Elon, North Carolina
Today, we want to talk about one of the greatest problems in the church today. It is the problem of divisions. Divisions are poisonous to a church. They are toxic.
Division can destroy a local church. Divisions can destroy a country. Division led to a civil war in our country. It is a problem that we are dealing with right now in many churches.
Last week, we began a new study on the Book of I Corinthians. It is the letter written to the American church. Corinth was the most American city in the New Testament. This is a book very relevant to our own day.
It was a letter written to a church with problems. Members of the church were visiting prostitutes, sleeping with their mammas, getting drunk.
In the first six chapters of the book, we have Paul’s response to the various problems. He does not ignore them, like many pastors do. He deals with them.
Today, we will see the first topic that Paul addressed. What he talked about first is not what we would talk about first. The first topic that Paul dealt with in this church was NOT sex.
It was NOT fornication. It was NOT adultery. It was NOT prostitution. It was NOT homosexuality. It was NOT incest. It was DIVISION. That was number one on Paul’s list.
That is something that may not seem like a big deal to us but it is a big deal wot God. One of the greatest problems in the world today is division.
The US is more divided than it has ever been. Some have called it the most divided country in the world.
The US is a polarized country. It is politically polarized. Everyone is split along party lines. Everyone is either Republican or Democrat. Most people seem to be on the far right or the far left politically.
It is not wrong to have different opinions on politics. We all think differently. The problem is that people feel so strongly about them that often the two sides cannot even be friends.
They can’t even talk to each other without shouting and screaming. All you have to do is to go home for Thanksgiving and spend some time with family members who think differently than you do.
Today, we are going only going to look at a few verses in I Corinthians. We are going to look at what the Bible says about division. You might be surprised by what it says.
This is a topic we need to hear about today. The thing that was happening in Corinth is happening in our church right now.
Instead of working to promote unity, some promote divisions in the church. They get mad. They leave. They get other people to leave. Some even promote rumors, gossip and lies about the church. It is wrong. It is sin.
Divisions in Corinth
What was the division in Corinth about? It was over minor things. Most divisions are over minor things. Most arguments of spouses are over minor things.
All it takes is one word and a husband or wife is upset and mad and the two are not talking. The Corinthians were NOT arguing over something important.
They were arguing over who their favorite preacher was. It was a division over ministers.
One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” (I Corinthians 1:12 NIV)
Instead of following Christ, they were following people. People still do that today. We have some celebrity preachers in big churches. They are famous.
They are on TV. They are rich. They write many books. Some are like rock stars. They even go to the White House. Many follow them.
This was NOT a truth issue. It was NOT a doctrinal issue. It was a relational issue. The Corinthians were not arguing over doctrine. They were arguing over people.
Peter, Paul and Apollos had the same doctrine. None preached a different gospel. They said the same thing, but some of them were more popular than others. They liked some more than others, just as we do today.
There are all kinds of different preachers today. Some preachers are better speakers. They are more eloquent. Some are not.
Some preachers gave you more information when they speak. You learn some things from them. Other preachers give you very little information. You don’t really learn anything in many sermons.
Some preachers move you more emotionally. They speak more to your heart than to your head. Those are the ones who like to shout and scream at the top of their lungs.
Some preachers put your right to sleep. They are dry as dust. They are boring. Some are more interesting. Some talk too long. They go on forever.
The Corinthians heard different preachers and they had their favorite. They argued with other members of the church as to which was the best one.
A difference of opinion led to a dispute. It led to a quarrel. Everyone took sides and said the other side was wrong. These different groups and factions led to division in the church.
There were four distinct groups in Corinth. The church was divided into four factions. Can you imagine one church divided into four parts? Let’s look briefly at these four groups in the church.
You can see which one appeals to you the most. If I was in that church, I would have had my preference for one of them.
All four approaches are wrong. Paul does not even say that the ones who followed him were right.
1) The Loyal Group
They liked Paul the most. They said, “I follow Paul.” He founded the church at Corinth. He started it. He was the pastor. They were loyal to him. Most of the people would have been his converts.
He was the greatest apostle. He worked harder than all of them (I Corinthians 15:10). He performed miracles. He even raised the dead.
Paul wrote half of the books of the NT. He wrote 13 or 14 books of the 27 books of the NT. In terms of words, it is about 30% of the NT.
Most of our deep theology that in the church we have comes from the Apostle Paul. It comes from his writings. He may not be a great preacher but he was a deep theologian.
2) The Charismatic Group
This group liked Apollos the most. They said, “I follow Apollos.” Why did they like him? He had some gifts that the Apostle Paul did not have.
Paul was a good writer. Apollos did not write any books but he was a much better preacher. He was a good public speaker. He was articulate. He is eloquent.
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. (Acts 18:24-25 NIV)
Apollos had a lot of good points. He was a good speaker. He spoke with great fervor. He knew the Scriptures very well. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.”
He was not only a good preacher and Bible scholar; he was an apologist. He held debates with the Jews over Christianity, and he did it in public.
He vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 18:28 NIV)
That aspect about Apollos appealed to many people. It would be good to have a man like that in your church.
3) The Rival Group
Another group liked Peter the most. They said, “I follow Cephas.” Cephas was the Aramaic name for Peter.
The Jewish Christians in the church were probably part of this group. There were some Jews in Corinth. There was a synagogue there (Acts 18:1-8).
Paul was an apostle, but they liked a different apostle better. Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles. Peter was the Apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2:7-8).
Paul was a good apostle, but Peter was one of the Twelve. He lived with Jesus for three years, heard all of his teaching and witnessed all of His miracles.
He was part of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples (Peter, James and John) and was called “one of the pillars of the church” in Galatians 2:10. He is the rock of the church.
Roman Catholics would have been a part of this group because they believe he was the first pope. Jesus built his church on him. Jesus gave him the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:19).
He preached the sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2 and three thousand people got saved from his one sermon.
4) The Spiritual Group
This group says they just followed Christ. Aren’t we supposed to follow Christ? Yes. The problem was that apparently, this group didn’t believe in human leaders. They just followed Jesus.
It is not wrong to say that you follow Christ. It is wrong to reject all human leadership.
It is wrong to think that you are better than other Christians and that you do not even need to go to church. You can just read the Word and let Jesus speak directly to you.
People today are NOT saying, “I am of Paul or I am of Apollos or I am of Peter” but they are saying, “I am of Brian” or “I am of Scott.”
We have people following men today. They become the focus. People start to idolize them. They are the attraction. That is what draws them to the church.
The pastor becomes a personality cult. They are not coming to church because of Christ but because of the celebrity pastor.
It leads to the problem of church groupies. Some become groupies, rather than disciples. People become groupies for some preachers, especially the preachers of big churches.
It is not just a problem today. It was a problem in the first century. Even apostolic churches had this problem. Churches founded by an apostle had this problem.
In fact, the church of Corinth was not the only church that struggled with division. The Church of Philippi also struggled with division in the church.
Euodia and Syntyche
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:2-3 NIV).
What do we know about these two women with the funny names?
1) They were members of the church
Paul mentioned their names in his letter to that church. Apparently, they were members. It must have been embarrassing to attend church and have this letter read out loud and hear your name mentioned in it.
2) They were genuinely saved
Paul said they were saved. He said their names were in the Book of Life (Philippians 4:3). Their names were not only in the Book of Philippians. Their names were in the Book of Life.
Their names were not just in Paul’s book. Their names were in God’s book. Just because they sinned, their names were not taken out of the Book of Life. If that were the case, none of our names would be in the book, because we all sin.
3) They were involved in ministry
They helped Paul found the Church of Philippi. They did ministry. That is important, because not everyone in church actually serves but they did.
4) They worked hard
Paul said that they LABORED side by side with me in the gospel (Philippians 4:3 ESV). They were hard workers. That is what the word “labored” implies. They were not lazy.
5) They couldn’t get along
Probably at one time they were close. They worked together and got along but then something happened. Something was said and the other was offended.
Their disagreement was not over doctrine. It was not over theology. They just did not like each other. It was a personality clash.
They are mentioned nowhere else in Scripture. It is pretty bad that your name got in the Bible just for fighting with fellow Christians.
One is named “odious” and one has the word “sin” (sin-ticky) in their name but that is only true in English, not Greek.
Clement was mentioned for doing something good. They were mentioned by Paul for doing something bad.
What is God’s solution to conflict in the church? How did Paul deal with this problem? He addressed both of them (I plead with Euodia AND I plead with Syntyche).
He did NOT take sides. He did not say which side was right and which side was wrong.
He told them to work out their problem. He told them to be of the same mind in the Lord.
He told someone to help them get along. Paul also told the Corinthians to do something similar.
Five Truths about Division
What does the Bible say about division? It says several things.
1) There are some good divisions
There are some good divisions in the Bible. Not every division is bad. There are some divisions that God creates. Division goes all the way back to creation. God said, “Let there be light” and He divided the light from the darkness.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matthew 10:34-35 NIV)
Salvation results in a division. It results in a division in families. There are children of God and children of the Devil. There are children of light and children of darkness. Jesus divides people. The gospel divides people. Truth divides people.
On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee?
42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were DIVIDED because of Jesus. (John 7:40-43 NIV)
The Jews who heard these words were again DIVIDED. 20 Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”
21But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:19-21 NIV)
At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.
3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. 4 The people of the city were DIVIDED; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. (Acts 14:1-4 NIV)
All division is not necessarily bad, and all unity is not necessarily good. In the Tribulation, we are told that the Antichrist will have unity. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast (Revelation 13:3 NIV).
And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. 8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 13:7-8 NIV)
2) Most divisions are sinful
There is a good division but there is also a bad division. Most divisions are sinful.
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, DISSENSIONS, DIVISIONS, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)
Bad division is a division OF BELIEVERS. It is division IN the church. Paul said, Is Christ divided? (I Corinthians 1:13). No. Jesus is not divided, and His body should not be divided.
Paul said that there should be NO division in the body but that its parts should have equal concern for each other (I Corinthians 12:25 NIV). There should not be division in our physical body or the body of Christ.
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be NO DIVISIONS among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (I Corinthians 1:10 NIV)
Some of the worst disagreements are found in church. Someone has said that “There is no fight like a church fight.”
All you have to do is to show up at a typical business meeting in many churches and you will see this in action. People shout and scream at each other.
There should be a division between the saved and the unsaved but there should NOT be a division between Christians. This is an issue that is affecting our own church right now. That makes this section extremely relevant.
3) We should strive for unity in the church
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3 NIV)
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ALL of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be NO divisions among you, but that you be PEFECTLY united in mind and thought. (I Corinthians 1:10 NIV)
Paul gives a strong exhortation to the Corinthians about unity. When he deals with the problem of division, the first thing he does is to APPEAL to them. He does not yell at them. He does not scold them. He pleads with them.
He pleads with them as family (brothers and sisters), and he does it in the name of our Lord Jesus. Before giving an exhortation, he points them to the name of Jesus, the name above all names.
Then, he gives them three exhortations. One, we are to agree in what we say. Two, we are to have no divisions. Three, we are to be perfectly united in mind and thought.
In what ways are we called to unity in the church? We are to be united with other believers in mind, in thoughts, in words. In fact, we are to be PERFECTLY united with them and have no divisions.
How is it even possible? How is it possible to agree with everyone in what we say? How can we possibly be perfectly united in mind and thought? We would have to all be robots and all think the same thoughts at the same time.
There is diversity in unity. We see this in marriage. Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24 ESV)
There is all kind of diversity in the body of Christ. It is made of of Jew and Gentile in one body. There were both slaves and masters in the same body and the church has many gifts.
We will see that in I Corinthians 12. He describes the church as a body and each Christian is a different part of the body.
We don’t look alike. We have the same gifts. We don’t talk alike. We don’t think alike. On many topics, we have differences, but we can have differences without division.
We can be perfectly united in mind and thought on all of the major doctrines of the faith. We can say the same thing. There is one faith.
We do not have to compromise truth for the same of unity. We should take a stand for truth.
Jude 3 says that we should contend for the faith once entrusted to the saints, but we can have differences of opinion on minor things and still have unity.
We can even like some different preachers better than others. Some preachers put you right to sleep.
That is different from saying that that there is only one preacher on the planet who faithfully teaches the Word, and all of the rest are false teachers.
Paul did some things to prevent division in the church. Not all preachers do that. Some preachers like to have followers. It feeds their big egos.
Paul did not want people following him. He wanted people following Jesus.
Paul did say, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1), but he never told people to just be followers of him.
Paul told people that he did not die for them, and they were not baptized in his name.
In fact, he baptized very few people at all. It is not that he was against baptism. Other people did the baptizing.
4) We should avoid people who cause disunity
The Bible says we are to not to cause divisions and we are to avoid people who cause divisions in the church. Paul said both things. There are some people in church you should avoid.
I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. (Romans 16:17 NIV)
5) Divisions reveal your heart
In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. (I Corinthians 11:19-20 NIV)
Divisions are a test. There are some things that they reveal. There MUST be divisions among us to reveal who has God’s approval. What does it mean? Someone called this a forgotten verse.
Divisions are hard and painful but when they happen, they reveal certain attitudes. Some people have trouble with authority and that comes out in division.
Some act in an unloving manner in divisions. Some have truth but not love. That can come out in divisions. Some are not genuine believers. They were never saved in the first place. Divisions may reveal that.
There are several applications here. There are several questions we need to ask yourselves. Let’s take the unity test. How would you answer these questions.
Do you promote unity in church or do you promote division in church?
Is there someone in the church you are not getting along with, just as Euodia and Syntyche were not getting along?
Are you in a quarrel with someone in the church right now? Is there someone you need to reconcile with?
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24 NIV)
Do you like to fight with other Christians and argue with them, especially about minor non-essential issues that don’t matter?
Are you part of any cliques or factions in church which divide people?
Do you listen to only one preacher? That is a sign of a problem. I listen to all of them, although some I like better than others.
Do you follow people? Do you follow people over Christ? That could be true politically, as well as religiously.
Do you idolize your preacher? There is a danger in exalting people too much. Leaders are imperfect.
People will disappoint you. Some famous celebrity preachers end up in sin and disgrace. Many end up in some type of scandal. Some end up in prison. We cannot put our trust in people.
On the other hand, we can put Christ first in our lives and still respect our leaders. We should do that.
Do you do anything to prevent division from happening, like Paul did?