This passage in 1 Corinthians 1, oft quoted, is I feel often taken out of context. Some would say we shouldn’t follow a man, based on these verses, yet can one only speak of following Christ?
Or is that to be amongst those listed here as saying ‘I of Christ’?
It is clear elsewhere in the scriptures that Paul did teach others to follow him, as he followed Christ – and it clearly isn’t wrong to follow Christ.
So what is being taught here?
The primary cause of Paul’s admonition here is to counter division in the church. To counter some following one preacher, but not others, with others following another preacher, but not the former. Others yet, wary of following any man, say they only follow Christ.
Paul counters this attitude by emphasising the preaching of the cross, the preaching of ‘Christ crucified’, in order to bring in unity. Only Christ and His Gospel unites God’s people. Paul is not saying ‘don’t follow me’, neither is he saying don’t follow Cephas’. He is exhorting not to follow any one of God’s servants at the exclusion of another – don’t cause division or schism amongst God’s people. Instead hear, and follow, all those whom God sends with His word, all those who preach the message of the cross – ‘Christ crucified’.
That is the ground of unity – Christ and His Gospel. And all who confess that Gospel should gladly receive those who preach it. Not one preacher at the exclusion of another, and not Christ at the exclusion of all preachers!
For some, fearing to be accused of following any man, would rather piously say ‘I only follow Christ’…. But in reality if we follow Christ, we follow those whom He sends to preach His Gospel, in whom He dwells, and by whom He speaks, for “how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?” (Romans 10:14-15)
Yes that is the ground of unity, and the only ground of unity in God’s church. The Gospel. The message of the cross. It is that message which brings in the church, which gathers it, which unites it, which feeds it, builds it up, strengthens it. Only the preaching of this message will heal the wounds of division, and only the preaching of this message will prevent division.
Sadly, wherever the flesh is present, and it is present in all of us, there is that which wars against the Spirit, that which causes strife, that which promotes pride, that which causes some to follow one man, others to follow another; some to find fault with one, others to find fault with another. This must be guarded against. We should be slow to find fault, longsuffering with our brethren, quick to esteem others better than ourselves.
Only God’s grace will bring about such a spirit in the midst of His people, and it is by the preaching of the cross, the preaching of ‘Christ crucified’ in the message of the Gospel that that grace is bestowed upon God’s people. Oh how thankful we should be then when God gives preachers after His own heart to His church. How we should receive them and hear them for Christ’s sake, and not just one, but all who are sent our way in Christ’s name, as His servants, His gifts to the church, the One Body of Christ – yet at the same time having that wisdom needed to keep from those who would bring another message, and another gospel, which can never unite but only divide.
May God be pleased to unite His people as one in Christ, in His Gospel, as one people who are in and ‘of Christ’, yet also ‘of’ all whom He sends to them to preach His everlasting Gospel for their good, and His glory.
By Ian Potts