Series on I Corinthians, II The Message of the Gospel, 1:10-4:21, A Fact. Text 1:10-17, Title: Unity First.


The apostle Paul says honor them to whom honor is due. This is a day to honor mothers. God says honor your father and mother. The failure to follow the divinely ordained order in the family causes chaos and destroys unity. It is the same in the church. And it is a two way street. In speaking of the fifth commandment the Westminster Larger Catechism warns not only inferiors, but superiors, that God’s order must be followed. Recently the coach of the Florida State football team was interviewed. Because a number of his players have had trouble with the law the reporter said, “You have been coaching for over fifty years. Do you see a difference in the young men?” His answer was, “Absolutely not, but I see a difference in the parents.” We must recognize the order God has established in family and church. Paul is an apostle speaking with authority. He is to be honored and obeyed. The first topic he addresses is unity. Unity is an indispensable ingredient for success. The apostle Paul having expressed his confidence in the Corinthians and in God immediately faces a problem. Since it is the first problem he mentions we may assume that in his mind it was the most important. If they did not have unity, addressing other concerns would be fruitless. Unity is a problem in every local church and in every denomination. Though sometimes disunity can be traced to legitimate concerns over doctrine, more often it has to do with not getting my own way. The point is that no matter how important we think our viewpoint is, unity is more important. That's what Paul is concerned with here as an examination of our text shows.

I The Conflict

The conflict is identified in verses 10-12, 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. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 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.” In my opinion a great deal of wasted energy has been spent on speculation as to what these people were fighting about. Did you ever know the apostle Paul to confront a substantive doctrinal issue and not drive it into the ground with a multitude of powerful closely reasoned Scriptural arguments? The fact that he says nothing at all here about the disputes is itself a commentary. It should tell us immediately that these were not important issues. They were trivial. The roots of these disagreements can not be traced to the preachers. Acts 18 and 19 make clear that Apollos had a significant ministry in Ephesus before Paul returned there to spend two full years preaching and teaching. There was no disagreement between them. Apollos also followed up Paul's ministry at Corinth. Peter, who is called Cephas here, not only supported Paul at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, but later in his second epistle mentions Paul's writings as authoritative and as expressing the same truths he was teaching. And all these men desired to preach Christ. So if the teachers were not the source of the disputes, what was? The source of the party spirit was the sinful nature of man. Human nature is such that if there aren't any problems we'll create them. in churches today there are those who emphasize ministry to youth and those who favor the senior citizens. There are those who want tightly reigned budgets and those who favor a leap of faith. There are those who like things the way the were and those who like them the way they will be.  Some people favor missions at home and others missions overseas. Some people like organization and others like freedom and we could go on and on. The whole point here is that unity is more important than our individual preferences, no matter how important we think they are. And it needs to be said that arguing these points of view is entirely appropriate, but we need to come to decisions and then stick by them. Unity! Harold Mininger the contractor who built our church in Lansdale, PA, told me a story. His own Mennonite church was considering building. One man was unalterably opposed. They had many meetings and in every one of the man got up and argued that they should not build but rather send the money to missions. Finally they decided to build. Harold was their builder. The day after the decision he arrived very early at the site. The men of the church were coming there to help. When he came early there was just one man present with shovel in hand. You guessed it. It was the man who had opposed the project in every meeting. He understood what Paul is talking about.

II The Commission

Paul does not try to promote his party above the others. this is another reason I do not believe there is an important theological issue here. in fact he uses himself as an example to get these folks to think about the important issue. the answer to the questions in verse 13-16 is an emphatic no! the three rhetorical questions are actually three arguments for unity, Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) Consider these arguments.

A The Body of Christ

“Is Christ divided?” asks Paul. Is he parceled out. No, there is one Christ he is the head we are the body. There ought to be a passionate devotion to unity on our part because the body of Christ is one. it has many parts, stronger and weaker, higher and lower, more or less gifted, but it is one body. It is a travesty to divide it.

B The Baptism of Christ

Consider in the second place the baptism of Christ. We are baptized into his body. In the ancient world great significance was given to the name of the one who baptized you. We have no corollary to this in our modern world except that a man said to me not too long ago i was baptized a Methodist and I'll stay one till i die. Actually nobody's baptized a Methodist and nobody's baptized as a disciple of Paul or Peter. All this attention to men is displeasing to God. it is my relationship to Jesus Christ that is all important. It is His baptism. it is a participation in Him that is vital. i am reminded of that place in Acts 4:12 where Peter says, Salvation is found in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. The emphasis on the name had particular significance for those people. In the last day at the final judgment when we must all appear before God don't mention my name, or D.James Kennedy's name or R.C. Sproul's name, or Charles Stanley's name. Don't mention a Presbyterian name or a Baptist name. Only one name can save because he was appointed to die for your sins and to cover you with his righteousness. which brings me to the third question.

C The Blessing of Christ

The blessing is that he died for you. Paul says "Did I die for you and was i crucified in your  place? God forbid you should think that. Your allegiance is to Christ because all blessing flows from the cross. The centrality of the cross is a subject that will occupy Paul in ensuing sections of this letter. The mere mention of the cross exposes the folly of their divisions. The cross is the place where we are all naked and undone. it is the place where our personal opinions and preferences count for nothing. it is the place where no man has an advantage over another. It is the place where nothing counts but Jesus and his love. Paul's desire is to get them back to the cross, back to repentance, back to that which really matters, so that they can see the foolishness of their divisions.

III The Conviction

Thus the apostle gives us his conviction 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. He will preach the gospel the cross of Christ. Now the human wisdom he mentions is exactly what they were arguing about. This is our clue to understanding the whole matter. The issues that separated them were not issues that were important enough to obscure their unity in christ. Their conflict was emptying the cross of its power because they were making these opinions more important than they should have been. I have no doubt that they thought their differences were important. What Paul is saying is that they were not. No church has ever existed where the critical and negative attitudes of the sinful human spirit have not been a threat. We always tend to major in the minors and to lose sight of what is really important. The ultimate lesson here is not that there shouldn't be differences or that we shouldn't debate them but rather that we must never allow them to empty the cross of its power. We must never permit them to obscure the gospel which unites us, or the calling we have to make Christ known. We must share the Apostle's selfless devotion declared in Chapter 2:2, For i resolved to know nothing while i was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We tend to think that the only time our country was not united over a war was when we fought in Vietnam, or at present. The American war for independence lasted eight years, from 1775 to 1783. At the time independence was declared in 1776 at least one third of the American colonists remained loyal to Britain. it has been estimated that if the populace was fully united behind the effort the bloody war for independence would have taken less than half the time. Unity is an indispensable ingredient for success just as much in the mission of the church of Christ as in a political revolution.