Division is a promise of God. It may not be the most pleasant of His promises, but it is an absolutely necessary part of our Christian life.
Divisiveness is not typically what comes to mind when thinking on the attributes of Christ. Likely, this is due to the negative connotation that the word “divisive” carries. Division is ugly, and we hate it. Ask any junior high math student. Division is bad.
Besides, didn’t Christ come bringing peace on Earth, and goodwill to men? Are we not called to unity? This doesn’t leave much room for division, does it?
Jesus sure seems to think that it does:
“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” —Luke 12:51
That just sounds bad, doesn’t it? Surely Christ didn’t come to divide us! And yet that’s exactly what He said. But we must understand that it’s not merely division that He brings. What matters is from what, and from whom we are divided. And better than that, who is divided with us.
Firstly, the division.
We can continue the quote of Jesus in the next couple of verses:
“For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” —Luke 12:52-53
So Jesus promises family strife? What a guy! But it’s true. He did. Division is a guarantee, a promise of Christ. And not merely division, but the ugliest sort of division that is going to separate you from those that you have previously found yourself most intimately united. Of course, the division isn’t limited to the relationships listed, but will also affect you and your spouse, your aunts and uncles, and your best friends. And if you’ve experienced division, you already know that it sucks. A lot.
But again, we mustn’t get hung up on the negative connotation of division. Instead, we have to look at the reason behind it. Jesus indeed brings division, but not merely for the sake of dividing us. He’s got a greater purpose in it.
Secondly, the unity.
This division promised us is really just a side-effect of being united with Christ. People who don’t accept Christ simply don’t understand those who do, and rightfully so. Let’s try and get some perspective here.
Imagine that your friend joins some religious cult and plans to jump on the next comet to heaven. You’re going to be concerned. But honestly, this isn’t so different than Christianity. Except that we are waiting on the human-born Son of God, who came to earth and died a real death 2000 years ago, but came back to life after three days and then disappeared into Heaven, to come back some day so that we can live with Him forever. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? And when our families think we’re nuts, and our only defense is a 2000 year-old book that God allegedly wrote, and some faith-y platitudes (I once was lost, but now I’m found), they think we’re crazy. No amount of arguing will convince them that we’re not.
And so we are divided from them.
Our hearts will never be knit together with them. Sure, we’ll still share things in common. We will (hopefully) continue to share family dinners, holidays, and fond memories of the good old days. But no matter how good those days are, they will never compare to the glory which lies ahead, and if they’re not looking forward to it, they don’t get it.
Maybe there is a reason that many have said that we ought not discuss politics or religion in polite company. (Linus wasn’t the first to say it, but he certainly said it best.)
It’s a simple fact that your union with Christ divides you from everyone else. It’s not just this one verse, either. The concept is laced throughout the Gospels.
“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.” —Matthew 12:30
“My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s word and obey it.” —Luke 8:21
“You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers.” —Matthew 24:9
And Thirdly, the Why.
Jesus came to bring peace on earth, but He didn’t come to negotiate a compromising truce with mankind. Instead, He laid the ground rules plainly, stating that He was the only truth that could expose our lies, the only light that could penetrate our darkness, and the only way that this was ever going to work (John 14:6).
He is the Truth. Everyone contrary to Him is a liar.
He is the Light. Everyone else is in darkness.
He is the Way. Everyone apart from Him is on the road to Hell.
There was no room left for misinterpretation. Christ is right, and all others are wrong. Therefore, aligning yourself with Christ, and admitting that He is right, is saying that everyone else—your friends, your family, everyone—is wrong. No wonder they think you’re crazy.
It’s okay. God has your back, no matter who many others stab you in it. He knows what loss you are suffering, and He’s going to make it right.
“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.” —Matthew 19:29
Maybe this is only a little comfort to you when you face the abandonment, the ridicule, and the shaming of your loved ones. Draw nearer still to Christ, and the other brothers and sisters who have been adopted by your same Heavenly Father, knowing that they too have lost their families. Never forget that in the division, there is a unity that ties us tighter than heredity. Our adoption into God’s family is what defines us. We are given a new name, a new identity, and a new purpose. And no matter what you have lost, you still have gained far more.
“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” —Mark 8:34-36
There is hope in Christ. Far more hope than you’ll ever find anywhere else. Yes, of course, love your families. Pray for them to join you in the more excellent Heavenly Family. But know that until they do, despite your best efforts, there will always be division.