Divisiveness seems to be the rule of the day in 2021. The war in Ukraine is the ultimate example of division, but there is more.
Division in politics, education, business, violence in cities, and even churches is rampant.
The Internet has many articles that attempt to address the question, “Why are we so divided?”
Most of the articles are of the opinion that social media amplifies division by providing an echo chamber for individual and divisive views.
This phenomenon does not explain the war in Ukraine, but it aptly describes the source of much division among people worldwide.
Dilhan Muttukumaru wrote about the division in the church.
“Having lived in certain parts of the world has convinced me that this fragile planet of ours is now in worse political, economic, social, and spiritual turmoil than ever before.
“I am further convinced that if any single institution can truly minister to the physical and spiritual needs of this hungry, thirsty, weary and lonely world, it is the church – the church-centered and deeply rooted in the boundless love and compassion of the revolutionary Jesus of the Gospels, the Word made flesh.
“The two opening words of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Our Father,’ should sensitize all Christians to the agonies and struggles of our brothers and sisters both nearby and abroad.
“It should make unthinkable a divided church or a divided Christ. Yet the Christian church is one of the most divided institutions today, and this to me is another of the great tragedies of our times.”
If we will listen to Paul in 1 Corinthians, we will learn how to be united in the midst of a divided world.
Report on Divisions
When the church in a city of 50,000 numbers only 60 members and those members are at odds with each other, you have a problem that needs to be fixed. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to solve this glaring problem.
Paul learned from the assembly that met in Chloe’s home about divisions among church members.
— 1 Corinthians 1.10-12 – Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.
12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”
Most people think of a building and a Sunday service when they imagine what “church” is all about.
There were no church buildings in the first century. The church was a local gathering of Christian people.
Most of the time, the church met in homes, and only on occasion did all of the Christians in a city meet together.
The largest homes in Corinth were able to hold 12-15 people. Taking the courtyard into consideration, it would be a very tight fit to have 60 people at a single residence.
The Christians in Corinth needed to be a unified community of Jesus-followers, and not competing house churches.
Paul called church members “brothers and sisters.” Even though there were divisions in Corinth, they still were part of God’s family.
The saying, “If God calls you his child, how can I not call you my brother or sister?” was evident in Paul’s address.
For Paul, believers become the “church,” when they assemble with one another for fellowship and worship. We will later see that the united church is designed to further God’s agenda in the world.
Apollos and the “Wisdom” Teachers
A person’s status and reputation were important to an extraordinary degree. People went to great lengths to enhance their standing in the community.
For example, the wealthy paid poor persons to come to their homes each morning and declare the greatness of their patrons.
Along with striving for status and reputation was the activity of the Roman forum. Various “wise” speakers would assemble in the forum with their followers.
The so-called “wisdom” of the speaker was not focused on the conveyance of instruction or guidance, but rather the ability to use words to enthrall the crowd.
Different speakers and their acolytes would meet in the forum and often make sarcastic fun of another speaker. The raucous environment would at times overflow into violence between differing groups.
Speaking in the forum was entertaining, aimed at status and reputation enhancement.
It appears that Apollos used some of the techniques of the “wisdom” teachers in the forum. His eloquence was persuasive and some of the church members favored him over Paul.
Paul and Apollos were fellow servants of Jesus, but the way the church resembled students of “wisdom” teachers needed to be checked.
I am using a commentary by Ben Witherington, and he does not know where the “I am of Cephas (Peter)” or “I am of Christ” groups fit in. I will follow his lead and only comment on Apollos.
The issue that confronted Paul was that his fledgling church looked more like the crowd in the forum than the children of God.
Application to Today
I am certain that I don’t have a complete answer to the question, “Why are we so divided?”
The issues of Corinth in 50 A.D. are similar to today’s environment.
The desire for status, power, and reputation through words and images occupies a large space in the culture.
TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are geared to cater to what individuals want to experience. Truth and facts seem to be of little importance, as long as the presenter tells us what we want to hear.
Followers of various Internet “heroes” become like their counterparts in the forum. They fight one another with words and at times more.
The church has a tragic history of division. The normal “rank and file” member of churches is not the source of trouble. Leaders, people like me, are those who create divisions.
Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to combat division. His arguments will unfold, as we study the book.
If we strive to live a Jesus-kind-of-life, which was advocated by Paul, we will be healers rather than divisive members in the body.
Rudy Ross and I have produced a YouTube video on this topic. Rudy has insights that will enhance your understanding of this passage. The video is on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel.
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