Paul Speaks to a Divided Church

MEMORY VERSE: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call.” —Ephesians 4:4, RSV


DIVISIONS among the professed followers of Jesus had their beginnings in the Early Church. The Apostle Paul described members of the church at Corinth as carnal, because they did not have the proper spirit of unity. Apparently they were meeting together, but in a carnal spirit of disagreement rather than in the true spirit of unity.

One of the ways their carnal spirit of disunity was manifested was in forming what seems to have amounted to various “parties” within the church. There was a Paul party, an Apollos party, a Cephas, or Peter party and a Christ party. Perhaps with some the basis of their allegiance to Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas was that these servants of Christ had baptized them, for Paul tells them that he had baptized very few, hence that there were very few who claimed attachment to him on this ground.

The Christ party seems to have been in a somewhat different category. Chapter 1:18 through 2:16 could indicate that those of the Christ party belonged to an ancient movement known as gnostics. The term comes from a Greek word, gnos, which means knowledge. The gnostics claimed that they possessed a special kind of knowledge that set them apart from others, and upon a higher level of religious consciousness than those who lacked this special endowment.

On the surface we might be inclined to compliment those in the Corinthian church who claimed to be of Christ. After all, he is the Head of the church, and what could be wrong in renouncing all human leadership and claiming to be only of Christ? But in this case Paul must have recognized the motives of these brethren, and therefore listed them among the other carnal ones in the Corinthian church.

And it might well be in this case that these considered themselves to be a sort of spiritual aristocracy in the church, excelling in knowledge and in other ways, and who claimed this superiority on the basis that they alone followed only Christ. This claim of greater spirituality than others has plagued some in the church throughout the age.

Certainly it is good to attain as much knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ as we can, through the study of the Word of truth of the Bible; but if we begin to feel that we are superior to others in spirituality, and that the Lord through his Holy Spirit is especially directing us, and is not directing those who may not agree with us, we are on dangerous ground. The plan of salvation as taught in the Bible is simple—simple enough for all the Lord’s dear people to understand, and the more we adhere to these simple truths as they are centered in Christ Jesus, the greater will be the rejoicing among those with whom we may be associated. May we continue to rejoice in the Gospel of Christ, which is the power of God unto salvation.—Rom. 1:16


At the time he wrote his first epistle to the brethren at Corinth, Paul was not at all sure of his standing with them. Some claimed to be of his party, but he was not pleased with this situation. However, he knew that a strong message was needed, and he did not hesitate to give such a message regardless of what the result might be so far as he was concerned.

So, toward the close of his second epistle he writes, “Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved. For I fear that I may come and find you not what I wish, and that you may find me not what you wish.”—vss. 19,20, RSV

Paul’s plea for unity is beautifully summed up in our memory verse. Truly there is but one body and one spirit; and we have been called in the one hope that belongs to our call.


What is the main theme of the lesson, and how is it summed up in the memory verse?

Dawn Bible Students Association
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