Third Sunday after Epiphany

If we belong together to Christ, we must belong to one another

Brilliant star in night sky with streaks of light emerging
Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

January 22, 2023

Second Reading
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Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Perhaps this is one of the greatest understatements in all of Christendom: there are quarrels among you. Quarrel is a quaint word for what evolved in the history of the church. Time and again, century after century, Christian movement after movement, Powers and Principalities wooed us, wormed their way into our consciousness, worked division and competition, and won wreckage over our feeble faith. There are quarrels among you.

Following are four themes developed last week for possible sermon series.

Called to be saints together

Be in agreement, with no divisions among you, united in the same mind and the same purpose. Experience tells us this is impossible. Was Paul naïve? Shaming us for our inability to be united with no divisions? Did he think we simply needed a bit more time in seminary, a touch of Christology (you were not baptized into the name of Paul or Apollos or Cephas)? Perhaps Paul was not so much naïve or shaming or educating as unapologetically proclaiming the absolute sufficiency of Jesus Christ for each of us and all of us together. As suggested in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, Paul’s problem is not with Apollos or any other teacher of the faith. Paul’s problem is with the divisiveness that comes when our allegiance is to teacher and preacher, and not to Christ alone.

One would think that at a time when the Christian churches were in the minority, had no control in culture or commerce or politics or finance, when the odds seemed stacked against their survival, one would think they would band together. But that is not the way of human nature. The teacher or preacher through whom their lives were so dramatically changed held their loyalty. One had the gift of eloquence, another was the rock, another an important traveling evangelist. Their preacher had told them the word of truth. And they were proud.

Add then to their bickering over the relative importance of spiritual gifts, their squabbling over whose preacher was the best. The response of Paul to these reports is the antidote to thinking there is no narrative to follow when preaching from the Pauline corpus, or that Paul was a cold and detached, emotionless theologian. Paul is exasperated. He is confident God has given to the people of God every gift needed to do the work of Jesus until he comes again. Any form of division or competition is antithetical to this mission.

One must wonder if there is anything more damaging to the mission of the Christian Church today than its internal quarrels, its infighting, its competition within the body for followers, fame, and fortune. When prominence of preachers or competition among congregations, or survival of denomination or tradition becomes more important than the ministry of Jesus, we find ourselves in the same boat with those Corinthian followers of Paul, Apollos, or Cephas. 

Together we lack no spiritual gift

It is the gifts, the life experience, the social location, the cultural, national, denominational, racial, ethnic, gender identity and more of the people and leadership of the church that gives the most complete picture and witness of the body of Christ. It is all these and more that constitute the ways the gifts of the Holy Spirit are experienced and exercised. It is not an act of charity to reach out to those different from us or our way of being Christ’s person in the world, or who have been taught the faith differently. It is an act of faithfulness, an extension of the faith of Jesus, to seek communion with all those who call upon the name of Jesus.

In no New Testament list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit does one find loyalty to a preacher or cell in the body of Christ, or cultural way of life. In no New Testament list of gifts of the Holy Spirit does one find boasting in human capacity or success. Many years ago, during my graduate school days when I supplied pulpits during the summers, an old farmer in a rural NJ congregation proudly told me this was his church, and he would stay “if the devil himself was the minister.” I remember saying to him, “and it’s every minister’s job to make sure you know the difference between the devil ‘himself’ and the pastor who preaches Jesus Christ and him crucified so it never comes to that.” 

The cross of Christ is emptied of its power when the gifts of a few are celebrated as most or singularly important.  The cross of Christ is emptied of its power when our loyalty is to preacher, teacher, local congregation, nationality, or culture first, and not to the gospel message of the unearned, unmerited, undeserved love of God in Jesus Christ.

It’s not about you 

Paul quotes what he has heard from Chloe’s people, that the Christians in Corinth are claiming “‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’”  You can hear the pride as they claim their teacher or preacher, and you can hear the smugness as some pull out the “trump”1 card with “I belong to Christ.” It is not about who “you” think you belong to. Paul even trivializes any importance put on who conducted one’s baptism by pointing out he has baptized nearly no one, well, except for a few, or more, or oh well, who remembers?!  It is about Jesus Christ and him crucified, and he cannot be divided according to teacher or tradition. If we belong together to Christ, we must belong to one another.

God is faithful

We cannot count on our teachers, preachers, congregations, or ourselves to be faithful. Full stop. Allegiance to human authorities or structures is an invitation to the powers and principalities to take our focus off the faithfulness of God. The faithfulness of God is perfect, and extends to the least of us, those of us without intellectual prowess or eloquence so that the message of the crucified Christ is not confused with human ingenuity. 


  1. trump card: “(in bridge, whist, and similar card games) a playing card of the suit chosen to rank above the others, which can win a trick where a card of a different suit has been led.” Or, a valuable resource that can be used to gain advantage.