What comes to mind when you hear these phrases?
- Forced apart.
- Forced separation.
- Driven apart.
Strong words bring forth vivid images.
What do these phrases all have to do with each other? They are all rooted in the word division and its related words such as divide and divisive.
If anything, divisiveness is the opposite of the love of God.
God came to unite, to unify, to bring together in one (at-ONE-ment). How can we be at one with God when we worship and are entrenched in man-made divisiveness?
I work in Higher Education where division is rife.
We rank students by grade level. We separate students by disciplines (intriguingly, the word “disciple” means “learner”) as though each discipline contained the totality of truth necessary for fruitful living. We label students according to graduation requirements.
Among faculty, we rank ourselves based on where we received our degrees of educational glory, how many articles or books we’ve published. We bestow the honor and prestige of clearly divided levels of academic rank that only a privileged few attain. All of this is applauded, cheered, and studiously encouraged.
When I read 3 Nephi 6 with soberness, I pause and catch my breath.
“But it came to pass in the twenty and ninth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions…And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning, yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.” (3 Nephi 6: 10, 12)
How much am I contributing to modern day divisions because of ranks and levels of education and wealth?
Educated we surely must be for we cannot be saved in ignorance. Education has done more to liberate humanity than nearly any other man-made invention. But what does it matter for my salvation if I have a PhD in Biblical Studies? Does that matter more than the simple beauty of enduring faith borne through a life of suffering? At the entry gate to God’s kingdom, will the man-made titles and ranks of education I have acquired because of wealth and opportunity matter? I shudder at the thought. Please God, no.
In our fallen nature, we are driven to divide, to separate, to build walls, to keep others out, to rank ourselves against others. Enmity is the operational word to define fallen human nature.
Paul addressed the pernicious and destructive nature of division repeatedly in his writings.
To the Corinthians, Paul laid out the main theme of his letter in words of plainness,
“Now I beseech you, brethren, by 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 perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-11)
The word “division” here is the Greek word for schism. What causes schism? Contention.
When Jesus came to the Nephites what did he preach against? Contention.
“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” (3 Nephi 11:29)
Before Jesus visited the Nephites, contention had led to divisive schism and that eventually led to the destructive events in 3 Nephi 8.
Do we have division today? Do we fight about meaningless differences? Do we amplify significant differences for personal gain or for the gain of groups we’ve divided ourselves into?
How willing am I to truly love my neighbor if they live on the other side of some barrier real or imagined that I or others have created? How willing am I to listen to the experiences of others, even if they don’t match my artificial distinctions of social class, educational attainment, zip code, housing status, nation of birth, marital status, or political leanings?
Do man-made divisions help me love better? Did God command me to divisively force a separation, no matter how contrived from my fellow human beings?
Heavens no. The scriptures are replete with messages of ingathering, of coming together in purposeful peacefulness and unity.
When I read Paul, I hope that the only forced separation I encounter is that of opening my heart and mind to the truth that I cannot fully experience the atonement of Jesus Christ if I am divided in any way from my fellow sojourners on earth.
What we call Zion—the oneness of heart—is the purpose of Paul’s message: Be unified.
Jesus is one. Are we?
More Content and Connections
Want to see the locations mentioned in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians? This free tool I created will show you where: https://scriptures.byu.edu/mapscrip. For example, see where ancient Corinth was located here.
Looking for more great insights on the New Testament? Check out my new book available at Deseret Book Scriptural Insights and Commentary: The New Testament.
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