I am struck by Paul’s appeal to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 1: they are all to agree with one another; there are to be no divisions among them, and they are to be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Corinthians 1:10-11). Why is Paul making this appeal?
It has come to Paul’s attention that there is quarreling among the Corinthians based on growing factions. Some wear Paul’s brand, others Apollos’ brand, others Cephas’ brand, and still others Christ’s supposed brand (1 Corinthians 1:11-12). The Corinthian church has lost sight of Christ’s supremacy and the call to swear ultimate allegiance to him. Everyone is subject to him.
“Why is Christ supreme?”, someone might ask. Paul’s answer: Christ is not divided. Christ was crucified for them, not Paul. They were baptized into Christ’s name, not Paul’s (1 Corinthians 1:13). Christ’s blood is thicker than their factions resulting from Christian celebrity brands.
We divide Christ when we make him one of many competing Christian brands. We dishonor him when we place our boast in anything or anyone but him. After all, Christ’s blood is thicker than brand.
Have Christian celebrities (Paul, Apollos, Cephas, or someone else) suffered the humiliation of crucifixion, bled and died to take away our sins? Have we entered the church through baptism in their name? Of course not. But then, why do we do it—boast in others rather than Christ, and so divide and dishonor him?
Ultimately, it is bound up with the foolishness of not finding Christ most attractive. It is bound up with not seeing how fickle and fleeting brands are: here today and gone tomorrow or sometime down the road. In contrast, Christ and his shed blood’s imprint last forever—they’re thick, not thin.
Still, competition for religious market shares weighs heavily on us today. We feel the pressure of finding our worth and significance in relation to how many fans we have and how many seats are filled. All of us struggle in this regard. Will we ever be immune to such fantasies that bewitch us in view of the serpent’s cunning? (2Corinthians 11:1-4) How will we ever be truly concerned for the common good within the church and outside the church if what drives us is not our uncommon God revealed in Jesus and the affection that flows from him?
How can we work to build unity in view of Paul’s exhortation and example?
First, compare the incomparable Christ favorably to oneself, as Paul does. He does not go after Peter or Apollos and leave himself out of the picture. Rather, Paul tells everyone, including the Paul faction, that his brand is not worth anything in comparison with Christ and his shed blood. Christ alone is worthy of our ultimate affection and allegiance: Who else is so true? Who else loves so purely? In view of Paul, we should compare Christ favorably to ourselves. After all, we pale in comparison. Moreover, we should not demean other leaders to promote Christ and oneself. Please note that Paul does challenge the super apostle celebrities in his day (2 Corinthians 11:5); however, Paul was not trying to elevate himself, but to win the Corinthians hearts back to him as their spiritual father so as to nurture them to adulthood in Christ (2 Corinthians 11:1-15). The super apostles, not to be confused with Cephas or Apollos, had no inclination in this regard. They were not concerned for Christ, but for themselves. Paul wanted the Corinthians to follow his example as a faithful witness to Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), not to follow him and become his fan. How did Paul try to win the Corinthian church back to Christ? By reminding them of his own resume in service to Christ and them. Please note that the resume he shares is not one filled with celebrity accolades, but with his sufferings for Christ and for them (2 Corinthians 11:16-33). Paul’s posture was one of suffering on behalf of Christ and the Corinthian Christians, not one of lording it over them, as was the case with the super apostles (2 Corinthians 11:20-21). Paul shared his sufferings and weaknesses with them so as to soften and break their hard hearts and win them back to Christ. Paul’s aim was to magnify Christ’s power and wisdom through his own weakness and foolishness demonstrated out of his love for Christ and them (2 Corinthians 11-12).
Second, connect everyone in the church to Christ. After all, Christ is not divided (1 Corinthians 1:13). All who are Christians have Christ in common. As much as is biblically possible, find points of harmony and agreement. Focus on what we share in common in Christ as revealed in the Bible, while not discounting important differences. While this is often easier said than done, we must make Christ the main thing and bring his supremacy to bear on everything that divides us. Everything else pales in comparison. Keep in mind that 1 Corinthians 15’s presentation of Jesus’ person and work is central to Paul’s understanding of the gospel, and should be ours as well. See also 2 Corinthians 11:4 about the preaching of other Christs and other spirits and other gospels than the Jesus, Spirit and gospel proclaimed by Paul and the apostolic community, including Cephas and Apollos.
Third, cling to the content of Christ, not cleverness. Paul did not cling to wisdom and eloquence, though he was a profoundly wise man and a master of rhetoric, as displayed in his arguments against fleshly thought forms and trickery set forth in 1 and 2Corinthians. Christian fan clubs are built around personalities, not the person and work of Christ and his call to carry our crosses and follow him. I surely hope I am not Christ’s fan, but rather his servant follower. It is one thing to follow someone on Twitter or Facebook, quite another to follow Christ. Arguments empty of Christ’s cross (1 Corinthians 1:17) are empty of his power and wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:17-31). How empty are we, no matter how full of ourselves we might be? Let’s move beyond boasting in brands to boasting in Christ and his blood: Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord”(1 Corinthians 1:31).
This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at The Christian Post.