Exploring the Scripture
Paul started the church in Corinth; he is a spiritual father to many there. The Christians there are diverse. They are experiencing conflicts and divisions. He writes calling them brothers and sisters as he confronts these issues.
The divisions are so entrenched, one group has reported to Paul about everyone else. Some have turned their focus away from Christ and place their loyalty with Christian leaders: Paul, Apollos, or Cephas (or Peter). Each of these men helped form the church in Corinth; each has baptized there. The factions are based on members’ claims of special status based on the one who baptized them. Paul rebukes this bond between leader and baptism. In verse 13, he asks several rhetorical questions highlighting the absurdity of such claims.
Congregations today also navigate schisms and quarrels. We can easily be divided by a leader whose personality or eloquent messages touch and inspire some. Various “causes” can shift our attention away from Christ. Problems can happen when social or political issues bump up against faithfulness, when change pushes against tradition, or when one group claims Jesus’s particular concern for their cause or position. These challenges can place Christ in the argument, and as one side claims truth over the other, it tears the body of Christ. To remember the body of Christ, we must remember our baptisms.
In verses 14–17, Paul expresses a low opinion about baptism because this is not his central focus. He was called to proclaim the gospel, not baptize. He is thankful that no one can say they were baptized in his name. To do something in someone’s name was to do it by that person’s authority as a surrogate for the person. Baptism gets its power only through Christ.
Paul appeals for the Corinthians to live in unity and offers three ways to do this:
- They should agree. Disciples can have distinct personalities and still agree on the core issues of the faith. They should proclaim the same doctrine and the same Christ and work together to resolve a serious disagreement. This approach is an example of Unity in Diversity.
- Allow no divisions. These divisions are unacceptable and contrary to God’s will for God’s people. They can work together to erase divisions and build harmony.
- Be united in their minds and understanding. Thoughts control feelings and actions. Believing a preferred leader is superior leads to feelings of superiority and causes separation. The best way to achieve unity is to keep the vision of Christ before them rather than focusing on a particular leader. Without this unity, they will pull in different directions, going nowhere.
People are easily moved by the power of rhetoric more than by the claims of the gospel. Paul insists that proclaiming the gospel does not need eloquence. He helps us understand that all we think we know about the world—its value, wisdom, knowledge, and virtue—is changed by God’s act of salvation through Christ. The crucifixion of Christ saves us. Our baptism into his name makes us people of the cross. Paul wants the Corinthians to keep their focus on the cross of Christ because human wisdom has no saving power.
Find more on these topics by exploring “We Are One, We Are Many,” in Sharing in Community of Christ, 4th Edition, pp. 68–75 and the Enduring Principle of Unity in Diversity, p. 31.
- Unity occurs when disciples agree and are of the same mind and purpose.
- Divisions and quarrels in the church are unacceptable and tear the body of Christ.
- Remembering our baptism helps keep Christ as our focus.
- Human wisdom and eloquent rhetoric can empty the cross of its power.
Questions to Consider
- In what ways can remembering the details of your baptism and your covenant with Christ help to unify your congregation?
- How might Paul’s letter to the Corinthians help resolve a conflict or heal division among Christians today?
- What could be different in your congregation, community, or the world if all Christians were united in mind and purpose?
- How is the Enduring Principle, Unity in Diversity expressed in this scripture passage?
- What can the church learn from studying the statement “We Are One, We Are Many” in Sharing in Community of Christ, 4th Edition?