An Outline of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (Part 3)

M.A. Rudge

From a Scriptural standpoint, each assembly should be sufficiently gifted to function and carry the responsibility for its testimony, in the locality where it has been placed by God. Gift is bestowed by the Lord and its exercise is controlled by the Holy Spirit (12:4-6,11). There is no such thing in Scripture as a ‘one man ministry,’ a ‘one man pastorate,’ or an ‘any man ministry’, or even the arrangement of ‘speakers’, in the form in which it has become a traditional feature in many places. See 12:7-10,12-31. We learn elsewhere that the confirmation or establishment of the assembly is complemented by visits from the Lord’s servants, as directed by Him (Acts 14:21-23; 15:36; 18:23; 1 Cor. 16:5-12).

The assembly at Corinth came behind in no gift, "waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 7). "Waiting" is apekdechomai, awaiting, waiting expectantly. "Coming" is apokalupsis, revelation, unveiling, a disclosure (Matt 10:26; Luke 12:2). The use of this word includes both aspects of the Lord’s coming, His revelation or unveiling to His own at the Rapture and His public manifestation to the world (1 Peter 1:5,7,13; 4:13; 5:1; 2 Thess. 1:7). It would be difficult to think of this reference to our waiting for His coming, without including the Rapture.

A careful consideration of the introductory verses (vv. 1-9), will show that they contain an initial reference to each of the various aspects of truth dealt with in the main body of the epistle. If only the truth of these early verses had been grasped, its development in the following chapters would not have been necessary in the particular form which it takes. The practical realization of the term "church of God", with the sanctified and brotherly conduct which it calls for; calling upon "the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ", which includes the acknowledgment of the Lordship of Christ; what it means to be "called unto [into] the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" - this is the panacea to all the ills that affect collective assembly fellowship and its testimony, whether it is at Corinth or elsewhere. God is able to bring good out of the darkest circumstances and as a result, we are able to profit today from the fundamental teaching of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians.

In the first main section of the epistle, following the introduction and thanksgiving (1:1-9), Paul commences with the identification of divisions and makes his initial condemnation of them (1:10-17). This is the beginning of a most extensive treatment of the subject of unity, both in its essential and practical character, and the development of the subject should be noted at different stages in the epistle.

The house of Chloe had made it clear to the apostle, that there was "strife" in the assembly at Corinth (1:11, "contentions" (AV); 3:3). He had heard that "divisions", schismata, existed among them and he partly believed it (1:10; 11:18). Paul saw the inevitable development from "strife" and "divisions", into sects and sectarianism, if the situation continued unchecked (11:19). Unity could only be recovered and preserved through self-judgment and being "perfectly joined-together in the same mind and in the same judgment." Paul exhorts them "by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together [knit together] in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1:10). In order to be united in the same mind, there must be the same apprehension of truth by all. And in the same judgment means to come to the same decision in the application of the truth. This important aspect of unity must be distinguished from uniformity, brought about by external organization, conforming to majority opinion or intimidation by strong-minded individuals.

There were no sects at Corinth at the time of writing but Paul was obviously concerned that if developments continued, it must inevitably lead to sect-formation, i.e. distinct and separate parties with their own beliefs and practices. This advanced form of division is seen today, in the existence of the different sects of denominationalism and is condemned by God, as a work of the flesh, with gross evil and other lesser forms of division (Gal 5:20). Significantly, the first chapter of the epistle to the Corinthians, disassociates the "church of God" from human names and designations, with their carnal, divisive and sectarian character. It is impossible to defend the existence of denominationalism, with its numerous divisions, in the light of the teaching of this epistle.

Paul disassociates himself from the condition of things at Corinth and makes it clear that his own conduct there had given no ground for it to develop (1:14,15). It is one thing to condemn a situation but it is another thing to act so that we do not lend support to it by our conduct. Servants of God should not be party men. The personality cult and party-spirit should be discouraged and positive encouragement given to what is "of God" and will promote true unity. Paul asks the question, "Is [thel Christ divided?" The use of the definite article and the term, "the Christ", shows that Paul has in mind the unity of the body of Christ, its union with Him and the union between its members (12:12). They are one in an indivisible unity and the existence of divisions was a practical denial of this fundamental truth.

Paul’s conduct at Corinth had been exemplary. Apart from one or two exceptions, it had not been his practice to baptize converts. This was not to set aside the practice of baptism but in order that there could be no suggestion of his becoming a party leader. It is taken for granted that all believers in the church of God at Corinth were baptized (vv. 13-16; 15:29). Verse 16 affords no ground whatever for the practice of ‘household’ baptism in the sense of the baptism of infants in a household. In a situation where whole households are saved and all are baptized at the same time, it is clearly a different matter and this would be the case in the baptism of "the household of Stephanas" (v. 16), which was "the firstfruits of Achaia" (16:5). Cp. Acts 16:31-34, 40. It is impossible to reconcile baptism as a public testimony to conversion, with infant sprinkling, where such an experience is an impossibility and such an act has no significance whatever but is a total falsehood.

The message which the apostle preached and the methods which he used (v. 17), were further evidence that he was not seeking to make converts. The party-spirit with its glorying in men (3:2 1), gave place to man in the flesh and was totally opposed to the character of the gospel and reduced it to the level of a human philosophy with its adherents. No one was entitled to this type of allegiance, except Christ, the One who was crucified for them and into whose Name they were baptized. Divisions and the party-spirit, were due to their low spiritual condition. Their carnality and lack of spiritual progress, were due to the influence of the natural mind in the things of God. When Paul returns to the subject of divisions among them in chapter 3:3,4, we are able to appreciate why he spends so much time, first of all, in dealing with the subject of human wisdom and the natural mind in relation to the apprehension of divine truth. This is the subject dealt with in the next two sections of the epistle (1:18-2:5; 2:6-34).