Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave; Yes, strife and reproach will cease. (Proverbs 22:10, NKJV)
The scoffer introduces and produces contention and strife in relationships where there should be peace (for example, marriages, neighborhoods, churches). The scoffer mocks truth and refuses the correction wisdom offers, “A scoffer does not love one who corrects him, nor will he go to the wise” (Prov. 15:12). Pride is the trademark of the scoffer: “A proud and haughty man—‘Scoffer’ is his name; He acts with arrogant pride” (Prov. 21:24). Driven by the pride of self-righteousness, scoffers ridicule their spouse, their neighbor, their coworker, and their brethren in Christ – disrupting harmony with their poisonous disdain. The scoffer makes fun of others while satisfying ungodly lusts instead of doing the will of God (2 Pet. 3:3; Jude 18). The scoffer undermines peace and reconciliation by refusing to show mercy and forgiveness. Overconfidence, instead of compassion, denotes the scoffer (Eph. 4:31-32). To avoid this dreadful destroyer of peace, let us hear this warning and promise from God concerning the scoffer: “The curse of the Lord is on the house of the wicked, but He blesses the home of the just. Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble” (Prov. 3:33-34).
4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! (James 3:4–5, NKJV)
Words are powerful. A fellow-Christian recently reminded me that one way God made us in His image is in our ability to communicate, to use words. God’s word is powerful, and so are our words. Small rudders maneuver great ships at the helmsman’s desire. A spark can engulf a forest in flames. Learning to control our tongues is about learning to control our hearts. Pride promotes the lust for power over others, and words are often the vehicle used to exert that power. “There is a generation—oh, how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up. There is a generation whose teeth are like swords, and whose fangs are like knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men” (Prov. 30:13-14). Our words have great power and potential for both good and evil (Eph. 4:29-32). Pride prompts the destructive use of words (like gossip, profanity, and strife, Jas. 3:14-16). Just as surely as pride is the spark that kindles much self-seeking strife, humble purity of heart helps steer our words and our lives toward peaceful shores (Jas. 3:17-18).
14 Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:14–15, NKJV)
A contrast of two “words” is made in today’s text. First, there are words of strife which are profitless and ruinous to those who listen to them (v. 14). Then, there is “the word of truth” which is to be rightly divided by the diligent worker to be approved to God. Words of strife are catastrophic (ruin, Gr. “katastrŏphē”), demolishing the faith of those who teach and accept them. On the other hand, when the word of truth is dissected correctly (rightly dividing, “to make a straight cut”), the result is God’s approval without shame. Scripture teaches us the difference between words of strife and words of truth in the next sentence. (We can know truth, and we can know error.) Paul went on to say the “profane and idle babblings” of false teaching are the ruinous words we must avoid (2 Tim. 2:14, 16-18). To diligently present ourselves approved to God we must not embrace false, profitless, strife-filled words. Rightly dividing God’s word is required to know these words for what they are. When we have ears to hear (receive) truth we must also have ears that recognize (and refuse) false teaching. “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22).
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).
15 ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:15–16, NKJV)
Both the Law of Moses and the gospel of Christ warn against the sin of talebearing. We are more accustomed to the word “gossip” (1 Tim. 5:13). It has been normalized, as millions flock to rumormongering as part of their usual, information-gathering process. (Witness TV shows like Entertainment Tonight, TMZ, and Page 6, and publications like People Magazine and National Enquirer, whose website tag is, “Hottest Celebrity Gossip & Entertainment News.”) Society is saturated with talebearing – juicy gossip that tingles the ears with baseless assumptions, groundless speculations, and false accusations against others. Israel was told not to be talebearers precisely because it is unrighteous judgment against others. You see, talebearing is about having power over others. It draws people into its snare, leading them to abandon reason and fairness, causing some to even “stand against the life” of the innocent on nothing more than hearsay. The talebearer is an untrustworthy liar. Wisdom teaches us not to associate with such folks, because talebearing causes wounds and strife (Prov. 11:13; 18:8; 20:19; 26:20-22). The best way to put out the fire of talebearing is not to receive it. (And, don’t be the one who starts that flame, either!)
A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends. (Proverbs 16:28, NKJV)
Gossip destroys trust. Openness is ruined by spreading harmful information about others. Trusting relationships are left in shambles when we talk to the wrong people about other people. Gossip, by definition, hurts and destroys instead of building up a person (Colossians 4:6). Gossip never addresses the party of which it speaks; it thrives in anonymity (“don’t tell anyone I said this”) and deniability (“I only said what was true”). This proverb says such a person is “perverse” (deceitful, fraudulent). It may be said of the whisperer that “perversity is in his heart, he devises evil continually, he sows discord” (Proverbs 2:14). Gossip is not a victimless sin. It leaves strife, suspicion, and separation in its wake. Gossip puts others down. It elevates the whisperer at the expense of others, without considering how his words disturb and distress the lives of others. Let us check our words before we speak, to be sure they impart grace for edification, not disdain and destruction (Ephesians 4:29).
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).
4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. (Romans 12:4–5, NKJV)
The church is depicted as a body – its members having different functions, but all aimed toward the singular, united purpose of serving the will of its head, who is Christ. This picture of the church as a body draws our attention to the unity to which we are called as Christians. Division is roundly condemned in the Scriptures as a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:20). Christians are united in our faith, in our common salvation, and in our mutual care for one another. To the extent that Christians refuse to consider ourselves “members of one another,” they contribute to discord in the body of Christ. The church suffers when fellow Christians will not work and worship together in mutual faith, mutual love and mutual reverence for the Lord. Each Christian has an important place in the body of Christ, which includes “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Each member of the body of Christ is more effective and faithful as we all remember we are “individually members of one another.”
7 And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land. 8 So Abram said to Lot, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.” (Genesis 13:7–9, NKJV)
Family members ought to be able to resolve differences between them. The contention between Abram and Lot’s herdsmen affected their masters as well as the inhabitants of the land who witnessed the discord. Strife is that way. It impacts others in addition to its principal parties. It takes faith and humility to end a quarrel; any fool can start one (Prov. 20:3). Abram’s faith rose above the animosity as he offered Lot first pick of the land. To Abram, it didn’t matter who was “right” and who was “wrong.” Furthermore, by rights (as the eldest and Lot’s uncle), Abram should have had first choice. But, what mattered most to Abram was ending the strife in a fair and lasting manner. So, he deferred to Lot and trusted the Lord bless him, which He did (Gen. 13:14-18). Similar honor is needed in the church, the family of God. Putting an end to strife requires having the faith to “accept the wrong” and to then move forward, instead of bitterly clinging to the past (1 Cor. 6:7).