17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. (1 Corinthians 11:17–19, NKJV)
The only other time in 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul is inspired to use the word translated “instructions” in verse 17 is in chapter 7:10, where it is translated “command.” The word carries the force of a message that is enjoined upon us, a charge given by the apostle. He was about to charge them with proper attitudes and conduct when they came together to worship. It had been reported to Paul that the worship assembly of the Corinthian church was marred by division. He would rebuke them, not praise them, for their factious conduct when they came together. (The simple and clear truth is that we must discard every practice that cannot be praised by an apostle.) Their divisions over class and wealth were disrupting and perverting their worship. Therefore, verse 19 does not endorse factions in a church, it explains the effect factions have on a church. Factions serve to identify genuine (true) disciples from those in error (which Paul will show in subsequent verses). Our assembled worship must be decent and orderly, characterized by unity in truth, not divisiveness and strife (1 Cor. 14:40; 1:10).
17 Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” 18 And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals.” (1 Kings 18:17–18, NKJV)
With the influence of his evil wife Jezebel, king Ahab advanced Baal worship in Israel (1 Kings 16:29-33). God sent a drought upon the land for over three years to show His great displeasure (1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17). Ahab blamed God’s prophet Elijah for the trouble, but it was Ahab and his house who had forsaken God’s commands and led the nation into deeper sin. Ahab was the real troubler of Israel. Here is a clear lesson concerning culpability when distress, trials, trouble, and division occurs among Christians. God says the troubler of His people are those who forsake His commandments and follow false ways. Yet, like Ahab, those who “hold fast the pattern of sound words” against the religious innovations borne of human desire and design are still (incorrectly) charged with being troublemakers (2 Timothy 1:13). No, we become troublers of Israel when we go beyond the doctrine of Christ and teach false, misleading things (2 John 9; Acts 20:29-30). False gods and false doctrines still plague the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16-17). Let us never be a modern-day Ahab who defends error while condemning truth and those who uphold it.
24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. (Mark 3:24–26, NKJV)
The enemies of Jesus charged Him with casting out demons by the power of Satan (Mark 3:22-23). Jesus exposes their error by noting a fundamental principle: Chaos occurs where division exists. If their charge was true, then Satan was fighting against Satan. Division produces chaos, not calm. This principle is noteworthy incentive for us to pursue peace (Hebrews 12:14). A country at war with itself cannot long sustain the chaos of internal conflict. A divided family cannot long endure factious emotions and splintered loyalties. Christ will not indefinitely recognize and identify Himself with a church that is divided in doctrine and practice (Rev. 2:4-5). It is very wrong to think God is pleased with religious division by saying such things, as “join the church of your choice.” The chaos of doctrinal division renders this recommendation inept (not to mention unscriptural, John 17:20-21; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4:3). God’s kingdom is united in truth. Strong families stand on the solid rock of faith. And, God’s house stands on and upholds the truth of God (1 Timothy 3:15). Division is the work of Satan. Unity in truth is the work of God in Christ Jesus.
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:4–6, NKJV)
This is God’s platform of unity for the church of Christ. There is one body, or church, not many churches (denominations) that establish division among believers. There is one Spirit, who leads us and unites us by the gospel truth He revealed, inspired and confirmed. There is one hope reserved in heaven for Christians; not the hope of an idyllic earth for all of humanity (1 Peter 1:3-5). Unity is arranged under the authority of one Lord; Jesus Christ (Acts 2:34-36). Unity is preserved when we do all things by His authority (Colossians 3:17). We do not write or accept creeds to elucidate unity – the faith that was once for all delivered is our sufficient guide (Jude 3). The Great Commission baptism of repentant believers for the remission of sins is the only baptism God recognizes (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:37-38; 8:35-38). All other baptisms introduce error and cause division. We have one Father who is in heaven; not many clerical “fathers” on earth (Matthew 23:9). God, our heavenly Father, is sovereign over all things. He pervades and sustains all things. He dwells among His people (Ephesians 2:22). Let us unite on truth. This is the unity for which Jesus prayed (John 17:20-21).
4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. (Romans 12:4–5, NKJV)
The church is depicted as a body – its members having different functions, but all aimed toward the singular, united purpose of serving the will of its head, who is Christ. This picture of the church as a body draws our attention to the unity to which we are called as Christians. Division is roundly condemned in the Scriptures as a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:20). Christians are united in our faith, in our common salvation, and in our mutual care for one another. To the extent that Christians refuse to consider ourselves “members of one another,” they contribute to discord in the body of Christ. The church suffers when fellow Christians will not work and worship together in mutual faith, mutual love and mutual reverence for the Lord. Each Christian has an important place in the body of Christ, which includes “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Each member of the body of Christ is more effective and faithful as we all remember we are “individually members of one another.”
12 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.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:12-13, NKJV)
The rhetorical questions answer themselves (verse 13). Christ is not divided. Paul was not crucified for you. You were not baptized in the name of Paul. Therefore, Christians cannot be “of” men, and also be “of Christ.” Christ is not divided into a multitude of different churches with opposing creeds, confessions, and catechisms. The writers and endorsers of creeds and confessions were not crucified for you. Neither were you baptized in their names. As an example, consider the Apostles’ Creed. The apostles did not die for our sins, nor were we baptized in their names. Why should we pledge allegiance to a creed that bears their name (which they neither wrote nor approved in the first place)? Yet, many will identify you as a heretic if you do not do so. Such a demand is divisive to its core. The Scriptures answer all pertinent doctrinal issues; we care not for the creeds, because they are unnecessary. Creed writers were not crucified for us, Christ was (1 Cor. 15:3). Jesus Christ is the One in whom we are baptized, not churches that were formed under the guidelines of human creeds (Matt. 28:19). In Christ, we unite. In creeds, we divide. Which do you choose?
7 And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land. 8 So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.” (Genesis 13:7–9, NKJV)
Family members ought to be able to resolve differences between them. The contention between Abram and Lot’s herdsmen affected their masters as well as the inhabitants of the land who witnessed the discord. Strife is that way. It impacts others in addition to its principal parties. It takes faith and humility to end a quarrel; any fool can start one (Prov. 20:3). Abram’s faith rose above the animosity as he offered Lot first pick of the land. To Abram, it didn’t matter who was “right” and who was “wrong.” Furthermore, by rights (as the eldest and Lot’s uncle), Abram should have had first choice. But, what mattered most to Abram was ending the strife in a fair and lasting manner. So, he deferred to Lot and trusted the Lord bless him, which He did (Gen. 13:14-18). Similar honor is needed in the church, the family of God. Putting an end to strife requires having the faith to “accept the wrong” and to then move forward, instead of bitterly clinging to the past (1 Cor. 6:7).