Quenching the Polemical Discord

1 Corinthians 4:3-13 (HCSB)
It is of little importance to me that I should be evaluated by you or by any human court. In fact, I don’t even evaluate myself. For I am not conscious of anything against myself, but I am not justified by this. The One who evaluates me is the Lord. Therefore don’t judge anything prematurely, before the Lord comes, who will both bring to light what is hidden in darkness and reveal the intentions of the hearts. And then praise will come to each one from God.

Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the saying: “Nothing beyond what is written.” The purpose is that none of you will be inflated with pride in favor of one person over another. For who makes you so superior? What do you have that you didn’t receive? If, in fact, you did receive it, why do you boast as if you hadn’t received it? You are already full! You are already rich! You have begun to reign as kings without us — and I wish you did reign, so that we could also reign with you! For I think God has displayed us, the apostles, in last place, like men condemned to die: We have become a spectacle to the world and to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! Up to the present hour we are both hungry and thirsty; we are poorly clothed, roughly treated, homeless; we labor, working with our own hands. When we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we respond graciously. Even now, we are like the world’s garbage, like the dirt everyone scrapes off their sandals.

The church in Corinth had many issues. Included in the laundry list of their shortcomings was the congregational division over its leadership. Keeping in common with the other New Testament writers, Paul based his admonishment of them (regarding their divisive posture), upon the fact of who they now were and what they now had in Christ. Because of this glorious truth, they were being called out by Paul to change course.

Three Highlights

First, Paul reminded them that the One who judges him… also judges them. Therefore, any inkling of evaluating one another prior to the return of their Lord was inappropriate. In other words, there was no need to size one another up, because at some time in the future, Christ “will both bring to light what is hidden in darkness and reveal the intentions of the hearts.”

Second, Paul rhetorically challenged them to think about what motivated the confidence to assess their brothers and sisters in Christ in an unjustifiable manner. In other words, those who are “already full” and “already rich” need not look to rob their fellow kin… because they already have what they need in the Lord. 

Third, Paul then gave some simple examples of what a proper response looks like in the midst of volatility. To say it another way, his motivation was to quench the polemical discord among them by picturing the New Covenant ethic that they were now culpable to…

“When we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we respond graciously.”

Other Places

Paul’s direct instructions to Timothy and also to the Ephesians are helpful here, because they encourage the same point…

2 Timothy 2:23-24a (HCSB)
…reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels. The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone…

Ephesians 4:29-32 (HCSB)
No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption. All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.

May we (Christians) not bring about polemical discord, but instead manifest an amicable concord…

Godspeed, to the brethren!

*The above cartoon is by Michel Bach. To see more of his work from the “Word a Day Revisited Index of Cartoons Illustrating the Meaning of Words,” click here

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