In an article in Sports Illustrated, sportswriter Rick Reilly dryly mocks today’s self–esteem generation: “I know what all these NPR–listening, Starbucks–guzzling parents want. They want their Ambers and their Alexanders to grow up in a cozy womb of noncompetition where everybody shares tofu, and Little Red Riding Hood and the big bad wolf set up a commune. Then their kids will stumble out into the bright light of the real world and find out that, yes, there’s weak and there’s strong and teams and sides and winning and losing.”
As the spiritual father of the Corinthian church, Paul struck a balance between coddling and competition, for he knew that either extreme was unhealthy spiritually. He was not afraid to talk to his spiritual children about where they were weak and where improvement was needed. His letter began with gracious words of encouragement, but he turned quickly to address the problems. Serious disunity plagued this church, producing quarrels and factions. The Christians in Corinth had divided themselves according to different allegiances and loyalties: “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” “I follow Cephas,” and even “I follow Christ.”
We aren’t told the reasons for these factions. Apollos was an eloquent teacher of the Scriptures and may have been favored for his rhetorical talents (cf. Acts 18:24–28). Peter, or Cephas, was of course a prominent member of Jesus’ original twelve disciples. Paul himself founded the church at Corinth. No doubt each faction argued why their guy was the best.
Notice that what is at stake here was more than the Corinthians simply not getting along or someone’s hurt feelings. The disunity threatened the integrity of the gospel and the message of the Cross. The Cross of Christ wields the power to bring wildly diverse people into agreement of mind and thought. The Cross exchanges ethnic and cultural identities for the name, Christian. At the Cross, forgiveness is freely offered to all, and together the people of God are baptized into one name: Jesus Christ. When disunity prevails, it makes a mockery of the Cross.