The Bible on Strife and Contention – Part One

The Bible on Strife and Contention

Part One

Much has been said on the need to avoid discord amongst the brethren — and rightly so. This has been a matter laid heavily on my heart recently, partly out of true conviction and partly out of what I perceive to be a serious misunderstanding concerning the matter. Pertaining to conviction, I was recently informed that my words come across as being harsher than intended. Nonetheless, pertaining to the misunderstanding I perceive, there is  a dangerous view being put forth; one that would leave many believing that vigorous discussion on biblical matters, especially those in dispute, somehow amounts to strife and contention. In our day, we are often exhorted to abstain from such discourse, especially if it pertains to one’s walk before God or to non-essential teachings (so-called). It is true that we should abstain from any dispute that involves matters of Christian liberty wherein the weaker brother is at greater risk of stumbling (i.e. violating their consciences). However, beyond that, please consider the following two passages:

Act 15:37 And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. 38 But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. 39 And the contention was so sharp [paroxysmos/G3948] between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;

Hebrews 10:22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the profession of [our] faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) 24 And let us consider one another to provoke [paroxysmos/G3948] unto love and to good works…

I use the first passage as an indicator of the strength found in the second. This word paroxysmos is the basis of our English word paroxysm. A paroxysm is a sudden outburst of emotion or action… as in a “paroxysm of laughter.” In the Greek, paroxysmos means an inciting; incitement; irritation. It stems from the word paroxynō which means to make sharp, sharpen; to stimulate, spur on, urge; to irritate, provoke, arouse to anger, to scorn, despise; to exasperate, to burn with anger — all depending on the context of course (both the immediate context and the biblical context as a whole). In the AV/KJV it is found in the following two verses:

Acts 17:16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred [paroxynō / G3947] in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. 17 Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him — [disputed, dialegomai, to …converse, discourse with one, argue, discuss — translated in the AV/KJV as dispute (6x), reason with (2x), reason (2x), preach unto (1x), preach (1x), speak (1x).].

1 Corinthians 13:4 Charity suffereth long, [and] is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked [paroxynō / G3947] thinketh no evil;

Now this word paroxynō is closely related to the word of God. It comes from two words para and oxys. It combines close proximity (e.g. of, from, at, by, besides, near) and swiftness and sharpness. Concerning sin and sinners, we read in Romans 3:5 “Their feet are swift [oxys/G3691] to shed blood.” However, concerning that which is good, we read:

Revelation 1:16 And He had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp [oxys/G3691] two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

Revelation 2:12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith He which hath the sharp [oxys/G3691] sword with two edges;

Revelation 14:14 And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp [oxys/G3691] sickle… 17 And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp G3691 sickle. 18 And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp [oxys/G3691] sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp [oxys/G3691] sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.

Revelations 19:15 And out of his mouth goeth a sharp [oxys/G3691] sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

The sword and the sickle point to the word of God. Concerning the sickle, the root word for the Greek noun drepanon (sickle) is drepo which means to pluck. Ultimately, God plucks His people out through His holy word; particularly, His Gospel as applied to the heart by the Spirit of God. The wheat and tares, the sheep and goats, the bride and the whore, are all distinguished by the Word (both the Word of God and the Bible which reveals Him). Christ and His holy angels will do the physical act of plucking but it all starts with that heart work via the word. As for the sword, we know that it represents the word of God in this setting based upon:

Ephesians 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God [is] quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and [is] a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

When all of these things are taken into account, we see that the Christian is to strongly provoke / incite one another to love and to good works through God’s holy word! Just some of it? No, all of it! Just the passages specifically related  to the cross? No, all — all in light of Christ’s accomplishment and victory at the cross! It is in that particular Light that we are to incite each other unto love for Christ; love for the brethren (in light of the love we have in Christ and the love that Christ has for us); love for His word; praise unto Him; thanksgiving unto Him; prayer and supplication unto God the Father in light of Him; and also obedience (good works) unto Him. In the Light of salvation perfectly accomplished, we are to exhort unto all good works in love.

Yet sometimes, perhaps even often, that incitement can be an irritation to the hearer (irritation per the very definition of the word paroxysmos, along with incitement). This is especially true if the hearer, via prolonged repetition, has become accustomed to hearing that such incitement or exhortation unto godliness is almost always, if not always, legalistic in nature. If one is prone to emphasize God-given liberty (as it pertains to non-biblical deeds) over God-commanded prudence, modesty, gravity, and sobriety — then such exhortations unto obedience will indeed be irritating. Liberty in Christ is enhanced by adorning the doctrine of Christ (to the degree that God enables us to walk) — it isn’t encumbered or weakened by it! The liberty found in Christ Jesus frees us from dead works and from the demands of the Mosaic law; it delivers us from both obsolete and man-made commandments, ordinances, and traditions. However, it also frees us to serve Him as we worship Him, that is… in Spirit and in Truth — all by His effectual power and working. Our Lord continuously works in us that which He would have us to will and to do concerning His good pleasure. He gives us liberty to serve Him to the degree that He has ordained for us from before the world was. 

So, though godly incitement and exhortation ought always to be in the Light of God’s word in general, and His Gospel, in particular, we are called to walk uprightly so that (1) the wicked cannot nay-say or blaspheme our profession and (more importantly) God’s word -and- (2) so that God is glorified in that which He works in us. Likewise, the proclamation of the Gospel, the declaration of the cross of Christ and His great Person and work, is our greatest duty before the world without (especially as it concerns the unregenerate elect). However, when it comes to building up the world within (the elect church) our greatest duty is to encourage, exhort, admonish, and otherwise edify one another through the Holy Word in light of that same Gospel. We are to do so in, and with, love — in agape love generally, and (concerning the brethren) in agape and phileo love — that is, in divine, obedient love and also in loving affection as God enables. Yet sometimes this love is obscured by the insistence and sternness required (Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? Galatians 4:16). Nevertheless, such instruction sharpens us, as iron sharpeneth iron, and it hones us all the more unto His image. We ought to be ready to give it and even more ready to receive it; yes, even to seek it out as an important means that God uses to enrich and nourish His children, through His grace, and through His word.

Proverbs 9:7 He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame: and he that rebuketh a wicked [man getteth] himself a blot. 8 Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. 9 Give [instruction] to a wise [man], and he will be yet wiser: teach a [just] man, and he will increase in learning. 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.

Proverbs 27:5 Open rebuke [is] better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.

Ecclesiastes 7:5 [It is] better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.

Yet, there is much more to be considered… especially as it pertains to what strife, debate and contention really mean according to the full biblical usage. I hope to address this aspect shortly, along with the exhortations concerning long-suffering, kindness, gentleness, and other fruit of the Spirit. I especially want to consider them in light of the promotion of doctrines that can significantly harm the body of Christ as a whole (as it pertains to Gospel adorning), giving biblical examples of how godly men handled such matters.

To God be the glory.

Curt Wildy

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