(By Pastor Tim Redfield)
1 Corinthians 1:10-17 – I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
The Corinthian congregation was being divided into factions. The people were picking their favorite pastoral candidate and campaigning for that person. According to verses 11 and 12 there were at least four groups and each one was trying to prove their superiority. Even the group that was claiming devotion to Christ was not acting properly. They were not interested in uniting everyone in the truth. They simply wanted to promote their faction.
This was a problem because the message of the gospel was being marginalized. People were more focused on belonging to the right group than understanding and proclaiming the message of forgiveness. It wasn’t that the Corinthians had chosen poor leaders to follow. That was not the case. Paul, Apollos, and Cephas, who we know better as Peter, were all men who proclaimed the truth of God’s Word. The problem was that they were turning these men into false gods. They were making their religion more about the messenger than the message. Rather than being flattered by this devotion that was being given to him, Paul was upset.
Paul identified the problem with three questions. He said, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?”(1 Corinthians1:13). The answer to every question is “No.” Christ is not divided. Paul was not crucified. They were not baptized into the name of Paul. Paul wanted them to understand that it is not good for the family of believers to be divided over spiritual matters. The Holy Spirit works unity in his people. Disunity comes from the devil. Of course the devil would want God’s people to argue with each other. He doesn’t want the church to thrive. He is going to work especially hard to break up the family of God.
Paul was getting their attention by inserting his name in a spot that ought to be reserved for Jesus. Paul wasn’t crucified. Jesus was. Believers aren’t baptized into the name of Paul. They are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He really stressed the point that the Christian faith is not about the human beings who are leading the church. The focus needs to remain on Christ. In his letters Paul would point out that he did not have the same skills as other pastors. Apollos and Peter had their strengths which were different than Paul’s strengths. Perhaps one of them was friendlier. Maybe one was a better preacher. But that’s not the point. Believers follow Christ.
This problem of following people rather than following Jesus is a problem that still plagues the Christian church to this day. Paul warned believers about it in his second letter to the young pastor Timothy. He said, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). Paul was adamant about not following people because people can lead us astray. Often times, we sinful human beings are easily led astray, especially if the person is telling us what our itching ears want to hear.
There are many ministers in Christian churches who are not proclaiming the truths of God’s Word. They might not even realize that they are doing this. They may have some of the truth but they are polluting that truth with false teachings. There are many churches that don’t want to talk about sinful lifestyles because they don’t want to upset anyone. That is ridiculous thinking. Without the judgment of the law speaking to our sinful hearts, we will never appreciate what Jesus did for us by living and dying in our place. It truly is sad that people would sacrifice the truth of the Word simply because the person up in front is a dynamic leader. Personality ought to never trump the pure gospel of Christ.
This is not to say that we won’t have more in common with a certain pastor compared to another pastor. I had one pastor growing up who shared more interests with me than other pastors. But all my other pastors still proclaimed God’s Word. They still pointed me to Jesus and that is the most important factor. When we really think about it, the responsibility is on us to make sure that we are following Christ rather than following a person. There is certainly a danger to think that one pastor is the ultimate pastor and that this ultimate pastor is the one who will greatly bless our church. That is incorrect. Jesus is the one who brings blessings to the church.
We need to examine our hearts to make sure that we are following Christ and not people. At times we might follow a group rather than a specific pastor. Think about following family and friends. Do we stay a member of a church because that is where our family has belonged for generations? Do we fear that we might lose friends by leaving a church? This should not be our main focus. Jesus is more important than family and friends. The responsibility is on us to examine the teachings of our church. Compare what the pastor says to what Scripture says? Pastors are human beings who can make mistakes. But God’s Word stands forever. Keep Christ as the focus.
Another thought from this section turns to baptism. When we read 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, we might wonder if Paul is downplaying the importance of baptism. In verse 17 he said that he was not sent to baptize. I suppose if you just plucked that phrase out of context you could say that Paul wasn’t supposed to baptize. However, that is not the case. Baptism is part of the work of Christian ministers. Because of the situation in which people were emphasizing that they had been baptized by a certain pastor, Paul is emphasizing that baptizing is not his only mission and it is not his primary mission. His primary mission was to proclaim the message of the crucifixion and resurrection. He was sent to help the Gentiles to see the truth.
He said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corinthians 1:17). Paul was overjoyed that he got the privilege of proclaiming the gospel message. He acknowledged that he wasn’t proclaiming a message that was about human wisdom. He didn’t persuade people by the eloquence of his logical arguments. He simply proclaimed the truth of the cross. He talked about the sacrifice that Jesus made to pay for the sins of the world. He pointed people to Christ and he was happy to do so because that was the power through which the Holy Spirit created faith.
From the perspective of a pastor, I can tell you that it is a humbling task to point people to Christ. I understand that there are certain strengths and weaknesses that I have as a person. There are other pastors who may do certain tasks better than me. And I may do certain tasks better than other pastors. But that really isn’t the point. The pastoral ministry is not about me or any other weak human being. The ministry is all about pointing people to Jesus. A pastor is an ambassador. An ambassador is always speaking for the one he represents. We pastors speak for Christ.
This is a humbling task and a responsibility to be taken seriously. I know that the power comes from the cross of Christ like Paul says, but I never want to do anything that gets in the way of that message. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. That is the focus of the public ministry – to let the people see Jesus. The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. If anyone ever has a question about something I said while leading worship or a Bible Study, feel free to ask. I love talking about God’s Word and it is a joy to look to Jesus.
The power of the cross is why we gather around the Word of God. Our commitment to Jesus flows out of what he has done for us. Because he has shown us the love of forgiveness, we will follow him. And we enjoy following him. We enjoy digging into his Scriptures because it is there that we learn more about him. We rejoice that we can study his Word and receive the strength that we need to deal with any problems that may come up in our lives. If we followed human beings, we wouldn’t have this same kind of comfort. Our doubts would remain and our questions wouldn’t get the proper answers.
We are certain because we follow Jesus. When someone asks us what we believe, we point back to Christ. We believe what Jesus tells us in his Word. That is how we know we are following Jesus. We can back every one of our teachings up with passages from the Bible. Everything in the Bible is given to us to point us to Christ. We see his power of salvation. We know his truths. We are dedicated to following Jesus.