Summary: The effect of divisions in the church and how they arise.
Clicks, they are the bane of high schools! It seems to be the fate of teenagers to get caught up in them, either eager to get into some or eager to avoid others. But clicks are not unique to teenagers and high schools. As we are about to learn, adults are also prone to them even in (or especially in) churches. They have been around since the first generation of churches 2,000 years ago.
We move now into the body of Paul’s epistle. The apostle follows the basic form of letter writing in his day, baptizing the style with Christian features. As in that day, he begins by identifying himself and then his readers. Next, he gives a greeting that includes wishing the readers well and making positive remarks about them. Then, he starts to address whatever issues he may have, which are many in this letter. Let’s read.
10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
Unity is the first topic. My, my, in a church of all places some kind of division exists. Paul goes on to explain.
11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.
Why, there are actual quarrels! And somebody is telling on them! Who are these tattletales? We can’t be certain. The word “people” is “household” in the Greek. This could mean a family; it could also include the servants of the house or business. Chloe is a feminine name, so it seems that she is of woman of some means; probably has her own business, and it is reasonable to conclude that these people are her servants who travel on business. They have visited Corinth and returned to Ephesus where Paul is writing his letter. Beware of travelers in our midst!
Paul then gets specific.
12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”
How about that? The early Christians were groupies! This reminds me of the days of the Beatles, and we each chose our favorite Beatle – Paul, John, George or Ringo. What’s going on?
It appears that as the Corinth saints discussed issues in their church, there was developing general groupings identified by these names. It is a common phenomenon. An example happened this past weekend. I met a theology professor from Westminster. He asked quite naturally what seminary I had attended, which is Gordon-Conwell. I then mentioned my old professors, one of whom is Meredith Kline, an Old Testament scholar. Well, it has just so happened he was writing a paper on the debate between Kline and John Murray’s positions on some matter of kingdom theology. He was on the side of Murray. In our conversation he made reference to the “followers of Kline.” In this issue he was a follower of Murray and I suppose I a follower of Kline, except I didn’t understand the issue well enough to know.
It is easy enough to imagine the Corinthians debating some practice in church. Someone notes, “Paul says…” and is replied with “But Apollos addresses the matter so much better….” Another says, “I think we need to give greater consideration to Peter’s teachings. He, after all, is the chief apostle.” That is when the more noble minded chime in, “Well, I follow Christ.”
It is evident the church did not have organized parties under leaders. Paul was unaware of a “Paul Party,” and surely neither Apollos nor Peter would have condone any under their names. It doesn’t even seem like these were strong factions. Paul doesn’t describe what the actual differences were about, and he makes no more reference to them in the rest of the letter.
Why these names? Paul’s name is obvious, being the founder of the church. He certainly had his detractors. In chapter three he will present the complementary roles that Apollos and he played in the church. Obviously a number of the church members had become devotees of Apollos and were pitting him against Paul. Why Peter’s name? We have no record of him visiting Corinth, though he could have. As I indicated above, his name could have come up as the head of the apostles. This would have entered a conversation in which Paul’s authority is being questioned.
What about the “I follow Christ” crowd? What, after all, is wrong with following Christ? Though such a comment may seem the noble approach to take, in this case it is more likely comes from an arrogant attitude. Let’s go back to my conversation with the theology professor. What if in response to the Kline-Murray debate he was discussing, I retorted, “I don’t fall into either camp. I just follow the Bible.” That would have irked the professor, rightfully so, because following the Bible is exactly what these Bible scholars were trying to do. For me to claim to be a follower of the Bible, as opposed to following these men, would be to set myself above men far abler than I in examining the holy text.