In every church, there are individuals who can cause disunity within the church body. Often leadership can become overwhelmed by those who fight among themselves over even petty church affairs. Many times this is the result of our own sinful hearts and fallen conditions. At other times, it may be the result of the tares that are sown in with the wheat. Paul was well aware that division cannot be entirely avoided. Until the Lord returns, there will always be tares among the wheat, and disobedient believers as well.
The church in Corinth was so divided that you might say it was diced. There were divisions over which apostle was superior, sexual morality, lawsuits, marriage, eating meat, head coverings for women, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection of believers, and I’m probably missing some. The paradox is that “it was necessary for there to be factions in the Corinthian church in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you (1 Corinthians 11: 18-22). The worldliness and fleshly disobedience of those who caused the divisions would expose and highlight the love, harmony, and spirituality of those who are approved (passed the test of being a genuine believer)
Paul, who really wanted these saints to “be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10), said something in chapter 11, verse 19 that is important for us to remember: “There must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” Church division, ungodly and sinful as it is, nevertheless is used by the Lord to prove the worth of His faithful saints. In the midst of bickering and divisiveness they are separated out as pure gold is from the dross. Evil helps manifest good. Trouble in the church creates a situation in which true spiritual strength, wisdom, and leadership can be manifested.
Factions painfully serve the church. They provide opportunity to differentiate between real and unreal Christians. Does this mean that factions only occur between the genuine and the false? No. Paul wrote this book to help “brothers” (genuine believers) solve their divisions; “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
But factions do reveal false Christians. How? Well, exposing an unwillingness to submit to the apostles’ teaching is certainly one thing (e.g.1 Corinthians 11:16). But a lack of love is the biggie (1 Corinthians 13). Paul said love is greater than faith (1 Corinthians 13:13). And if we have truth and not love, we’re nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2). Nothing.
There must be factions. Factions reveal hearts. So in our disagreements and divisions, Paul wants us to measure our motives, words, and actions by the gauge of chapter 13. The less they look or sound like biblically defined love, the more concerned he wants us to be about our genuineness.