There Must Be Factions

[Post updated.]

 I’m thankful for First Corinthians. It reminds me that the early church wasn’t only experiencing Acts 4:32-35.

The church in Corinth was so divided that you might say it was diced. There were divisions over which apostle was superior, sexual morality, lawsuits, marriage, eating meat, headcoverings for women, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection of believers, and I’m probably missing some.

Paul, who really wanted these saints to “be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10), said something in chapter 11, verse 19 that is important for us to remember:

There must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.

Factions painfully serve the church. They provide opportunity to differentiate between real and unreal Christians.

Does this mean that factions only occur between the genuine and the false? No. Paul wrote this book to help “brothers” (genuine believers) solve their divisions (1 Corinthians 1:10).

But factions do reveal false Christians. How? Well, exposing an unwillingness to submit to the apostles’ teaching is certainly one thing (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:16). But a lack of love is the biggie (1 Corinthians 13). Paul said love is greater than faith (1 Corinthians 13:13). And if we have truth and not love, we’re nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2). Nothing.

There must be factions. Factions reveal hearts. So in our disagreements and divisions, Paul wants us to measure our motives, words, and actions by the gauge of chapter 13. The less they look or sound like biblically defined love, the more concerned he wants us to be about our genuineness.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith and serves as the President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Pam, their five children, and one naughty dog.