Agonizomai: 1 Cor 1:11-13 - The "No Party" Vote

Friday, February 29, 2008

1 Cor 1:11-13 - The "No Party" Vote

11-13 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

Now, having stopped to take our bearings, and looking to the text itself to tell us what it is actually saying, we see what Paul means by "divisions" here. He specifically says what he means in the words, "What I mean is..." What could be plainer?

And what follows clearly shows that he is addressing a party spirit based on loyalty or preference for certain teachers - setting them up in comparison to each other and arguing over who is better. Now it is probably undeniable, humanly speaking, that there are differences between various teachers and apostles - rendering some better speakers, some more personable, some more studied, some gentler and others more stern.

Nothing needs to be said about the rightness or wrongness of these things. They are facts. God gives gifts to men as He sees fit - some receiving more than others in various areas. And saved men themselves learn to employ those gifts well as they continue to grown in grace. Inequality is not the point. Christianity does not condemn inequality. It condemns inequity. In fact, inequality is the very condition that provides the means for grace to work in people towards others. Some weep in loss while others rejoice in blessing, but the rejoicers must mourn with the weepers nevertheless - and vice versa. Some are given wealth and privilege while others are born, live and die in abject poverty - yet the "haves" are commanded to show generosity and grace to the needy - especially in the household of faith.

Confusing inequality with inequity is a carnal error. It is worldly. It focuses on inequality as the great evil and confuses it with inequity philosophically, while actually becoming more and more inequitable in practice. It leads to worldly philosophies like Communism and Socialism, because they do not recognize the hand of God in providence, nor the responsibility of man towards God in living.

Another false value system originating in men is that of Fascism or elitism where power and privilege in themselves become the god. This system embraces inequality but totally ignores inequity. It is, if you like, social Darwinism on steroids.

But the God of the Bible knows that the differences that show up in what we call inequality are opportunities for grace to abound. To be sure there are degrees of inequality; some have nothing at all while some have far above anything that they need; some came by what they have through hard work, some through what they think of as chance or luck, and some through inheritance. All of these things are clouded to our understanding because they arise and are manifested in a world in which everything is tainted by sin.

This goes not only for wealth, but for ability or talent. Originally these were greater or lesser gifts of various sorts given to different individuals that they might glorify God. They didn’t need to be identical in nature or quantity in all people. That’s communism. They weren’t meant to be the source of pride and superiority in those who had "more". That’s Fascism. They were meant to display the manifold wisdom and glory of God as He saw fit. And the lowly, slight-gifted individual was praised for using what God had given him just as much as the greatly gifted man was praised for the use of his talents; only more was expected from him.

How this would have looked before sin came into the world we cannot truly know. What understanding can the denizens of the deepest ocean have of the wonders of the farthest galaxy? We are immersed in the ubiquitous fruit of sin. It is all we can know if we are apart from Jesus Christ. But the glory is that, for those who know Him, He is the firstborn of all creation, the heir of all things, Creator, Redeemer, God with us, Sustainer, Glorifier. He is both the reason for and the cause of the existence of all things. All things were created for Him and through Him and in Him all things hold together.

And Paul rightly shows here the absolute folly of party spirit and the factionising tendencies of men based on loyalties to other men. Men - all men - are sinners saved entirely by grace alone. No one has anything he did not first receive. It was a free gift. God drew Him. God regenerated him. God sustains and keeps him.

So what is left to boast of, either in ourselves or in others? What loyalty is owed to any man based on his performance or ability? Yes - we render honour to whom honour is due; we say "thanks" and mean it when we receive from someone else - whether that be material or spiritual food. But our thanks is to them for Christ’s sake because we know Who it is that undergirds all things and from whom all blessing flow.

It is not just "God" in the vague sense that many people use. It is God manifested in and through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what makes Christianity both different and exclusive, and what still brings offence to ecumenists and postmoderns today. It is what got all the martyrs killed. It is what will bring you persecution. It is not simply "god" - but God manifested in Son - crucified and killed and suffering the wrath of God, raised from the dead and the only way to heaven, through His righteousness alone.

So Paul doesn’t mince words. Without the undergirding, justifying, sustaining grace of God which is in Christ alone there is - there can be - no Christianity. All other men are sinful creatures who must be saved by grace, whereas Jesus Christ is the obedient, holy, man-God - sinless, perfect, full of grace and truth. To use His Name in a conversation where He is just one of many teachers is to utterly miss the point. He is not just "a" teacher - He is God incarnate from whom all wisdom flows. This first rebuke to the Corinthians is, to me, exasperatingly gentle. But such gentleness is born of a humility to which I have not yet attained.


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