If you have been a Christian for any considerable length of time, you have probably experienced “Division in the Church.” Such has been an issue as long has there has been a church. Of the 27 books of the New Testament, 1 Corinthians is among the first 7 books ever to be penned, and in it Paul directly addresses the problem of church division. It shows how long this problem has been around…
1 Corinthians 1:11-13 & *3:4 (HCSB) – For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by members of Chloe’s household, that there is rivalry among you. What I am saying is this: Each of you says, “I’m with Paul,” or “I’m with Apollos,” or “I’m with Cephas,” or “I’m with Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was it Paul who was crucified for you? Or were you baptized in Paul’s name? *For whenever someone says, “I’m with Paul,” and another, “I’m with Apollos,” are you not unspiritual people?
Paul is very clear about how to label such divisive behavior. He does so by describing those who participate in it as “unspiritual people.”
Galatians and Ephesians
What the church in Corinth went through, though, was not the first time that believers had experienced division. In other New Testament letters, Paul had addressed divisions in additional congregations as well (but for unrelated reasons). In Galatia for instance, Jewish believers had felt the need to impose Old Covenant regulations upon non-Jewish, New Covenant members, sparking this encouragement to help them to recognize that all of God’s people (regardless of ethnic background or pedigree) are all one…
Galatians 3:28 (HCSB) – There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
(For some more details regarding this Jewish/Greek divide, check out Acts 15.)
The church in Ephesus also needed to be encouraged in a similar fashion…
Ephesians 2:11-22 (HCSB) – So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh — called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.
Acts, Mark, and Numbers
Divisions in the church, however, did not begin in what is now known as modern day Turkey. Luke describes how there were problems within the church right from the very start back in Jerusalem…
Acts 6:1 (HCSB) – In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution.
We even have an account of division amongst those who have given their allegiance to Christ during the three year ministry of Jesus…
Mark 9:38-40 (HCSB) – John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” “Don’t stop him,” said Jesus, “because there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name who can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”
Apparently, something similar to this had even happened at the time of Moses…
Numbers 11:26-30 (HCSB) – Two men had remained in the camp, one named Eldad and the other Medad; the Spirit rested on them — they were among those listed, but had not gone out to the tent — and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” Joshua son of Nun, assistant to Moses since his youth, responded, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” But Moses asked him, “Are you jealous on my account? If only all the LORD’S people were prophets and the LORD would place His Spirit on them!” Then Moses returned to the camp along with the elders of Israel.
A Common Theme
Throughout the Bible, the unity of God’s people is regularly promoted because we collectively are so susceptible to division. It is why we constantly find references to this common theme to love each other and to be united as one…
Psalms 133:1 (NIV) – How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
2 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV) – Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
Philippians 2:1-2 (NIV) – Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.
Romans 15:5-6 (NIV) – May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 4:8-9 (NIV) – Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
Is it any wonder that Jesus prayed this prayer for us believers (to help us while we are still here together, living in this age)…
John 17:11 (NIV) – I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.
Back to 1 Corinthians
Here is Paul, summing up his thoughts and also warning about the division happening in the church in Corinth because of who they are collectively…
1 Corinthians 3:5-17 (HCSB) – What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. Now the one planting and the one watering are one in purpose, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s coworkers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one must be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire. Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s sanctuary, God will destroy him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are.
It is hard enough trying to be the church in a fallen world. We (believers) should never add to that challenge for any reason. I want to conclude by referencing what Paul had told the church in Rome due to their divisions about food and special days which hampered their gatherings around the fellowship table. It’s principle (I think) offers us a universal precept that goes beyond dietary traditions and also convictions regarding the observance of special days…
Romans 14:8-13 (HCSB) – If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and came to life for this: that He might rule over both the dead and the living. But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God. For it is written: As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to Me, and every tongue will give praise to God. So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother’s way.
Godspeed, to the brethren!
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