A house divided
On June 16, 1858 Abraham Lincoln delivered one of his most famous speeches just three hours after being nominated by the Republican party to run against Stephen Douglas for the U.S. Senate. Mr. Lincoln wrote his own speeches unlike many politicians, and he was advised to remove the now-famous line from his speech. Obviously, he did not. Many people thought his speech was too controversial and cost him the election. Looking back, many people later credited his speech with eventually helping him into the White House. In that speech he quoted the Savior Jesus Christ who, when accused of casting out demons by the power of Satan said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand (Mt 12:25).”
On June 12, 1987 President Ronald Reagan delivered what is now one of his most famous speeches. He also wrote a controversial line that he was advised to remove. He too went ahead and delivered the line. He stood at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin. The city of Berlin was separated by a wall which marked a border between Soviet Socialist/Communist control in the east and “democracy” in the West. He challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to end this division by saying, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
Presidents Lincoln and Reagan are respected by many as two of America’s greatest presidents. They both delivered famous but controversial lines in speeches challenging division. They both realized how dangerous it is. Lincoln purposely chose to quote the Lord whop understands better than anyone what division can do to bring any organization down, whether it be a family, a neighborhood, or a nation.
Conversely, the destructive power of division shows us the power of unity. We see this clearly at the tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9). After the flood God commanded the survivors to replenish the earth (Gen 9:1 & 7). He also promised He would never again cover the earth in a flood (Gen 9:8-17). The rainbow has been a symbol of that covenant ever since. However, many of Noah’s descendants chose instead to gather into one place to build themselves a city and a tower. Their agenda was clear. They were making what they apparently thought would be a waterproof tower that would reach to the sky, and they were seeking to make a name for themselves. They were in direct defiance of God and were seeking to make their own way of salvation instead of trusting God to keep His promise. Until then, everyone spoke the same language. God saw that they were united and therefore they would not be restrained from their imaginations, so He caused them to cease from their purpose by dividing their languages. They were divided into the groups that could understand each other and left off their project. This was the beginning of nations.
When God spoke the law to Moses, He mentioned that they would someday decide they wanted a king like the other nations (Deut 17:14-20). After Moses died, Joshua became the leader of Israel. After Joshua’s death, Israel was led by a series of judges (Jud 2). They went through a cycle of God raising up a judge who led Israel out of oppression from enemies which were able to overcome them because of their sins, the judge dying, them sliding back into sin which led to their oppression, and the cycle repeating itself again. The last of the judges was Samuel. As Samuel was getting old, the people went to him and said they realized he would not be around much longer and that both his sons were evil (1Sam 8). They asked him to appoint a king over them. While they were right about Samuel and his sons, and it was good to seek for quality leadership, they were doing it in a way that rejected the leadership of God. Samuel warned them about this, but they pressed forward with their desire anyway. Saul was the first king, but he failed and was replaced by David (1Sam 15-16). After David was his son Solomon. Solomon raised heavy taxes on the people to fund his many projects. He also married many pagan women who turned his heart away from God (1Ki 11). God pronounced judgment on Solomon and Israel who followed him into idolatry, but this judgment would not come until after Solomon died because his father was David. Solomon’s son Rehoboam took over and the people went to him and asked him to lower the taxes. He refused, so ten of the twelve tribes revolted and became a separate nation as the prophet said would happen. The judgment God sent for their sins was division, and the nation never recovered. They were not unified again. The northern kingdom had one bad administration after another until Assyria destroyed their nation (2Ki 17). The southern kingdom rode a spiritual roller coaster until they finally fell to Babylon (2Ki 25). After this occurred, the prophet Ezekiel predicted that the two divided nations would one day be reunited by the Messiah (Eze 37:15-28).
Unity is a great force whether it is used for good or evil. No organization can be successful without some measure of unity. They must at least be united on the main purpose or mission and be working together toward that goal. Perfect unity in every possible way and area is not necessarily a realistic goal, but when people can prioritize their issues in such a way to promote the overall unity of the organization and maintain focus on the main purpose, they can have success. Thus, division is not defined as one member or a few having different opinions on non-essential issues. It is when those differences become a central focus so that the main priorities are not being respected above personal agendas. It is when people would rather fight those personal battles rather than fight for the good of the cause for everyone.
The name of my country is the United States. Its motto is “E Pluribus Unum”, which means “out of many, one”. Both of these phrases stress the importance of unity. There can be small scale diversity, but it must be within the context of a commonly held set of beliefs and values that bind us all together. Otherwise this nation will not last as it was intended. Just 87 years after the founding of this nation, it was in the middle of tearing itself apart. President Lincoln asked in his Gettysburg Address during the Civil War how much longer it could last divided. He said, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” Our national anthem ends with a question, “Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
The same can be said of the church. The church in the book of Acts had great unity (Acts 2:42-47, Acts 4:23-47). When Ananias and Sapphira threatened that continuity, it cost them their lives (Acts 5:1-10). After their deaths, the unity of the church and its mission continued to thrive (Acts 5:11-17). Whether it is your marriage and family, your church, your friendships, the company you work for, your community, or your nation, unity is essential to success. Those that sow division are an abomination to God (Prov 6:14-19, Prov 16:28, Prov 17:9). Those who are motivated by Biblical love seek to bring people together (Mt 5:9) while realizing that those who reject truth and sow division cannot be friends (Mt 10:34-36, Rom 12:18, Heb 12:14, 1Pet 3:11).