It is rather important to keep in mind that the church at Corinth is, in spite of her many sins and imperfections, most emphatically the church of God. Paul addresses this church as the called saints, saints in Christ, together with all the people of God, who call upon the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Living members they are of the body of Christ, and such they would remain forevermore. For God is faithful who hath called them into the fellowship of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore she shall surely be presented in that day a church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.
But this church is at the time when Paul writes this epistle to her far from this final perfection. If ever a church showed that she has only “a small beginning” of the new obedience it is here. Fact is, that this church in good part was not even living up to the spiritual manhood in Christ that begins to live not only to some but according to all of God’s commandments.
To bring this church to that “perfection” (see Eph. 2:6). Paul here addresses a Word of reproof and correction in righteousness, so that this church may indeed be equipped, be in that spiritually readiness and purpose of mind to walk in all good works.
What was wrong in this Church?
There were several evils in this church; evils that had crept in and would eat through the entire body as a cancer. However, the particular evil we would call attention to is that described and refuted in I Corinthians 1:10-17. In these verses we read the following:
“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. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you . . . . For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.”
In these words we have a very keen analysis and a very strong rebuke of the schism and party-strife in the church of God at Corinth.
It is the rebuke of sinful schism in the body of Christ where the unity of the Spirit should be kept in the bond of peace.
Notice of this schism had been brought to Paul “by the house of Chloe,” a house-church under that name. Whether this word had come to Paul by means of a letter, or whether it had come simply by a committee delegated to bring this sad news to Paul we are in no position to state. The state of affairs in the congregation was such that silence could no longer be maintained and word was brought to Paul, who was at this time at Ephesus.
Although an allusion is made to four types of partisans in Corinth, to wit, of Paul, Apollos, Cephas and Christ, yet one should not draw the conclusions that there were four parties in this church. For the text in verse 12 does not state that “some” were saying we are of Paul,we of Apollos etc., but rather “each of you” is saying “I am of Paul” etc. The picture is rather a confused din of voices; there is much confusion, and it affected the entire congregation. It set the whole church on fire—this party—strife spirit did. None was exempted from it. And out of this confusion we hear in strong staccato notes: “I, indeed, am of Paul, I of Apollos, I of Cephas and I of Christ.” All sane discussion had gone out of the window and in its stead had come a mad clash and strife over the talents, personalities and preference for preachers! Such is the partisan spirit in this church of God at Corinth!
Attempts are made to try to show the reason for these preferences. If there are any reasonable considerations at the bottom of this party-strife, they may be conjectured to be the following:
1. Those who were partisans of them who cried “I am of Paul” evidently were sent down this evil road by the consideration that Paul was the first preacher, the apostle in Christ He had preached to them first in the synagogue and later in the house of Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, which stood right next door to this place of worship. They were the followers of a mere man, a “leader in the church.” They forgot, or probably had never profoundly learned, that Paul is a “minister” (diakonos) by whom they believed. They did not see Paul in his proper place in the dispensation of God, and therefore gave an improper and doting disproportion to Paul’s place in God’s church. These were the “Paulites!”
2. Once down this unholy line of conduct and thought, which is void of all spiritual sobriety, the temptation is there for others to choose Apollos as their man. He was a man of learning and of culture, a man of words schooled in Alexandria, a man mighty in the Scriptures. And in the blurred vision of respect of persons these doting partisans too could not see that Apollos was but an earthen vessel, a mere man, yet called to be a minister, a messenger to bring the tidings of good things. These seemed to be the men who were inclined to rhetoric in the preaching, although Apollos is not guilty of having incited this feeling among the readers. The blame is with the Corinthians. For this party-strife is due to their not being willing and ready to all have the same deep inner feelings toward each other, to mind the same thing in the Lord.
3. Of course, there were also the Peter-partisans, who were more or less inclined toward legalism, perhaps. Or they might claim him as being an apostle of greater rank than the others since Christ had addressed him as “Peter,” the rock upon which he would build the church. These too lack the sobriety which sees that Peter is only great when the Lord makes known to him His secrets concerning greatness in the Kingdom of heaven.
4. And, finally, there are the “Christ-partisans.” These were correct in condemning the parties of the others, but probably did so in such an arrogant manner that it was impossible for them to restore the unity and the unanimity so sorely needed in the church. Ipso facto they simply became another party next to the other partisans. Since they did not try to restore and heal in the spirit of meekness, but rather uttered hard staccato cries: I am of Christ! they too helped tear the church of Christ in pieces. Truly the latter should give us all reason to reflect whether we are really the peacemakers who shall be called the sons of’ God”!Matt. 5:9. It is the truth of the mote and the beam which lies demonstrated in this party “I am of Christ!” Paul too is of Christ, but he does not do this in a holier than thou attitude, but rather in that mellowness and love, and fatherly wisdom and fearless courage which would bring all under the dominion of Christ, subjecting our every thought to His Word!
From the above it appears that there may be some ascertainable starting point in these partisan confusions and every evil work, but that at bottom it is not something which belongs with our “reasonable service,” but belongs to the works of the flesh. Such is often the case where there is sinful schism and when we try to analyze those who work schism. One fails to see the reasonable service of Christ, as this reasonableness is taught us in sound words of wisdom in Scripture, in those who are filled with a partisan spirit and do not live out of faith, according to His law and unto His glory.
Well may one pray: lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from the evil one, that is, “since we are as weak in ourselves, that we cannot stand a moment; and besides this, since our mortal enemies, the devil, the world and our own flesh do not cease to assault us, do thou therefore preserve and strengthen us by the power of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may not be overcome in this spiritual warfare, but constantly and strenuously resist our foes, till at last we obtain a complete victory.” Ques. 127 of Heidelberg Catechism.
When Paul would still the angry tempest of the flesh, this mortal foe in this church at Corinth he does so in such a way that he does not capitalize on the situation to enhance his own prestige (read Phil. 1:15-18), but rather he so writes that all the attention is drawn away from the ministers of the gospel to the content and purpose of the gospel. Rather than in any way becoming involved in this mad party-strife he placed first of all himself, and then those that read and hear him under the Word of the cross. Such is always the proper order. Let it never be forgotten! And if we have forgotten it let us confess it humbly before our God lest His anger rise against us but a little—and we be consumed!
Schism in God’s church is a great evil under the sun. It is a great evil under the sun as it shines Anno 1955, October 20 also! And therefore we do well to take the shoes from off our feet and pray with the psalmist: “Search me o God and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts: and see it there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”
We must know therefore whether the “schism” which we see in our midst is a schism (spaldung) which is caused by the Word of the cross or whether it is due to wisdom of Words. Then it is reduced to its last denomination. Thus, of course, it must be in the holy place, and thus it is done by Paul here through our Lord Jesus Christ. (See verse 10). Of course, such parliamentary considerations as rules of majority and that of “unanimity” are considerations which are indispensible in conducting the affairs in God’s church in proper order. And these are the matters which are dealt with in civil courts. But in the court of God the last, the rock-bottom question is: is the schism in the Church one which is the manifestation of the falling and rising again of many in Israel, and that, too, because Christ was thereunto set and appointed by the Lord!
When this “schism” is present and when there is a showdown battle between these two forces then there is not power on earth to keep them together in the true unity which has the sanction of God in Christ. But where it is the disunity of the flesh waging war and assaulting the unity of God in Christ in His church—then the wisdom of Solomon and courage of David and the meekness of Moses—all men of like passions as we can cause the sword to stop destroying in Israel. Then it is not the sword of the division of Christ, but it is the sword of mere man, the puny sword of Peter which must be put back into the sheath! The former makes separation between the church and the world in the church here below, while the latter makes separation between brother and brother in the Lord.
The latter was true in Corinth.
It was the flesh in the church. This must be crucified.
And since God works grace through admonitions Paul will admonish this church so that she may indeed be of the same mind and the same speech: there be no schism in the church, the body of Christ.
With what masterful spiritual skill Paul handles the sword of the Spirit in this given situation tie hope to trace in the next installment, D.V.
He does not get involved in this brawl over personalities, but as the wise builder builds upon the foundation besides which there is none other, in order that his work may stand the test, and not be burned while he himself be saved as by fire.
Having cried out the victory for others he himself does not become a castaway!