(1Co 1:11-13 ESV) 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?
Evidently, Paul had received a visit from a member in Corinth, Chloe, who reported on division within the congregation. And this leads to a four-chapter discussion on congregational unity — a theme that Paul returns to at least in chapter 12 (with respect to gifts). And it may be that other passages are also about the disputes that led to the divisions, but we have no way of knowing for sure.
Paul, Cephas (Peter), and Apollos were all leaders in the church. Paul and Apollos were both missionaries. We might speculate that the followers of Peter were Jewish, but no one knows what might make people prefer Apollos over Paul or vice versa.
Importantly, Paul criticizes the division even by those who claim to follow Christ. It’s to them that he says, “Is Christ divided?” That is, you may say you follow Jesus, but if you’re dividing the church, then you can’t be. Jesus is a uniter, not a divider.
Paul then criticizes those who claim to wear the name of Paul, meaning, of course, to equally criticize those who wear the name of Peter or Apollos. Christians are baptized into the One who was crucified for us — the only one whose name we should wear!
(1Co 1:14-16 ESV) 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.)
Following the example of Jesus, Paul let others handle the immersing of converts. Why? It’s possible that he was looking ahead toward future division, but it seems more likely to me that he wanted his converts to be baptized by someone local — so they’d begin to build relationships with someone who wouldn’t soon leave to do missionary work somewhere else.
It’s been customary for as long as I can remember for our preachers to do the baptizing. That’s not wrong, but I’m not sure that it’s optimal.
In my home congregation, we’ve begun letting parents do the honors for their children, and when someone is converted from outside our biological family, we let the evangelist do the immersing. And having baptized all four of my sons, I can tell you that the preachers have been hogging all the fun — and I think it’s a mistake. I mean, we need to encourage our parents to teach and then baptize their own children. That’s properly their role, and it builds families up in ways you can’t imagine. (Sometimes what seem like small changes can be major tipping points. Test me on this.)
Now, if you start this, there will come a day when a mother wants to baptize her child or when a convert wants to be baptized by the woman who converted him. And it’s okay. The baptism will take just fine. And it’s not an authority position. It’s a service being performed. Like giving a bath. Or burying a body. The authority is all in the name of Jesus. So please don’t tell a single mother who brings her son to Jesus that she can’t immerse her own child.
(1Co 1:17 ESV) 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.
Can you imagine a modern Church of Christ missionary returning to his home church and announcing “Christ did not send me to baptize”? I’m not expert is missiology, but I bet it’s better practice for the missionary to let a native do the baptizing — to set an example that this is what an ordinary Christian can and should do. You don’t have to be a highly degreed Bible expert from the West.
No, Paul saw his purpose as preaching the gospel, which he calls the “word of the cross.” The gospel is all about Jesus and is centered on the cross.
So we need to define a couple of terms. First, “Christ” is from the Greek Christos, meaning “anointed one.” It’s the Greek version of the Hebrew Messiah, which has the same meaning. It’s a reference to such passages as–
(Psa 2:2-3 ESV) 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”
The Scriptures use “anointed” or “anointed one” to refer to a king in the line of David. Hence, “Jesus Christ” would be better translated “Jesus the Messiah” or “Jesus the King.”
Hence, “the cross of Christ” means “the cross of the King,” and the irony is now obvious. Kings crucify their enemies, not the other way around. And then Paul declares the cross to have power to save — again, very ironic. After all, the Romans use the cross to destroy. (We’ll come back to this.)
Notice that “gospel” and “cross” are strongly parallel in the passage. Gospel preaching without the cross is, well, not gospel preaching.
And this brings us to “gospel.” Paul is kind enough to give a classic definition later in the epistle —
(1Co 15:3-9 ESV) 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Notice first that Paul declares that the gospel is about “Christ,” that is, the Messiah. It’s not just Jesus. It’s Jesus, the Messiah (or King). Again, the irony is palpable “the King died for our sins” — exactly the opposite of the expected behavior of a monarch.
Next, it’s “in accordance with the Scriptures,” that is, the Old Testament. We Christians generally read past this phrase, taking it as a mere rhetorical flourish. But it’s actually a highly compressed reference to the origin of the “good news” in the Prophets as the proclamation of a newly anointed king.
Jesus’ sacrificial death is not just in fulfillment of prophecy. It also serves the purposes described in prophecy — to bring the Kingdom, to announce the new King, to bring the outpoured Spirit, and to inaugurate the new covenant of forgiveness.
And then Paul spends the most words on the resurrection, because it’s the resurrection that assures us that God will also resurrect us.
In 1 Cor 1:17, quoted above, Paul says that he did not preach the gospel with “words of eloquent wisdom” because this would deprive the cross of its power. You see, preachers tend to think that it’s up to them to preach the lost into heaven by their eloquence. Paul disagrees. It’s up to us to preach the cross, and God will take care of the rest.
We don’t want to create a congregation or a denomination built on an powerful preacher. We want to be part of the existing church-universal by the power of the cross.