It is as timely today as when he said it 160 years ago.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln launched his unsuccessful bid for the United States Senate with a speech that included this now-famous statement about the state of the union. Lincoln was rightly concerned about the divisive spirit in the country over the issue of slavery. Although Lincoln lost the election, his speech that day remains one of his best—right up there with his Gettysburg Address—and it helped propel him to national prominence.
Of course, Lincoln was not the first to say it. In responding to accusations that He was in league with the devil, Jesus said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25).
Strength comes from unity.
- Jesus first made the statement to show the absurdity of the accusations. He had no unity with Satan since His ministry was weakening the work of Satan.
- Lincoln forewarned that the United States would not be strong if it remained divided over slavery.
- Today we could replace the issue of slavery with a host of other divisive issues such as the gay agenda, abortion rights, or gun control. The principle remains true: if we can’t come together as a country, we’re on a downward spiral.
Strength comes from unity. And that is no more truer than in the body of Christ.
My own denomination—the Southern Baptist Convention—is in the throes of divisiveness. Thankfully. we are not dividing over clear biblical teaching like many denominations do. We’re dealing with reformed v. non-reformed leadership. Who gets to hold the gavel? We’re dealing with fallen leaders and leaders who have done stupid things. Do we let it go or do we chastise them? And if we chastise, how far do we take it? And weaving through all this is pride.
The bottom line is we’re divided. Strength comes from our unity. Next week, my denomination kicks off its annual convention, and although I won’t be there, I will be joining the media (and the world) to see how those present in Dallas, Texas act toward each other.
The world wants to see us squabble. The world wants to hear angry words and accusations. The world wants to see us show a love for power and being right more than a love for Jesus.
If we do that, we are just like the world. And the world can feel a little better about itself. None of this conviction-stuff that comes from talking about Christ and Christ alone. Nope. The world will rest in the feeling that, in spite of our Bible-waving and self-righteous talk, we’re no different from them.
The greatest witness we have of the transforming power of Christ is our unity. And the biggest black eye we bring to the kingdom of God comes when we lack unity. Maybe that’s why when Jesus prayed for us, He prayed for our unity.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23).
He could’ve prayed for our mission or our evangelistic efforts. Instead He focused on our unity. Because our unity is a powerful thing. When I see and affirm God’s work in you, and when you affirm the Holy Spirit’s work in me, we will support and encourage each other. And the world won’t help but notice—and be drawn to the Christ who makes us one.
Do a survey of the Apostle Paul’s writings. Note how much time he devotes to addressing issues within the church as compared to issues outside the church. Unity was important to Paul. When we are called to Christ, we are also called to His body. Our union with Christ is to be reflected in our union with one another. It’s a package deal.
My prayer is for a change of heart and a surprising God-honoring pull toward unity. We don’t have to see eye-to-eye on everything, but we can still recognize the work of Christ among us. And with His Spirit working through us, we can find ways to work together. To serve together. To love together.
And together we can perhaps make the world feel a little less comfortable with itself and a little more drawn to Christ.