24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24–26, NKJV)
We noted in yesterday’s Sword Tips (#1799) that gospel preaching gets personal by making personal applications that convict and convert. This by no means sanctions personal, verbal abuse while doing so. “Defending the truth” is not a cloak behind which envy and strife may hide (1 Cor. 3:3-4). Identifying a false teacher is not a personal attack when it is supported by Scriptural evidence of error being taught, endorsed, and promoted. Publicly identifying opponents of the truth is entirely Scriptural when it is aimed at (1) Saving the lost, and (2) Protecting the saved (see Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Tim. 2:16-18; 4:14-15; 3 John 9-10). This is very different from being quarrelsome and malicious toward those same people (which today’s passage forbids). Gentleness (not weakness) – when combined with the ability to teach, endurance, and humility – produces a powerful faith that equips the servant of the Lord to correct those who oppose truth (25) so they may repent and escape the devil’s clutches (25-26). The servant of the Lord does this by remembering the “good fight of faith” is not about him, it is about laying hold of eternal life – and about helping others do the same (1 Tim. 6:12).
1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? (1 Corinthians 3:1–4, NKJV)
Paul had just identified “spiritual” people as those who “receive the things of the Spirit of God” (i.e., the revelation of the gospel truth through the apostles, 1 Cor. 2:14-15, 10-13). Sadly, Paul could not speak to the Corinthian Christians as spiritual people because they had remained unspiritual – carnal (“consisting of flesh, fleshy”). Failing to grow spiritually after their conversion to Christ, they were still only able to digest the milk of the word (v. 1-2). Their failure to mature in Christ led them to be anti-spiritual – carnal (having the nature and traits of the flesh, the opposite of “spiritual” in 1 Cor. 2:15) (v. 3-4). Their carnality was exhibited through their envy, strife, and divisions. Identifying themselves with men instead of with the “word of the cross” proved their carnality (1 Cor. 1:18). We must grow to spiritual maturity by receiving God’s word and putting away every attitude and action that opposes the word the Spirit revealed (1 Pet. 2:1-2; Heb. 5:12-14; Rom. 8:5-8).
17 Do not let your heart envy sinners, but be zealous for the fear of the Lord all the day; 18 For surely there is a hereafter, and your hope will not be cut off. (Proverbs 23:17–18, NKJV)
Envy involves misplaced zeal. Becoming agitated and activated to compare yourself with the advantages of sinners robs you of fervor that ought to be directed toward fearing God and trusting Him. Envy is strong displeasure caused by observing the prosperity of others. It drives a person to even try to deprive a person of what he has. Envying sinners reveals a heart that is not fearing God because it is consumed with brooding and grieving over the temporal advantages of others. The psalmist “nearly slipped” when he “was envious of the boastful” and “saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:2-3). He experienced the pain and pride of envy until he remembered the goodness of God and the end result of the wicked person (Psalm 73:1, 16-28). Remember your hope is in the hereafter, not the here and now (Psalm 37:1-4). The wicked will face accountability on the day of judgment, and so will those who have envied them. Direct your zeal toward fearing God and keeping His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). By doing so your life will be blessed with sure hope and a heart free of envy.
3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, 4 he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, (1 Timothy 6:3–4, NKJV)
Are you obsessed with disputes? Some see to hanker for an argument. (Note, we did not ask whether you are willing to contend earnestly for the faith, Jude 3. There is a huge difference.) Let your eyes gaze upon the contrasting words in today’s passage. On the one hand, there are the wholesome (sound) words of our Lord Jesus Christ – the “doctrine that accords with godliness” (v. 3). On the other hand, there are words of dispute that arise out of pride and ignorance that foment obsession with words (teachings) of men (v. 4). These words tear down faith as they elevate self and generate conflict that gives way to envy, quarrels, slander and evil suspicions. So, before you speak, be sure your words agree with the godliness that is produced by the sound doctrine of Christ, not words of strife that expose pride and a failure to understand the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember, “It is honorable for a man to stop striving, since any fool can start a quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3).
15 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1:15–18, NKJV)
Some people preach the gospel from evil motives. Others preach the gospel from godly motives. Paul made this observation while imprisoned in Rome for Christ’s sake (Phil. 1:13). Some were preaching Christ out of envy for the apostle, attempting to foment strife against him. Driven by selfish ambition, they pretended affection for the cause of Christ. But, they only loved themselves. Their insincerity became obvious, as they aimed to harm the apostle, not help him in his bonds. Others were preaching Christ out of goodwill and love, knowing the apostle was determined to defend the gospel. Amazingly, Paul rejoiced that the gospel was being preached, even though some preachers’ motives were evil. He did not seek personal vindication, he sought the progress of the gospel and the salvation of souls. Even if a gospel teacher’s motives are shown to be evil, rejoice in the truth he has taught. And, do not blame the truth when men, including preachers, sin against it. One man’s sin against the truth is not your license to reject the truth.
19 Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the wicked; 20 For there will be no prospect for the evil man; The lamp of the wicked will be put out.” (Proverbs 24:19–20, NKJV)
We are tempted to fret (to become agitated, lit., “to burn”) and be envious of the wicked. Why does it seem the wicked prosper while the righteous do not? We need to step back for a moment when we begin to grieve or are moved to provocation by sinners. A compelling reason is given to prevent fretting over and being envious of the wicked person: His future is bleak. There is nothing ahead for him except corruption (Gal. 6:8). He is laying up for himself treasures on earth. But, he will soon die, and he will take nothing with him beyond the grave. His life and its evil will be extinguished. The outcome of his sinful conduct will surely be divine wrath and eternal death (Rom. 2:5; 6:23). Fretting over the evil actions and apparent advantages of the wicked distracts us from our call to live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). So, instead of fretting when we see the temporary advantages of the wicked, let us strengthen our faith in Christ and renew our resolve to help save the lost from the utter despair awaiting them. They possess nothing to merit your envy. Do not burn in your spirit because of them. The time for honoring themselves will soon end. Then, their eternal regret begins.
25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:25–26, NKJV)
Christians live in the Spirit, having escaped the condemnation of sin in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1-2). We walk in the Spirit, being led by the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:18). This divine guidance is not random or miraculous. Neither is it subjective or unique to each person. The Spirit leads us all by the word of the gospel He has revealed, confirmed and inspired (Eph. 5:17-18; Col. 3:16). Living by His truth, we bear the fruit of the Spirit and spurn the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-23). Today’s passage specifically charges us not to have false pride that looks down on others (conceit). It commands us not to be provocative, challenging and inciting strife. Neither are we to be envious of each other, resentful of another person’s advantages. Envy retards prevents thankfulness of heart. Conceit overvalues self and eliminates empathy for others. Stirring up strife causes turmoil and division. Make it a point to walk in the Spirit, following His teaching and bearing His fruit. By doing so we will refuse to bear sin’s rotten fruit.