When considering the exhortation of 1 Corinthians 1:10, maybe your picture of what a factious person looks like is something like the Neighborhood Watch villain. He’s easy to spot and, of course, he doesn’t look anything like us. Knowing our own hearts such as we do, and giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt, we recoil at the idea that such a word could possibly apply to us without overstating the case. We may be rough or over-zealous at times; but typically we reserve this sort of terminology for King James Only people, or hyper-Calvinists, or maybe Rick Miesel. And while these assessments would be correct, Paul's down-to-earth description of disunity in verses 11-12 should give us pause. The extremities of sinful behavior too easily serve as distractions from the very same roots which lie in our own hearts.
Notice that the first manifestation of factious behavior is manifested in what Paul calls "quarrels". The word there is literally “strife” in the plural – the same word used in Titus 3:9: “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife[s] and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” Quarrels aren't discussions; they're not friendly debates or healthy in-house deliberations; they describe a kind of verbal sparring which eventually alienate us from one another and rupture trusted friendships. We all know the difference, though we often pretend we're doing one while we're really doing the other. But quarreling isn't simply the action of shouting at one another – it’s also a way to describe the state of a relationship. “We’re quarrelling” doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re at this moment engaged in hostile verbal debate – it means that our friendship is being strained and our fellowship is being disrupted by our heated disagreements.
So far so good; but I suspect that our eyes are still on the branches instead of the roots. What we often fail to recognize is that no one prefers to thinks of themselves as “loving quarrels”. In fact, most of the time we engage in quarrels it’s because we think we’re doing something else - we’re championing the truth against the various manifestations of liberalism, we're standing for God and the Bible in times when it's unpopular to do so, we're being faithful to the Scriptures, come Hell or highwater . . . and so on. But bickering about the truth can still count as quarreling. And this, unfortunately, is often our speciality.
Phil. 1:15 says, “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife (or quarrelling), but some also from good will.” Strife, like all other sins, is a deceiver. It dresses up stubbornness as "faithfulness". It paints ego as "boldness". It answers the fear of being challenged with the Bible by a call to tow the party line. In short, factious behavior always looks spiritual, and is always painted as virtuous. Always. Without exception. Notice the Corinthians didn't say "I am of Zeno", "I am of Epicurus" or "I am of "Plato". They said, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Those of us who are used to fending off criticisms of being "too harsh" or "too narrow" or "unloving" by seeing these epithets as a compliment, or worse, as a sign of divine approval, should let this bald biblical truth haunt us.
In order for our disputes to be spiritual, they must display the fruit of the Spirit. That means that our words, attitudes and even our study should be saturated with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; and it should display not just one of these things – just faithfulness, for example – but all of them. Don't let the radical nature of that claim escape you! Imagine what our study (much less our disputes) would look like if it were characterized by the love described in 1 Co. 13; and that's just one of the nine qualities of the Spirit's yield.
Of the four very deeply drawn lines of divisions between Corinthian believers, how concerned do you suppose these factions really were for the truth? I'd venture it had very little to do with it, if for no other reason, Paul, Apollos and Peter were all devoted lovers of Jesus Christ. The clue to what drove their separation lies in the common word shared in all of their sloganeering – the word “I”! Selfishness and arrogance, not truth, stood behind their disputes. They were just using the reputations of these leaders to lend both lend credibility to their own views and to use their respected status as a wedge for other Christians to prove their loyalty.
Far from being "spiritual", divisions are usually motivated by lust and manipulation. James 4:1-3 says, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” The coattails of men like Paul and Peter are worn thin from ambitious, pouncing Christians. Respected pillars of the Church throughout it’s history have their share of uninvited tailgate parties as well. And each with our chosen personality set them up as a barometer for who we will fellowship with, and who we won’t. But when the pretentious platter is removed from this dish, and the rhetorical steam clears, what remains isn't meat(1 Co. 3:1-4); it's shriveled, poisonous fruit (Gal. 5:17-21).