Works of the Flesh: Divisions

Let us continue our examination into the works of the flesh described in Galatians 5:19-20 with “divisions:”

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties…

The word translated here as “divisions” is the Greek word dichostasia, defined by Thayer’s as:

dissension, division

This same word is used by Paul in Romans 16:17:

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them.

In New Testament usage, therefore, it appears that this term is directed specifically at those who would cause divisions within the church itself (this will be made more evident in our next edition and the discussion on “sects”). Paul even says that the brethren are to “mark” those that cause the divisions and occasions of stumbling.

From this usage we may reasonably conclude that we must stay away from division. We see that Jesus prayed for unity, not division, for His disciples in John 17:20-23:

“Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us: that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given unto them; that they may be one, even as We are one; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and lovedst them, even as thou lovedst Me.”

We see, then, that it is the desire of God for His people to be unified, and not divided. Yet, in a way, we may see a paradox with Paul’s statement in Romans 16:17: if we are to be unified, how can we “mark” one who desires to cause division, because is that not a form of division in and of itself? If we think about this, and search the Scriptures, we may find that we cannot simply say that we must always have unity, and that there is never a cause for division that is justifiable: such would cause, as we shall see, glaring contradictions in the Scriptures. It must be said that there are only a very few times when division is the only option to heal a dispute, and in those times generally someone has a false conviction or does not heed the message of the Scriptures. Let us look at what types of things may trigger division and see how the Christian ought to respond.

Many times divisions might be triggered because some members of the church begin to believe that practices not specifically or generically authorized by the Scriptures are actual liberties and may be practiced without sin, yet perhaps some other members of that church may not believe such things. They may not be convinced that the practice is a liberty, and desire to worship/practice without it. Paul tells us in Romans 14:23 the following:

But he that doubteth is condemned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; and whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

Paul also speaks in Romans 14:13-19:

Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling. I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself: save that to him who accounteth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer in love. Destroy not with thy meat him for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of: for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he that herein serveth Christ is well-pleasing to God, and approved of men. So then let us follow after things which make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one another.

From these passages the following truths are evident: if one is not convicted that a practice is right in the sight of God, that person has no right to perform that practice. Likewise, if a brother or a group of brethren believe some practice to be a liberty and another brother or part of that group of brethren do not hold that belief, those without belief ought not be compelled to sin against their conscience and those who believe in the liberty need to forsake it to continue in unity.

Unfortunately, in the Lord’s body today many brethren simply dismiss this notion and consider those who do not believe in the liberty to be “antis,” “legalists,” and “those denying God’s grace.” These brethren teach fervently that it is these “anti” types that are the cause of the division, since they will not accept their form of worship or their extra-Scriptural practices. Yet what is the message of the Scriptures? If the one who does not believe in the liberty informs those who believe in it in a Christian manner concerning how they believe and why, Paul charges that the practice be removed immediately to not cause offense. Therefore, according to the Scriptures, the one that compels another to accept the legitimacy of a practice or find another church is the one causing the division, and the one who falls under the condemnation of both Galatians 5:20 and Romans 16:17.

There are also many who cause divisions with the teaching of false doctrines. Paul chides the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13:

Now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been signified unto me concerning you, my brethren, by them that are of the household of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I mean, that each one of you saith, “I am of Paul;” and “I of Apollos:” and “I of Cephas;” and “I of Christ.”
Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized into the name of Paul?

We see here that many of the Corinthians chose one of their “favorite” preachers and identified themselves as being of that preacher’s party. These false teachings caused significant division within the church at Corinth.

Paul also warns Timothy concerning those who teach falsely in 1 Timothy 6:3-5:

If any man teacheth a different doctrine, and consenteth not to sound words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is puffed up, knowing nothing, but doting about questionings and disputes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, wranglings of men corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth, supposing that godliness is a way of gain.

We may see that this warning is true: those who bring false doctrines into the body of Christ often do so for these reasons and use these tactics, and the church will divide because of them and/or apostatize from the true Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). Such false teachers may believe that they are doing the proper thing, “reforming” the church to conform to their values, but in the end they only bring condemnation upon their own heads (Galatians 1:6-9). Let us recognize the truths of the Scriptures and not cause division by bringing in false doctrines.

Divisions also are triggered by the improper attitudes that a member or many members of the church may possess. We may use the example of Diotrephes in 3 John 1:9-10:

I wrote somewhat unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Therefore, if I come, I will bring to remembrance his works which he doeth, prating against us with wicked words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and them that would he forbiddeth and casteth them out of the church.

We see from this passage that Diotrephes’ desire for preeminence and his arrogant and haughty attitude compelled him to cast out some members of the church because they associated with those who accepted the desires and teachings of the inspired Apostle over his own desires and teachings. This improper– and truly “fleshly”– attitude caused even greater sin to come upon Diotrephes because of his divisive spirit, and the members of the church with whom he assembled would have been well-advised by Romans 16:17 to mark him for his attitude, for his “causing divisions and occasions of stumbling.”

We have seen many forms of division, and there is always an improper, carnal spirit involved when a division occurs. Either some people do not want their precious liberties questioned, or someone does not want to be deemed a false teacher and honestly believes he teaches properly, or someone has an attitude that leads him to foster divisions within the body of Christ. We must stay away from all of these forms of divisions, heeding well the advice of Romans 14:13 and Philippians 2:1-4:

Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling.

If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.

If we may do these things, we will not be the source of divisions but instead a source of edification for the building up of the people of God.


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