1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (NIV)
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.”
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people (i.e. “us”):
(You will remember yesterday I indicated we needed to keep Paul’s big picture in mind as we continue through this letter. The text above comes from the early salutation of the letter. We need to keep these words’their calling and ours—ever before us)
There are the ways of the world and the ways of God. It is one of the central themes of Scripture. One of the purest crystallizations of this point comes from the prophet Isaiah.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
The ways and systems of the world are inherently divisive. They are built on broken structures and established through power paradigms. Jesus intends his Church to witness to and be an example of the higher ways and higher thoughts of God. It’s no surprise that the fledgling church in Corinth is steeped the ways of the world. Why wouldn’t they be. They have been thoroughly formed by the ways of the world. It brings to mind a word Paul wrote to the church at Rome; which interestingly enough he seems to have composed while in Corinth.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2.
I don’t want to oversimplify this, yet it is not that complicated. There are the patterns of the world and the pattern of the gospel.
The young Christians at Corinth are doing what immature Christians tend to do. They are importing their ways and means of understanding and doing things into the church. Their culture was steeped in “wisdom” presented by impressive teachers who spoke with great eloquence and with impressive rhetorical style. It was culturally respectable and brought respectability to its adherents. People drafted honor and prestige from these teachers. They claimed importance and distinction by virtue of the importance and distinction of their leaders. It was a constant game of one-up-manships and it divided people into cliques who likely engaged in all manner of “name-dropping” and operated in all sorts of underhanded passive aggressive patterns of behavior.
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 was not going to let himself get sucked into this. Rather than making this about personalities and critiquing the approaches of other people, Paul cuts to the core issue.
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
So baptism is an outward sign of the working of the Gospel. The Gospel is the unlikely triumph of the surprising ways of God (i.e. the Cross) over the predictably sinful ways of the world (i.e. Power). The Corinthians had taken baptism, a sign of the humility of the Cross, and turned it into a badge of pride and honor. The sign intended to unify had been co-opted by the pattern of the world and was now becoming a symbol of division. Ironic.
Paul is not knocking baptism, he is reordering the church’s understanding of baptism in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul has come to preach the confoundingly humble and incomparably powerful Gospel. We are about to witness this in a most stunning fashion. The Gospel has a way of being unimpressively impressive and Paul is about to demonstrate this for us. He will proclaim to us the ultimate oxymoron: “The Power of the Cross.”
There’s name dropping and then there’s the “Name above every name,” which can’t be dropped. Just try dropping Jesus’ name at the next social gala and see how that goes.
Father, what is it in me that wants others to know who I know? Why do I try to make myself seem better or more important than I am? I confess, the patterns of the world run deep in me. And I am so tired of conforming to them. I do long to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. Come Holy Spirit and lead me deeper into this way of the cross. I pray in Jesus, name. Amen.
Though we live in a different cultural context, can you see these worldly ways of prestige and status seeking at work in the church today? What is it “in us” that clings to the “ways of the world?” What frightens us about the “Cross of Christ?” Where are we clinging to worldly forms of power . . . the maintenance of our reputation . . . the preservation of our image . . . the status we gain from the people we know . . . ?