We were once on the island of St. Vincent in the West Indies in the early 1980s conducting a seminar for church leaders. There was some frustration among the church leaders concerning some brethren on the island who were teaching a matter of opinion, but different from the accepted “traditional interpretation” of the established church. The leaders of the establishment were having some difficulty “refuting” the “erroneous brethren” simply because the matter of contention was a matter of opinion, not a fundamental Bible teaching. So one of the brethren of the establishment made the statement, “We need to take them to court to bar them from promoting their teaching since their teaching infringes on what we believe.”
And so it goes among church politicians. When the Jewish religious leaders could not win their argument against Jesus, they resorted to the government of Rome to do their dirty work for them. They could not crucify Jesus on their own since Palestine was an occupied land by the Romans at the time. So the Jewish leadership went to the higher court of Pilate in order to rid the Jewish religious establishment of a rebel whom they could not refute. They delivered Jesus to Pilate for execution. Satan still uses misguided brethren today to accomplish his evil deeds.
One case in the life of Paul illustrates the motives of church politicians. Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote the Philippian letter. In the introduction of the letter he made a very interesting statement concerning some local preachers in the city of Rome. Though we do not know all the details, these political preachers must have been out in the streets preaching against the jailhouse preacher in the local prison.
We might better understand their motives for their political preaching if we better understood the socio/political environment in which both Jews and Christians lived in Rome. Caesar Claudius had run all Jews out of Rome a few years before (See At 18:2). The infamous and narcissistic Nero was in power as Caesar at the time Paul was in prison. It was not a good social situation at the time Paul was in prison in Rome in the early 60s, and thus, some of the local preachers evidently succumbed to the intimidation of the powers that existed. These preachers were locals, but Paul was an expatriate from out of town. They were free, but he was in jail. To them, he may have been an embarrassment to the church. They were willing, therefore, to sacrifice him for their own selfish ambitions. At least this is what Paul wrote of the situation to the Philippians,
Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not with pure motives, supposing to add distress to my chains (Ph 1:15-17).
We would not confine Paul’s statement to the social culture of Rome. Throughout his ministry, Paul faced envy and selfish ambition (At 14:1-6,19). It continued even to his imprisonment in Rome, for through their envy and selfish ambition, some religious leaders would be so political that they would add distress to his chains while he was in a Roman prison.
Envy is when one seeks to have that which another has. Here are some preachers who possibly envied the notoriety that Paul had. Maybe they envied his influence. We are not told exactly what they envied in the life of Paul. But in their envy, they caused strife among the disciples. They were as some arrogant preachers in Achaia who spoke slanderously against Paul, judging him to be afraid to show up in Corinth and defend himself (2 Co 10:10). Paul would show up, but he would show up with a rod of discipline (1 Co 4:21).
When preachers envy other preachers, Satan is at work to sow strife among the disciples. When preachers are cursed with selfish ambition, they will preach and behave in a way that will add to the distress of those who preach out of pure motives. The religious leaders of the Jews’ religion envied Jesus. Their envy drove them to remove the influence of Jesus from the people. Pilate “knew that because of envy they [the religious leaders] had delivered Him” (Mt 27:18; Mk 15:10). When a preacher starts to envy another preacher, only evil will result. And with evil envy the Jewish leaders followed Paul from one city to another. Luke recorded,
But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy. And contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed those things that were spoken by Paul (At 13:45; see At 14:19).
When a preacher finds himself “contradicting and blaspheming,” and opposing truth that is preached by his fellow preacher, then he should know that he has assigned himself to the company of those envious Jews who opposed Paul. Paul reminded the Corinthians with a question: “For where there is envying and strife, are you not carnal and walking as worldly men?” (1 Co 3:3). Political preachers are carnal. They are walking as worldly men.
Love does not envy (1 Co 13:4). And thus, when one envies his fellow leader in the faith, then he knows that he does not walk in love. He is walking according to the flesh (Gl 5:21). Such a person …
… is obsessed with controversy and disputes about words, from which come envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, perverse disputings between men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, supposing that godliness is a means to gain (1 Tm 6:4,5).
Paul’s above instructions to Timothy in reference to his relationship with carnally minded leaders was direct: “From such withdraw yourself” (1 Tm 6:5). Timothy was to personally withdraw himself from those religious leaders who would stir up controversies about “disputable words.”
Satan uses church politicians to stir up all sorts of contentions. Paul mandated that both Timothy and Titus not give such carnally-minded church leaders their fellowship in discussions over nonsense (2 Tm 2:23). We must keep in mind that the Holy Spirit wrote the following in reference to church leaders who are obsessed with causing controversies among the disciples:
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and contentions and strivings about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man [a brother] after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned (Ti 3:9-11).
Satan uses factious brethren to disrupt the peace of the disciples. Once a person is identified to be a factious man by his obsession with arguments over matters of opinion, then he is to be given no opportunity to express his foolish controversies before the church. We must keep in mind that the factious brother is a politician. He is seeking a following. He is trying to recruit members to agree with his foolish controversies (See Gl 4:17). The church that allows the factious man to have an audience before the church has violated the mandate of Paul in 1 Timothy 6:4,5 and Titus 3:9-11.
A contentious brother can usually be identified by his call for others to meet with him concerning one of his foolish “disputes about words.” When those with whom he would argue do not answer his call or letters to come down to Ono, as some enticed Nehemiah, and discuss his matters of contention, then he accuses the godly brethren to be in error because they would not show up for his contentious meeting. Godly leaders need to answer the contentious brother as Nehemiah answered Sanballat and Geshen: “I am doing a great work so that I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (Ne 6:3).
Our advice to godly leaders who have identified a contentious brother in their midst, is that they follow strictly the mandate that the Holy Spirit gave through Paul to both Timothy and Titus. Do not go down to the meetings that are about disputable words of those who are filled with envy and selfish ambition!
Some envious church leaders in Corinth, who were filled with selfish ambition, slandered Paul. They thought that he was too weak to come to Corinth and face their accusations against him (2 Co 10:10,11). Paul answered them:
Therefore, I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Co 12:10).
It was not that Paul was weak in spirit. If he came and found his accusers arrogant in an unrepentant frame of mind, some were going to be delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Co 5:5; 1 Tm 1:20). As a Christ-sent apostle, he had no choice in the matter exercising the discipline of the Lord. Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead at the feet of Christ-sent apostles (At 5:1-11). Something similar was going to happen in Corinth if the slanderous church leaders did not repent before Paul arrived. Everyone in the church throughout the world had heard of the death of Ananias and Sapphira. “And great fear came upon all the church and upon as many as heard these things” (At 5:11). It was for this reason that Paul wrote the letters of 1 & 2 Corinthians. He wanted to come to them with joy, not grief (2 Co 2:1). He wrote that some repent before he came.
The encouraging thing about the Corinthians is that they stopped listening to those who were causing the strife among them. Paul eventually went to them with joy, for he did not need to use the rod of discipline as a Christ-sent apostle. No one was struck blind; no one dropped dead; and no one was delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh.
God is not working in a direct manner as this today. Nevertheless, we read these things in the New Testament as a warning against anyone who would behave as those who were judged directly in the first century. All judgment for the envious person who is corrupted with selfish ambition, and thus sows strife among the disciples with his disputes, will be his part in what John described in Revelation 21:8.
[Next lecture: July 31]