Who Do You Follow?

Article by: Prof. Eric Aseka, Senior Pastor, Divine Grace Ecclesia, King'eero, Lower Kabete.

1 Corinthians 1:10-12 “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 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”.

The apostle tells the Corinthians that they were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that they despaired even of life. Whatever the problem was, it was bad. Because of this problem, Paul lived with the awareness that he might die at any time that is why he stated: “we had the sentence of death…who delivered us from so great a death”.

Beloved, because of the threat of death, many feel Paul’s problem must have been persecution. However, the idea of a recurring physical malady is not a bad choice. In that day, Jews could refer to sickness as “death” and healing as a “return to life”.  The use of the present tense in 2 Corinthians 1:4-6 and 1:9-10 imply that the problem was still with Paul as he wrote the epistle. This makes it more likely though by no means certain that the trouble was a stubborn illness. In ourselves tells us that Paul’s sentence of death was something he felt within, not something that a court of law had imposed on him from without. That we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead: Even though the resurrection is a future event, there is a sense in which the reality and power of the resurrection touches every day for the suffering Christian. As we know by the power of His resurrection we will also be blessed by the fellowship of His sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Beloved, Paul knew that God’s work in our lives happens in three different verb tenses. God works in us past, present, and future.

Paul knew the value of intercessory prayer and was not shy about asking the Corinthians, despite their many spiritual problems, to pray for him. The Corinthian Christians were really helping together with Paul when they prayed for him.

Paul knew that blessing in ministry was granted to us through many, that is, through the prayers of many people. We often think of the great things God did through Paul, and we rightly admire him as a man of God. Do we think of all the people who prayed for him? Paul credited those praying people with much of his effectiveness in ministry. Even an apostle felt the prayers of the Church necessary for his comfort and support. What innumerable blessings do the prayers of the followers of God draw down on those who are the objects of them!

When Paul talks of persons, this is literally “faces”. The idea “is that of faces upturned in prayer, the early Christian (and Jewish) attitude of prayer being one of standing with uplifted eyes and outstretched arms. Paul defends his ministry. In verses 12-14 Paul’s boast in his integrity and simplicity in ministry towards the Corinthian Christians.

For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you. For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand. Now I trust you will understand, even to the end, as also you have understood us in part, that we are your boast as you also are ours, in the day of the Lord Jesus.

The apostle gives the testimony of his conscience. Here, Paul defends himself against the accusation that he is fickle and unreliable. Here, he simply states that he has a clear conscience before God and trusts that the Corinthian Christians will understand this. He says that they conducted themselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom. We should know that the Corinthian Christians were so accustomed to dealing with ministers who were calculating and manipulative. Therefore, they figured that Paul must be the same way. Therefore, when Paul said he was coming to them (1 Corinthians 16:5) but did not, they figured he was just manipulating them. As such, Paul lets them know this was not the case.

The Corinthian Christians had become cynical. They believed that everyone had bad motives and was out for personal gain and power. They didn’t trust Paul because they were cynical.

Verse 10 says: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought”. Beloved, we now turn to the main body of 1 Corinthians. The first section of the main body runs from 1 Corinthians 1:10 all the way to 1 Corinthians 4:21 and deals with divisions in the church.

He tells them: “Now I plead with you”. With the word “now”, Paul turns to treat problems in the church. “Now” is adversative and contrasts with the introduction ( Corinthians 1:4-9). Having stated the Corinthian’s church prerogatives, he turns to their troubles. The word “plead” means exhort, beseech. The exhortation here is an admonishment. Paul straight away calls for a change based on an appeal to their best side. He does not command but appeals to their love for Christ.

Paul exhorts them as brethren. The Corinthians are in the family of God with Paul. This is an appeal to identity. Christians have a common identity in Christ. Paul bases his appeal on the essence of Christ. The word “name” conveys the idea of essence and represents the totality of who Christ is. Paul says in effect: “Look at the character of Christ. His glory is at stake! Do not you care what people think about Jesus Christ? Divisions make Him look bad”. Everything we do reflects on Jesus. The person of Jesus is the unifying factor for the church. Disunity reflects on what Christ represents. The church is identified with Christ and what it does reflects on Him. The principle here is that the basis of Christian living is reverence and love for Christ.

Divisions undermine the witness of the church before those without Christ. The schism in church casts a pall on Christ. People who cause division in the church should take note of the impact this has on the attitude of others toward Christ. Love for Jesus should make a Christian wary of representing Him poorly either before Christians or the world. His glory is at stake. Schism ricochets negatively on Him. Do you care what people think of Jesus? Do you care how you represent the family of God to the world? If you do not, then that reflects on your love for the Lord. Look to your Lord and your love for Him before you divide the church. Look to your identity with Him. Paul laid a firm foundation for his letter in two things. First, he had zero doubts that the Christians in Corinth were truly saved, born-again believers, completely secure in Christ forever. Paul did not look at their sin and wrong thinking and challenge their salvation. Second, Paul grounded their security in Christ Himself. He mentioned the name of Christ here for the tenth time in the first ten verses. The Corinthians were accepted, because they were in Christ, and for no other reason.

In the previous verse, Paul wrote that these believers had been called, each of them, into the fellowship of Christ. That required, as people in Christ, they be in fellowship with each other. Now Paul came to the first of many problems among the church in Corinth. Instead of being united because they were all in Christ, the Corinthians were divided.

Paul urged them in the name of Christ to agree with each other. He set a high expectation for this church, and all Christian churches by pleading for zero divisions. Because each of them was in Christ, Paul insisted that they could live in unity. This unity could, and must, reach the level of cooperative thinking and judgment on matters of critical importance.

We are all called by God to be holy and set apart unto Him but we are also called into fellowship with our Christian brothers and sisters in Christ. We are urged to be of the same mind and the same judgment. The divisions and disunity that was evident within the Corinthian church is equally conspicuous in the Body of Christ today, and Paul lovingly exhorts each one of us to agree amongst ourselves so that there is no disharmony, disagreement, or dissention amongst us.

This call for singleness of heart was founded upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and not our preferred preacher or favoured ministry. We are to have the mind of Christ. We are to develop the same attitude of heart toward each other that Christ Jesus has for us so that with one mind and one voice we may glorify our God who in heaven, and our Saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Verse 11 says: “My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you”. Beloved, Paul received a credible report about the spiritual condition of the Corinthian church. The word “declared” means to make clear or manifest. Paul was reluctant to believe rumours until he got a verifiable report from a credible group. He needed proof of official, crystal-clear evidence before charging off to correct the Corinthians. The evidence was only too evident. He was not interested in unsubstantiated rumours. He needed eyewitnesses to the fact.

The apostle addressed them as: “my brethren”.

The use of “brethren” is another diplomatic appeal to their identity as members of the family of God.

He recalls how “those of Chloe’s household” made him learn about fractions in the church. Chloe was a wealthy businesswoman who probably traveled between Corinth and Ephesus. The source for his evidence was unimpeachable. It is not apparent whether she belonged to the Corinthian or Ephesian church. He was disappointed that there were contentions among them. Beloved, Paul left Corinth after ministering there for one and a half years. Apollos became the new pastor. Peter led Jews to Christ in Corinth as well. Three groups of people followed Paul, Apollos, and Peter. Yet another followed “Christ”. This may have been a priggish or self-righteous group. Therefore, the Corinthian church broke down into four sects.

The word “contentions” means bitter words. The Corinthian church was saying harsh words to each other. They wanted to hurt the other groups. The principle here was that wrangling indicated displaced loyalty.

Divisions in churches can be noisy. Wrangling always is. Christians who want to hurt one another with harsh words ultimately hurt the reputation of Christ. The reason Christians do this is that they displace their loyalty from Christ to local leaders. Personality cults and slogans can surface in the church.

Most church conflict revolves around personality issues rather than doctrinal issues. This brings reproach on the name of Christ. We should know that we glorify Jesus if our spirituality controls our relationships.

Galatians 5:19-20 says:  “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies”. Here, beloved, Paul comes to his first purpose in writing to the Christians in Corinth. He has received unpleasant reports about them. Paul was writing from Ephesus, where he was living and working. Some people had come to Ephesus who were familiar with what was going on among the Christians in Corinth.

Paul described his source as “Chloe’s people”, suggesting that the Corinthians would know exactly who he is talking about. We do not have any other information about who Chloe or her people were. This group may have been relatives, friends, or servants of Chloe. They may have been sent by her to give this report to Paul or they may simply have been in town and mentioned to Paul what they knew about the church in Corinth. Perhaps Chloe, herself, was a member of the Corinthian congregation. We may speculate but cannot say for sure.

What “Chloe’s people” reported deeply troubled Paul. After all, he led many of these people to Christ and helped to establish this church, staying for over a year and a half with them (Acts 18:1-17). He cared about the believers in Corinth. According to this news, instead of being unified in the fellowship of Christ together, there was quarreling among them.

Beloved, the English word “quarreling” does not sound especially bad to modern ears. But the original Greek word, “eris”, refers to a hot dispute: a fiery, emotional disagreement. In Greek mythology, Eris was the name of the goddess of discord, responsible for instigating feuds, bickering, and strife. Paul lists this relationship-destroying “quarreling” in many epistles alongside with other terrible relationship sins (Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20 and Galatians 5:20)

Verse 12 says: “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”.

Paul says in effect, “This is what I mean by contentions in the previous verse”. Beloved, everyone in the church at Corinth was infected with the party-spirit. Each person championed a personality. They lined up behind a particular leader. Each fraction led to a fraction pitted against the other.

The Corinthian church four-fold party-spirit broke down into four watchwords or slogans: I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, I am of Christ. Beloved, Paul depicts the problem with four first person singulars: “I”. Ego was at the centre of this problem. Everyone was taking sides with the idea, “My leader, right or wrong”. Their party allegiance was an emblem of honour. Their problem revolved around personalities, not doctrine.

The Paul party may have been Gentile believers. Paul founded the Gentile church at Corinth. There was a natural loyalty to Christ because he led them to Christ. Interestingly, Paul identifies his part first.

Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt (Acts 18:24- all the way to Acts 19:1). Alexandria was the intellectual centre of the Roman Empire. Apollos was an orator. His party preferred polished rhetoric. Those with an academic background were drawn to him. These people would say that “Apollos could say it so much better than Paul. Paul was too dull. Apollos knew the literary and philosophical culture of the Mediterranean.”

“Cephas” is Aramaic for Peter. His followers were Jewish and may have had a legalistic trend. This was the Peter party. Peter was an original apostle with the twelve. It is not known whether Peter ever visited Corinth. There those that identified themselves with Christ. This party may have been a super-spiritual faction in the Corinthian church. They were the only group who supposedly understood the things of Christ. They had very little allegiance to human leaders, which can be a problem in itself. The principle here was that divided loyalty detracts from the preeminence of Christ.

Pitting one group in the church against another pits people against Christ. Ultimate allegiance to human leaders produces a party-spirit. Divided loyalty to Christ minimizes His supremacy in the church. The importance lies in the Lord, not the leader.  Instead of being united in Christ, as is the expectation for all churches, the Corinthians were hotly divided.

Here we learn the source of their conflict. Different factions within the church have apparently aligned themselves with one of at least four different teachers. This passage lists Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter) and Christ. There might have been more, and Paul was simply listing these for the sake of example. Part of what was implied here is that followers of these factions had aligned themselves against the other leaders and those who followed them.

Apollos was a somewhat mysterious figure in the early church. He was an Alexandrian Jew who became well known for his eloquent speaking, his knowledge of the Scriptures, and his bold teaching. When they saw that Apollos’s knowledge was incomplete, Paul’s friends and co-workers Priscilla and Aquila took him aside and helped him to better understand Christianity. He later traveled to Corinth with recommendation letters from the Christians in Ephesus (Acts 18:24-19:1).

Apollos was not known to have worked directly with Paul, but was not shown to have worked against him, either. He seems to have been a talented, independent Christian teacher empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 18:25). Cephas was another name for the apostle Peter (John 1:42). It is unclear if Peter ever came to Corinth himself. Some scholars speculate that devout Jews who had converted to Christianity may have been more comfortable aligning themselves with Peter’s faithful Jewish roots.

The group that declared “I follow Christ” would seem, on the surface, to be the one Paul would give praise to. He did not do so outright, suggesting that this faction may have championed Christ in some distorted way.

The Christian Church was one Body of believers who were all united together under One Head, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, and He is the Chief Shepherd of the flock. Jesus is the singular Leader of the Church and Captain of our salvation who was made perfect through His sufferings, on our account.

Sadly however, there are men, ministries, and even denominations that allow division to happen and seek to build up their own little following of sycophantic believers so that they can dominate their thinking with rites, rituals, restrictions, rules, and regulations. Too often, this sort of leader starts to read into Scripture whatever they want it to say so that they can shackle their devoted followers with legalistic practices, for financial reward or to exert power over their weaker brethren. We should know that this eventually gives rise to unbiblical cults and religious movements that teach their own brand of Christianity.

Prof. Eric Aseka,
Senior Pastor,
Divine Grace Ecclesia,
King’eero, Lower Kabete.



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