Unity in the Assembly
1 Corinthians 1:10 – 4:21
1 Corinthians 1:10 – 4:21
Unity in the Local Assembly. Of all the disorders that existed in Corinth, Paul addresses the issue of division first. It was important that the assembly be united first before tackling the other issues. However, this does not mean that dis-unity in the assembly is an excuse to tolerate evil. Holiness becomes God’s house, and it must be judged. But to have the most success, the first item was to get the whole assembly on the same page. This was the issue that the house of Chloe had written to Paul about. There were other issues that were commonly reported (Ch. 5 – 6:11), and still others that the Corinthians’ assembly had written to Paul about (ch.7, v.1). Paul delays all other questions until later, because this issue of unity discovered a root; carnality among the Corinthians. That had to be dealt with first. Whenever there is division among God’s people you can be sure there is carnality.
O U T L I N E
The Character of Division: Tendency to form Schools of Thought
1 Corinthians 1:10-16
The Divisions and Strife Reported by the House of Chloe (vv.10-11)
¶ 10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all say the same thing, and that there be not among you divisions; but that ye be perfectly united in the same mind and in the same opinion. v.10 The first exhortation is regarding unity in the local assembly, and it is of such great importance that Paul invokes “the name of our Lord Jesus Christ“. Divisions had formed in Corinth; not a complete or formal schism, but tension along party lines.
But God is not content with words. God wants real unity; not merely agreeing to agree. He wants a practical display of “the fellowship of His Son“. There was nothing to reflect that in Corinth. In order to have real unity we must heal the “divisions” among us. Here is what real unity means, to “be perfectly united“:
- We should have “the same mind” – to have the same understanding of the scriptural principles in question.
- We should have “the same opinion” – to have the same judgment or conclusions as to the application of those principles to the situation.
11 For it has been shewn to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of the house of Chloe, that there are strifes among you. v.11 Division was the issue that the house of Chloe had written to Paul about (ch.1 – 4). There were other issues that were commonly reported (ch. 5 – 6), and still others that the Corinthian assembly had written to Paul about (ch.7, v.1). Paul delays all other questions until later, because this issue of unity discovered a root; carnality among the Corinthians. That had to be dealt with first. A godly woman’s household could be a particularly good source of information regarding the moral condition of the assembly. The natural byproduct of division (v.10) is strife between brethren. We might say, “it’s okay to disagree… we’ll get along just fine.” That never works. It always erupts into strife at some point. Notice that Paul is careful to do two things: (1) identify the source of the information (the House of Chloe), and (2) act on information reported by multiple brethren (“those“, plural). We should never act on rumors, hunches, or word of mouth; and it must be in the mouth of two or three witnesses.
Two kinds of rifts in scripture. The scripture speaks of two kinds of rifts between believers; inward and outward.
Paul makes it very clear that if the root of division is not judged, it “must needs” turn into a sect or heresy (1 Cor. 11:18-19).
A moral progression. We might notice a moral progression in the development of disunity: (1) differences of understanding → (2) differences of judgment → (3) divisions according to ideology → (4) strife between brethren → (5) formal creation of a sect.
Forming “Schools of Thought” around Men (vv.12-13)
12 But I speak of this, that each of you says, “I” am of Paul, and “I” of Apollos, and “I” of Cephas, and “I” of Christ. v.12 The Corinthians had begun to use common expressions or party-cries. When a disagreement came up, they would quickly state what party they identified with. We find here that the parties in Corinth had formed around notable leaders. It would appear that the Corinthians were not following Paul, Apollos, or Peter. 1 Cor. 4:6 it shows that he had wisely “transferred” these things to himself and Apollos “in a figure” so as to conceal the real names of their party leaders. The fault lay primarily with the followers. This makes sense too because Paul is the last person that the Corinthians would be following (1 Cor. 9:1-14). However, it is possible that the transferred names do have some significance. Sometimes divisions tend to form around types of ministry, and certain gifts, etc. For example:
- “I of Paul” might be those who are all about church teaching
- “I of Apollos” might be those who are all about evangelism
- “I of Cephas” might be those who are all about practical ministry (kingdom truth).
These three things are all good and necessary for the assembly, and we need to appreciate all that God has given. We are not to idolize any of the gifts. They are NOT to become the center of a division. And the saddest of all:
- “I of Christ” would be to make Christ the leader of a party. It was a very self-exalted tone; “I don’t need any of the gifts, I have Christ”. This is the party that claimed to be the most spiritual; an exclusive claim to Christ. Paul was really dealing with the most serious division in Corinth, the Christ-party. They were of Jewish background and had seen or touched Jesus on earth. They thought themselves a cut above the rest. Paul completely sets aside their claims to a higher spirituality in 2 Cor. 5:16, showing that our relationship with Christ is in the new creation. He addresses them again in 2 Cor. 10:7. But we can take an application of this. Self-exaltation can often disguise itself by disavowing the gifts and claiming utmost faithfulness to Christ; e.g. “I don’t need ministry, I just have my Bible.”
In Acts 20:30 Paul warned that after his death leaders would arise to draw away disciples after them. But here we find, during Paul’s lifetime, the converse had already begun: a desire among disciples to follow men. It begins with parties, but it ends with “perverse things“. An assembly needs a willing leader and willing followers to have a full blown sect.
13 Is the Christ divided? has Paul been crucified for you? or have ye been baptised unto the name of Paul? v.13 Paul now gives his condemnation of division. The answer is always Christ. Is there anything in the Person of Christ that hints of division? No. Neither is there division in His body. All is oneness where Christ is concerned. Next he turns the argument deeper by raising the question about crucifixion. The only one who deserves that place as the center of gathering is the one who has proven His love by being crucified for us. Several apostles were actually crucified; but none were crucified “for us” as a vicarious sacrifice. He also asks them to examine their own baptism: whose Name is Christian baptism unto? See Rom. 6:3 and Gal. 3:27. Any other name for a gathering center that men put forward is but a usurpation of Christ’s rightful place (Matt. 18:20). Sadly, in Christendom today many denominations do baptize to a human name, such as Luther or Wesley.
Paul’s Thankfulness that He had not Contributed to Disunity (vv.14-16)
14 I thank God that I have baptised none of you, unless Crispus and Gaius, 15 that no one may say that I have baptised unto my own name. vv.14-15 Paul was thankful that he had not contributed to the disunity at Corinth. In Acts 18:8 it says “many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptized.” Paul apparently only baptized two of them. Crispus was the ruler of the synagogue in Corinth, who was converted by Paul and his followers. Gaius was Paul’s host in the city of Corinth, and also had the assembly meeting in his home (Rom. 16:23). He had filled the void that would naturally have been created when Aquila and Priscilla moved from Corinth to Ephesus. But the fewness of those he had baptized showed that he could not be blamed for attempting to form a following. Paul did not do everything himself! He left a lot of room for others (probably Aquila, Timothy, Crispus, and Gaius) to baptize the rest. Sometimes if there is work to be done and no one is doing it we can think it would be better for me to just do it all myself. But that is not healthy for the assembly, and can lead to issues like those found in Corinth. It also requires those who are younger, quieter, and less forward to be stirred up about contributing — of course, first of all, we must have something to contribute. When one brother has all the responsibility it is not healthy. What happens when they are gone?
16 Yes, I baptised also the house of Stephanas; for the rest I know not if I have baptised any other. v.16 Paul recalls, almost in passing, that he had baptized the house of Stephanas, and almost couldn’t remember about others. The Spirit of God is in this way taking the focus off baptism. The natural man would make a big deal of religious ceremonies, but Paul acknowledges it, yet doesn’t over emphasize it. We find in 1 Cor. 16:15 “…ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints”. This was no small matter: that house (siblings and servants included) was the nucleus of that whole work of God in Achaia. It was something that Paul could have touted in pride, but he merely mentions it in passing.
Baptism of a household. Here we have the mention of a household being baptized. There is a great deal of confusion with regard to baptism. In Catholicism, they believe it is part of eternal salvation, which is entirely error. However, in Evangelical Christianity, they reduce baptism to merely the profession of faith, which is also wrong. The former view leads to the doctrine of infant baptism, the latter view leads to believers’ only baptism. The bible clearly teaches two forms of baptism: believers’ baptism for individuals who are converted, and household baptism for heads of households when the members may not have individual faith. Scripture distinguishes household baptism from believer’s baptism very carefully. When the Bible says a household was baptized, it never specifies which members were believing. The salient detail is the faith of the head of the household. When the Bible specifies that all members believed, it doesn’t say the household was baptized! Here are the four instances:
- The house of Lydia was baptized. It doesn’t say all were believers, and it uses the term “she was baptized, and her household” Acts 16:15. Note: when it says “the brethren departed from her house” it isn’t talking about her believing family members. Rather, it is talking about Timothy and Luke that were staying there while Paul and Silas were in prison. That is not a valid argument to claim that this verse proves all members of her household were believing.
- Crispus believed with all his household. Notice that it says “many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” but doesn’t use the term “his household was baptized”. Also later, in 1 Corinthians 1:14 Paul is listing those he baptized. He specifically mentions the households, and the individuals. He says Crispus, without saying “and his household”.
- The Philippian jailer was baptized with his house. He was told what he needed for salvation; “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” It would be inward salvation for the jailer, outward for his house, because the only mention of personal faith is on the part of the jailer himself. Yet he wastes no time in placing his family on Christian ground in separation from the world: “And he… was baptized, he and all his, straightway.”
- Paul baptized also the household of Stephanas. It doesn’t mention the personal faith of individual family members at the time of their baptism. However, we see that the household was later characterized by ministry (1 Cor. 16:15), which indicates that Stephanas brought up his children true to their baptism.
The point is, households were baptized without the faith of individual members being specified. The defining detail is that the head of the household believed; i.e. Lydia, Stephanas, and the jailer. In the one example of a household where all believed, the term “household baptism” is carefully excluded.