The Destructiveness of Division
Robert Wurtz II
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. (I Corinthians 1:10, 11)
Paul really hits the ground running in his letter to Corinth. The situation is serious and he intends to nip it in the bud. Their behavior was completely unacceptable and was becoming a reproach on Christ. Therefore, it is no accident that Paul takes up his pen in the power of the Holy Spirit and gives for some a crash course on basic Christianity and for others a refresher.
Paul had received word from Chloe’s household that trouble was brewing at Corinth. Though they were proficient at moving in the gifts of the Spirit and working in ministry, there was a crack in their foundation that had to be dealt with before everything that had been built simply flew apart. Paul puts his finger on the problem in the 3rd chapter when he diagnoses the people as “carnal.” For though he had sown to them spiritual things, they were still moving in the flesh (carnality Gk. sarkikos). “It is a bold and cutting figure, not without sarcasm, but necessary to reveal the Corinthians to themselves.” (A.T. Robertson)
Are You Not Carnal?
We have a definition of carnal when Paul stated, “For you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:3) Rather than living in the Spirit – they were walking in the flesh. In other words, they were behaving just like “mere men” – unregenerate men. God has called the churches and His Saints to be an expression of the kingdom of God in the earth. We are God’s representatives on earth. We’re supposed to be demonstrating how the kingdom of God does things. What happens when the image of Christ is distorted in the churches because of carnal behavior? What happens when Christians begin to imitate the world’s behaviors and conflicts? Paul lets the church know it was Chloe’s house that brought this to his attention and then he lists three things as evidence of their carnality: envy, strife, and divisions.
Envy comes from a root meaning zeal and it can be a good or a bad thing. When it turns to jealousy or envy it can lead to our second problem, strife. This means “long and complicated disputes.” The KJV’s strife is from a Greek word that is translated as rivalry by the ESV. Where there is rivalry there is sure to be division. Webster defines a rival as “a person or thing competing with another for the same objective or for superiority in the same field of activity.” Rivals do not operate in unity though technically they could be on the same team. Rivals typically view their opponent as the enemy. In the churches of God this leads to our final word divisions. In Classical Greek the word for division (schismata sci÷smata) means the rending of material such as a garment or cloth. It is torn in two. The jealousy and envy led to a rivalry that lead to the tearing apart of the church.
The Road To Rivalry
It is a tough pill to swallow, but in modern times rivalry is often a direct consequence of setting up denominations and churches in a worldly organizational structure that creates “positions” and “offices” of authority to be filled. Jesus told the Disciples that we are not to be organized like the Gentiles, but His words have been ignored in the main stream (Matthew 20:25-26). What happens? People are asked to vote on whom they want to lead them or who the person they feel the Lord is calling to the position. As surely as Jesus warned us and then commanded us to avoid it, this model is a recipe for total destruction. One group is hearing God say ____ should be voted in while the other group says God is saying ____ should be voted in. Each group is sure of their spirituality and that the other group is “missing it” or under the influence of the Devil (demons). All the while both groups have fallen into the trap of carnality and are in the cross hairs of Paul’s warnings in I Corinthians 1-3 and Galatians 5. While lauding themselves as spiritual – they just became the epitome of carnality and don’t even know it. Majority rule is democracy and the kingdom of God is not a democracy. We are called to come together in the mode God has established and seek His will until we can agree in unity as to what to do. In other words, 51 to 49 or a two-thirds majority may work in the US Senate, but it is an abomination to the kingdom of God. After all, one of the greatest flubs ever made in the Bible came when Joshua and Caleb were out numbered 10 to 2. That was an 83% majority and they totally missed God.
What happens? Factioning begins. 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.” Because the names are ancient and far removed from our situation, we can’t see ourselves in this passage. But what if you and I replace Paul, Apollos, Cephas and Christ with rival ministers in our church or denomination? Think of some names. Think of some people that are jockeying for positions within the organization. They believe they are called, it’s God’s will, and that is that. If they don’t get in they are disillusioned at best and bitter at worst.
Everyone a Prophet
Can you imagine being in an environment like Corinth where it seemed like everyone was moving in the gifts of the Spirit? (1 Cor. 12:7,11) Even the women prophesied. (1 Cor. 11:4) Paul asked them, “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, everyone of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation.” Everyone believes they are hearing from God! Everyone. How could you counsel these people once the infighting begins? They would seem to be the most high-minded and impossible to coach people on earth. “I’m hearing from God – so don’t tell me anything!” Really? They each have a red phone on their desk (hotline) and when they pick it up – God answers? Paul dealt with these “super spiritual” folks by calling them carnal.
Understand that as soon as the voting begins the rivalry begins. Why? Because positions have been created by men and they have to be filled by men. Then we ask God to tell us who He wants us to put in our man-made positions? What if the next time the people are handed a little white paper to write a name on, everyone just goes ahead and writes it as a sentence, “I am of ____” or “I am of _____.” Then maybe we’ll understand the magnitude of what we are doing. We need to seek God’s will until we can agree upon it in unity – not in a majority.
The Scourge of Schism
What happens? One group believes “their man got in” while the other group believes “we missed God” – just like the Republicans and Democrats every two years after election day. Then each group tries to rally their troops to right the wrong the next election. But it doesn’t end there. In fact, it is just beginning. An undercurrent of strife develops that begins to eat away at the very foundation of the churches. The one group feels slighted and is offended… envy develops and a feud is in the making. The other group tries to hold their position so they don’t get voted out in the next election. Pretty soon everyone is looking at the other as the enemy and questioning motives. Everything each side does gets interpreted and spun so as to fuel the feud. Then they are seeking little subtle ways to retaliate or dig at one another. Oh, nobody will admit as much. Of course not. Were all too spiritual and what were doing is of the Lord. Really?
The scourge of schism is so profound in many circles that it is going to take God to intervene to bring correction to all of the mess that we see. There are no Paul’s to bring correction. We have God’s word on the matter, but few are paying attention to it. We give lip service to infallibility and authority and mock the very things God has said. We could end this all today by simply abandoning our traditions and get right with God. God calls the envious, rivalry and strife-laden behavior as rife carnality (a hidious sin) – while everyone keeps on pretending they are pleasing the Lord. All the while few – if any – are prepared to put an end to it all.
Dwelling in Disunity
Why pray for revival if we are going to go on grieving the Holy Spirit behind the scenes? Will God honor the feuding that goes on between rival groups? I think about Jesus who deals with people coming to the Judgment seat. Here were people that were doing all kinds of “wonderful works.” You know, works like Judas was doing while he was stealing from the money bag (see John 12:6, Luke 9:1ff). They are duped by the ancient notion that miracles authenticate ministry. In fact, they believed their miracles were evidence that they were saved. How shocked they must have been when Jesus told them to depart from Him, “you workers of iniquity.” (Matthew 7:21-23) Could some of these people have been Corinthians who were moving in the gifts, but were as carnal as unregenerate men? It is insane to go on behaving badly and then tell ones self that because it appears God is doing miracles that we must be pleasing Him. He is happy with us or He wouldn’t work miracles among us. Really? Ask Judas how that works out.
Paul jumped right in the middle of the situation at Corinth and sought to get them back on track. Otherwise, why pray for a move of God? So we can be sure and get that position that we feel “is God’s will for our lives?” What’s the use of even praying when were not right with one another? When there is, as James says, bitter envy and strife in our hearts? What says the scripture?
The divisive and rival carnality is such a stench in the nostrils of God, that He will not accept our worship if we don’t get things right. How can we do something as basic as love one another in an environment of rivalry? We may give lip service to it – but who is treating their rival like they would want to be treated? This is why Paul wrote I Cor. 13. to the Corinthians church. They needed to learn to love one another. How can you do the most basic Christian things when everyone is expected to suit up and pick sides?
I am convinced that we will fake another move of God before we see one – while His people refuse to come together in unity and simply love one another. Away with the rivalry. Away with the politics. Let’s be the church or take the sign off the building.