Division and Christ!
You may consider the present subject quite intriguing and perplexing. In what way dies division relate to God—and how are we to think about this?
The present Time Magazine proclaimed Donald Trump as the “Person of the Year.” The issue gives us a cover photograph of the new president—Donald Trump. Along with the picture, we read that he will be “President of the Divided States of America.” Read that again! Does this sound correct? We’re used to seeing and referring to “The United States of America,” but this year there has been so much division that Time Magazine was impelled to present us with a different picture! None of us want a “divided” nation but that is what we have.
As I have been reading through the Gospel of John, I notice that Jesus sometimes brought division! The first instance is found in chapter 7:40-44. Some of His listeners thought that He was “the Prophet”—which was a reference to the Prophet that Moses said would arise in the future (vv. 15, 18). Others were saying that Jesus was “the Christ”—or the Messiah of the Jews (since some thought that the coming prophet and the coming messiah would be two different personalities. Still others said that the Messiah would be a descendant of David and come from Bethlehem, and they didn’t know of Jesus’ origin. Thus “a division occurred in the crowd because of Him” (v. 43). This division came because of the difference of opinion about our Lord.
Sometime later, the Pharisees said that Jesus was not from God since they didn’t think that He kept the Sabbath—an important requirement of the Law of Moses (John 9:16). But others objected, pointing out that a sinner (a breaker of the Sabbath) could not perform the miracles or signs that Jesus worked. Because of this difference of opinion, “there was a division among them” (v. 16). Jesus brought division between people!
We may all find Christ’s teaching that He was the Good Shepherd who would give His life for the sheep and also have the authority to “take it up again” in resurrection to be blessed indeed (see John 10:1-18). But not everyone saw it this way. After our Lord spoke those radical words, Scripture says “a division occurred again among the Jews because of these words” (v. 19). It seems that wherever our Lord went and whatever He said, He brought division between people!
We may wonder how this harmonizes with the words of the angels at the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. They praised God, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14, KJV). Many people send cards or otherwise make reference to the “peace on earth” that they think Jesus came to give. Actually, the verse should be better translated as: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (NASB). In other words, men “with whom He is pleased” would experience and enjoy the “peace” that Christ came to give. Other than this, the Lord brought something other than peace. The world at large would not experience peace, but only certain devoted ones would know this divine peace of the Messiah.
The Lord Jesus said something startling during His ministry in the first century. Luke tells us that Jesus said, “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division” (Luke 12:51). To use the words of Matthew, Jesus declared, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Jesus didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword that would divide! The Lord went on to say one way that the sword would be active through His life and teachings: “For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be members of his household” (Matthew 10:35-36; see also Luke 12:52-53). Jesus’ coming would divide people even in the same family!
We’ve seen that Christ’s coming did bring “division” between those who accepted Him and His teachings and those who refused to accept Him. The “sword” of division would come to the earth because of our Lord’s radical teachings, life, and ministry.
When Jesus returned to heaven after His death and resurrection, division existed in the early body of Christ when there should not have been any. Paul the apostle lamented that “divisions” existed in Corinth when they came together as a body (1 Corinthians 11:18). In contrast, he strongly urged unity and harmony: “I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1:10). Whereas divisions were to be expected in the world and even in many families, the apostle rightfully taught that in the body of Christ, there must be “no divisions” among them! Do we heed this? Do we practice this?
In our day and probably at all times, division has been the rule instead of the exception. This has come from many sources. Sometimes it comes because people refuse to abide by the clear and authoritative teachings of Scripture. At other times, it may arise because of differences of interpretation. Further, sometimes it may come because men and women are steeped in traditions and human teachings (Colossians 2:8; Mark 7:8-13). And, of course, there would be other sources of conflict and division. Let’s do all we can to avoid this carnal spirit, by clinging closely to our Lord Jesus and His divine Word (cf. John 17:6-24).
Let’s realize that division exists and will come, but let’s also determine not to be the cause of this problem. Instead of division in families, let’s work toward unity within families through Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:22-6:4). Instead of division in the fellowship of believers, let’s determine to experience the perfect “unity” that comes through the Lord Jesus and God the Father (John 17:23). Let’s commit ourselves to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).