17 “Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.”
It is important to note that when churches met together in the first century, they included a full meal. They called this meal the agape feast; it was a love feast of mutual fellowship. This feast became a problem when associated with the Lord’s Supper because some believers had more to eat than others.
Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you,
The word “instruction” means to enjoin, give a charge, or order. This is a military word for a commander giving a command to his subordinates. Paul’s instructions are not good advice but apostolic order.
since you come together not for the better but for the worse.
Paul now addresses a problem of the relationship among believers in the Corinthian church as they gathered for worship. They observed the Lord Supper, but there were broken relationships in partaking of the Supper. This made partaking of the Lord’s Supper worse than if they did not practice it.
For first of all, when you come together as a church,
The New Testament never uses the word “church” for a facility but always for an assembly of people. There were no church buildings until the third century. The first-century church met in homes, caves, and subterranean dwellings. The New Testament uses the word “church” for both the local church and the universal church. When the Corinthian church assembled in the home of Gaius (Ro 16:23), it came with rupture of relationships.
I hear that there are divisions among you,
The word “divisions” (schismata) is the word from which we get the English word “schism.” It carries the ideas of split, rift, tear. Here Paul uses the term in the sense of social dissension. The church broke up into groups or cliques, and this ended in dissension (1:10f).
and in part I believe it.
Reports of dissension may have been exaggerated, so Paul inserts, “In part I believe it.”
For there must also be factions among you,
The word “factions” (haireseis) means confirmed parties arising out of self-willed opinions contrary to truth. There must come a point where separations occur among believers since some groups distort the truth. The first four chapters argue against schism in the church; even so, factions are necessary (a “must”) because some rebel against truth.
that those who are approved may be recognized among you.
There is an “upside” to factions because they separate those whom God approves. The word “approved” carries the idea of a group tested for approval by God. God uses church division to test integrity in believers. People who are sound in truth can sort out differences and find the right viewpoint in the situation.
God approves us by proving us.
It is important to approach the Lord’s Supper with the right spirit. Dissension in the ranks splits believers into factions or rivalries instead of all being on the same team. When we are on different teams, we play against each other. Jesus said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” A church cannot pull together when it is divided like this. It is misery belonging to a church like this. God will separate those who are sound from those who are troublemakers. He will test for approval those in the right.