Since the first-century Corinthian Christians had been converted through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit and His revelation of the gospel to them (Acts 18:1–11; 1 Cor. 1:4–9; 2:1–16), they were in fact spiritual people. Yet, as is often the case with spiritual people—that is, believers in Christ—the first-century Corinthians were not acting in a spiritual way but were following worldly wisdom. Paul makes this point again in 1 Corinthians 3:4, where he says that their factionalism that pitted one teacher against another embodied what it means to act in a “merely human” way.
Why is it merely human to divide into factions and use personal connections and affinities to try to gain position in the church? Because it means we are looking to human beings and their gifts and talents for power, forgetting that all who are in Christ have the true God in common and that any success we have in ministry comes from Him. The Lord does give different gifts to His people, and some, such as the Apostles, have gifts that are more prominent than others, but that does not mean the growth and health of the church are due finally to those individuals. The church’s growth and health, rather, come from God. This is the heart of Paul’s argument in today’s passage.
To focus on the gifted individual and not the gift giver is contrary to the ways of God because it denies the sovereign power of God in the gospel to convert and edify the elect (see 1:10–31). Believers, by the grace of God, may play a significant role in the kingdom of God. Yet, they do not determine the expansion and success of this kingdom. This is true even of noted Christian teachers such as Apollos and founding Apostles such as Paul. Each believer is gifted by God and granted a task such as planting the gospel through preaching or facilitating the growth of believers’ faith and practice through edifying instructions. Nevertheless, any growth that comes is from God, just as a farmer can credit the growth of his crops only to the Lord, despite the efforts he puts into it (3:6–7). In the grand scheme of things, we are but servants who work according to God’s design, and He effects spiritual growth, not us (v. 5).
Thus, it is foolish to pit one orthodox teacher against another or to divide into factions to oppose the sound efforts of others. We are all on the same team, as it were, if we are in Christ. God means for us to be unified as we fulfill the Great Commission (vv. 8–9). The work is His work, and He is one.