We invite you to take a peek inside our weekly Light for the Way devotional series provided for staff.
By Pastor Chris Wheatley, Senior Director of Pastoral Care Services
Today we’re taking a look at a scripture passage that many people know by heart:
"If a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand." — Mark 3:25, NIV
Many people know this scripture verse by heart, even if they don't know it's from the Bible. It has frequently been used to describe various situations in which internal conflict threatens a group’s very existence, but most famously by Abraham Lincoln when accepting the nomination to run for the U.S. Senate in 1858.
Even at the time, the speech was considered too radical. His own advisors told him not to deliver it, and it is widely agreed that it contributed to his loss in the election. But it gave words to the intensity of the conflict that most Americans felt, and Lincoln would later claim that it eventually won him the presidency instead.
But why? Why was this speech so inflammatory? It’s not like Lincoln didn’t speak strongly against slavery throughout his career. Before and after this particular speech, he would openly criticize the politicians of his day for "trying to create a middle ground between good and evil."
Going back to the biblical origins of the phrase, it’s easy to see why. In Mark, Jesus does not use the phrase "the house divided against itself" to describe an earthly kingdom, nor a political dispute between human beings, nor even disagreements within the Church. He uses it to describe the kingdom of Satan.
Without that context, the expression is a simple recognition that it’s important for us to work together. You might even use it to warn about excessive separation within a community of ours: "Make sure Engineering and Nursing are on the same page about new residents. After all, a house divided against itself cannot stand!"
With the scriptural context, we wouldn’t dare. Comparing anything or anyone to the kingdom of Satan is critical and divisive to the point of ending all discussion.
Well, unless we are literally talking about the kingdom of Satan. Which, of course, was the original point of the phrase. When Jesus first said it, his very next words were, "And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand. His end has come." And it has.
Christ’s words in this simple proverb are a message of hope. That evil does destroy itself. That the forces of chaos that oppose God’s plan — strife, hatred, confusion, plague — they do not win in the end. They collapse before God’s love that cannot be defeated. This is the Kingdom that we proclaim every day in all that we say or do.
So take heart, brothers and sisters. Be strengthened in your work, in the care that you show to all whom you serve. For the house divided against itself cannot stand.
Rev. Chris Wheatley serves PHS as Senior Director of Pastoral Care Services. He is an ordained Lutheran pastor and has served in hospice, eldercare, hospital, HIV/AIDS and congregational settings. He and his wife Nicole are perpetually outnumbered by cats and Dobermans.
The Light for the Way series provides staff with an examination of a biblical reading to deepen our focus on scripture. Thank you for engaging with this series as we seek wisdom through prayer and reflection as a Christian Ministry.
Find more in the Light for the Way series:
Finding God in the darkness
Confidence in our witness of Christ
Introducing Light for the Way, a new devotional series
In addition to Light for the Way, you can find reflections, devotions, music and other resources on the Pastoral Care website.