The apostle Paul was told that there was a problem in the Corinthian church. Verse 11 of 1 Corinthians declares that people from Chloe’s household have reported to him that there is quarreling among them. Now I want you to imagine this scene for a moment. When a letter was delivered to the messenger for the church, a person would read the letter before the whole congregation. So imagine that the Corinthian church has gathered to hear this letter from the apostle Paul. Listen to what Paul says:
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. (1 Corinthians 1:10–11 ESV)
Be United (1:10-11)
Can you imagine the assembly as they heard these words? I have heard reports that you are fighting! It is because they have rivalries and fighting that Paul makes this appeal. “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10 NKJV) I like the NKJV reading here because the word “same” appears three times in verse 10 and the NKJV reflects that literally in its reading. I want you to speak the same thing, joined together in the same mind and the same judgment. This is the goal for the church. This is what will keep us from having divisions.
Consider that there are two aspects that are required of us if we are going to fulfill the command given here by the apostle Paul. First, if we are going to speak the same thing and be united in the same mind and the same judgment, then we must be willing to adjust our opinions and world views to be in line with the gospel. The gospel shapes our mental framework and changes our world view. The gospel changes the way we think about ourselves, think about life, and everything else about our world. We cannot assume that we have the correct world view. We cannot think that our point of view is the right point of view and everyone else’s point of view is wrong. We will never be of the same mind until we come humbly to the scriptures and allow the gospel message change what we know and what we believe. We cannot have an attitude that does not care what the scriptures teach and that we will continue to think and believe the way we currently do. Our approach to the scriptures must always be one that is expecting to learn from God’s word, knowing that we are darkened in our understanding and need the light of the gospel to change us.
Second, if we are going to speak the same thing and be united in the same mind and the same judgment, then we must be together where there are opportunities to share our understanding of the scriptures. We cannot be of the same mind if I do not know where your thinking is and you do not know where my thinking is. We cannot speak the same things if we are not together speaking to each other. This is one of many reasons why every assembly we have is so crucially important. Our Sunday morning Bible study, Wednesday night Bible study, and Friday and Saturday Bible studies are the means of us speaking the same thing and being of the same mind and judgment. The goal is not for me to tell you what to think. The goal is for us to teach each other and learn from each other. We should see the importance of Bible study and place a high priority on getting together at every possible opportunity that we can grow together in the faith. This also means that we develop a culture in our gatherings where people are comfortable to speak what they are thinking about the scriptures so that we can grow together and not be in fear. This is why I try to be very encouraging about having open discussions in our classes and that they are not lectures. We should not be uncomfortable when there are disagreements because this is the process for us to be of the same mind and judgment.
Destroying Unity (1:12-16)
The apostle Paul now identifies what he hears is destroying the unity of the church in Corinth. It appears from reading verse 12 that people were lining up behind who they followed or thought was an important teacher. We listen to Paul. We listen to Apollos. We listen to Peter. We are the ones who really belong to Christ. What a mess! Paul responds by asking them if Christ is divided. Is this what it is supposed to look like with people putting their hope or identity in another human? Was Paul crucified for you or were you baptized in the name of Paul? Why would you line up with another human? Why would you put your hope in another person? That person was not crucified for you! You were not baptized by the authority and power of that person!
For us today, this means that preachers are not to be idols. It seems like this kind of thing happens a lot. We sometimes call it “preacheritus” in a joking way. I do not know how to prevent such a thing except to say, “Do not do it” and to not emphasize myself in any way to you. Persons and personalities must never become central to a church or to any individual. You do not follow me. You follow Christ. You do not listen to me. You listen to Christ. I am absolutely nothing. It has been noted a few times by people that my name is not on anything like the bulletin or the sign or what have you. My name is hopefully on nothing because you are not here to listen to me or to follow me. This was particularly interesting with our last gospel meeting. I left the names of the preachers off of the advertising flyer. Yet I had local preachers call me to ask who is preaching. In each case, I asked, “Does it matter?” Are you coming because it is Andy, Dan, Bubba, or Terry or because it is the word of God? Our excitement should be in that we know certain people will reveal to us the word of God so that we are amazed by God and see his glory through his word. But it is not about glorifying the person. My approach to preaching is that I need to get out of the way of the text as much as possible because it is clear and glorious on its own. I do not need to get in the way and mess it up. I preached a gospel meeting in a place and on the pulpit was taped the words, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” This is the point. You are not to see me or anyone else. You are to see Jesus and him crucified. This is exactly what Paul is saying. I didn’t die for you and you were not baptized into my name. You are not following Paul, Peter, or Apollos. You belong to Jesus and you follow him. A preacher has absolutely zero status. I just teach the scriptures and I am thankful that you are willing to support me in that work. We hope you are here because you are able to grow in God’s word and you are strengthened in the faith and encouraged to follow Jesus more every time you come.
Divisions will happen when preachers and teachers are held as idols. Unity only comes when we are centered on Christ alone, not on others. Humans must never make much of themselves. We are nothing and Christ is everything. Paul shows this in verses 14-16. Paul is glad he did not baptized many of them so that this would not be a reason for their boasting in Paul or following him. Glory belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ. It does not matter who baptized you. It does not matter where you were baptized. What matters is your faith at baptism like we see in Acts 19. Did you believe that your sins were being washed away when you in faith went down into the waters of baptism? The power is in Jesus, not in any human.
Do Not Empty the Cross of Christ of Its Power (1:17)
The reason Paul does not remember who he baptized is because the goal is not baptism but the preaching of the gospel. Preaching the gospel is the mission. Telling everyone how many people I have baptized is self-glorification. Paul was not concerned about that. He is going to preach the gospel. Paul will explain later that it is because God gives the increase. Paul can only plant and Apollos can only water. This is why preaching the cross is the goal. Far too many people make far too much out of the statement that Paul did not come to baptize. Obviously this does not mean that baptism is not important or necessary since it is clear by reading this paragraph that every person had been baptized. God draws people through his word and all I can do is proclaim that word to the world. We have no control over who receives the word and the kinds of hearts we proclaim this message to. This is Paul’s point. Who baptizes you does not matter. Further, baptism is not the goal. Baptism is faith’s response to the gospel but faith must continue forward from that point.
This brings us to the thrust of the argument. Paul was sent to preach the gospel, but not with words of eloquent wisdom so that the cross of Christ would not be emptied of its power. Some translations read that he did not preach with clever words or clever speech (NASB, HCSB, NKJV, NLT, NET). What we see with the Corinthians is that they were far more concerned with polished oration than with the content of the message. We live in a similar culture today. People are far more interested in how you say something rather than what you are saying. You can say all kinds of things (think of our politicians) if you have cleverness of speech and are wise in word usage. But often what is said, the content of the message, is ignored for the polish. So Paul must deal with this. This is not a criticism against those who are good speakers. Remember that Acts 18:24 tells us that Apollos was eloquent with words. Being a good speaker is not a negative but it is certainly not the goal. I know some preachers who are not good speakers in terms of being dynamic or exciting, but the content is amazing as they consider and expound upon the word of God. The content is what should matter.
In fact, Paul says that he wants to make sure that he speaks in a way so that the cross of Christ is not emptied of its power. Eloquence and presentation must not be a distraction from the presentation of the gospel of Jesus. We do not want anything to get in the way of showing the power of the cross. Everything we do must be done so as to not distract from the word. I think this happens a lot in many denominations and churches today. We try to entertain to keep people’s attention rather than present the word. Stories and illustrations are told, not because they help us understand what God is teaching, but because it is funny, cute, or memorable. This is flat out wrong and is emptying the cross of its power. We do not need to jazz up the word of God. We are not going to offer coffee, food, entertainment, and the like because we do not want to empty the cross of its power. When we pander to the world and its wisdom, we detract from the cross of Christ. Drawing people to the preacher is a failure. True preaching draws people to the cross of Jesus. We want to see Jesus in his full glory, not have our eyes taken away from the cross because of the person who stands in front of you. The concern is the gospel with its focus on the cross of Christ. We must be like Ezra. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. (Nehemiah 8:8 NIV) It is not about show. It is about substance.
Paul makes his appeal that Christians who are working together in a congregation be of the same mind and judgment. The primary way we can fight against divisions is to remember that this is not about us and about the proclamation of the cross of Jesus. Let us keep our focus on Jesus as we strive to work and worship together for the glory of God.