When I was in elementary school, we played a game on the playground called Red Rover. The rules were simple. The class divided into two groups. Each side formed a line by holding hands and the two lines faced each other with about ten yards between them. One group would call out the name of someone on the opposite side and that person would run as hard as they could toward the other line. If the line held, the child was absorbed into that team and if they broke through, then they chose one of the two links (people), they broke through to go to the other team. The game continued until one side ran out of players.
If you were running, the strategy was simple—you tried to identify the two kids who constituted the weakest link and go at them as hard as you could. If you were linking, you just tried to hold on no matter what.
Satan likes to play Red Rover with the church. He identifies the weakest link and comes at us hard. The only way to successfully resist him is if we all hold on to Jesus.
That was exactly the problem at Corinth—they weren’t all holding on to Jesus. Instead, they had divided according to which leader/preacher they identified with the most. Identifying with someone is not sinful, in fact, it is quite natural. It becomes sinful when we begin to posit spiritual superiority to our identifications. This was what was going on at Corinth. They had formed little cliques according to which leader they liked the best and thought was more spiritual. (When will we learn to stop putting people on pedestals?).
Some had locked on to Paul, probably because of his learning/teaching. For those who prized eloquence, it was Apollos (see Acts 18:24ff). Peter would be appealing to some because of his close personal association with Jesus. Paul mentions a final group belonging to Christ (v. 12). The context suggests this was not in a good way, but in a way that separated them from the other disciples (see 2 Corinthians 10:7).
Paul’s response is immediate and intense. Nothing could have been more disheartening to he, Apollos, or Peter, than to learn the people they had discipled were now choosing up sides in the body of Christ according to which one they liked the best! It’s as if the Corinthians thought they could take a piece of Jesus and retreat back to their own little group (“Is Christ divided?”). They were acting as though Peter or Paul were their Savior and Lord (“Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?). The pairing of crucifixion and baptism is not accidental. They represent the divine and human actions that constitute salvation. More to his point, Jesus should be the focus of baptism just as He is of crucifixion. If they were all holding on to Jesus, Satan would not be able to divide them.*
* This is also the context for understanding Paul’s expression of relief that he was not the personal baptizer of more people at Corinth (v. 14-16). It’s as if he’s saying, “If you’re splintering off into little groups based on which preacher you like the best, I’m glad I didn’t contribute more fuel to that fire by personally immersing many of you.” His concluding statement of v. 17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel,” clearly carries the meaning that Paul was not sent to immerse people in his name or as his disciple. Peterson catches this when he renders it “Christ didn’t send me out to collect a following for myself.” To understand this passage as saying baptism is not part of the process of becoming a disciple is to put Paul at odds with his own experience and teaching (Acts 22:16; Galatians 3:26-27).