16. NOT WHO BUT WHAT

THE CORINTHIANS had many problems. Paul wrote what we call First Corinthians to correct some of them, probably in response to a letter from Corinth (I Corinthians 7:1) as well as personal reports from various ones of the church there (1:11; 5:1; 16:17). Perhaps we would not have recognized this church as a church of the Lord. Yet Paul addresses them as “sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1:2). But he sternly rebukes them and warns them of their fate unless they repent and reform.

Chapters one through four deal with a worldly pride in human wisdom. In the Corinthians’ case, this showed itself in favoritism of preachers. Paul says they had actually taken sides with different evangelists. One group was saying “we are of Paul.” Another said, “we are of Apollos.” Others said, “We are of Cephas.” And some seem to have been claiming Christ as their own personal property — as if He did not belong to every Christian. They said, “we are of Christ” (1:11-12).

Paul reproves them for this division. “Is Christ divided?” he asks. “Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” The answer to each question is No! Christ belongs to every Christian. And every Christian should say only “I am of Christ,” not “I am of Paul” (or Apollos, or Peter, or Luther, or Wesley, or Calvin, or Campbell).

In this context, and because of their foolish pride in men, Paul says, “I thank God that I baptized none of you but Crispus and Gaius.” And then he explains why. “Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name” (1:14,15). The important thing is not who baptized you, he says, but into whom you were baptized.

Christ sent apostles and evangelists to preach the gospel, and only then to baptize — in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:18,19). Paul, too, was sent primarily to preach Christ and Him crucified. Others could administer baptism to those who responded to the preaching in faith. Yet Paul himself had sometimes done the baptizing also. In the case of the confused Corinthians, he was glad that his personal baptizing had been limited. They thought they were baptized into a relationship with Paul rather than with Christ! (There were various “mystery religions” in the area that practiced a sort of “initiation baptism” which did link the proselyte to the one performing it.)

This epistle does not minimize baptism for the right purpose and in its place. It says that baptism was prefigured in the Old Testament (10:1, 2). It says that baptism is grounded in the power of the Holy Spirit and is common to every true believer (12:13). It is “into one body” — the Body of Christ, the church (12:13).

In the New Testament baptism is not the first thing or the most important. It has sometimes been over-emphasized in the history of the church, when men put trust in it instead of in the faith which prompts it or the Christ who commands it. Far more frequently it has been minimized or even ignored by those who put trust in faith “only,” and did not understand that faith must show itself

in works of obedience if it is a saving faith and not a dead one (see Romans 16:26; Colossians 2:12; James 2: 20-24).

Let us take all the Bible says and not just a part. And let us always seek to study the Scriptures in their context, instead of merely lifting phrases here and there which appeal to our personal opinions or preconceived notions.

Only this will help us or please God.