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What the Bible says about Unity and Division
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Deuteronomy 27:11-26

Looking at the underlying commonality of the Ebal-curses—that they focus on secret sin—we may conclude that the six tribes on Ebal represent those church members whom we could call “wolves in sheep's clothing,” in whom God finds unrepented sin, individuals living a secret life, closeted in some way, hypocrites.

Conversely, we may conclude that the six tribes atop Mount Gerizim symbolize those people in God's church who exhibit sincerity and wholeness of heart, unwavering commitment to keeping the principle inherent to the Feast of Unleavened Bread—and, by extension, living their entire lives—“not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (I Corinthians 5:8).

Those on Gerizim, unlike their fellows on the Mount of Cursing, represent individuals who break their bread with “singleness of heart” (Acts 2:46), fully committed to abandoning all sin, no matter how stubbornly closeted it may have been at one point in their lives, no matter how tenacious its addiction, no matter how much carnal pleasure it might bring. On Gerizim stand, symbolically, those of God's people who, recognizing the damnation of the charade, have firmly rejected living a double-life. Those who so shun sham and find no pleasure in the mask really do stand on the Mountain of Blessing!

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Five)

Deuteronomy 27:16

The second curse revolves around the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12). Exodus 21:17 mandates death for any person cursing either of his parents. It is noteworthy that disobedience to parents is usually not secret, but overt, often blatant. The word here, though, is not “disobey” but “dishonor.” Dishonor can be a disguised response to parents. The hypocrite can feign honor to parents, all the while secretly loathing them.

Along this line, Mark 7:1-13, where hypocrisy is a significant theme, becomes instructive. Some scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem traveled north to ask Christ why His disciples do not follow the oral tradition. They are referring to the halakha, which Peter, addressing the apostles at the Jerusalem Council years later, calls “a yoke . . . that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear” (Acts 15:10).

In His response to the Pharisees, Jesus calls His inquisitors hypocrites, honoring God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him. They worship God in vain, He avers, since they have abandoned “the commandment of God [holding in its place] the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8). The sin of the Jewish leadership is hidden—not obvious to the populous, which frequently considered the Pharisees and scribes to be pious. Nevertheless, their sin remains one of grave consequence. Christ concludes in verse 13: “Thus [you make] void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”

Significant here is the fact that Christ cites the fifth commandment as His example in this discussion (verses 10-12), namely, the tradition that a man is released from the obligation of caring for his aged parents if he dedicates the funds to the Temple. Christ says that doing so is hypocritical and tantamount to dishonoring parents and to violating God's law.

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:18

See Leviticus 19:14 for more information about this deceitful act—one of trickery. Over the centuries, how many seemingly sincere teachers have misled uninformed and unsuspecting members of God's church? Secularly, the phenomenon of “confidence-men” defrauding the elderly of their savings is a manifestation of this sort of thing.

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:19

For details, see Deuteronomy 24:17.

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:20

This is the first of four curses that pertain to sexual misbehavior. The example here is that of (usually) covert, incestuous relationships (see Leviticus 18:8; 20:11).

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:21

This is probably a catch-all reference pointing to all types of sexual deviancy. In today's world, such sexual misconduct may be quite overt, “in your face,” as it were. These days, people actually put such conduct on parade. In the context of God's people, such practices remain highly “in the closet.” (For more details, see Exodus 22:19; Leviticus 18:23; 20:15.)

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:22-23

These two curses, the third and fourth curses relative to sexual deportment, are related. The fact that God dedicates a third of the Ebal curses to such matters—usually perpetrated surreptitiously—may indicate the stress He places on sexual purity (see also Leviticus 18:9, 17; 20:14).

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:24

In view here is furtively lying in wait (indicating “malice aforethought”) with the intent to commit murder. See the sixth commandment in Exodus 20:13, as well as the prohibition of this specific kind of murder in Exodus 21:12. (For more details about murder, see Numbers 35:16-34.)

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Deuteronomy 27:26

This last curse is a clincher, more expansive in scope by far than the others. By its substance as well as its position, it serves to point out that the previous eleven curses serve in aggregate as an encapsulation of all the laws of God. In fact, the curse will come to any person who violates any of the precepts of God's law. There is no room for hypocrisy. The apostle Paul may have had the twelfth curse in mind when he wrote to God's people in Rome: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:13).

Confirmation of the law does not take place through word but through works, works of overt obedience. As a second witness, consider God's own orders to His prophet Jeremiah:

The Lord said to me, “Listen to the terms of the covenant. Tell the people of Judah and of Jerusalem that I, the Lord God of Israel, have placed a curse on everyone who does not obey the terms of this covenant. It is the covenant I made with their ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, the land that was like a blazing furnace to them. I told them to obey Me and to do everything that I had commanded. I told them that if they obeyed, they would be My people and I would be their God. Then I would keep the promise I made to their ancestors that I would give them the rich and fertile land which they now have.” (Jeremiah 11:1-5, Good News Translation)

Through the same prophet, God tells us that appearances do not fool God. He sees through the mask, recognizing reality clearly: “For My eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from Me, nor is their iniquity concealed from My eyes” (Jeremiah 16:17).

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)

Acts 5:1-11

The narrative of Ananias and Sapphira provides a dramatic illustration of the fact that God will not accept duplicity in His church. Partial commitment to the truth is not enough. In the case of this ancient couple, He judged “the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” without delay, stopping the lie literally dead in its tracks.

Although unstated in the account, Ananias and Sapphira likely coveted the status and reputation they would receive if God's people came to believe they were “big” contributors. With Satan's prodding (verse 3), they (Sapphira is fully complicit; verse 2) hatched the deceitful plan to sell some property and donate part of the proceeds for the use of the brethren. In reality, they conspire to mislead the church leadership (and ultimately, the brethren at large) into thinking that their generous gift comprised the entire sale price of the land, when in fact they had surreptitiously “kept back” a portion of the proceeds for their personal use. Their level of sacrifice for the needs of the church was not what they led others to believe.

Had God not intervened to abort their plan, they would have lived lives of hypocrisy for who knows how long, daily “practicing” the lie (Revelation 22:15) that they had “given all” to God. Without question, they would have lived the same sort of burdensome lives endured by Joseph's brothers for decades after their clandestine treachery toward their younger brother (see Genesis 37:23-36), as they feared serendipity every moment—a slip of the tongue, the development of an unwelcome and unforeseen circumstance, the vengeance of God, anything which might suddenly reveal the truth to their father, exposing them as the rogues they really were. Theirs was a skulking lifestyle—the way of life of any hypocrite, analogous to perpetually wearing a mask or a disguise to hide the real self, pretending to be one person, all the while being another.

But that is only half of the nasty story. Sir Walter Scott well wrote, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, / When first we practice to deceive.” The hypocrite, enjoying the benefits of his duplicity (such as wealth, status, etc.) becomes desperately committed to maintaining the façade at any cost, doing all that becomes necessary to keep the charade going, lest he suffer financial, social, or emotional losses that his carnality could not accept. The cause of perpetuating the lie comes to enmesh his spirit. The myth becomes master.

Luke does not specify the amount of money Ananias and Sapphira held back. Was it 5% of the sales price or 20% or 50%? We do not know, and it does not matter! A lie is a lie. There are no “little white lies.” A life of duplicity can develop around any lie, big or little. It will always bear the same fruit, however.

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Five)

1 Corinthians 11:18-19

Contrasting the unity that Christ died to establish is the division sown by the Adversary as part of his “divide and conquer” strategy. Paul writes of factions (or divisions) in relation to the members of the Corinthian church of God:

For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions [schisma] among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions [hairesis] among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. (I Corinthians 11:18-19)

In general, the nouns schisma and (to a lesser extent) hairesis receive pejorative treatment in the New Testament. The thrust of the apostle's comments on the topic of church factions is that they showcase the presence of human nature at work in Christians. Schisms are the result of carnality alive-and-kicking in the church. They emerge where God's people are not fully committed to living His way of life, where they deny God His rightful place as Sovereign Ruler of their lives. Axiomatically, the lack of unity in a congregation reflects a proportional lack of repentance on the part of its members.

Paul introduces the concept of division, using the same Greek word as he does in I Corinthians 11:18, schisma, in the book's first chapter:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions [schisma] among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. (I Corinthians 1:10-11)

Quarreling is a manifestation of the unity-dissolving “friction or competition.”

Charles Whitaker
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part One)


 




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