1 Corinthians 1:10-17

10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 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? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. [1]

Paul’s opponents to his ministry were almost always outside agitators. But in the Church of Corinth, his opposition came from within the church. This epistle reflects a problem in its middle stages; there had been previous communications that are not in the biblical record. The situation is not good; the relationship between Paul and the church is visibly deteriorating, although apparently it has not yet resulted in open hostility. They are still communicating by letter. But a decidedly anti-Pauline sentiment has developed in some of the home churches. “Initiated by a few, this sentiment is infecting nearly the whole. Therefore, although there are certainly divisions within the community itself (probably along sociological lines), the most serious form of ‘division’ is that between the majority of the community and Paul himself. They stand over against him on almost every issue.” [2]

Although we cannot be certain how this situation developed, it appears that it was a combination of several factors. In chapters 1 through 4, it seems that the ministry of Apollos caused some of the believers to think of their new faith in terms of Hellenistic wisdom. Paul did not fare well under their new criteria. Since he spoke to them simply, he did not measure up to their love of rhetoric and wisdom. They believed that their pursuit of the Greek ideal of wisdom was meatier stuff with which Paul was clearly out of touch. True wisdom was always accompanied with excellent rhetoric, both of which the Apostle clearly lacked.

Not only are they underestimating Paul, but they’re also fighting amongst themselves. Factions have arisen, plunging the church into a spirit of disunity. Conveniently (for preachers), this short passage breaks down into three plot points: 1) an appeal for unity; 2) obstacles to unity; and 3) restoration of unity.


Mankind was originally created for unity. But as we saw in the early chapters of Genesis, when Adam and Eve disunited themselves from God, they also disunited themselves from one another. Nevertheless, we all still innately long for unity over disunity, for integration over disintegration, for harmony over chaos. We all still crave the perfect fellowship of the garden where heaven and earth were united. All human beings ache to experience true shalom. Our sinful flesh, however, confuses shalom with the idolatrous ideal that “You should believe exactly as I do. If everyone were simply a carbon copy of me, then the world could live at peace. Therefore, you need to be on the same page as me.  Since we all innately and sinfully long to be God, then we naturally want to dictate how everyone else should think and act. Underneath our longing is the nagging reality that we cannot really be God. So, we are angry and frustrated even though we press on with our sin. This is self-worship in its most subtle and persistent form. We naturally boot up in this mode every morning, with the fundamental axiom that all must go according to MY plan and that all things must agree with my demands. That means the problem is INSIDE OF YOU NOT OUTSIDE OF YOU!

That is why, in most communities, shalom (as the Bible describes it) is elusive. “Throughout the Old Testament prophets dreamed about that glorious day when all things that are corrupt and broken down would be rebuilt; the rough places would be made straight; there would be humility in the midst of arrogance; there would be peace among conflict and warfare; lambs could lie down with lions. This beautiful and almost unfathomable picture of reality is what the Bible describes as shalom.”[3] In essence, shalom is the universal flourishing of all things experienced by Adam and Eve in the garden. All of us naturally crave a day when there will be no murder, envy, boredom, shame, racism, fear, stress, war, conflict, terrorism, griping, snobbery, robbery, assault, and malicious gossip.

Paul appeals to the church rather than making a bare demand:

10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

The apostle doesn’t ignore the reality of their disunity with him and with one another. He speaks the truth in love. To leave them in their brokenness would be unloving, acting out of self-interest and self-protection (the very things the Corinthians are doing to themselves and Paul). But he also does not want to crush them with a heavy hand. Paul understands that sinners sin. So, he addressed them as “brothers.” He reminds them they are members of the same family. This is a family matter, but also a serious matter. He appeals to them by his apostolic authority: “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He combines parental tenderness with apostolic authority to this fractious situation. And his appeal runs deeper than, “Can’t we all just get along?

He first instructs them to “agree.” Literally, the word translated “agree” means to “speak the same.” It was used to describe political parties that were free from factions. It meant to be in harmony with one another rather than talking past one another. Also, Paul admonished they must have “no divisions.” Divisions (schismata) are not ‘schisms’, but ‘dissensions’ (‘cliques’). The divisions were internal, and the groups were still one church and, for example, still met for Holy Communion (11:17ff.).[4]  You know people who are always looking for an argument. They cannot rest until they have beaten you into submission on some particular view – be it major or minor. They are exhausting to be around and take their toll on any community. “I cannot rest until I have made you into me!” Finally, he tells them they are to communicate with each other to get on the same page. He says they should be “be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” They are to adjust their opinions and views to be in line with the facts of the gospel message they received. He’s not commanding uniformity but harmony about the basics of the faith.

The upside-down nature of God’s grace should inform how they think and speak on any and every subject. Their judgments and opinions should be in line with the truth of the gospel. Paul addresses them with an attractive tone. But he also lays out a path toward agreement, mended relationships, and intentional harmonious life together. When you and I have different versions of the way the world is supposed to be, there is no room for harmony. That was what was happening in Corinth.


The church at Corinth had written a letter to Paul explaining some of the issues over which they argued: spiritual gifts, problems at the Lord’s Supper, and questions about the resurrection. But they had not given him all the information. Paul had to hear the true extent of their problems from “Chloe’s people” (v. 11). Chloe was most likely a prominent businesswoman in Ephesus (where Paul wrote 1 Corinthians) with business interests in Corinth. Some of her employees or members of her household had likely been to worship at one of the Corinthian house churches and picked up on the arguments. Obviously, the Corinthians did not want Paul to know they were “quarreling” about his giftings and his Apostolic authority.

Several social factors contributed to the fractious spirit in Corinth. Social rankings, personal patronage, philosopher/student loyalty, and social cliques were involved. They brought into the congregation their culture’s emphasis on patronage. Their divisions were primarily social and not theological, since Peter, Paul, Apollos, and (certainly) Jesus all preached the same message. So, they divided themselves along stylistic and rhetorical lines. They each aligned themselves with the teachers they found most impressive, most eloquent, or who possessed the most commanding presence.

Though Paul taught that their identity and security were found in Christ, the Corinthians were trying to find their identity in other people. They were looking for a horizontal relationship to give them ultimate meaning and a more privileged position. They were attempting to validate themselves through another person’s success and status. They believed that the more elite, the wealthier, the more upper class, the more honored their patron was, then the more honored and elevated they would be. By associating themselves with someone considered to be important, they believed they could achieve importance also. Seeking validation outside of ourselves is a common human trait. We tend to attach ourselves to individuals, causes, industries, and dreams that give us a vision of the world as we think it should be. We form identity attachments to schools, jobs, political parties and their pundits, actors, writers, athletes, and sports teams – whatever cause, person, or institution that will make us feel good about ourselves.

In the world of education, there is always a desire to tell people about one’s association with selective institutions and renowned scholars. You may hear people tell you how they studied with an individual who is considered to be one of the top four or five in that particular field. This happens in every realm, not just education. It might seem that we are praising an institution or a prominent person, but we are actually indirectly praising ourselves. We are in union with the name of our institution, our relationships, items, products, brands, services, and individuals. These are our idols of identity. In Corinth, some of these patrons would have been the wealthy members of the church who likely employed some of the other members and hosted worship in their large homes. If your boss liked Apollos, you loved Apollos. If your boss was not impressed with Paul, you were not on Team Paul.

Patronage is the tool we use to numb the nagging suspicion and fear that there is something wrong with the world and that something might be us. So, we look for something bigger than ourselves and attach ourselves to causes, things, or people that can never hold the weight of our expectations and ultimately fail us. We dig broken cisterns, to use Jeremiah’s language (Jer. 2:13). That creates walls between us and others who have attached themselves to different patrons. We latch onto causes so they can become our functional saviors. We become passionate evangelists for political parties, diets, methods of parenting and education, home-based businesses – on an on the list goes. These things give us our sense of identity and make us feel distinct from other people. Our patron-based identities build walls and destroy the shalom we are ultimately seeking.

Christian congregations and Christian leaders also become means of identity building that create divisions. The Corinthians had even turned Jesus Christ himself into just another teacher among many. But Jesus is not interested in being a mere patron, the is THE one and only real Savior! The Corinthians adopted an adapted Christian doctrine to fit their culture and their felt needs. They made the sacrament of baptism part of their framework of patronage. But Paul is arguing that Christianity is the end of patronage because it is the end of self-identity building and the end of horizontal factionalism. Like the Corinthians, we can end up building our identity on the forms and rituals of the Christian faith while ignoring the substance. Factionalism is really a symptom of a much deeper issue.

When horizontal relationships are messed up, it is a clear sign of a vertical fracture. We tend to accept other people only when their vision fits with ours. But to unify the various factions in the community there must be a broader vision for shalom that is large enough to embrace everyone. You may recall from our study in Genesis that when Cain killed his brother Abel, he was driven by envy. God disapproved of Cain’s sacrifice and accepted his brother Abel’s. It wasn’t that God was declaring himself to be a carnivore rather than a vegetarian. Cain’s offering was made from his sense of self-identity – “Look at what a great thing I have brought to you, God.” Cain had a different vision of the world than God had for him (vertical fracture). That resulted in fractured horizontal relationships with his entire family. This is why we all need God’s vision for a restored world full of shalom in and through the Promised Seed. We’re out of line with God’s vision of shalom because there is a fracture in our vertical relationship with him. We decide our version of shalom is better than his. We want to recreate and rule the world our way. This is the root cause of all broken human relationships. The real problem is inside of us not outside of us.

How could the Corinthians, or you and I, find true, satisfying, harmonious peaceful unity? How do we get to the place where God’s word about our identity is the final word? How are we able to lay down our causes and attempts at self-validation? How do we reach a place where we no longer alienate people who are not like us and don’t follow our patrons?


The kind of unity that Paul commands in this passage can only be restored when we give up our lesser visions of unity. Our impulses towards patrons and causes are partially right, but they give us only a cheap glimpse of our deeper need for shalom in a community. No cause or party or patron can bring about the kind of unity for which we were created. Our idea of true shalom must come from God himself – the true source of shalom. Horizontal factions can only be eroded by the vertical condescension of God in Christ Jesus. Paul wrote, “17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Christ did not send the Apostle to build a faction of followers who looked to him as their patron. He sent Paul to preach the gospel, the end of patronage!

The gospel is the end of grappling for our own self security and identity and shalom. Jesus’s purpose is not to warm our hearts but to shatter our categories. The reason we pursue patrons and causes is that we are driven by a desire to be praiseworthy and honored. But Paul is pointing us towards the only human being the world has ever known who was completely praiseworthy. And yet Jesus’ worthiness was displayed in the most upside-down way possible. It was so different from what the world values. His perfectly-lived, humble life and his sacrificial blood-shedding death are available to mend our fractured vertical relationship with God. Jesus experienced and absorbed the vertical fracture on our behalf.

“On the cross Christ is divided in order that we may no longer be divided! His divided, crucified body establishes the spiritual unity of his body— the church. On the cross he is emptied in order that we may no longer be empty. Christ’s self-emptying is the source of our fullness. No longer are we searching for identity in patrons, causes, or even spiritual rites and rituals because we have been filled with the fullness of God in Christ and a vision of the shalom toward which he is calling us. Horizontal divisions are now mended because Christ, who had the most intimate relationship with the Father, experienced division, and fracture. Jesus experienced the breakdown of both vertical and horizontal shalom in order to secure for us the experience of restored vertical and horizontal relationships. Jesus gives us a new identity out of which we are free to embrace the other.”[5]

Restored vertical relationship with God puts all the other good things in life in their proper perspective. Work is no longer the source of our identity, it’s simply work. Food no longer needs to be a grand culinary experience to enjoy the truth of the Lord’s Supper. Parenting is no longer a means of validating my skills, it’s simply parenting. We no longer have to ask something or someone else to be the source of our identity and meaning. This is why Paul will write to them in chapter 4:

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.[6]

We have no need to create and manage our own separate visions of shalom because God has given us the ultimate vision and plan for shalom. Putting all things, both good and bad, in their proper place mends horizontal faction. Stuff that divides us becomes less important than God’s shalom. Our individual ideological perspectives can now take a back seat for the sake of modeling God’s shalom to your broken neighbor. The church is designed to be the kind of place where horizontal harmony can be found. Often, we refer to it here as “gospel culture.” The church — be it in Corinth or in San Antonio – is to be an outpost, an embassy of God’s shalom in this present evil age.

We can only accomplish that with the upside-down power of the cross of Christ. That power does not come with words of eloquence or displays of human wisdom. It comes in meekness and humility to complement the power and Majesty of Christ. To all of us striving for self-validation through tangible and immediate patrons, Paul is writing that real validation comes through an upside-down picture of the gospel where God uses the unlikely, the weak, and the rejected. In other words, God uses the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead. Paul did not come to Corinth to overthrow the abusive socialist oligarchy that was Rome. He did not come to dazzle them with his great command of words – and his command of words is obvious from his large and beautiful and highly intelligent body of writing. He did not even exercise his right to be paid, choosing to earn his own living to buy their hearing.

True love is utterly different from the romance for which we are all wrongly conditioned to long. Romance is all about self-interest and self-validation through the attention of another sinful human being. At the end of the day, sinners sin. We are naturally hardwired to be all about self-interest and not self-sacrifice. Our commitments are conditional, “Give me what I think I need, or I am checking out!” We are more about manipulation than ministry. True love is the opposite. It is unconditional, sacrificial, others-giving, others-seeking. No mere human being can generate true love because we are constantly occupied with our own patronage and validation. We have to go to another source, another individual who is not insecure, who does not struggle with his own identity. He is someone who understands true love because he IS true love:

In this is the love, not that we have been loving God but that he himself loved us and sent out his Son — a propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God has so loved us, we also ought to be loving one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we are loving one another, God is abiding in us and his love is being perfected in us. [7]

The more we can grab hold of this picture of the gospel, we will know how to love people more and need people less. It provides the substance for which we desperately long. We are in union with Christ, just as he is in perfectly-loving union with the Father and the Spirit in the Trinity. People no longer need to be objects for our beneficial use. The wealth we have in the gospel will empower us to give sacrificially without expecting anything in return. In fact, it will even allow us to give sacrificially to those who return to us only more griping and complaining and attempted manipulation. This power of the upside-down gospel will shape our vertical and horizontal shalom.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 1:10–17.

[2] Fee, 8.

[3] Um, 23-24. Kindle Edition.

[4] Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 7, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 45–46.

[5] Um, 28-29. Kindle Edition.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 4:3.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 4:10–12. Trans. partly mine.