Knowing in Part
“Now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12b)
I’ve seen a great evil in the body of Christ that has plagued the church throughout the ages. Those who know in part often presume they know fully and so divide themselves from other Christians who don’t see things exactly their way.
Jesus prayed in John 17:17 that we would be sanctified (set apart) by the truth and then defined truth for us: “Your word is truth.” The word of God was given to set us apart from the corrupt value system, perspective, and ungodliness of this present age, so we would reflect God, and His ways, in the darkness of this world. When the professing church aligns with the world, God calls us to stand firm even though it causes a split. (See the current division in the Methodist church between cultural and Biblical sexuality.)
Yet Christians have often taken the word that was given to separate or divide us from the world’s system and used it to divide the body of Christ instead. In the very chapter that Jesus prayed we would be sanctified, He also prays that the Father would make us one. The result of this oneness, He said, would be that the world would believe in Jesus (John 17:23).
Instead of accepting each other, the body of Christ is often found rejecting each other on things that aren’t essential to the gospel. Pride makes us “strain at gnats and swallow camels” (Matthew 23:24). There are essential truths that unite us and divide us from the world and these need to be embraced with a passion we are willing to die for: the authority of Scripture; Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world; the gospel calls all people to repent and put their trust in Christ for salvation; Christians are called to love God and love people; everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and go irreversibly to heaven or hell. Even these clear truths in the word of God are only known in part, yet Christians through all the ages have established these as essentials that define one as a Christian.
Matters like how we define communion, how baptism should be practiced, how the second coming will unfold, how predestination is defined, the practice of spiritual gifts, the age of the earth, etc. are all examples of issues that sincere believers disagree as to how the Bible should be interpreted. You probably have an opinion on every one of these topics and more than likely think you’re right. (If you didn’t it wouldn’t be your opinion!) Yet we need to hold these opinions with humility, or our attitude can end up bringing division to the church instead of the unity that Jesus prayed for.
The enemy knows that a kingdom divided won’t stand so he tries to sow pride with the word of God. It usually starts with someone who is gifted as a teacher who gets a legitimate insight from Scripture. They then make their insight a central truth and attack anyone who doesn’t see it exactly how they see it, even accusing them of heresy. Suspicion divides us and is the opposite of love which chooses to “believe the best” of others (1 Corinthians 13).
Jesus gave this warning to teachers in John 5:39-40: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life.” Ultimately truth is a Person (John 14:6). The Scriptures were given to reveal this Person who gives us life, not to win a debate. We can’t be dead right, because if we’re dead, we’re not right, no matter how sure of ourselves we are.
In Romans 14, Paul addresses different opinions or convictions that were dividing the church in Rome at that time. Some were continuing to keep the Sabbath and still obeying Jewish food laws (not to earn salvation but as those who were saved by grace) while others were purposely not keeping them to express their freedom in Christ. Paul encouraged them to accept one another and “not look down” on those who disagreed with their convictions in these matters (Romans 14:3).
He says, “Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall” (Romans 14:4a). Then he encouraged them, and us, to believe that God wants to give grace to people who may not have it exactly right in our eyes. “And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive His approval” (Romans 14:4b).
One of the guiding principles of the early fathers went like this: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” To honor the prayer of Jesus we should “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Unity is supernatural because the blood of Jesus has broken down the walls that divide us. Ours is not to create unity, for only the Spirit can do that, but to jealously protect it.