Community Group Study Guide — Factions
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Our world is often characterized by factions people who group up or rally around a common cause or identity. It can be something as simple as being a fan of a sports team and you go to a game where they are playing a rival or on the other end we have political and ideological factions formed around very different worldviews. We should expect factions to exist in the world because our world is not characterized by peace and unity; but as we learn in this First Corinthians passage factions should not characterize the church. As you read 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 you can quickly see that the issue was not theological division around core issues like salvation in Christ alone, God’s triune nature or the virgin birth of Jesus. The factions instead formed around personality, preference and their treatment of one another. Paul asks a poignant question in verse 13 that should be at the forefront of our thinking, “is Christ divided?” We will disagree with other brothers and sisters in Christ, but if we are both redeemed by Christ and following him in faith then you are “in Christ” and to divide with them would be the same as having a limb amputated or an organ removed. That is what makes this issue serious and we should read these verses and assess if we are making minor things major things, dividing with others over pride and are we celebritizing people or serving Christ?
Notice in 1 Corinthians 1:10 and 1:11 that Paul appeals to these factions as brothers and sisters; he wants them to remember their family identity which supersedes any sort of preference or ranking they’ve done in their church community. Paul takes it a step further imploring them to not quarrel or be divided (Greek word = schism or faction; something greater than just a disagreement taking place). Next Paul tells them to pursue the same speech, meaning they need to stop talking past each other. Likewise, they should be of the same mind and judgement, which we might say as “be on the same page”. The goal is not for uniformity but harmony about what it means to be faithful to Christ and part of his spiritual family. If you read just these verses you’d notice there was a serious problem. How’d they get there? The were divided because they had elevated their preference, worshipped personality and used that as a means to divide and claim superiority to one another.
Let’s explore this in verses 11-16:
Verse 11 gives us the occasion for why First Corinthians was written. Paul planted the church in Corinth and spent a significant amount of time there as we learned in Acts 18. Eventually Paul would move on to preach the gospel and plant churches in other cities and it is likely that he is in Ephesus at the time of writing this letter. While away, Chloe, likely a prominent business woman in Corinth, sends some of “her people” to Paul with a report and a list of questions from the Corinthian church. This letter breaks down into two main sections. In chapters 1-6 Paul responds to the report he heard from “Chloe’s people” and in chapter 7-16 he answers their questions which mainly have to deal with how the physical and spiritual aspects of life in Christ intersect, as well as what worship in the church looks like. We can see each new section in chapters 7-16 start with “now concerning” showing us this structure.
Take notice that out of all their question and all that Paul heard about the church from Chloe’s people, the thing on his mind first was their unity. This theme is what is primarily behind chapters 1-4 and their quarreling over people and preferences are front and center. The Corinthians were attaching their identity to their favorite preacher/speaker/minister; “I follow Paul”, “I follow Apollos”, “I follow Cephas (Peter)”… They divided into factions based on style, eloquence and rhetoric and attached their identity to these people. Let us recognize that there are some things worth dividing over. If we deny the Trinity, tell you it is ok to pursue sin or talk about the resurrection as a non-literal/non-historical event then you should look for a new church because we would not longer be affirming essential beliefs about Christ. However, that is not what was happening in Corinth, they instead clumped into divisions and factions around personality of these servants of God. You can see how serious it is because Paul sets these “I follow _______” statements in apposition with “I follow Christ”; this indicates to us that their identity with these servants of God had become almost idolatrous, they were getting really close to equating these servants with Jesus himself. Paul quickly reminds them that he was not crucified for them and therefore Jesus stands over every servant as Lord and Savior (1 Corinthians 1:13). Building one’s worth and identity and using these teachers as a means to that end is wrong. These servants all preached the same gospel and would all point the Corinthians to allegiance to Christ, and yet the Corinthians were finding their primary identity being “of Paul” or “of Apollos” instead of “in Christ”. Paul was not divided with these other servants; he spoke favorably of Peter (15:11) and Apollos (3:6, 16:12) in First Corinthians and he recognizes that they are all servants of God who have different roles in the body of Christ. Why then are they dividing with one another and celebritizing these servants of God? Well…, to maintain unity and peace in any community requires work, prayer and the right godward perspective.
Paul wants to make it clear that no one should or could accuse him of building his reputation and “party” in Corinth. To make this point he uses baptism and preaching as examples of how the Corinthians should be praising God but instead got caught up in celebritizing people.
First, with baptism Paul reminds them that they were not baptized into the name of the person baptizing them, but rather into the name of the triune God (Matthew 28:18-20, 1 Corinthians 1:13-16). Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians that he cannot even remember completely who he has baptized. He gives us an incomplete list that seems to add someone in haphazardly (Stephanas and his household), almost approaching it nonchalantly. The idea here is that the person doing the baptizing is not nearly as important as why one is being baptized, which is to declare their faith in Christ and their belonging in his body, the church.
Second, when it comes to preaching the gospel, if you walked away from one of Paul’s sermons and said “man Paul is such a great preacher” he’d say that you missed the point. The goal of preaching is not to celebritize the pastor; the goal is to exalt God. We are not advocating for boring sermons or ignoring ways to improve as a communicator. We are not advocating that it is wrong to share a sermon with a friend or to encourage a preacher for serving the Lord. However the Corinthians seemed to be rating their preachers based how entertaining they were or they matched Greek styles of communication rather than focusing on the clarity of the message and the power of the cross. Preaching needs light and heat. It needs truth from the word (light) and passion, skill in delivery and preaching to the heart (heat). The Corinthians seemed to look for the heat rather than how the sermon pointed them to the cross of Jesus. Paul’s goal in preaching the gospel = magnify the power of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:17). Our unity in Christ is centered on what he did and what he is doing in his church, which is why Paul turns next to the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) and the church (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
To summarize this section. Baptism and preaching were tools being used to create these factions and Paul wants us to instead correctly see that both things point to Jesus. Division in the church based on personality, ranking of value or preference is sin. Is Christ Divided? No. So let us be of the same mind, judgement and agree with one another instead of quarreling and dividing over insignificant things.
So, let us pursue unity built on good and correct theology and sacrificial love for one another. Let’s call quarreling what it really is: sin. Finally, let us marvel at the fact that God would take us as broken individuals and bring us into his family of faith and give God praise for the power of the cross.
Main idea: Where unity is not pursued factions will arise. Followers of Jesus who are united around things that are core to our faith will fight for unity and pursue being of the same mind, judgement and agreement so they can experience the peace of God and testify to the power of the gospel.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
What was at the root of the division and quarreling in the Corinthian church? How does one pursue being in agreement and of the same mind and same judgment with other believers?
What is Paul’s goal in his discussion on baptism in verse 13-16?
Read 1 Corinthians 1:5 and 17. The Corinthian culture was one that elevated public speaking gifts to a pedestal. How should a Christian evaluate a sermon?
What are some next steps you can take as an individual or as a community group to put into practice what you learned in this study guide, passage and sermon?