The New Testament talks about a lot of sins, but I would venture to say that the sin Jesus and the apostles addressed the most might have been division. In fact, did you know the word “heresy” comes from the Greek word that means “sect”? Literally, a “heretic” (Titus 3:10, KJV) is a person who divides from others and forms a sect around his or her opinions. This kind of sectarianism is expressly condemned and I believe every single one of us need to heed the warnings of Scripture.
What Causes Divisions?
The book of James sheds a lot of light on what causes divisions. And the simple answer is, a lack of wisdom from above. James says, “Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere” (James 3:17). When we are not being peaceable, gentle, and open to reason, it is obvious we are lacking the kind of wisdom James is commending here.
He goes on to say our conflicts are caused by our passions which are at war within us (James 4:1). We want and we do not have, which causes us to fight, bicker and quarrel with one another. What we really need, James says, is to humble ourselves (James 4:6-10).
Wouldn’t a good dose of humility and some spiritual wisdom (that is peaceable, gentle, open to reason, etc.) go a long way in preventing religious division? If Christians – on both sides of division – would stop pushing their own agendas and humbly stick with what Scripture actually says, there would seldom (if ever) be division.
James also says we need to not speak evil against our brethren or judge them (James 4:11-12). So what does that mean?
Judging One Another
The issue of not judging one another comes up a lot in the Bible. Some quickly pull this idea out of its holster and say, “Ha, I can do whatever I want. God says don’t judge.” Obviously that is not biblical. You certainly can’t do whatever you and want and God even tells us to teach, reprove, correct, and train one another with Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
But on the other hand, there are others who – just as quickly – dismiss admonitions about judging and say, “Yeah, but Jesus says in John 7:24 to judge with right judgment; so we are supposed to judge.” That is absolutely true, but these passages about not judging mean something. What does wrong judging look like and how does it contribute to religious division?
In Romans 14, Paul talks a lot about judging one another. He says we have no right to judge another man’s servant (vs. 4). That is a warning we ought to take very seriously.
So on what basis is judging wrong? Obviously, if we say, “The Bible says such-and-such is a sin,” we are not violating this principle. But Paul says if we judge on the basis of our “opinions” (vs. 1), then we are violating this principle. So the next question is, what does he mean by “opinions”?
When we think of an opinion, we usually think of something that is not based on sound reasoning. But the word translated “opinions” in Romans 14:1 is “dialogismos.” The verb form of this word means to question, think, discern, or reason. Some Christians in Rome had reasoned that certain days ought to be treated as holy and some meat ought not to be eaten. Other Christians had reasoned differently. Paul said to welcome one another and accept one another, but not to quarrel and judge one another over these “difficult points” (The Kingdom New Testament).
We automatically think opinions are wrong. “Don’t give me your opinion,” we say, “give me the truth.” Well, it is possible for our opinions to be the truth. If we have correctly reasoned through an issue, then our opinion is the truth. But the command is still not to judge others on the standard of our own personal reasoning or thinking. We must subject ourselves to our own reasoning, but we cannot condemn others because they do not see things the same way.
This, incidentally, might have been a difficult lesson for Paul to learn. After all, Paul had been a Pharisee and the Pharisees were famous for their “well-reasoned” opinions. They believed Jesus was a lawbreaker because they judged Him by the standard of their reasoning (see Matt. 12:1-14).
There are a million examples of how Christians today judge one another and divide over opinions. One example might be how we dress for worship. One Christian believes God expects us to wear our very best to worship, but another Christian believes it is unnecessary to dress in nice clothes. One of those opinions is right and one is wrong, but neither is worth condemning your brother over.
Bear with One Another
We often read 1 Corinthians 13 at weddings, forgetting the original context is not husbands and wives loving each other, but Christians loving each other. Verse 7 says “love bears all things.” Ephesians 4:2 says, in order to maintain unity, we must “bear with one another in love.” The idea here is that love continues to put up with others, even when it’s tough to do so.
We are far too quick to write people off and give up on them because we want to have things our way or we don’t like someone else’s opinions. Sometimes we even think the “biblical” thing to do is go our own way, but the biblical thing to do is to bear with them in love.
The Bottom Line
If a person is in Christ (Galatians 3:26-28), he is my brother. We may disagree on some things. We may have to privately reason through some issues. But unless he does something for which Scripture says I must withdraw from him (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5; Titus 3:10), I will not condemn him or write him off. I will continue to bear with him in love and hope he will do the same for me. God is long-suffering and gracious with us, we must be that way with one another.
One of the kinds of people Scripture says we must withdraw from is the kind of person who is determined to divide the church (this ought to tell us how serious the sin of division is):
“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10).
I love you and God loves you,