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“Heresies!” – part of God’s plan?

“Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.” (1 Corinthians 11:17-22)

Looking at verses seventeen and eighteen, Paul is rebuking the Corinthians. Notice that when they got together things were not for lifting up the brethren, or bearing one another’s burdens as Scripture commands us to. No! things were “for the worse." Paul says in verse 18 that he hears “that there be divisions among you...” If we go back to the very beginning of this book and look at Paul’s introduction and what he stated, you will find something very interesting with reference to these two verses. Look at chapter 1 verse 10: “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.” [emphasis added] First thing we need to notice is that Paul is addressing the brethrenhere. He is addressing the possessors and not the professors of the group. The second thing is looking at the word ‘beseech.’ It means to “admonish, exhort, to beg, entreat, beseech, to strive to appease by entreaty, to console, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, to comfort.” Here we have Paul admonishing, exhorting, begging, and encouraging them to “speak the same thing, and [that] there be no divisions among” themselves. The third thing to notice is that Paul is stressing unity among the brethren. Unity is one of the most important aspects of gathering together as a body!

With those that have the Holy Spirit teaching them, there will be no major divisions among them, for there is only one truth! How else can we as totally depraved men that are selfish, self centered, and not to mention sinful ever speak the same thing unless we have the Holy Spirit abiding in us and teaching us the same truth? Paul in his letters stress the importance of unity amongst the brethren:

Romans 12:16   Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

Romans 15:5-6   Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 16:17   Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

2 Corinthians 13:11    Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.

Ephesians 4:2-7   With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

Philippians 2:1-2   If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

These verses above are impossible to adhere to within ourselves, but are possible only through the power of the Holy Ghost.

Looking back to our verses, Paul says in verse 18 that he isn’t surprised that there be divisions among the Corinthians. Why is that? Especially when he has stressed to them the importance of having no divisions among the brethren. He gives his reason in verse 19. That reason is that there MUST be heresies among them (and us) in order to show who among them (and us) are the approved. Does this mean that we go out and start causing division in the churches to see who the approved are? Absolutely not! God will bring about the division if needed in His perfect time! That is one thing that Paul is stating here in our verses. That when division does come, it is a God ordained sifting process. Divisions, which involve one side or the other will always reveal those whom God has approved and those whom He has not.

So, now it would help if we fully understood what the word “heresies” means. I have to admit that when I first read this passage I understood it to mean the modern rendering of the word. That being the teaching that is not doctrinally sound. I found out though that in the original Greek, it does not have that meaning. Let me quote a few helps that I have used to look up this word.

From the Online Bible Lexicon:

139 ~airesiv~ hairesis \hah’-ee-res-is\ from 138; TDNT-1:180,27; n f

AV-sect 5, heresy 4; 9

1) act of taking, capture: e.g. storming a city
2) choosing, choice
3) that which is chosen
4) a body of men following their own tenets (sect or party)
   4a) of the Sadducees
   4b) of the Pharisees
   4c) of the Christians
5) dissensions arising from diversity of opinions and aims

From Strongs Greek Lexicon
139. ~airesiv~ hairesis \hah’-ee-res-is\; from 138; properly, a choice, i.e. (specially) a party or (abstractly) disunion:--heresy [which is the Greek word itself], sect.

This Greek word “hairesis” is used nine times in the NT. The scripture references are: (Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:5,15; 26:5; 28:22; 1 Cor. 11:19; Gal. 5:20; 2 Pet. 2:1). This word is translated ‘sect’ five times and ‘heresies’ four times. Let’s look at each of them.

Acts 5:17 “Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation,<”>

According to the context it just means a ‘group’ of the Jews.

Acts 15:5 ”But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”

In this verse hairesis is translated ‘sect’ again and means another ‘group’ of the Jews.

Acts 24:5 “For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes:”

And here we have hairesis meaning a ‘group’ again.

Acts 24:14 “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:”

Paul is saying here that the hairesis (sect, heresy) which the Pharisees have labeled as a sect is the one in which Paul is following to worship the God of Scripture.

Acts 26:5 “Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”

Again another group is being referred to here.

Acts 28:22 “But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against.

1 Corinthians 11:19 “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”

Galatians 5:19-20 “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,”

Here Paul is referring to the works of the flesh when he makes mention to heresies or groups of people.

2 Peter 2:1 “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

I have given the meaning of the word “heresies” and also given how it is used from Scripture (which is most important). One can only come to one conclusion from this. God is here saying that there must be sects or choices among the people of God in order to prove those of whom are the approved. One group goes one way and in that direction while the other group goes another way. For example, the Arminian group and the Grace group. Only one can be right because they are diametrically opposed. They are as far apart as one can get. One is approved and the other is not. Also, just a little thought. Could this be used in reference to all the different denominations out there especially those that are named after men?!

One in hope,
Tom Adams
Feb. 2003