Perhaps no church in the history of the world was more flawed and cracked than the one in Corinth. There was a man in an immoral relationship. The pews had former drunks, homosexuals, and thieves in them. Some brethren had sued other brethren. Things were so bad in Corinth they couldn’t even observe the Lord’s Supper correctly. But their greatest crack was the constant division that existed among them as brethren.
is important to understand why Corinth was divided as a congregation. Satan already learned in Corinth just how successful he could be in causing cracks in a local church. He will try to do that still today. In fact, he IS trying to do that today. Of this we can be certain.
Paul gives the reasons for their problems in one passage… “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” (1 Corinthians 3:1–3, ESV)
First, the Corinthian brethren struggled with division because they acted like “people of the flesh.” He ends by saying they were “behaving only in a human way.” What Paul is really saying is that they failed to act like disciples. They were not spiritually minded. Instead, they behaved in fleshly ways with fleshly concerns.
Second, Paul says two specific attitudes contributed to their division: envy and strife. Envy, or jealousy, is defined as a rivalry. The brethren in Corinth were consumed with competing with one another. Who was favored more than the others? Who had better spiritual gifts? Who was more vital to the work? Who could control more or have a greater influence? This competitive rivalry divided the Corinthian church severely.
Strife is an escalated form of envy. It is a contentious approach to one another that would result in quarreling and fighting. In Galatians 5 Paul describe it this way,“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:14–15). When Christians are more interested in devouring one another than loving one another, there will always be problems.
Third, all of this resulted in divisions. Paul goes on to show how they were divided: “For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?” (1 Cor. 3:4). They had divided among who they preferred to preach or who had baptized them into Christ. Strife and envy led the brethren in Corinth to have factions within the church. One group was pitted against the other group. Both were overlooking the others and uninterested in serving them.
Why is this passage recorded for us? So that we can learn and correct our own mistakes (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Don’t act fleshly. Don’t behave like humans. Avoid strife and envy. And realize that we are to love and accept one another rather than bite and devour. God called us to be united as one body (1 Cor. 12:12–13). Let’s make sure we learn from Corinth and avoid divisions.