River), on a special day, as though these are the matters that are important! Instead of honoring the Lord Jesus Christ and promoting the unity of the church, these people exalt men and create disunity.
5. What task did Paul say Christ gave him? (1 Corinthians 1:17)
Paul sensed that his chief calling was not to baptize people (1 Corinthians 1:17). Just as Jesus did not baptize people (John 4:1-2), so both Peter (Acts 10:48) and Paul allowed their associates to baptize the new converts. Until the church grew in Corinth, Paul did some of the baptizing; but that was not his main ministry. Again, Paul is not minimizing the importance of baptism but is reminding the Corinthians of his chief contribution to their church: he had been there to preach the gospel. He brought them the good news of Christ’s atoning death for their sins (1 Corinthians 1:23; 15:3) and of their chance for reconciliation with God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
The fact that Paul’s preaching had not been with wisdom of words means that his preaching had not been based on Greek philosophical wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:20). Paul knows that truth is not determined by the best philosophical argument (2:1-5). Rather, truth is found in the simple gospel message that originates with God (1:24, 25).
Corrected Thinking (1 Corinthians 3:6-9)
6. How did the metaphor used by Paul explain the roles played by Apollos, himself and God? (1 Corinthians 3:6, 7)
Our lesson now moves to chapter 3, where Paul continues his discussion of the Corinthian church’s divisions. In chapter 2 (not in today’s text), Paul reminds the readers that his message is not a masterpiece of human wisdom, but a spiritual message given and confirmed by God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4, 5). Paul exhorts the Corinthians to live as spiritually driven people, to have the “mind of Christ” (2:16).
Picking up in 1 Corinthians 3:6, 7, these two verses deserve close attention, for they go against the grain of much popular wisdom in the church these days. Paul gives a little history lesson by using a farming metaphor: he is the one who planted—he put the seed in the ground. By this, he means that he was the one who initially brought the word of God, the message of the gospel (compare Luke 8:11), to Corinth (Acts 18:1-8). Paul’s message had been received by some in Corinth, and they banded together to form a church. It is in this sense that the Corinthian church was planted by Paul himself.
But Paul’s time in Corinth ended after 18 months (Acts 18:11). He was followed by Apollos (19:1), an able teacher whose ministry watered the new believers. By this, Paul means that Apollos helped the faith and knowledge of the Corinthians to grow by teaching them in greater depth. There was no conflict in these two roles.
Paul and Apollos were both willing and effective servants of the Word, but the Corinthian church is growing not because of their winsome personalities or even because of their powerful preaching and teaching. In the end, God is the one who gives the increase.
A farmer can till the soil, plant the seed, and water the ground. But the farmer cannot make the plants grow; that is a work of God. When planting churches, we can do demographic studies of neighborhoods, hire talented ministry staff, and build marvelous buildings in superb locations. We can have ministers who write books and appear on television. But a church will not grow unless God causes growth. We can be willing and useful servants in this task, but God is still in control.
7. What did Paul mean by “every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour” (1 Corinthians 3:8, 9)?
The farming analogy continues. Paul makes the point that the planter of a field and the one who waters that field are engaged in the same overall task: bringing plants to a harvestable state.
What Do You Think?
What do you see as your primary area of Christian service in Paul’s farming analogy? Why?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Planting | Watering | Other area not mentioned by Paul
We are careful not to misunderstand what Paul means by “every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.” He is not teaching salvation by works (compare Ephesians 2:8, 9). The reward here is the fruit of the labor: new believers who hear the gospel and maturing believers who are growing in the Word. For those engaged in ministry, there is nothing more rewarding or satisfying than a church growing both numerically and spiritually. But we in the church, all of us, are God’s “husbandry” (co-workers) in His service.
In a final word picture, Paul switches from agriculture to architecture. We, the church, are also God’s building, an intentional, unified structure with Jesus as the cornerstone (see Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-6).
POINT TO PONDER
We are called into fellowship because of our union with Jesus Christ: He died for us; we were baptized in His name; we are identified with His cross. What a wonderful basis for spiritual unity!
Heavenly Father, may our hearts be undivided in our devotion to You. May we never be satisfied with divisions in our church, which is the body of Your Son, Jesus. In His name we pray, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Submitting to Christ brings unity.