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During my time at university I lived with my great friend Nicky Lee, who is now one of the Associate Vicars of HTB. When we shared rooms together we did all our own cooking. I did the cooking and Nicky Lee did the dividing. He was an expert at dividing whatever was cooked into exactly equal portions! This is but one instance where division is used in a good sense rather than a bad one.
Divisions are a fact of life. They need not necessarily be a bad thing. Indeed, they may even be necessary. For example, placing people in different divisions in an organisation may be helpful and important. We see this kind of division in the Old Testament passage for today.
Then, there is the division that will take place on the day of judgment. This is a necessary division between good and evil. This kind of division can be seen in the psalm for today.
There is also a third kind of division, which is not good, helpful or necessary. It is division in the church. This kind of division is one we must do our very best to avoid. It is this kind of division that the apostle Paul speaks against in the New Testament passage for today.
1. Division between the righteous and evildoersPsalm 92:1-15
The world is divided, according to the psalmist, between ‘evildoers’ (v.7) and the ‘righteous’ (v.12). Evildoers are senseless ‘fools’ who ‘do not understand’ (v.6). They are ‘enemies’ of God (v.9). One day, not only will they be divided from the righteous, but they will be divided among themselves – they will be ‘scattered’ (v.9), and they will ‘perish’ (v.9). The ‘righteous’, on the other hand, have a secure future (vv.12–15).
Both ‘evildoers’ (v.7) and the ‘righteous … flourish’ (vv.12–13), but in different ways. For the ‘evildoers’ (v.7) it is passing and temporal. They will soon be ‘destroyed’ (v.7). They are like the grass. But for the ‘righteous’ (v.12) it is a lasting and eternal flourishing. It is ‘like a palm tree’ or ‘a cedar of Lebanon’ (v.12). They ‘will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green’ (v.14).
The difference between the success of the world –power, fame, making money and so on – and the success of a true follower of Jesus in living a holy life is like the difference between grass, which lasts a few days, and a palm tree which stands throughout the ages.
Lord, when we see the lasting blessings you give to those who follow you, like the psalmist we want to thank you and praise your name.
‘What a beautiful thing, God, to give thanks,
to sing an anthem to you, the High God!
To announce your love each daybreak,
sing your faithful presence all through the night ...
You made me so happy, God
I saw your work and I shouted for joy.
How magnificent your work, God!
How profound your thoughts!’ (vv.1–5, MSG).
2. Divisions in the church1 Corinthians 3:1-23
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is a sandwich. He starts with praise and love. He ends with grace and love. In the middle he raises issues which he wants them to deal with.
This is a good model when confronting issues in an individual or a church. It is important, if possible, to start and end with a positive and encouraging note. At the same time we have to have the courage to deal with the issues.
One of the issues he raises is divisions in the church. He says that they are ‘worldly’ (v.1); ‘unspiritual’ (v.1, MSG). In some ways, they were the most ‘spiritual’ of all the churches that Paul wrote to. They did ‘not lack any spiritual gift’ ( 1:7). However, they were ‘unspiritual’ because of wrong attitudes which led to division.
He points out three wrong attitudes. These are dangers for all Christians, but particularly Christian leaders.
He writes, ‘For since there is jealousy ... among you, are you not worldly?’ (3:3). It is tempting to compare ourselves with others and when we hear about some blessing another has received to start thinking, ‘When is that going to happen to me?’. But, as Joyce Meyer writes, ‘We should bless others and not be afraid they will get ahead of us. We must not envy anyone else’s appearance, possessions, education, social standing, marital status, gifts and talents, job, or anything else because that will only hinder our own blessing.’
Paul writes that their ‘quarrelling’ is another reason that he sees them as ‘unspiritual’. We must avoid party spirit and the taking of sides, where ‘one says, “I follow Paul” and another “I follow Apollos” ’ (v.4).
Paul writes, ‘So then, no more boasting about human leaders!’ (v.21). Boasting is the temptation to compare ourselves with others and think we are doing rather well and boast about our ‘success’. We need to see our part in God’s economy in its proper perspective. We are first, ‘mere human beings’ (v.4); second, ‘only servants’ (v.5); third, ‘neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything’ (v.7). Therefore, there is no cause for ‘boasting’ (v.21).
All of these stem from an inflated view of our own importance. These are ‘unspiritual’ attitudes. These sorts of attitudes are all too common in fallen humanity, infecting the world, and sadly the church too.
We need to understand that all of us are utterly dependent on God. One plants a seed, the other waters it, but God makes it grow (v.6). Planting and watering are important, but they are relatively easy. Only God can do the difficult bit and make plants, people and churches grow.
We do have a role to play. First, God uses us to bring people to faith. Apollos and Paul were those ‘through whom [the Corinthians] came to believe’ (v.5). Second, God will reward us. The person who plants and the person who waters have one purpose and each will be rewarded according to their own labour. Third, we are ‘God’s co-workers’ (v.9). God has chosen not to do it on his own. He chooses to use us.
Being used by God is a huge privilege. Not only are we God’s ‘co- workers’ (v.9) – we are ‘God’s field, God’s building’ (v.9). People try to build their lives on many things – money, education, job titles, possessions, and other things, but Jesus is the only sure foundation (v.11).
Furthermore, Paul goes on to write, ‘Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?’ (v.16). Therefore Paul writes, ‘I don’t want to hear any of you bragging about yourself or anyone else. Everything is already yours as a gift – Paul, Apollos, Peter, the world, life, death, the present, the future – all of it is yours, and you are privileged to be in union with Christ, who is in union with God’ (vv.21–23, MSG).
Lord, thank you so much for the immense privilege of being used by you to bring people to faith in Christ. Thank you that we are fellow workers with you. Thank you that your Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ himself, lives within us.
Help us to remember that we are mere servants. It is you who makes things grow. Keep us from pride and boasting. Help us to avoid jealousy and quarrelling. Help us to guard the unity of the church.
3. Divisions for ministry1 Chronicles 24:1-26:19
Here we see the word ‘divisions’ used in a positive sense. ‘These were the divisions of the descendants of Aaron’ (24:1). ‘David separated them into divisions for their appointed order of ministering’ (v.3). ‘A larger number of leaders were found … they were divided accordingly’ (v.4). ‘They divided them impartially’ (v.5). There were also ‘divisions of the gatekeepers’ (26:1,19). ‘These divisions of the gatekeepers, through their leaders, had duties for ministering in the temple of the Lord’ (v.12).
There are some interesting names in his list. Among the singers is ‘Asaph’, who prophesied (25:2). Psalm 50 and Psalm 73–83 are attributed to him. Indeed, Jesus even quotes from him (Matthew 13:35). There is ‘Jeduthun’ (Psalm 39; 62; 77) and ‘Heman’ (Psalm 88).
Among the gatekeepers (or as often translated, ‘doorkeepers’) are the Korahites. Psalm 84 is attributed to ‘the Sons of Korah’ – and was therefore presumably written by a doorkeeper. This helps us to understand what he meant when he wrote, ‘I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked’ (v.10).
In the body of Christ we divide up the roles. Each part of the body has a different function. As St Paul writes, ‘The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body … God has combined the members of the body … so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other’ (1 Corinthians 12:12,24–25).
The apostle Paul describes the good sense of division (the different roles of members in the body) whilst seeking to avoid the bad sense (there should be no division or disunity in the body).
It is a great honour to be involved in any way in serving in ‘God’s house’ – whether we are helping with the car parking, or welcoming teams, coffee or prayer ministry. Every person has great significance and honour because we are serving in God’s house.
Lord, help us to make wise decisions in the assignment of roles in the body of Christ. Help us to divide up the work so that everybody gets involved. At the same time, help us to avoid the wrong kind of division and disunity in the body of Christ. Help us to function as a unit made up of many parts in which each part cooperates with all the others with a unity brought about by the Holy Spirit.
‘They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green’.
Fresh and green sounds good. As life goes by very quickly and I am heading for old age fast, I’m encouraged by this verse. There is something so beautiful about godly, older people. I can think of many that I admire hugely, their wisdom and holy life are an inspiration.