Even a casual reading of 1st Corinthians quickly reveals that when Paul was writing, the church in Corinth was in a mess. Paul needs to address a wide variety of pastoral situations in the church, ranging from serious sexual immorality, through idol worship, to chaotic church services marked by proud one-upmanship.
But he starts in our reading today with the problem of divisions. Paul celebrates that the church in Corinth is unusually gifted, but it is also divided into factions – people who say ‘I follow Paul’ or ‘I follow Apollos’ or ‘I follow Cephas’ or ‘I follow Christ’ (as though the others didn’t!) (1 Cor 1:12) What’s going on?
Paul points out that they have forgotten the heart of the Gospel – Christ and the message of the cross. By adopting worldly standards of wisdom and power, the Corinthians have ended up playing one leader off against another. Only by keeping Christ and the cross central can they resolve their disagreements and address all their other problems.