Schisms and Divisions
“For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you” (1 Corinthians 1:11 NASB).
by Jerry Wesol
The primary focus of the Apostle Paul’s ministry was: (1) To admonish brethren to stay focused and study God’s plan and preach to all, especially the household of faith, “The Gospel of the Kingdom” message. (2) Having consecrated their all and having been given the holy Spirit from the Lord, to allow the Lord and his word to work in them so that there will be a transformation from an earthly carnal mind to a heavenly, spiritual mind. (3) To promote the importance of unity in the brotherhood. He taught that they should not allow the attitude that causes schisms and divisions among the brethren. We will center our lesson on this third focus of the apostle.
The Apostle Paul loved the Corinthian brethren and felt responsible for their spiritual well-being. He was sent to them and, through Christ, begat them by the Gospel message (1Corinthians 4:15). We are told in 2 Corinthians 2:4 that he wrote with many tears concerning their spiritual welfare. These brethren who came out of heathen idol worship struggled with pride and selfishness and tended to esteem some greater than others. As a result, some became puffed up with knowledge and lorded over the others. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, 3:1-9, and 4:5-8, the Apostle Paul exposed these weak character traits. Paul, ever concerned about the Corinthian brethren’s spiritual lives, laid out the problem and gave the corrective action that needed to be taken.
We will discuss the problem described in each set of verses. In 1 Corinthians 1:10 (RVIC) Paul writes, “I beseech you, brethren through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions [schisms] among you.” When Paul said, “Speak the same thing,” he was not suggesting that they would all have the same view on every topic but that they would all confess the same truth: that it was through Christ Jesus and his sacrifice alone that the ransom was provided, and hence, their salvation. Christ alone died to be ours and the world’s ransom. He opened the new and living way for his followers to suffer and, if faithful, to reign with him to bless the world in due time by becoming part of his body. Paul puts special emphasis on this because of the issue stated in verse 12. Some were proclaiming they followed Paul, some Apollos, some Peter and others Christ.1 The spirit of sectarianism had entered in amongst them. In verse 13 Paul reminds them that they were not baptized into Paul but into Christ.
(1) Editor’s Note: These names are stand-ins for unnamed Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:6).
Once Paul had reminded the Corinthian brethren that salvation is through the sacrifice of Christ, that they are baptized into his death and no other, he addressed the next issue. In 1Corinthians 3:1-9, he tells them that they are still thinking like carnal, fleshly men and are not thinking spiritually, nor being led by the Spirit. Their human reasoning is getting in the way of spiritual growth. In verses 1-2 Paul writes, “I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto fleshly, as unto babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with meat; for ye were not yet able to bear it” (RVIC). By their desire to identify with a leader other than our Lord, they were worshipping men as an idol.
Paul reminds them that regardless of who brought the truth to them or who now teaches them, it is the Heavenly Father who provided these able ministers. Additionally, it is God’s truth and He gives the increase (2 Corinthians 3:5-6). “I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7 RVIC). In verse 9, Paul puts an exclamation point on the matter. “For we are God’s fellow-workers: ye are God’s husbandry, God’s building” (RVIC). Bro. Russell comments on these verses and states: “God … is working with us, and we are working with him … finding the saintly, the true, and guiding them, fitting them for the spiritual kingdom” (Reprint 5302:5). “The great husbandman (1 Corinthians 3:9) waits for the gradual development of the fruit” (Reprint 3020:5).
In the third chapter, Paul continues to chip away at this prideful character trait demonstrated by some in the Church at Corinth. He shows that brethren are expected to grow in the knowledge of the Word and those the Lord sends to help are not to be worshipped. Rather, they are to be part of finding and uplifting those that would be of the saintly class. Meanwhile, the Lord will develop and direct them in spiritual growth. No flesh can inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50). We, just as brethren of Paul’s day, must put off the fleshly mind and be transformed with the new creature mind that is guided solely by the Lord and his word.
We see the deep concern Paul had for these brethren. Pride appears to have blinded many of them to the key foundation principles and doctrine of the Gospel message. Instead, they bragged about their own wisdom, and gave honor to men by idolizing the messengers that the Lord had sent to help them. Now they claimed power and authority over the Corinthian brethren and, rather than spread the Gospel message, they were hoarding it to exercise their right to claim power. In their eyes it was as though the Kingdom had already begun and they were reigning. In 1 Corinthians 4:5-8, Paul directs the message to those who were, in effect, reigning over the Church at Corinth. First, he reminded them that the kingdom will not begin until the return of Christ Jesus. “Wherefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come” (verse 5 RVIC). Next, he reminded them how they came to receive this knowledge. “I have used myself and Apollos above as an illustration, so that you might learn from what I have said about us not to assess man above his value in God’s sight and may thus avoid the friction that comes from exalting one teacher against another. For who makes you different from somebody else, and what have you got that was not given to you? And if anything has been given to you, why boast of it as if it were something you had achieved yourself?” (verses 6-7 Phillips).
So blinded were they that Paul had to remind them that the wonderful Gospel message was a gift from God and not their own. “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men” (1 Corinthians 7:23). Unity is a by-product of those working for a common cause. By staying laser focused on our commission to spread the Gospel and uplift the “household of faith,” there will be unity and not division (Galatians 6:10). The Lord is not pleased with divisions or with those who cause them and we should not lord over our brethren or esteem some greater than others (Matthew 20:24-28, Luke 11:17, Psalms 133:1). Remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “be ye imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 RVIC). As the voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved son … hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5). So let us follow Christ and him only.