Charitable Discourse -- What would Paul have done in the Internet Age?
1Cor. 4:17 For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church.
1Cor. 4:18 But some of you, thinking that I am not coming to you, have become arrogant.
1Cor. 4:19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power.
1Cor. 4:20 For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power.
As I read this today I couldn't help but think about what Paul was dealing with in Corinth. This was not an easy church, but rather one that seemed to have had "attitude." There were letters flying back and forth and Paul was catching wind of things happening in the church in Corinth. Evidently there were those who were using their tongue, and possibly the pen, the cause trouble. In an effort to bring some order to the issues Paul had sent Timothy. It was Paul's desire that Timothy would draw them in and get them back on track in terms of their daily spiritual walk. However, it appears that Timothy's presence was not good enough and there were those who were asserting their "power" within the church and usurping the fact that Timothy was present. They were becoming arrogant, self-appointed leaders of the church. However, Paul was letting them know that he hoped to come quite soon and he was looking to discern whether these people had real power -- not people power -- but Holy Spirit power! For the real power is not in the spoken or written word, but in the living Word of Jesus Christ. He was saying that what he would discover when he arrived was whether they had made a human power play or whether their lives were bearing fruit, for this is where the real power exists!
It is not too far fetched to place this situation within a modern context. Paul is not able to be present with the church in Corinth and there are those who want to be seen as the leaders. They don't really like the message of humble servanthood that is expressed by Paul and are grabbing power in the only way that they know how. Sadly, it reveals that they have not submitted themselves to the power of the Holy Spirit. In their arrogance they are literally drawing people away from Christ and getting hung up on little issues that they see as making them appear more powerful. They are blogging daily about their thoughts, and are doing all they can to make Paul look bad. Paul is simply a fool who runs around with no money, wearing torn and tattered clothing. What kind of a kingdom does he represent? Rather, they have become wealthy, they are the wise ones, they are the strong ones, they are held in honor. Paul says yes -- that is true and my life looks like this:
1Cor. 4:11 To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless,
1Cor. 4:12 and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure;
1Cor. 4:13 when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.
He is being slandered by the people of his home church. For the sake of making themselves feel better they have taken to writing about him on the internet and destroying his good name. What does Paul do? I think he responds in the way Jesus would have responded. He tells them that when they slander him, he will respond kindly. He tells them that they may have destroyed his good name and he may be like garbage to the world -- but wait -- he will come and see whether all they have are words, or is there power?
What if the Apostle Paul showed up today in the midst of those who are using electronic media to criticize and tear down the church and her leadership? What would he discover? Would he discover a thriving ministry in which the power of the Holy Spirit is present and changing hearts and lives? I don't think so, and he knew the answer to this question as well. If we are not acting and living like kingdom people, there will be no power! There will be no spiritual fruit in this kind of an environment. So, maybe we need to take a lesson from Paul. May we have, as Dr. Dan Boone has said, "Charitable Discourse" over the things in which we may disagree. But at the same time, may we be so plugged into the power of God's Holy Spirit on a daily basis that our lives reveal what our true faith might be. We are to become rubbish to the world. This Christian walk is not about places of honor or power or acceptance, but rather, that of faithful obedience, following the Christ of the Cross on a daily basis.
Oh Lord -- help me to imitate you day in and day out! May I not be distracted by the words or power of this world, but focus only on you. Amen.