I Follow Paul

Be followers of me, as I also am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1

In the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul rebukes the Christians at Corinth for having said “I follow Paul.” Yet, in chapter 11 of the same letter, he commands them: “Be followers of me.” Is he contradicting himself?

Not at all. It is clear from chapter 1 that the church in Corinth was divided into a number of factions, the reason being that people strongly identified themselves with the teachings of certain individuals. And so they were saying “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” and “I follow Cephas.” Paul sets the record straight by asking “Is Christ divided?” (1:13).

The message is clear: The gospel cannot be reduced to the teaching of one dynamic individual, group or denomination. This leads to religious pride and elitism. In the end it leads to full-blown sectarianism. Celebrity ministers and cult followings are anathema in the church of Jesus Christ.

The verse above does not contradict Paul’s remarks, but confirms them. Note the defining words “as I also am of Christ”. The apostle is simply saying: “You may follow me, but only insofar as I am following Christ.” Put differently: “Imitate me in the sense that I do not imitate anyone except Christ.” This is just another way of saying “Don’t even think of following me or any other human being.”

This idea does not come from Paul but from Jesus Christ himself. The key sentence of his ministry was “Follow me.” And, of course, he said things like “Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ” (Matthew 23:8, 10).

Jesus never saved us to become followers of other human beings. He saved us for himself. Let us keep it this way.

2 thoughts on “I Follow Paul

  1. Chris Lovie-Tyler June 9, 2011 / 7:30 pm

    Excellent stuff, Tobie. We need people like you who will, unrelentingly, keep pointing us back to Christ.

  2. naturalchurch June 21, 2011 / 5:56 am

    Thanks for the comment, Chris. (I’ve been out of circulation for a while due to work pressure.) We talk much of the sufficiency of Christ, but I think most of us have not even begun to understand just how sufficient He is. The basis of this sufficiency is “the fullness of the Godhead that dwells bodily in Him”. If we wish to supplement this in some or other way our commitment to his “sufficiency” is mere lip-service – on the same pas as the empty religious language that characterised the sect of the Pharisees, providing a form of godliness with no power whatsoever.

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