(1 Corinthians 11:17-19)
One of the greatest issues in the church over the many years of its history has been the problems of division. Consider the church as it exists today in its many forms. Who knows exactly how many denominations, groups, sects and independent churches there are in the world today.
And yet when we look back, it all began with just one group and just one church.
Jesus came and presented man with the teachings that established the first church, which He set up through the twelve apostles. But after Jesus returned to the Father we began to see the gradual disintegration of the early church into sects and factions. Many of the New Testament writers wrote of this issue and here we see Paul explaining part of the reason why divisions occurred.
What Causes Division?
It is the way of man to seek his own way. Man from the beginning with Adam and Eve chose to go their own way rather than follow the ways of God. When Adam and Eve chose to listen to the serpent who was Satan, they rejected the ways of God for their own selfish purposes. And by so doing sin was born and death was the penalty the human race has suffered ever since.
The purpose of the teachings of God and especially the path that Jesus Christ gave to man was to bring man to God. His desire was to bring people together in peace and in harmony both with each other and with God.
But Satan is the divider. Just as Satan caused the rift between man and God in the garden of Eden, so too he has caused division ever since. Satan works on the arrogance and pride in the hearts of men where men seek power and control, and so they are divided against each other and against God.
Does This Have To Be?
Paul makes the point in this section of scripture that this indeed does have to occur. Although it would be far, far better if it did not for all concerned, because division is painful and difficult, it must occur.
This section of scripture says,
17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. – (1 Corinthians 11:17-19)
Paul says that there “…must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognised.”
There are many people who go to church that are not genuine. They are not attending the church for the purpose of seeking the Lord or for praise, worship and fellowship with Jesus Christ and the people of God.
Instead they are there to seek their own advantage and their own purposes. They want to use the church as a base for power or control or some other base reason. They seek financial gain or adulation based on pride and arrogance, wishing to be looked up to as “somebody” rather than turning their heart and the hearts of people to the Lord.
As Paul clearly shows us, they are not genuine about the faith. They are false teachers, false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing. They reject the teachings of God and spin their own human teachings and philosophies to seek their own advantage. Jude calls them waterless springs, twice dead. Note what he said here,
3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. – (Jude 1:3-4)
We see here that Jude teaches that even in his day there were people who had crept in under the radar so to speak, and with whom the people of God would have to contend and fight to maintain the fullness of the truth of the gospel.
He said they pervert the gospel into “sensuality” and deny Christ. The Greek word translated as “sensuality” here is also often used for licentiousness. These false brethren then are twisting the scripture and rejecting Christ Jesus by licensing the people to do evil.
And how do they deny Christ Jesus who is the Lord and Master? They set themselves up as the heads of churches and so take the place that belongs to Christ. Jesus is the ONLY true head of the church. Anyone who establishes themself as the head of a church denies the rightful position that belongs to Christ Jesus.
And if Christ is not the head of these churches they are open to all manner of evil and false teaching. Woe to those people who are in such a place for the devil will wreak havoc amongst the people.
But in spite of this we see Paul speak of those who are genuine. It is in the factions that those who are false stand out from those who are true. And the Lord will bring His people out and protect them from what is false.
Even in the last great false church that is described as being full of many abominations, that is, the church called Babylon in Revelation, we see that there are people who belong to the Lord and that He will bring them out of that evil organisation before casting judgment on it.
Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; – (Revelation 18:4)
So too there will be genuine Christians and people of the Lord in all congregations where He is. But likewise there will be those who are false to the truth, seeking to destroy rather than to build up. These people are the children of the devil.
What Paul notes though is that those who are genuine will stand out and be seen, and in due course the Lord will bring them out and they will go into salvation with Him.