1Co 11:17-19 “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.”
In the second verse of this chapter, Paul told the brethren there were some efforts of theirs that he approved of (praised). However, he did not approve of them in everything. He was just as diligent to point out those things that were not worthy of approval as he was to give credit for those that were.
Paul was not being meek or beating around the bush. He did not simply say “I tell you,” but rather “I declare unto you.” The use of the word “declare” moved this from a simple giving of his opinion to laying a charge against them. He told them that many of them were not gathering to worship with the proper attitude of humility and praise.
It was obviously upsetting to Paul that the brethren at Corinth were assembling for worship (come together) with a divisive spirit. He said their gathering was not with an attitude of love and preferring each before the other. Instead, they were assembling with the worst of their carnal nature in the forefront. Their attitude was so bad that word of it had reached Paul even though he was not there to see it personally.
There was division among them when they came together in the church. This was much more serious than a difference of opinion about scripture or about how to conduct some business. It was not just a difference: it was a division! There was a gap or a tear among them. Those of us who have lived through such things know how heart-breaking it is to see this between brothers and sisters that we love.
Paul was of the opinion that there were indeed divisive factions among the brethren. He had a report from the household of Chloe concerning the divisions that were among them (1Co 1:11). Early in his letter Paul told them that he was not yet able to feed them the meat of the word (1Co 3:2), in part because they lacked unity. Even though it was a grievous state, Paul still acknowledged that it was not without purpose.
Paul’s asserted that it was necessary (must be) for there to be disunion (heresies) among them. This was not an indication that it was desirable, simply a recognition that there had always been and would always be false witnesses when it comes to the things of God. The positive side of this situation was that it manifested to the church which brethren would take an acceptable (approved) stand for the truth of God.
Even in the church, we are not always going to understand everything exactly the same. This is not because of any variance in God’s word, but because of our inability to fully understand God (Isa 55:8). Our differences do not have to become divisions if we are faithful to the truth that He has revealed to us through the Holy Spirit and keep Christ’s commandment to love each other as He has loved us.
May God always give us the strength to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3)!