Can you imagine living in Corinth and getting a letter from Paul, the apostle, in which he wrote, “I thank God that I did not baptise any of you except Crispus and Gaius” (1 Corinthians 1:14 NET)? Why would Paul thank God that he had not baptised very many people?
During the years I have studied the Bible with people, I have had some use this verse to try to explain that baptism really isn’t important, after all Paul was thankful that he didn’t baptize many and later on in this chapter he even said, “For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17). But is this really the point that Paul was making, that baptism isn’t important?
If we look at what Paul did as he travelled from place to place as he was preaching, we discover that baptism was something the Paul always did. He would teach people about Jesus and then he would baptize them so that their sins were forgiven. Example after example of this can be found in the book of Acts, from Lydia to the Philippian jailor, and not to forget his own example of being told, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Baptism was very important in the message that Paul told people about Jesus and how to be forgiven.
Then why was Paul thankful he didn’t baptise many? We need to keep reading and examine the context to discover exactly what Paul was saying. If we go back to verse 10 we find out what the problem was that Paul was answering: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree together, to end your divisions, and to be united by the same mind and purpose.” The problem within the Corinthian Christians was that they were divided and not united. As we keep reading we discover that they had begun to follow various teachers, preachers and apostles: “Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, ‘I am with Paul,’ or ‘I am with Apollos,’ or ‘I am with Cephas,’ or ‘I am with Christ’” (verse 12). Many had ceased to follow Jesus and had begun following men.
Paul’s point was that they needed to be united in Jesus because he is not divided! “Is Christ divided? Paul wasn’t crucified for you, was he? Or were you in fact baptised in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptise any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptised in my name! (I also baptised the household of Stephanus. Otherwise, I do not remember whether I baptised anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel – and not with clever speech, so that the cross of Christ would not become useless.”
Why was Paul thankful he didn’t baptize many of them? It wasn’t because baptism isn’t necessary to become a Christian but so that they could not say they had been baptised in Paul’s name! It isn’t important who baptizes you. It is important that you are baptized in Jesus’ name. It is not being baptized by Paul that saved someone – they were saved because of Jesus’ death on the cross. That is why Paul emphasized that he was not sent to baptize but to preach the good news of Jesus.
Being forgiven wasn’t about Paul or Apollos or Cephas or any other preacher. It is all about Jesus. We need to be united in Christ and continue to preach the gospel.
Readings for next week:
4 May – 1 Corinthians 4
5 May – 1 Corinthians 5
6 May – 1 Corinthians 6
7 May – 1 Corinthians 7
8 May – 1 Corinthians 8