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The epistle of I Corinthians was written to a church in trouble.
The believers in Corinth knew many wonderful things. They knew about their righteousness in Christ. They knew that they had been made holy. They knew who their Lord was, and they knew about his promised return. Regarding the nine manifestations of the gift of holy spirit which are given to all believers and the ministries which are given to each believer, their knowledge surpassed that of most Christians today.
But the Corinthians had a problem: very little of what they knew was evidenced in the life of the church. Paul, by revelation, explains why.
I Corinthians 3:3
For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
Paul describes the Corinthians as carnal, or fleshly. Of course, being comprised of body, soul, and spirit, all Christians are fleshly, in a sense. But here, as in many places in the New Testament, “fleshly” is not being used literally, but as a figure of speech. It is describing not the bodies of the Corinthians, but their minds.
Although the Corinthians had been taught many truths about their new nature in Christ, those truths did not reign in their minds. They conducted their daily lives and made their daily decisions in the same way that they always had, with the same opinions, prejudices and priorities.
Although God rightly calls them “saints” (I Corinthians 1:2), their thoughts had not changed, and therefore their conduct was indistinguishable from that of the natural man. They “walked as men.”
Perhaps the most noticeable way in which this fleshliness, this carnality, was evidenced in the Corinthian church was in the way in which they viewed their leadership.
I Corinthians 3:4
For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?
In flagrant disregard of the truth that “God hath tempered the body together.”
(I Corinthians 12:24) and that all of the ministries which He has ordained are needed, the Corinthians were taking sides. They were deciding, in their fleshly minds, which ministries were important and which were insignificant (though it should be noted that there is no indication that any of the leaders being discussed were encouraging or participating in such foolishness).
Further detail can be found in chapter one.
I Corinthians 1:12
Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas [Peter]; and I of Christ.
Really, this situation is not at all mysterious. The carnal man, disregarding his completeness in Christ, is bound to find his self-worth in some work, some decision, which separates him from others. In essence, these people were saying, “Paul (or Apollos, or Peter … ) is the BEST leader. I’m one of his supporters. Therefore I am a little better than the rest of you.”
It is interesting to note that one group claimed to be “of Christ,” perhaps implying, “We’re not followers of men like all of you are – and that makes us better!”
Obviously, this type of behavior is not rare. People find satisfaction in aligning themselves with the “best” athlete, singer, or politician. The world calls them “idols.” With such a mentality, it is not surprising to read in Scripture that one day men and women will be delighted to follow the ultimate idol, whom God calls the Antichrist.
Yes, that is the way of the world, but it should not be the way of the church! Nevertheless, this type of thinking prevailed in Corinth – as it does in much of Christianity today.
I Corinthians 1:13
Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
How sad that so many Christians are exhausting themselves in the pursuit of the “right” man to follow. And once they think they have found him, he can do no wrong. That is, until he does something which they don’t like – at which point they go flitting off again, looking for the next “right” man.
Yes, how sad that such Christians will dismiss even serious error in “their” man, but condemn even the slightest discrepancy in faithful ministers of Christ who don’t happen to be “their” men.
This is nothing but carnality.
True, not all men who claim to serve the Lord Jesus Christ are actually doing so (see Romans 16:18, e.g.), but the validity of their service is not to be judged by the standards of the world.
I Corinthians 4: 1, 2
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.
God has set many different ministries in the Body. All are needed, though their functions may differ greatly. And all men and women who are operating their ministries with faithfulness to the doctrine of God’s Word are to be valued by the church. All other standards which I might set up, standards by which a minister is acceptable or unacceptable to me, are simply–like those of the Corinthians–carnal. And thus they have no place in the church.
For those still looking for the “right” man, perhaps we can take a lesson from the Corinthians. Such a pursuit will always be fruitless, for even the best of us fall far short of perfection in our lives and ministries. I believe that this is one of the reasons God put us all together. We are not in the Body to point out one another’s faults, but rather to compensate for them – with love.
And, thankfully, there is a right man. He is the man on the right hand!
I Corinthians 8: 6
But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
As Christians, Jesus Christ is the only one whom we can now claim to be “of.” And, unlike the Corinthians, our message to each other can and should be, “I am of Christ – and you are too.” Because he is the savior, the redeemer, the great unifier who “made both one” in himself. He is the only “right” man, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
I Corinthians 1: 9, 10
God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now I beseech you, brethren, 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 in the same mind and in the same judgment.