A Divided Body – 1 Corinthians 1:4-17

In their book, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Philip Yancey and surgeon Paul Brand describe division in the body of Christ like this,

“Using the analogy of the human body, there are some diseases that can spread infection through the body of Christ.  The mind can become swollen with pride.  The heart can grow cold and indifferent because of sin.  The digestive system can get clogged by sterile theory and unapplied theology, so the body can’t digest what needs to be turned into energy or eliminate what needs to be released.  When that occurs we start to fight among ourselves or we lose our equilibrium and find ourselves unable to stay balanced . . .

Sometimes a dreaded thing occurs in the body — a mutiny — resulting in a tumor.  A tumor is called benign if its effect is fairly localized and it stays within membrane boundaries.  But the most traumatizing condition in the body occurs when disloyal cells defy inhibition.  They multiply without any checks on growth, spreading rapidly through the body choking our normal cells.  White cells, armed against foreign invaders, will not attack the bodys’ own mutinous cells.  Physicians fear no other malfunction more deeply:  it is called CANCER.  For still mysterious reasons, these cells – and they may be cells from the brain, liver, kidney, bone, skin, or other tissues – grow wild, out of control.  Each is a healthy, functioning cell, but disloyal, no longer acting in regard for the rest of the body.

Even the white cells, the dependable palace guard can destroy the body through rebellion.  Sometimes they recklessly reproduce, clogging the bloodstream, overloading the lymph system, strangling the body’s normal function – such is leukemia.

Because I am a surgeon and not a prophet, I tremble to make the analogy between cancer in the physical body and mutiny in the spiritual body of Christ.  But I must.  In His warnings to the church, Jesus Christ showed no concern about the shocks and bruises His Body would meet from external forces.  “The gates of hell shall not prevail against my church,” He said flatly (Matt. 16.18).  He moved easily, unthreatened, among sinners and criminals.  But He cried out against the kind of disloyalty that comes from within.”

Last week we saw, even in just the first three verses, that Paul had two major challenges facing him as he wrote to the church at Corinth. One challenge was to reassert his apostleship and authority over the church. But he had to do this in the midst of his second challenge, which was to rebuild his relationship with the church while simultaneously correcting their behavior and theology. Paul continues to strive for these goals as he heads into the next several verses (vss. 4-9) which contain his thanksgiving for these people.

Paul’s Thankfulness for the Church (1:4-9)

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

As we will see, this church was full of divisions, pride, and worldliness, yet, Paul says here that he was thankful that they had come to know the grace of God. He was thankful for their salvation. In spite of their current sin and disobedience, and he had the wisdom to try to start out tactfully by expressing his thankfulness for them – which was actually thankfulness to God.

In verses 4-5 he reminds the church of the fact that anything good within them (the grace and the gifts they had received) had come from God, not themselves. Paul reminds them that, “…in Him (Christ) you have been enriched in every way…” In verse 6 he goes even further to explain that they didn’t initiate their salvation either. It came from Paul’s testimony about Christ to them. Paul is beginning to work toward building humility back into the mindset of the church. They had become prideful and arrogant and Paul wanted to encourage them by recognizing and giving thanks for their salvation and their spiritual gifts, but he also wanted them to remember that these were gifts given to them, not things they had earned or achieved.

It’s actually quite amazing, that here in verse 5 Paul gives thanks for their spiritual gifts – specifically speaking and knowledge – because these were two of the very things that they were practicing incorrectly. But we see that as he mentions their blessings of spiritual gifts he reminds them in verse 7 that while they have been blessed with these gifts, they have not arrived in Christian perfection just yet – they are still awaiting perfection as they await the glorification of Christ in His final return. Paul says all of these things in an attempt to encourage them to be humble.

He continues on in verse 8 encouraging them to be humble by recognizing that they were not yet blameless, but that they would be on the day of Christ. And he reminds them that they will be blameless on that day, not because of their own righteousness, but because “God is faithful.”

As we look at these initial verses, we learn some important things about how to treat others within the body of Christ. There will be times that others in the church let you down. We know this because none of us are perfect. But in these moments, remember five things:

  1. You mess up all the time and find yourself in need of grace, so respond to others with humility.
  2. When you mess up, you want others to respond to you with kindness. Be sure to extend that same grace to others.
  3. The person you are frustrated with is a work in progress, just like you. Encourage them to stay the course rather than dwelling on their mistakes.
  4. Your brother/sister in Christ is fighting a very real spiritual battle with Satan and you are on the same team, so work together to fight against him.
  5. God is faithful. Pray for those who are less mature in their faith with a view of God’s faithfulness and of His grace and patience with you.

In addition to learning how to treat others in the body of Christ, we are also reminded of the goodness and grace of God in our salvation. Not only is it impossible for us, in and of our own power, to earn forgiveness of our sins, but we are so depraved that without God’s grace, we would never even seek Him. Jesus explained in John 6:44 that, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.” We do not seek God. We can’t earn forgiveness. We can’t live in righteousness. We do not have spiritual gifts in and of ourselves. Salvation is an act of God from beginning to end. And in light of that, we should have a humility and grace about us that defines our attitude toward others and preserves our dependence and submission to God.

After his greeting and expression of thankfulness for them, Paul moves into the main body of the letter where he speaks to the problems at hand and exhorts their behavior. This begins in verse 10 of chapter 1.

The Problem (1:10-17)

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Paul begins with the goal of any good pastor – he pleads with the church to be united so that they can mature in their faith. This is the whole reason Jesus gave us pastors and teachers in the church. Paul explains this in Ephesians 4:11-16 saying,

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Paul knows, and we, like the church at Corinth, need to be reminded that the church is the representation of Christ on the earth until He comes back. Do you remember Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17? This is what He prayed in verses 20-21 – “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” He prayed that His followers would be one, so that the world would believe that God had sent Him. In other words, the church’s unity greatly impacts whether or not the world will believe that Jesus is in fact the Messiah. That’s how important this is.

It’s hard to see in English, but in the Greek Paul uses the word “same” three times in verse 10. He tells them that we wants them to say the SAME thing (or agree on doctrine). He wants them to be united in the SAME mind (or understanding of Christ). And he wants them to have the SAME judgment (or resolve to follow Christ alone).

He goes on in verses 11-12 to explain how he knows about their divisions. He tells them that some members of one of their house churches (the one that Chloe hosted) came and told him that they were bickering over which of their pastors they preferred. Wanting them to see how ridiculous this argument was he proceeds to ask rhetorical questions in hopes of awakening their sensibilities.  He asks, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” The obvious answer to all of these is a resounding NO. Paul wants them to see that he, Apollos, and Peter all wanted them to follow the only One worthy of following – Jesus – so they needed to stop bickering over their selfish preferences.

By mentioning that he heard about their divisiveness from Chloe’s household, Paul is delicately calling them out for not mentioning this problem in their letter to him. He is politely insinuating that they weren’t completely honest with him by hiding this problem and he likely hoped that by calling them out on it the Holy Spirit would convict them of their lack of integrity and use that to bring about some much-needed humility. He also probably wanted to hold them accountable by pointing out that their divisiveness was a publicly known matter and consequently served as a bad witness for Christ. Both of these points served Paul’s purpose of building a case for his authority over them and their need to follow his instruction.

The Danger of Emptying the Cross of Christ of Its Power

Finally, Paul says in verse 17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” The main focus of Paul’s ministry was always to point to Jesus. He wanted the church to stop arguing over petty and unimportant preferences such as which preacher they liked best and focus on what really matters – proclaiming the gospel of Christ.

Paul is about to explain the power and wisdom of the gospel of Christ by comparing the wisdom of God to the wisdom of man. We will hear him say in verse 25 that “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” And what we will find Paul driving at is the fact that, for a believer, there is nothing more important than the gospel message. The church at Corinth was in desperate need of this lesson because they had become arrogant and worldly. They had begun to think that they were special because they knew Jesus. They considered themselves smarter and more holy than others. And they had placed the worldly values of wisdom and miraculous signs above the biblical values of faith and humility and grace. So Paul needed to readjust their focus from themselves to Christ.

He begins to speak to this idea in verse 17 by reminding them how he had preached the gospel to them, and he describes his preaching as – “not with words of human wisdom.” In other words he was saying, “You didn’t respond to my preaching because I was a great speaker or because my arguments forced you to respond intellectually.” He wanted them to remember what led to their faith and put their faith in the power and wisdom of God and the influence of His Holy Spirit on their lives. He wanted them to see that they didn’t respond to the gospel because they were smart or holy. They didn’t respond to the gospel because it was simply a good idea. They responded because of the movement of the Spirit within them softening their hearts and minds to submit to their Creator. Paul’s point here (and in the following passages) as he compares God’s wisdom to human wisdom is to redirect the church to its primary focus of knowing and proclaiming Jesus. And he explains that if we lose our focus and begin to try to conduct our activities based on human wisdom we will empty the gospel of its power.

That’s an interesting and profound concept isn’t it? The idea that we could somehow empty the cross of Christ of its power. Is that possible? What does Paul mean by that?

What we will see next week is that the church at Corinth was emptying the gospel of its power in several ways, and unfortunately we see many of the same things happening today. The cross of Christ is emptied of its power when we:

  • Try to make it salvation a merely intellectual transaction (1:21)
  • Demand proof (or signs) (1:22)
  • Attempt to earn our salvation (1:26-27)
  • Boast about our salvation (1:29)
  • Have divisions within the church (1:10)


The Power of the Gospel

In his book, Hope Again, Chuck Swindoll writes, “Union has an affiliation with others but no common bond that makes them one in heart. Uniformity has everyone looking and thinking alike. Unanimity is complete agreement across the board. Unity, however, refers to a oneness of heart, a similarity of purpose, and an agreement on major points of doctrine.”

Like the church at Corinth, if we desire to move forward and represent Christ to the world and proclaim His gospel to the lost, we will only succeed if we do so in unity. We don’t have to agree on the style of the music. We don’t have to agree on paint colors or programs. But we must agree that our only hope in life, our only saving grace, our only purpose in this world comes through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We must agree and hold out as the priority for our lives the truth that God, in His perfect love and grace, sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to earth – that He might live a perfect life and die and sacrificial death which would provide the only possible means of atonement for our sin and enable us to be forgiven and made righteous in God’s sight through faith. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. I call on you today to submit to it, to live from it, and to dedicate your life to proclaiming it to the ends of the earth.

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