A House Divided
What happens when the Holy Spirit enlightens us to some deeper truth of Scripture? In my experience, there is a profound sense of awe at the greatness of our Creator, followed by heartfelt expressions of thanks and praise, and then by petitions for grace on how to apply the newly learned truth. Then comes the urge to share this truth with others. When they get it and grasp the revelation, then of joy enhance our fellowship as this new bit of learning strengthens our connection to each other and to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
But what if they do not get it? What if those with whom we share this newfound truth not only fail to see it, but have no desire to hear anything about it? What if they reject the messenger because the message conflicts with their perception of God and His reality? How is a disciple of Yeshua to act in such cases? Tragically, our answer all too often is to break fellowship with the “unenlightened” and move on our own path. That is how divisions begin, and that is how the heart of Holy God is broken and grieved.
These are the questions Ken Rank addresses in the article reproduced below. A major thrust of Ken’s calling is to facilitate cooperation within the Body of Messiah and with our brethren of Judah to smooth the way for YHVH’s work in restoring His Kingdom. This is an Elijah task of the first order, lifting up every valley and making every rough place plane to prepare the highway of our God. May the Lord communicate His desires for the shape and work of His entire Body as you read Ken’s article, recently posted on Messianic Publications.
February 20, 2015
If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. – Mark 3:24-25
For the one whose heart is aimed toward the God of Israel, one of the great blessings He bestows is the ability to see Life within the words we read in Scripture. We read a verse and it takes on a meaning that helps, comforts, or guides us, and we see God’s hand behind that blessing. Yet, as we grow in understanding, and as we begin to apply the various rules of biblical exegesis (interpretation) into our studies, and grow in knowledge of the historical context in which the Bible was written, that same verse that once provided information or perhaps comforted us, could take on a deeper meaning that might allow us to advance in our understanding and walk with God. For example, when Paul wrote that we were given a spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15), we might have taken comfort knowing that a loving Creator took us in as His own. And while that remains true, additional study teaches us that adoption as understood in the ancient Middle East dealt more with the idea of joining into a family to do the work of that family. As adopted children, we are joined into the family of God, but we will also do the work He has called us to do.
Within this picture is an act of grace that is rarely acknowledged as grace, yet it reaches out and touches each person in a unique and individual way. That grace comes in the form of God understanding that each person, whose heart is aimed at Him, stands on a different level of understanding, and He speaks to each person at their level at that particular time. A verse or parable that one reads as a new believer might carry a deeper, more meaningful insight to a matured believer that has strengthened in their walk. It took time and a maturation period in order to be ready to receive the deeper aspect of that verse or parable. God understood this (and, arguably, even designed it this way), and fed each of us on the level of understanding that we were at, because it was the level that our mind could handle at the time. In this sense, God is like the ultimate brick layer who lays down a solid foundation and then, brick upon brick, begins to build a spectacular structure to be used for His glory.
Consider your own walk: when you came into faith believing that you were separated from God and that Yeshua (Jesus) bridged the gap, you probably had very little understanding of doctrine, if any. There was no depth of knowledge. At that time you had taken the first step in a great journey; the foundation was being laid. But as time passed, you were discipled, taught, and began to grow in deeper and more meaningful ways; it was as if brick upon brick was laid out and your own structure began to take form. This was a process designed to give time for you to grow in a complete and well-rounded manner. Even the early disciples walked with their teacher for approximately 3 years before being sent out to spread the good news.
Thus, when it comes to our spiritual understanding, we grow incrementally over a period of time, and not in the snap of a finger. Because this progression of understanding is so evident in our lives, we should then expect to have brothers and sisters in Messiah on every conceivable level of understanding, and potentially at a level of understanding that is even higher than our own.
To help visualize this, consider the image of a ladder extending upwards towards the sky. A new believer in Yeshua would, by definition, be on the first rung of that ladder on the day his heart turned from the lusts of the world toward Messiah. As he begins to grow, and if he remains unbiased in his studies and is willing to have the Spirit lead him in the direction God desires, one would expect him to begin to slowly climb the ladder of understanding over time, and after three months of study, perhaps he arrives at the third rung of the ladder. Now, a person who had that same heart-changing experience 6 months prior might find themselves a few rungs higher in their understanding. Another who is a year out might perhaps be on the tenth rung, and two years later the twentieth rung, and so forth. It stands to reason, then, that a person who has walked with God and remained open to His direction would be much further along as time passes. But does that progression of understanding mean he is more righteous, or more favored by God? No, of course not! Does it mean that he is more of a son of God than one who might only be on the first rung of that ladder? Again, no, of course not! Our level of understanding is not a litmus test when it comes to our relationship with God. Whether your heart turned toward Him 20 minutes ago, or 20 years ago, you are already a “Son [or] daughter of the Living God.”
It Takes Time to Mature
Understanding that we learn over a progression of time, and that as we grow, we might not all have the same understanding at the same time, is vitally important to the health of the Body of Messiah. Consider the Jerusalem Council’s letter to the gentiles in Acts 15:20. Not every commandment that is applicable to today is mentioned in that letter. What are mentioned are just a few items that would begin to differentiate and/or separate these new followers of Messiah from their former paganism. The Council’s letter would serve as the starting point in a marathon that would last these new believers a lifetime; a marathon that would have included continual discipleship. We take those few things mentioned and from there we begin to study, grow, and show ourselves approved as workmen unto the Lord. So until the return of Messiah, we should expect to see people on different levels of understanding; and thus there is still a need to teach!
Jeremiah 31:31-34: Behold, the days come, says YHWH, that I will cut a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant that I cut with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which covenant of Mine they broke, although I was a husband to them, says YHWH; but this shall be the covenant that I will cut with the house of Israel: After those days, says YHWH, I will put My Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall no more teach each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, Know YHWH; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says YHWH. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more.
This passage assumes we will have teachers today. The need for teachers indicates the presence of students, and thus implies that there will be people on various levels of understanding. This reality isn’t good or bad, it is simply reality. We all start at the beginning and progress in our understanding over time – some faster, some slower than others. And lest we think that we can arrive at a pinnacle in our understanding of God’s ways, the scriptures repeatedly inform us that no matter how much we might think we understand, there will always be another rung on the ladder of understanding that we can reach for. Clearly, until the day we are changed and made incorruptible, there will be both teachers and students – and thus people at different levels of understanding within the Body of Messiah.
Isaiah 28:9 – Whom shall He teach knowledge? And whom shall He make to understand doctrine? Those weaned from the milk and drawn from the breasts.
1 Corinthians 3:1-2 – And I, brothers, could not speak to you as to spiritual ones, but as to fleshly, as to babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk and not with solid food, for you were not yet able to bear it; nor are you able even now.
In these two verses we see a progression in understanding doctrine, or teachings, and the picture used by God is that of a baby. We look at our own children and know that they begin life dependent, knowing nothing, and needing only milk to survive. After a certain period of time, perhaps 6 months, they begin to progress to softer foods. Eventually they will grow to a point where they can take a piece of meat, properly chew it up, and digest it. That is the exact picture being shown in the Scriptures above. A new believer (or one who has never been exposed to teaching beyond the milk stage for whatever reason) simply cannot chew, nor properly digest steak (the deeper truths of Scripture). And attempting to force them to eat steak before they are ready to do so might even cause them harm. They have to work up to steak which takes time, study, and prayer.
Division Knows No Boundaries
The sad reality of our modern religious condition is that division over knowledge and understanding are not all that divide us. We often divide over other things such as outward appearance, religious dress, manner of speaking or pronunciation, and more. We seem to forget that each of us has been uniquely gifted to reach a specific person, or people, as God has called us and that unique calling might cause us to act or appear different from others. This could even cause us to appear different from the brother or sister who is standing next to us. Paul uses the helpful analogy of a human body in 1 Corinthians 12 in order to call attention to the various callings found within the body of Messiah. Each part of the body looks, acts, and perhaps even sounds different from the other, but each part works together for the good of the whole body. For example, the foot and the ear do not look the same nor function the same, yet they are still part of the same body, and those two parts, knowingly or unknowingly, work together for the good of the whole.
In order for us to function as one body of believers, we must be able to recognize that we will not all look, act, or sound alike at the same time:
1 Corinthians 12:14-18: For the body is not one member, but many. (15) If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? (16) And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? (17) If all the body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If all hearing, where would be the smelling? (18) But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body as it has pleased Him.
What a perfect analogy; to view the human body as a picture of the body of Messiah; to truly understand that each body part is unique in appearance and function and yet is still part of one body working together with the rest of the body parts, for the good of the whole. Think of your own body and consider how different in appearance and function the little toe, elbow and nose are, and yet they are part of the same body. Those parts have a different function and appearance, and yet all are important parts of your body. We simply cannot – and indeed should not – expect every member of the body of Messiah to look, act, and sound exactly the same. That would be like expecting our little toe to look and function as our nose.
God has people from many different walks of life coming with an open heart from every corner of the world; all are being drawn to Him, and yet each individual is unique, and may appear, dress, or speak differently than the others. Consider Joseph – sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph, while remaining loyal to His God, did, in the end, appear Egyptian. When his brothers stood before him they did not know they stood before Joseph; they only saw Egypt in the man before them. When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, their first reaction was disbelief, but when they finally realized he was indeed their brother, they embraced him. Their first words were not “Let’s get you out of those clothes,” but instead, “Oh Joseph, we are sorry, we love you.”
The Egyptians in Joseph’s time accepted Joseph as one of their own even though they knew his God was different than their gods. In fact, these ancient Egyptians were so benevolent to Joseph and his family (read “Israel”) that the line continued through David and to Messiah himself. Yet, Joseph was placed there and allowed to look like the world (read “Egypt”) so that, in a time of distress, God could use Joseph to save His Israel. How many today might have rejected Joseph based on the fact that he looked very much like the world around him?
Are we expected to conform to one another before we are drawn to Him, or is our being drawn to Him what will ultimately conform us to His image? It seems that too many people desire to go on the opposite side of the circle from where they currently are (see picture) and make those on the opposite side of the circle come over to their side, so that those on the other side might look, act, and sound just like they do. This is a sign of both spiritual insecurity and immaturity. Insecurity because it reveals we are simply not comfortable with Paul’s statements that the body will indeed look and function differently depending on one’s calling. For this person, the idea that one can belong to the Lord but look, act, and sound different is simply more than they are capable of handling. It is also a sign of spiritual immaturity in that it demonstrates that we are unwilling to allow God to do what He claimed was His job, i.e. “drawing men unto Himself, and we instead feel the need to go out and make everyone we encounter appear in our own image.
This is not to condone the notion that one can act as one pleases, or live in whatever manner one desires. The point is simply recognizing that among the faithful there are people at different levels of understanding, or who appear different because their function and calling within the body are different. We need not attempt to force others to jump up many levels of understanding before they are ready, or attempt to cause them to look and act like we do. If we lack the ability to discern the calling that God might have on the life of another, then it is likely we have not completed our own period of discipleship and certainly should not be seeking to teach others. One might be called to be a teacher, but that teacher-in-waiting must also be taught first. Each of us work together for the good of the whole, but each of us still gives an account of his/her own self before God. Whether one acts as a toe, or a nose, or an elbow is part of God’s calling on each person and how one appears or speaks should not be the determining factor when it comes to us working together to God’s glory. Again, how one appears might very well be part of a unique gifting God has granted His servant to be able to reach out to a particular person or people.
When it comes to Christianity, we have over 40,000 denominations and sects (divisions) of the one body. The sect known as Messianic Judaism or the Hebrew Roots movement, while smaller, is probably just as divided over a wide variety of issues. To be sure, some of these divisions are over legitimate, ‘big ticket’ issues. But unfortunately, many, if not most of the divisions we see today are over things that are simply not as important as many think they are. We all have work to do that involves many, far weightier things; from meeting the needs of the poor, to improving our approach to discipleship, to taking the basics of the gospel to an unbelieving world. What we cannot do is spend our time causing strife among those who identify with the God of Israel and His Messiah; dividing the brethren because we have reached conclusions that might differ from others on non-salvation issues.
Whether one is on the first rung of the ladder, or rung number 50, it is critical that we understand that so long as we are in Messiah, we are on the same ladder progressing in our relationship with the same God. We should expect to see far more confusion and error on the part of the believer who finds himself on the lower rungs of the ladder. If only we could spend less time being critical of where others are on the ladder, and spend more time recognizing the kinship we enjoy with all who are part of the family of God—even if we don’t all look, act, or sound exactly the same. It is with differences that God designed the Body of Messiah, and it is this diversity that He expects us to embrace and use to His glory.
 Matthews, Victor. “Marriage and Family in the Ancient Near East.” Marriage and Family in the Biblical World. Ed. Ken M. Campbell. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2003. 18-20. Print.
 Interestingly, the commandment regarding fruit trees in Lev. 19:23-25 implies that a time of maturation is built into creation itself.
 For an in-depth discussion of Acts 15 from a Messianic perspective, see J.K. McKee’s Acts 15 for the Practical Messianic. TNN Press, 2010. 69-89
 The Hebrew word for teaching in Isaiah 28:9 is yarah, which carries with it the concept of “throwing or pointing a finger in the direction one is to walk or live.” Thus a true disciple considers the instructions of God, where His finger is pointed, and walks on that path.
 John 6:44.
 Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population. Pew Research Center, December 2012. Retrieved 2-19-2015 at www.pewforum.org/files/2011/12/Christianity-fullreport-web.pdf. It should be noted that this number does not necessarily mean that these denominations/organizations are divided over core doctrinal issues. Many are not. The point here is simply that the Christian Church is indeed already divided in thousands of ways, and that many of these divisions are unfortunately over relatively minor issues.
Ken Rank was born and raised in South Jersey in an agnostic family. At the age of 29, God did a quick work in his life which launched a time of heavy study and discipleship, eventually landing Ken and his family in Winchester, Kentucky, where Ken studied under author and teacher Frank Houtz (www.DryBonesRestorationCompany.com). Currently, Ken is a teacher and elder at Beit Minorah in Winchester Kentucky and also owns a Hebrew Roots discussion forum (www.DiscoverHebrewRoots.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.