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Basic Bible: Divisions in Corinth

I Corinthians 1:1-16

The church at Corinth came into being in 51 A.D. after Paul visited the city and testified in the synagogue that Jesus was the Messiah. While some Jews believed, response among the Gentiles of the city was far greater and many were baptized (Acts 18:5-8). Paul ministered in Corinth for 18 months. His first epistle to the Corinthians was written from Ephesus in 55 A.D., more than two years after his departure from Corinth. The purpose of the epistle was correction. Divisions within the church had surfaced in his absence.

Paul’s epistles are scripture (see II Pet. 3:16) because his writing was inspired by God. The manner in which Paul addresses the errant believers provides a window by which we might see and understand the way which God corrects those whom He loves.

Paul’s initial words are not of condemnation. Quite the contrary. Paul addresses the church as being “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (v. 2). The church at Corinth is made holy by Christ Jesus as all believers are made holy — by calling upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Listen carefully to Paul’s words. Paul writes with full knowledge of the error of individuals within the church. The error of believers does not undo that which Christ has done. All believers, in every place, are made holy by Christ Jesus.

Paul makes it as clear as clear can be made. The Corinthians (and believers everywhere) enjoy a relationship of peace with God through grace which is given by Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah. Paul tells the Corinthians the things which he knows to be true. All that which is written in verses 4-8 is a single sentence in which Paul gives thanks. He tells the Corinthians that he is thankful for the grace which is manifested in them. Paul is thankful because they have been enriched by Christ in all utterance and all knowledge (v. 5). Paul is thankful that the testimony of Christ is confirmed in them (v. 6). Paul is thankful that they are not lacking in any gift (v. 7). Paul is thankful that the Corinthians will be found blameless when the Lord Jesus Christ shall return (v. 8). Paul’s thankfulness is not directed at the Corinthians; it is directed to God. Paul is thankful for grace, God’s grace.

In verse 10, Paul turns to the reason for which he has written this epistle. The Corinthians are not all speaking the same thing. The Corinthians are not perfectly joined in the same mind and in the same judgment. There are divisions within the church for this reason. Paul invokes the name of “our Lord Jesus Christ” that all should say the same thing, that all should be of the same mind and judgment.

Paul knows that there are divisions and that the divisions are quarreling. The contentions among them was made known to Paul by them which are of Chloe. The name Chloe appears in scripture this one time. The literal meaning of “chloe” is tender shoot. The contention within the church was made known to Paul by them who were of the house of tender shoots — by them who were young in knowledge, by them who were troubled by the divisions that they witnessed. Children are tender shoots. Children do not understand why mommy and daddy argue but children most certainly understand when mommy and daddy are not in agreement and that they should be in agreement.

In verse 12, Paul names names. He addresses four different factions: them which say they are of Paul, them of Apollos, them of Cephas, and them of Christ. Paul asks, “Is Christ divided?” The question demands an emphatic “No!” answer. Paul, Apollos, and Peter (Cephas) all knew Christ by believing. Those who say they are of Christ are, likewise, one with them with whom they disagree because Christ is not divided. One cannot know Christ if one does not believe. Paul believed because Jesus revealed Himself to him on the road to Damascus; Apollos believed because he believed the scriptures (see Acts 18:24); Peter believed because he was with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry. All came to know Jesus by different paths, but all knew Him as the promised Messiah who fulfilled every requirement of the law and, in grace, let His work be counted as the righteousness which they lacked.

Paul shifts the focus from himself and Apollos and Peter to Christ by reminding the Corinthian believers of the name in which they were baptized. Paul states that he is thankful to God that he did not baptize many of them. While Paul does not elaborate upon any specific thing which the house of Chloe made known to him, it would seem that he was aware that some claimed status because they were baptized by an individual which they perceived to be of position.

Status, real status, is given by Him who “. . . made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7).

There is no division in Christ. Let us abide in Him who strengthens the weak and brings the wisdom of the wise to naught.

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