It had been only 18 months since Paul left his newly formed church at Corinth. A trusted family had filled him in on what had happened to this fledgling body: fights, divisions, class envy, a return to paganism, and out and out sin. I picture Paul pulling his hair out and tearing his clothes as he hears the account. How could things go so wrong so fast?
Among the many problems one in particular is top of mind and occupies first place as Paul starts the body of his letter: factions in the church caused by pastor worship. I know when I say those two words they seem to disconnected: worship a pastor? Of course I would never do that-I worship God only! Oh really? Pastor worship is actually rampant today. Its roots and its antidote we'll see in several places in the book, but we begin in verse 10:
Paul uses a strong word to get the church's attention. "Urge" is also translated "plead, appeal, exhort." This isn't a minor suggestion or a tip. This is serious stuff. Paul ups the stakes even more by saying "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." This isn't Paul saying this, but the Lord.
He appeals to them as brothers and sisters, all related and in the same family. He wants them to "say the same thing." It doesn't mean he is handing out a script.
"Stop fighting!" Paul says. Be of one mind. "Division" is the Greek word where we get schism. Then it meant to tear something (Mark 2:21 - tear a wine skin). Rather, Paul wants them to be "united" which comes from a word used to describe the repairing of torn nets. Torn nets collect few fish and a torn body does not well fulfill the Lord's charge to make disciples.
Paul wants them to have the same worldview and the same actions based on that worldview. So often in the body of Christ we begin to drift away from a common understanding of who's boss and that leads us naturally into camps that compete against each other.
11 - 12
We don't know who Chloe is, or what members of her household reported to Paul. But it was not the news Paul was hoping for, I'm sure. This raises a question in my mind-what is the difference between reporting a serious problem and gossip?
Here are my thoughts:
* Getting in the middle of a conflict between two people
* Relating your personal beefs
* Pointing out the weaknesses/defects/sin in others
* Focusing on style differences and preferences
* Serious doctrinal defects being taught by leaders
* Serious issues with sin that is promoted in the body and purposefully ignored or even applauded by leadership
* A major portion of a body fighting with another
A "quarrel" is a Greek word that means to wrangle, especially in a rivalry. This wasn't a gentle discussion among equals, this was a Hatfield and McCoy rivalry shaping up.
Verse 12 gives us the meat of the contention: members of the congregation had begun allying themselves with a particular teacher-and some, perhaps above the fray, to Christ Himself but in a way that was over the others.
The odd thing about this is that Peter had never been to Corinth! So what was happening? One suggestion is that Paul drew a following of Gentiles as he was the apostle to the Gentiles. Peter's following included Jews since he was clearly a Jewish Christian. Apollos was a great orator and so may have attracted a following that way.
It points up often why groups break into schisms based on their leader.
Why does pastor worship come about?
* We more readily identify with someone we can see or hear about others seeing (Paul, Apollos, Peter) rather than an invisible Lord
* We tend to be closer affiliated with people that are like us and tend to be suspicious of those who are different
* We are competitive by nature, so we drift into camps that compete
* We are enamored with leaders who are dynamic, focused, and polished. It is surface over substance.
13 - 16
The result of schism is that it appears Christ Himself must be split. Some think you are going to hell if you worship on Sunday, others won't fellowship with you unless you have been baptized into their church and belief system. No wonder the world is confused.
We layer on Christ our culture, our interpretations of Scripture, and our justification for our particular behaviors. When we find leaders that support this, even encourage it, we follow them wholeheartedly and the world shakes its head.
"Is Christ divided?" Heaven forbid. It wasn't Paul who could have died for your sins or baptized you into His kingdom-only Jesus.
Paul the almost parenthetically dictates to Sosthenes his gladness that in reality he baptized only a few people so that it wouldn't have contributed to the problem.
Verse 17 can be a little confusing because Paul uses two negatives. He's basically saying "my job is to preach the pure gospel of the cross of Jesus because that's what changes lives." In a sense he is echoing his own words in Romans 1:16 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God's power for salvation to everyone who believes."
What's not said but implied is that all this stuff about forming into rival camps based on our cultural affiliation or who is most important or the best speaker does nothing to really help be a part of God's story.
I'm not saying that we should avoid talking about our church or our pastor. The line was pretty bright in Corinth, but it is not so much today. However, there is a subtle shift that happens when the first thing we think about when we reflect on ourselves as a Christian is the pastor or church or ministry we are affiliated with. We shift when we begin to think more about the sound-bites of our pastor than the Scriptures themselves.
What does pastor worship do to a church and a believer?
* We become dependent on a man or woman rather than on the Lord
* We build our theology on the sayings of men rather than the Word of God
* It weakens our theology
* It weakens our strength as a believer because we are no longer building on the meat of the word
* It encourages suspicions and rivalries rather than support and fellowship
* It sets us up for failure when we see pastors fail
What can we do about pastor worship?
* Remember we are only family with one head: Jesus Christ
* Remember that a church is but a local expression of Jesus, not a thing itself
* Remember that a pastor is an elder with responsibilities that should be respected, but not worshiped.
* Be wary of cultural, stylistic, and external preferences
We can avoid all this if we are diligent students of the Word and diligent in our relationship with the Lord, allowing Him full access to our lives.