The Party Spirit (The spirit of Rivalry)

The Party Spirit (The spirit of Rivalry)

(The spirit of Rivalry)

Robert Wurtz II

The Party Spirit
The Party Spirit

The Party Spirit, a reading by Robert Wurtz II.


For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:11-12) 


For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults; (2 Corinthians 12:20)


Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill; The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains (Philippians 1:15-16)


Targeting the Root


I’ve chosen this topic to target the root of the Corinthian church’s greatest problem, which Paul also personally experienced when imprisoned in Rome. That problem was what I’m calling “The Party spirit” or “The spirit of Rivalry.” We know the word party spirit in modern times as rivalry. 


When I use the word “party,” I’m not referring to celebrations with wine, women, and song but the carnal approach to life that divides people into groups along certain party lines. Once these groups are established (though they are rarely formally identified nowadays), they compete and fight against each other on various levels, such as wealth, education, speaking ability, spiritual prowess, and ministry success. 


In modern times, the problem usually consists of unspoken (covert) rivalries in which the participants deny involvement. However, it was an overt and systemic problem at Corinth, which led to outrageous behaviors. Nevertheless, they were divided into opposing teams and proud of it.   


The Corinthians took it so far as to identify the factions as “I am of Paul” or “I am of Cephas.” Notice the selfish emphasis on “I” without regard for the Body. This emphasis on “I” makes one unable to discern the Lord’s Body. The Corinthians were bold in asserting themselves and the faction to which “I” belong. We usually don’t see that today, but the problem is covert, systemic, and just as carnal and destructive. 


Contentions in the Church


Paul introduces the problem in 1 Corinthians 1:11-12) by referring to one of its symptoms, contentions. The contentions were caused by a carnal “us against you” outlook. Carnal is a word that means that people behave not in the Spirit but in the flesh. They think and act like unsaved people. Paul will deal with this problem at Corinth on a church level and at Rome on a personal level. 


The first carnal idea that Paul took down was the notion that individuals can receive glory within the kingdom of God. You won’t be tempted to a party outlook if you don’t seek vain carnal glory. The church isn’t a sporting event where you compete with individuals and groups for recognition and honor. Instead, God chooses weak and foolish things or non-wise and non-noble people to accomplish His purposes. Why? So that no flesh will glory in His presence (1 Corinthians 1:29-31). 


Renounce Vain Glory and Rivalry


The kingdom of God doesn’t have winners and losers; the kingdom is one team working towards the same purpose. Most Christians agree, but their actions and beliefs don’t match. If you view the church from a rivalry and party spirit, you will instinctively and maybe unconsciously treat others as rivals rather than Saints. The enemy will use the person(s) of this mindset to destroy the church’s unity. Anything promoting an “us versus them” outlook is carnal and should be renounced. 


When people seek personal glory (vain glory) and exaltation, hell’s demonic outlook breaks into the churches (James 3:15). Carnally-minded people pursue vain glory rather than glorying in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31). They are envious of others in the same way the world envies people with more money or education than them. 


For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7)


Paul wrote Corinthians to destroy the stronghold in the peoples’ minds that says, “I’m better than you because _____________.” He expected them to renounce the pursuit of vain glory. Spiritual people view what they possess as gifts from God to be stewarded, not used as a means of exalting self. But these people didn’t get it. Everything was a competition to them, which is why there was so much destructive strife and division in the church. 


The Destructive Party Spirit


If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:17 ESV)


Paul wanted the Corinthians to realize that the church didn’t belong to them but was actually part of the living Temple that God was working with the Saints to build. But, unfortunately, when carnal people, moving in blind ambition and competition, lose sight of this fact, they attack other Christians and churches. It is pride and arrogance weaponized. 


Paul warned the Corinthians in the strongest terms. God will destroy the people of the party spirit who destroy the Temple, that is to say, the churches and the people for whom He died. So, when you attack other Christians, and churches like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie attacked their competition in business, you are likely to go to hell for it. 


Contentious Preaching 


When Paul was in Rome, some people preached the Gospel out of envy and strife, supposing to add affliction to his chains (Philippians 1:15-16). The Greek word for preaching Christ out of “contention” is erethia, which means a party or rival spirit (Mounce)So they treated Paul as a rival; if he were locked up in prison and unable to win converts, he would get word that they were winning the soul-winning competition and be bothered by it. 


To us, this outlook is madness, but we see it today. Ministers often behave as if the pastor or evangelist down the road is their rival when they should see them as their teammate. Paul did say, “Nevertheless Christ is preached,” but he never said what would come of those who operated in a rival spirit. He left it to the judgment when God will bring to light the hidden counsels of the hearts. (1 Corinthians 4:5) 


The Greek erethia, translated as contentions and rivalry, is listed among the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:20. This is one of the reasons Paul described the Corinthians as “carnal” in 1 Corinthians 3:3, which means fleshly. However, in James 3:14-16, the behavior is termed as earthly, sensual, and demonic. So we see that James and Paul repeatedly dealt with this rivalry and contentious outlook in their writings and in the strongest possible terms. 

Destructive Alliances


You will recall that a young man at Corinth took his Father’s wife, and rather than dealing with it through mourning and putting the man out of the church, they were “puffed up” (arrogant). Understand that the party spirit protects its own even when they are clearly in sin. Rather than seeing the person as a soul in need of repentance and their sin as a hazard to the church, they see a team member to defend at all costs. 


What about the defrauded man who felt he had to go to a secular court to get Justice? The party spirit blinds people to injustice when the offender is on their team. They will bind together as “ride or die” in modern phraseology. In this way, the party spirit becomes more like the mob that demands loyalty. You stick together no matter what. How can the kingdom of God function with such rife carnality? Our allegiance is to Christ alone. Let God be true and every man a liar (Romans 3:4). You can’t do that when you’re defending your “team.” 


A Change of Mindset


Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. (Philippians 2:3)


If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:25-26)


The Corinthians were carnal but thought they were Spiritual. They even competed in moving in the gifts of the Spirit and speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:26-28). What could be worse than people who were carnal but believed they were spiritual? This is how the supernatural can delude folks. If they were spiritual, they would have worked to keep the unity of the Spirit among all rather than causing division (Ephesians 4:3). 


But, the Corinthians, rather than being perfectly bound together as one church, had divided up into factions and began to fight against one another. It’s as if there was team Paul, team Apollos, team Cephas, and team Christ, four competitive groups within the church. 


Fearing No Progress or Change 


For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults; (2 Corinthians 12:20)


Sadly, after writing the first epistle (ca 57 AD) and addressing this party spirit, Paul still feared they hadn’t changed when he wrote the second letter a year later (ca 58 AD). He had also visited them.  So he concludes his final letter by saying, 


“I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them—.” 


Paul would deal with things righteously and not from any party spirit. He would “not spare them.” What does that mean? He already turned one man over to Satan. Although in a different context, he blinded a man for a season in Acts 13:11. Hymenaeus and Alexander were delivered to Satan for blasphemy (1 Timothy 1:20). While such a course of action may seem extremely harsh (as well as somewhat vague, to our understanding), we must remember that his apostolic aim was that such persons be restored and that their souls be saved (1 Corinthians 5:5 and 13:9–10). (WBC)


Examine Yourselves 


His final directive comes from 2 Corinthians 13:5-6, Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test.


Paul gives the benefit of the doubt regarding their experience in Christ, but now he’s telling them to test themselves. As if to say, stop judging me and look at yourselves. Are you in the faith? 


These carnally-minded people dared to question his authority as an apostle, likely because of their abundant manifestations of the gifts. As a result, they were puffed up when they should have been built up. So Paul says, in effect, look in the mirror. Are you people genuinely saved? As if to say, “I’m afraid of what I may find when I return. You behave like unbelievers. Examine yourselves honestly, test yourselves thoroughly, whether you are even in the faith.” 


Other articles of interest:

Destroying the Church


Authentic Servant Leadership 


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