“For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” (1 Cor. 3:4).
One of the unfortunate realities that has been the case from the beginning of the dispensation of the grace of God is the role that politics has played. I’m not referring to the politics of a nation but politics within the church. Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth tells us that “envying, and strife, and divisions” (1 Cor. 3:3) are most certainly not a new problem for the church.
Paul established the church in Corinth during his second Apostolic journey and spent over a year and a half ministering there and building up that assembly (cf. Acts 18:1-11). We might expect Paul would receive an overabundance of admiration from the church he planted; however, this was hardly the case. Despite being the “chosen vessel” (Acts 9:15) through which God unveiled the mystery and the “wise masterbuilder” that “laid the foundation” (1 Cor. 3:10), Paul was faced with a group of believers in Corinth that were determined to elevate others based upon their personal desires and loyalties.
Shortly after Paul left Corinth for Syria, Apollos, “an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures,” arrived (Acts 18:24 cf. v. 18;19:1). Evidently, Apollos had quite an impact. So much so that people began to choose him as their favorite; this problem and the degree to which it was taking place should not be missed by us today. For no less than five times in the first four chapters of this epistle, does Paul call attention to this divisive conduct (cf. 1 Cor. 1:12; 3:4-6,22).
I have been asked numerous times how and when the church began to deviate from Paul’s doctrine (cf. Rom. 16:25) and toward that of the twelve apostles. Though we can’t say for sure, the type of behavior displayed in Corinth may have been one of the things that propelled us in that direction.
According to Irenaeus (c. AD 130-202) and Tertullian (c. 155-220), a man by the name of Polycarp (c. AD 69-155) was a student of the Apostle John (who outlived the other apostles), not only him but also a man named Ignatius (c. 35-110).
Now, we don’t presume that their writings or church tradition are to be fully trusted, as these relationships may have been embellished to establish a hierarchy that eventually became the Catholic church. However, if there is any truth to these claims, as often the case is with any lie to include some truth, we might find why the church went in the direction it did. Was their relationship with John a cause for promoting him and his teachings over Paul, like some in Corinth did with Apollos? Reading Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians, you find many statements which come from the Gospels and General Epistles, which do not agree with the Pauline Epistles.
Other than the obvious reasons of doctrinal error, why should we today be concerned about diminishing some in order to elevate “our guy”? Well, notice Paul’s admonition that in doing so, “are ye not carnal” (1 Cor. 3:4), something Paul calls them three times in the first four verses of this chapter. Did Paul chastise the Corinthians because he was expecting to be their favorite, the one they “liked”?
Of course not, as he said, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed….I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase….So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (vv. 5-7).
Paul’s concern was that they were walking “as men” (v. 3), meaning in the flesh. What mattered to him was not that he received their praise but ensuring that God received all the praise that was due Him. He said, “let no man glory in men…Whether Paul, or Apollos…” (vv. 21,22). Picking one at the expense of another only served to hinder the cause of Christ.
Unfortunately, this type of thing is still happening and hindering the work of God. Today, YouTube and Facebook likes and shares are used competitively by some to promote one Bible teacher against another. What would Paul think of this? Concerning himself and Apollos, he wrote, “that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another” (1 Cor. 4:6).
Paul was concerned that people were more loyal to a person than to the doctrine. May we, today, have the wisdom to never choose between men but instead between the doctrine. Let us elevate all men that live and teach sound doctrine, “For we are labourers together with God…” (v. 9).
To the Reader:
Some of our Two Minutes articles were written many years ago by Pastor C. R. Stam for publication in newspapers. When many of these articles were later compiled in book form, Pastor Stam wrote this word of explanation in the Preface:
"It should be borne in mind that the newspaper column, Two Minutes With the Bible, has now been published for many years, so that local, national and international events are discussed as if they occurred only recently. Rather than rewrite or date such articles, we have left them just as they were when first published. This, we felt, would add to the interest, especially since our readers understand that they first appeared as newspaper articles."
To this we would add that the same is true for the articles written by others that we continue to add, on a regular basis, to the Two Minutes library. We hope that you'll agree that while some of the references in these articles are dated, the spiritual truths taught therein are timeless.