10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
–1 Corinthians 1:10-17
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
–1 Corinthians 1:1-5
It seems that our country is divided over everything. I mean, we can’t even have a little fun when IHOP changes its name to IHOb just to draw attention to itself. We all want to claim the moral high ground based on the values that are important to us. For some, obeying law and respecting authority is the highest value. For others, justice and mercy are the highest values. And then there are many others who find themselves on a spectrum between multiple other values that include the two I listed already. We don’t think the same way. But we must acknowledge that we are influenced by powerful values and the leaders who embody those values.
I find it fascinating how the Apostle Paul dealt with a church that struggled with many divisions. The church in Corinth was his most diverse community and most divided church. There were many social, political, and economic divisions within the church alone (Pauline scholar Douglas Campbell points to 15 divisions Paul addresses in his letters). How did the people of Corinth deal with their problems? They separated into “factions” based on partisan issues (partisan means strong supporter of a party, cause, or person). Each of these factions claimed their own ‘leaders’ – they co-opted Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter) and even Jesus! Christians were slandering and quarrelling. Paul addressed this by sending good news to bad Christians in 1 Corinthians. Paul starts his letter by writing, “let there be no divisions among you, but be united in the same mind and the same purpose…it has been reported there are quarrels among you…some say “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos” or “I belong to Cephas” or “I belong to Christ””.
I love how Paul does this. He starts with himself as the lowest “claimed faction” leader and moves up to Christ. After all, if your are in a faction that claims Cephas (Peter) or Christ you have way more authority than Paul or Apollos! But Paul calls this for what it is: if you think you have the moral high ground just because you claim Christ and turn him into a leader of your faction, you are sadly mistaken. You think that makes you right? Christ can not be divided. Christ is “faction-less”.
If we want to follow Christ, we must follow Christ. You can’t follow another faction leader or even their ideals. You can’t divide Christ and claim him for your faction. You can’t slander the leaders of other factions. You can’t slander or quarrel with members of a different faction. If you are followers of Christ, you must love one another in the midst of your differences and you must stop tearing each other down. This is Paul’s central lesson in 1 Corinthians. “You have divisions…okay; but what are those divisions rooted in? Your faction’s belief system? That is not what I taught you.” Christ is not a faction and he is our primary leader. Christ gets the highest allegiance over every other leader. No one gets more loyalty than Christ…not Paul, not Apollos, not Cephas, and not any other earthly leader. Only Christ…and we don’t get to divide Christ’s teachings into what we like and the what we don’t like. We must follow his teachings and embody his actions. We must remind ourselves of the greatest commandment he gave us and lay the rest down at his feet.
- First reflection: How much of our quarrel, slander, emotional frustration, division, etc. is rooted in one of our factions? Can we acknowledge that we are part of a faction that influences us more than Jesus’ teachings? (nationalism, political party, ideology, denominational, etc.). These are questions we can only answer for ourselves if we hope to be transformed by Christ. It starts with me.
The second thought has to do with HOW we deal with our divisions. Have you noticed how frustrating it becomes engaging in discussions trying to outdo one another with facts, resources, words, definitions, history, and laws? You say something, I counter with another fact, you counter back, I counter back…it escalates and escalates and all we are left with is bitterness and frustration. We try to out enlighten one another…as if some report or study or quote will convert the person we disagree with. We post a new article from our favorite faction-news-outlet and…BOOM! (Mic drop…walk off stage). It doesn’t work that way. Why? Because as long as we have loyalty to a faction, whatever that faction is, we will remain loyal. Our worldview will not be changed by any human argument against it as long as our allegiance is locked in. Albert Einstein once wrote, “…a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” His quote evolved into, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Use all the articles and news reports you want from your faction outlets. Those who disagree with you will discount them before they even read them. There will be no boom. There will be no mic drop. Just more frustration and anger.
This is what Paul addresses to the Corinthians. He doesn’t use “words” to argue divisions or try to solve the problem. Words won’t work. Paul knows the same words that created the problems can’t solve the problems. Paul wrote, “when I came to you, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom…I decided to know nothing but Christ and him crucified…my speech and proclamation were not in plausible words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God.” Paul realized he had to shine a light on the demonstration of the Spirit, not words. He reminds them that he didn’t proclaim Christ with words but with the power of God. Corinthians were brilliant, cosmopolitan people…words alone would not convert them. Paul did not depend upon the wisdom of the “rulers of the age” (whether philosophical or political), instead he pointed to the things taught to by the Spirit…spiritual things modeled in loving action…things embodied by the life and teachings of Christ, revealed by the power of God.
- Second reflection: In what ways do we depend on words, teachings, eloquent rebuttals, news stories, research data, etc. to try to convince other factions they are wrong? Are we willing to admit that we look for information and listen to the voices of our own “factions”? Can we see the fallacy of depending on the wisdom of the rulers of the world to try to change other peoples views? How do Paul’s words challenge those of us struggling with divisions in our own country and our churches? What would it look like to discuss our differences in a new ways that could reveal the power of God and build unity?
Let me close with some honest admission paraphrasing Paul. Here is a trustworthy saying: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. When I am a bad Christian, my struggle is being a part of the Christ faction. I have to constantly test my loyalties to make sure I haven’t made Christ the co-opted, claimed leader of my own faction. All Christians, good and bad, should wrestle with this. Paul wrote these words to me…but I thought I’d share them with you:
“Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God…so let no one boast of human leaders…all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
— 1 Corinthians 3:18-23