“Is Christ Divided?”
Paul began this
Epistle to the church at
He begins by reminding the Corinthians that they had been sanctified in Christ and been called of God. The apostle assures them of continued grace and peace from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, and of his continual thanksgiving to God for the grace bestowed upon them by Christ (vv. 3-4). He then proceeds to assure them of his complete confidence that the gospel and the boundless grace of God had been confirmed to them by the operations of God the Holy Spirit upon them in effectual calling, causing them to ever look for Christ’s coming (vv. 5-6). He goes so far as to assure these Corinthian believers that our ever-faithful God, who had called them into the fellowship of Christ, would at last bring them blameless into glory in the resurrection (vv. 8-9).
assurances of grace and glory were given by divine inspiration to the church at
All these things divided the local church
A Needful Lesson
I call your attention to these things because they set before us a very, very important lesson, a lesson of which we need to be constantly reminded. ― God’s saints in this world are often plagued with moral weaknesses, poor judgment, spiritual evil, and doctrinal error. So long as we are in this world, God’s saints (all of us) are sinners still. We dare not make excuse for our own sins or the sins of others, giving license to evil. But, even more importantly, we dare not make ourselves judges over our brethren, pronouncing those whom God has sanctified accursed. If men and women profess to believe the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ, they are to be received and embraced by us as our brothers and sisters in Christ, “not to doubtful disputations” (Rom. 14:2). ― “Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:4).
God’s Work, Not Ours
Such judgment is God’s work, not ours. There are many who think they have the ability to distinguish between sheep and goats, between tares and wheat, between good fish and bad, and try to make it their business to separate the one from the other. They foolishly and arrogantly think they have the ability to determine who is saved and who is lost. The fact is: ― No one has that ability. Our Lord Jesus pointedly tells us to let the wheat and tares grow together (Matt. ).
If we try to separate the good from the bad, we will do so basing our judgment upon the outward appearance. We have no other bases of judgment. That means, our judgment is always wrong. ― “For the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
If it were left to us, we would always run off the sheep and hug the goats, pull up the wheat and cultivate the tares, throw out the good fish and keep the bad (Matt. -30). Our business is to cast out the gospel net, gathering in fish, both good and bad, as the Lord determines, knowing that where Christ plants his wheat, Satan plants tares, and where Christ gathers his sheep, Satan brings in goats. It is the business of God’s church and his servants to faithfully preach the gospel. As we do, God will, by the preaching of the gospel, separate “the precious from the vile” (Jer. ), gather his wheat into his barn and bind up the tares for the burning. The gospel fan is in our Lord’s hand. ― “He will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. ).
It was during
Paul’s two tears in
In the first letter he had written, which he mentions in 1 Corinthians 5:9, Paul had obviously rebuked the saints at Corinth sharply because of the many things by which they brought reproach upon the name of Christ and the gospel of his grace. But the evil practices continued. However, it did at least get their attention, and they wrote to Paul asking him a number of questions (7:1), which he answers by divine inspiration in this Epistle.
Before answering their questions, Paul confronted the issues dividing the church, urging them to unite their hearts in the cause of Christ for the glory of God (). ― “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” (v. 10).
He asked in verse 13, “Is Christ
divided?” Of course, the answer is, “No.” Therefore, God’s people must not
allow anything to divide them. Let us ever bend over backwards, swallowing our
shameful, sinful pride (the cause of division), to promote the unity of God’s
church (Eph. 4:1-6). Anytime a person causes division in the body of Christ,
specifically in a local assembly of God’s saints, he
is courting divine judgment (1 Cor. -17).
The problems dividing the saints at
1. The members of the church were divided according to their admiration of one preacher over another ().
Some claimed to be followers of Apollos, the great orator, others of Peter, the apostle to the Jews, others of Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, and others of Christ. Roger Ellsworth correctly observes, ― “These ‘Christ-boasters’ were claiming that Christ belonged exclusively to them.” In fact, it appears that each group thought it had a corner on divine truth the others all lacked.
The cause of the division was clearly an infatuation with carnal, worldly wisdom and an utter failure to understand that the preaching of the gospel is the wisdom of God. The Corinthians vainly imagined (as many do today) that men and women could be persuaded to believe on Christ, converted, and attain spiritual knowledge by carnal means.
In chapter 1 (vv. 18-25) Paul declares that it is only by the preaching of the gospel that God calls out, saves, and teaches his elect. This, and this alone, is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” In verses 26-31 he tells us that the instruments God is pleased to use as his voices in this great work are themselves nothing (3:7). He uses nothings and nobodies to call out his elect specifically for the purpose “that no flesh should glory in his presence.” In chapter 2 he tells us that the power of the gospel preached is neither in the intellectual ability or rhetorical ability of the preacher, but in the gospel message itself (2:1-5).
“And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (2:1-5).
In chapters 3 and 4 Paul shows us clearly who God’s servants are and how they serve the cause of Christ. He has shown that God’s servants are all men with one message, ― “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” In chapter 3 he tells us that they are all totally insignificant and meaningless in themselves. Gospel preachers are but hoes and hoses by which God tills, and plants, and waters his garden.
“For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour” (3:4-8).
Yet, he carefully points out that those instruments God uses are to be respected as his instruments of good to the souls of men. God’s servants are not to be idolized; and they are not to be despised. They are to be respected, honored, and received as God’s servants; and each is to be equally respected, honored, and received as God’s servant. Though nothing in themselves, Paul says, we are “ministers by whom ye believed” (3:5) and “laborers together with God” (3:9).
Then he tells us that the only
labor that shall be of any lasting value is gospel preaching. God’s servants
all have one Foundation upon which to build and the church and
Stewards of God
In the 4th chapter Paul asserts that God’s servants are but stewards in the house of God. As such they must have no concern for any man’s approval or disapproval, but of God’s only, knowing that all things will soon be revealed in their true light (4:1-5).
“Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God” (4:1-5).
Only one thing is required of stewards ― Faithfulness. God’s servants are not required to brilliant or even smart, impressive or even mediocre, successful or even useful in the eyes of men. The one thing required of them is that they be found faithful, faithful to God, faithful to his glory, faithful to the gospel, and faithful to the souls of men. If one man is more useful or less useful than another as the steward of God, more talented or less talented than another, there is no cause for pride or division. God alone makes the difference (4:7).
The other problem and cause of division at
Worldliness, contrary to popular religious opinion, is not dressing like the world, eating and drinking like the world, or doing business where the world does business. Worldliness is the love of the world. Nothing is more dangerous to our souls than that which our Lord calls “the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches…and the lusts of other things” (Matt. ; Mark ).
It was the love of the world that caused the Corinthian believers to wink at one of their own living in incest with his father’s wife (chap. 5). Such a thing was commonly accepted in the Roman world; and they did not wish to offend or appear judgmental of ungodliness.
Paul demanded that the man be put out of the assembly, so that he might be converted from the error of his ways and to prevent him from corrupting the lives of others by the church’s obvious approval of his conduct. As Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us, we must sacrifice ourselves to him if we would keep the feast of faith and of the Lord’s Table “with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Sometimes that means saying publicly, “We do not approve of the evil the world embraces,” thereby inviting the world’s frowns and sneers.
Lust after material wealth (love of the world) further stirred strife in the church, so much so that they were suing one another in courts of law (chap. 6). Men who were destined to sit in judgment over angels were bickering about money and property before unbelievers!
How does Paul seek to correct the evil? Does he bring out the whip of the law? Never! He was addressing believers, people who live by a far higher rule and are motivated by a far higher principle. He seeks to correct the evil of their conduct, not by threatening them with punishment, but by reminding these Corinthian saints of what God had done for them in Christ by his marvelous grace (6:9-11, 19-20).
Beginning in chapter 7, Paul answers the questions the Corinthian church had asked in their letter to him.
Someone had persuaded some of these saints that if they would deprive themselves of natural, physical pleasure they would be more holy and spiritual. The particular thing about which they raised question was marriage. Would a brother or sister be more spiritual and useful if he or she chose not to enjoy the privileges of marriage? If so, then should married couples live as celibates? Should those who are married get a divorce, so that they can be more devoted to the Lord?
Ridiculous as these questions may appear to us, they were serious to the Corinthians. Once a person embraces the idea that evil is outside himself, there is no limit to the incredible extremes into which he will run to make himself appear more holy, devoted, and spiritual than another. I once knew a man who moved his family into a remote mountainous place, more than a hundred miles from the nearest neighbor (literally). When I asked him why he had done so, he answered, “I want to keep myself and my family holy”! Granted, such cases are extreme, but the evil behind such extreme separatism is very real and very common. The Holy Spirit warns us of it and urges us to avoid it in the strongest terms possible (Col. 2:16-23).
The essence of Paul’s reply to such foolish notions is just this. ― Holiness is not outward, but inward. Marriage, the privileges of marriage, and all other things in this world, except those things prohibited by God in his Word, are perfectly lawful and right. God did not save you to make life in this world miserable, but useful and meaningful.
Meats Offered to Idols
The same thing applies to meats offered to idols (chap. 8). If the Corinthian believer went to the meat market and bought a piece of meat, he did not need to ask whether it was meat left over from a pagan religious ceremony. If the person selling the meat made a point of the matter, or if one of his weaker brethren pointed out the fact that that was the case, he ought to choose something else to avoid offense.
In other words, the idol is nothing and its meat is nothing. We are at perfect liberty to use and enjoy anything in God’s creation for its intended purpose. But we must not use our liberty in a way that puts a stumbling block before our brethren.
Paul had labored with his hands at
Yet, a faithful man will never allow the unfaithfulness of others to keep him from doing what God has called him to do. ― “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel” (v. 16).
The Corinthian church had so perverted the ordinances of our Lord that every aspect of worship in their public assemblies was wrong. They appear to have mixed both the laws and ceremonies of the Old Testament and the practices of their pagan neighbors with the worship of God, much like churches do today.
In chapter 10 Paul tells us that all that
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.” (10:16-17).
Chapters 11-14 address the matter of order in the worship of God. Paul had been asked about the role of women in public worship, the observance of the Lord’s Supper, and spiritual gifts. All these things the Corinthian church was perverting. Paul commands that women are to keep silent in the church and show proper respect for men before God, particularly for their own husbands. He told the church to observe the Lord’s Supper in faith, discerning the Lord’s body, in remembrance of Christ, not as a religious party. And he required that in all things the worship services of the public assembly were to be in a decent, reverent, orderly manner. The rule in all these things must be the glory of God and brotherly love (; - 13:8).
In chapter 15 the apostle displays his utter shock that some of the Corinthians had doubts about the resurrection of Christ. He tells us that there is but one gospel and that Christ’s resurrection is vital to its message (15:1-4). Then he declares that our Lord’s resurrection from the dead is an undeniable fact of history (15:5-11). Next, Paul assures us that Christ’s resurrection guarantees the resurrection of all God’s elect in and by him unto everlasting glory and immortality (15:17-58).
“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet” (-25).
“Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (15:51-58).
As is ever the case with those who look for an excuse to be miserly in giving, the Corinthians asked Paul how much each should give and how. In chapter 16 he tells them and us that our giving is to be done as an act of worship in the house of God, as we gather in his house on the first day of the week, and that the measure of our giving is to be the liberality of love (16:1-3, 13).
Paul closes this Epistle urging us to “stand fast in the faith and be strong” (), to do all things in love (), and to addict ourselves to serving our brethren (). His very last word is an inspired word of condemnation against all who do not love the Lord Jesus Christ, and an inspired benediction of grace upon all who do. ― “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen” (-24).
 I do not suggest or imply that we are to embrace as our brothers and sisters in Christ those who deny the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ. Anyone who does not believe the gospel of Christ is lost, no matter what he professes, how loudly he claims to believe on the Son of God, or how pious and devoted he may appear to be in his outward behavior (2 John 9-10).