Earlier in chapter one Paul mentions that the church had been having issues that caused divisions. Some were claiming to be of Paul, some followed Apollos, and still other Cephas or Christ. Having dealt with it briefly in the first chapter, Paul returns to it now in chapter three of 1 Corinthians.
With two homilies on the wisdom of God (in the cross and through the Spirit) firmly in place as a foundation, Paul is ready to take a second look at how his readers should see Paul, Apollos and Cephas.
Ken Bailey summarizes what we’ve been through so concisely. Paul sees their issue and it isn’t just division. These divisions reveal a spiritual immaturity. Paul has to lay a groundwork for them to understand the wisdom of God and their actions impede such understanding. Paul says that he cannot address them as spiritual people, rather they are infants needing milk. Again Bailey is insightful here. It isn’t because the Corinthians are not smart enough that they can’t understand, it is because of their petty infightings and jealousies. Bailey writes that we tend to think that all it takes to acquire truth is “a good mind and a willingness to work hard… Paul disagrees.”
When there is strife the people are acting merely human. Paul wants something more. He doesn’t want more praise or more followers for himself. He wants them to see Paul, Apollos, and Cephas for what they truly are. Once again from Bailey:
The Corinthians thought that when they declared themselves to be “of Apollos” or “of Paul” that they were making complimentary statements about their champions. No, replies Paul, be creating these divisions you are saying nothing about us–you are talking about yourselves, and what you are is not flattering! Do not imagine that we are pleased!
Beginning in verse five he begins to try to set them straight with two short parables.