The apostle Paul learned from Chloe that the church at Corinth was rife with “quarrels” (I Cor. 1:11). As he described it in his letter to them, “each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ’” (v. 12). We may admire Paul for displaying humility by naming himself first as the leader cited by one of the factions. A lesser man, a proud man, well might have been pleased that many whom he had taught were following him. But not Paul in this instance. Paul does not reject the responsibility of taking the oversight or the requirement on believers to submit to the shepherd that God has placed over them, because later he twice tells them to imitate him (4:16; 11:1). But, apparently, they have maintained their positions in a proud, argumentative, and divisive manner.
We may also understand his concern with those who had named Apollos as the man to whom they had adhered. After all, though Apollos was a gifted and godly man (Acts 18:24, 25), when Priscilla and Aquila first met him, they found it necessary to explain “the way of God more accurately” to him (v. 26). Whether or not some inaccuracies had lingered and been communicated to the Corinthians, we might have some cause to question the validity of following Apollos. Then there is Cephas, or Peter, who, although chief of the twelve apostles, acknowledged that Paul’s epistles contained “some things hard to understand” (II Pet. 3:16). We may not be entirely sure whether Peter at that point was including himself among those who found some of Paul’s doctrine challenging to understand. But we do know that at an earlier point Paul had had to confront and correct Peter. Paul’s own testimony was: “I opposed him to his face” (Gal. 2:11). And so we might also understand the warning about following Peter. But what of those who professed, “I [am] of Christ”? How is it possible that Paul could condemn them equally with the other factions? Isn’t the very essence of salvation to be “of Christ”? In fact, until someone is “in Christ” to the exclusion of everyone and everything else, he is lost in his sin. Again, then, on what basis might Paul include these in his general rebuke?
The pronounced reason. The cause for rebuking the faction of believers who claim to be of Christ is identical in at least one regard to that of the members of the other factions: they are all governed by a contentious spirit. Paul has said that they are quarreling, which is not the same as contending for the faith. One who contends for the faith stands for the truth for the sake of the Lord and the blessing of those who are in error; one who quarrels stands for the rightness of his position and is concerned above everything to win an argument or to prove himself right. Pride rather than charity and righteousness rules. Paul later observes that their “jealousy and strife” demonstrate a “fleshly” attitude (3:3). They are not so much concerned about the purity of truth, the honor of God, and the blessing of their brethren as they are about the status of themselves.
The possible reason. Though not stated directly, a second possible reason for rebuking those who claimed to be followers of Christ is one that has occurred frequently in the church, namely, a rejection of human authority. What more pious way to rebel against God-ordained authority than to claim to follow Christ to the exclusion of those whom He has called to shepherd the flock? The Word of God requires believers to obey and submit to their spiritual leaders (Heb. 13:17), to submit to governmental authorities (I Pet. 2:13, 14), and even to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21). The rebellious person finds all such restraints burdensome and may argue that he will follow Christ rather than men. The words may sound pious, but they express an explicit rejection of the revealed will of God. Such rebellion is sin. If we truly follow Christ, we obey His Word and we submit to the authorities God has placed over us.
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