In our recent article — Corinthians 3:18 — How We Become Wise By First Becoming Foolish In Christ — we considered how we must all convince ourselves of our own foolishness in order that we may become wise. We proposed that if we consider ourselves only to be the wise man of the Proverbs — but never considering ourselves to be the fool of the Proverbs — then we implicitly make ourselves into the fool.
Now we’d like to consider a few case studies in the Proverbs in more depth. More specifically, we’d like to discuss the oft-used Proverbs 27:17 — “As iron sharpens iron, So one person sharpens another” — and consider what impact that should have on Christian fellowship. Furthermore, we’d like to consider yet more Scripture to help our understanding — and consider what impact that should have on the company we keep — and how we keep it.
THE UNBRIDLED TEMPER
First, let’s consider the following Proverbs,
- Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious person to kindle strife. (Proverbs 26:21)
- An angry person stirs up strife, And a hot-tempered person abounds in wrongdoing. (Proverbs 29:22)
Here the Proverb tells us rather plainly that an angry person “stirs up strife” and “abounds in wrongdoing.” We should automatically conclude that if we show a pattern of losing our tempter — or have no control over our temper — then we are stirring up strife. The Proverbs tell us that the Lord hates it — and considers it an abomination (Proverbs 6:16) — when one “spreads strife among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:19)
Therefore, we can conclude that the Lord considers it an abomination when we have no control over our own temper. Losing one’s temper is sin — thus “a hot-tempered person abounds in wrongdoing.” Paul goes as far as to tell us that if we practice strife and outbursts of anger, then we will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:20–21).
Let’s consider some Proverbs where the wise and the fool are juxtaposed in the context of tempers:
- A fool’s anger is known at once, but a prudent person conceals dishonor. (Proverbs 12:16)
- One who is slow to anger has great understanding; but one who is quick-tempered exalts foolishness. (Proverbs 14:29)
- A hot-tempered person stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute. (Proverbs 15:18)
- A fool always loses his temper, but a wise person holds it back. (Proverbs 29:11)
According to Proverbs 12:16, if as soon as the feelings of anger rise within us, we immediately let that anger out, then we make ourselves a fool. We actively make our anger known to others through the way we choose to act toward them. If we are prudent, then rather than acting out in anger — even if we have been dishonored — we rather conceal it within ourselves than make our anger known. Proverbs 19:11 takes it even further by telling us that it is even “glory to overlook an offense.”
Proverbs 14:29 lays the matter out rather plainly for us that there really should be no doubt in our minds. If we find ourselves being quick-tempered, then we should consider that we ourselves exalt foolishness — that is, to lift foolishness up in praise for all to see.
Proverbs 15:18 tells us that if we are hot-tempered, then we stir up strife — which is sin. If we are rather slow to anger, then instead of stirring up strife, we do the exact opposite — we calm dispute. When strife arose between Abraham and Lot, Abraham composed himself and rather suffered to allow Lot to choose the best land — happily settling with what Lot considered worse (Genesis 13:9). When the men of Ephraim accused Gideon of taking glory for himself, instead of returning anger to them, he appeased them and “their anger toward him subsided” (Judges 8:3).
As Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” — and Proverbs 25:15, “Through patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a gentle tongue breaks bone.” Paul words it well when he says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
The Lord tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9) Therefore, making peace and calming dispute makes us sons of God — it makes us live in accordance with the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
Proverbs 29:11 presumes that the temper has risen in both the fool and the wise person. While the fool loses it, the wise person holds it back. Some might consider that these Proverbs mean we should not feel our temper rising within our flesh — or perhaps if we feel our temper rising, that constitutes an excuse to lose it — feeling justified within ourselves in our actions. After all, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 12:15) But let us consider some more Proverbs in this regard:
- One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and one who rules his spirit, than one who captures a city. (Proverbs 16:32)
- Like a city that is broken into and without walls so is a person who has no self-control over his spirit. (Proverbs 25:28)
See how the person who has no self-control is like “a city that is broken into,” but the one who “rules his spirit” is better “than one who captures a city.” In other words, fools leave themselves open to capture when they lose their temper — and they become captured by the mighty — but the one who is slow to anger is even better than the mighty one who captures the fool.
If any of ourselves consider ourselves mighty because we have captured fools, then we should consider that the wise man who rules over his spirit to be yet mightier than ourselves. Moreover, if the fool allows himself to be captured by losing his tempter, the wise who are slow to anger will not be captured by the mighty.
Thus Proverbs 12:13 tells us, “An evil person is ensnared by the offense of his lips, but the righteous will escape from trouble” — and Proverbs 14:17 says, “A quick-tempered person acts foolishly.” In this way, the Proverbs tell us that ruling our spirit makes practical sense. If we are able to control ourselves, we might avoid a lot of trouble. Not only from a worldly and practical perspective, but the Lord also says in Matthew 5:22,
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be answerable to the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be answerable to the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
The Lord Jesus did not speak in vain — and we should treat the matter with the severity that He related to us. When we guard our tongues, we guard ourselves from the lake of fire.
Being slow to anger means ruling over our spirits. Ruling over our spirit means bending it to our own will. If we need to bend it to our own will, then we acknowledge that it first acted contrary to our own will. We must accept that our spirit will certainly act contrary to our own will — and the whims of our emotions should not be trusted when they bring us to anger. As Paul said, “Be angry, and yet do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26) Being angry is not sin — but losing our temper and causing strife among our brethren certainly is.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:31-32,
31 All bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Then in Colossians 3:8,
But now you also, rid yourselves of all of them: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene speech from your mouth.
Paul tells us twice that we must remove these things from our lives. If we are to remove them, then we should not find them laying about in our lives and our actions.
No Christian may be subject to an unbridled temper.
ON KINGDOM COMPANY
Working for the kingdom of God certainly can be frustrating at times. On a very subjective level within ourselves, we consider that the course of action we take is correct — just as Proverbs 21:2 tells us, “Every person’s way is right in his own eye.” Then when we meet some kind of opposition, we are surprised that anyone could possibly disagree with us — that is, they do not accept the proof we ourselves had readily accepted. Oftentimes that surprise is what really gets our backs up. Before we know it, the anger rises within.
The Lord tells us in Matthew 10:25,
It is enough for the disciple that he may become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they insult the members of his household!
Similarly, He tells us in John 15:20,
Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well; if they followed My word, they will follow yours also.
Really then, we must contentedly conclude that abuse comes with the territory. It was the Lord’s good will toward all who would follow Him to tell them in advance that they ought to prepare themselves for abuse. If we take it upon ourselves to work for the Kingdom, then we must expect abuse to come our way. Not only did He forewarn us, but He tells us in Matthew 5:11-12,
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Not only does abuse come with the territory, but when we are abused for the sake of the Lord Jesus, we should consider ourselves blessed. Therefore, the Lord has given us ample reason to endure abuse for His sake without losing our temper. Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15-16,
15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, but with gentleness and respect; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who disparage your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. 17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
Note how Peter implicitly accepts that slander and disparagement will surely come to the one who sanctifies Christ as Lord. Yet we must keep a good conscience in the face of that slander — not reviling in return — that those who condemn good behavior might be put to shame. That is, we are not to take it upon ourselves to make them experience shame by our own actions, but rather to let that shame come upon them by some other means — trusting judgment to the Lord Jesus.
Then Peter gives us a rather critical distinction when he says, “suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” Earlier in 1 Peter 2:19-20 he tells us,
19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person endures grief when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.
Generally speaking, if we do wrong and we suffer for it — then why should it find favor with God? In this case, if we lose our tempter and suffer harsh treatment over it, then we should not consider we have earned favor with God. Remember, losing one’s temper is always wrong — therefore, whatever ill-treatment one may incur over a lost temper is merely one’s due — not favor from God.
If we truly have done what’s right in God’s sight — not in a fit of anger — and we suffer unjustly for it as a result, then we incur favor from God. Therefore, we must conclude that it’s far better to simply never react to anyone with anger ever. If we have done wrong, we receive our due — but if we have done right, we receive favor from God. Either way, justice will be done without us having to do it.
And so Proverbs 17:28 tells us that “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.” Why? Because not reviling in return is always the correct course of action, whether we feel justified within ourselves or not. Even a fool shows wisdom when he closes his lips.
Moreover, when we do not revile another in anger as payment for their ill-treatment of ourselves, we express mercy towards them. Who knows, perhaps we are the mighty ready to capture the city of a fool? Yet the amount of mercy we afford others constitutes the same mercy we are afforded from the Lord Jesus — just as He tells us in Matthew 6:14, “For if you forgive other people for their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
Let us be better than the mighty who capture fools. Let us be wise men who ourselves are never captured, because one day the Lord Jesus — the mightiest of all — will capture all fools in their foolishness.
Now that attitude comes hand-in-hand with the Lord’s words in Matthew 10:16-17,
16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as wary as serpents, and as innocent as doves. 17 But be on guard against people, for they will hand you over to the courts and flog you in their synagogues;
Never taking out our own anger on others — leaving room for the wrath of God (Romans 12:19) — gladly suffering shame in the name of Christ Jesus (1 Peter 2:20) — constitutes being “innocent as doves.” That is all good and well, but in our innocence we are to be wary as serpents, because we are “as sheep in the midst of wolves.” We do not needlessly place ourselves in harms way of the whims of men. We must be wise in our work for the Kingdom.
To some degree, we have all been the wolf in someone else’s life. We should not consider ourselves to have always been the sheep in this narrative. Rather, just like we consider ourselves the fool to become wise — we also consider ourselves the wolves that we may become sheep. After all, when a group of people all strive to be sheep — then ultimately they become a flock of sheep.
We find this an especially fitting lesson, because many Christians assume the truth of their message has been confirmed merely because they have been persecuted over it. Ironically, given that we assume the truth of our message through our persecution, we revile the ones who persecute us.
Or perhaps we weren’t truly persecuted, but someone else didn’t treat us quite exactly how we expect them to treat us. Or perhaps they didn’t accept our message in the way we wanted them to — so we revile them in turn. Somehow we become hyper-sensitive, just waiting for any opportunity to persecute our persecutor.
It’s important that we do not become like Jews who welcome persecution on themselves because they believe it strengthens their cause. In other words, we should not look to use persecution as a weapon against others — welcoming it upon ourselves with a victim mentality and then throwing it in everyone’s faces.
We judge rightly that this behavior makes Jews all the more intolerable — so we provide witness against ourselves whenever we try to do the same thing against other Christians. Let us rather reflect on our own selves and first exhibit true Christianity in our own behavior — rather than always trying to get others to treat us how we want them to treat us for the sake of our own agendas.
When we use persecution to our advantage — as opposed to trusting in God’s blessing and ultimate justice — then we merely make ourselves wolves. If any wolves remain among the sheep, the sheep may carefully and wisely remove themselves. This is any sheep’s duty, as Proverbs 22:24-25 says,
24 Do not make friends with a person given to anger, Or go with a hot-tempered person, 25 Or you will learn his ways And find a snare for yourself.
The Scripture tells us rather plainly to avoid those who are given to anger — the wolves. It does not give any conditions attached — as if we could judge for ourselves that it’s somehow “worth it” to be with an angry person because they provide some perceived benefit to us — whether a Kingdom or material benefit according to our own judgment.
No, if we judge that we should be with an angry person over some Kingdom benefit — as if we consider them a teacher or even just a “good friend” — then we have merely judged incorrectly. Yet we have seen many Christians make excuses for their so-called “brethren” for their unrestrained rage against others — becoming accessories to their sin.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:33-34,
33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” 34 Sober up morally and stop sinning, for some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
Not only do we become accessories to that sin, but Paul tells us that they may corrupt our good morals — just as Proverbs tells us that we will learn the ways of one given to anger. The Scripture also says that “one sinner destroys much good.” (Ecclesiastes 9:18)
Moreover, Paul tells us in this matter not to be deceived — as if he perceived a propensity to deception — that many might consider themselves impervious to corruption from sinners around them. As if one might say, “Perhaps I could be around one given to anger without learning his ways.”
Paul implies that one who sins — just as we have shown a hot-temper to be sin — merely has no knowledge of God. Yet when we justify someone’s hot temper, we might rationalize that their so-called “knowledge of God” excuses their temper. We should rather have known that a hot temper necessarily means they do indeed have no knowledge of God — and that our own perception of their knowledge of God was wrong in the first place.
Thus Paul says, “I say this to your shame.” Yes, if we cannot even perceive that a hot tempered person has no knowledge of God, then we should be ashamed according to the words of Paul. If we cannot even consider ourselves to have knowledge of God because of our own temper — then how much worse a condition do we find ourselves in that we cannot even see it? So we find the Lord’s words manifest when He said, “if a person who is blind guides another who is blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:14).
Then Proverbs 20:25 says,
It is a trap for a person to say carelessly, “It is holy!” And after the vows to make inquiry.
Also Proverbs 27:14,
One who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, It will be considered a curse to him.
We are not to credit other people overly quickly merely because they are “nice” to us or agree with one of our pet doctrines. The Kingdom of God is found in what we do — not merely what we agree with. Too often we praise others merely because they agree with us, only to be horrified at how poorly we judged the intention of their hearts — as much as we evil men can — thanks to our own partiality.
The moment we disagree with someone we once praised and credited, we see just how their “niceness” was a surface-level veneer — easily scratched off with the slightest abrasion. Rather, we should know others more intimately before we seek to credit them. Doesn’t even common sense tell us to make careful inquiry before judging a matter? How much more the hearts of other men?
How could we call a person “holy” without ever having made inquiry into that person’s life? Truly, when we credit them too quickly, it will become a curse for us — especially when we in misbegotten pride are loathe to relinquish that credit — because to do so would prove our own foolishness and error. Then when we speak good of someone who we do not truly know, we merely bear false witness on their behalf.
We find a good description of this phenomenon in Ecclesiasticus 6:6-7 — an apocryphal book,
6 Be in peace with many: nevertheless have but one counsellor of a thousand. 7 If thou wouldest get a friend, prove him first and be not hasty to credit him.
We believe this lesson is what Proverbs 20:25 and 27:14 are teaching us — be not hasty to credit anyone, but prove them first. If the Lord weighs the hearts (Proverbs 21:2), then shouldn’t that also be our own goal when we consider others?
We are sinful men — yet the Lord demands a more exacting and perfect standard of judgment from us. Somehow we must come to a better standard of judgment befitting a priest of the Lord Jesus in the Kingdom of God. Somehow we need to retain a disposition of peace within ourselves that we may give another the time of day enough that we are to see the intentions of their heart — whether they agree with us on pet doctrines or not.
Sometimes we may quickly and readily be able to see they do not keep the words of the Lord Jesus — distorting the Scripture to their own destruction. Yet no matter what another man believes, we will never quickly and readily be able to see whether or not they do keep the words of the Lord Jesus in spirit and truth. Such a judgment will come only with time and careful consideration.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:3,
Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?
Paul words this in such a way that he shows our resurrection and glorified bodies will not do much to help our skills in judgment. If we cannot show right judgment in this life, how will we be able to judge the angels in the next? Verily, let us show astute and careful judgment in the company we keep toward our endeavors for the Kingdom of God.
Leviticus 19:17-18 says,
17 You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may certainly rebuke your neighbor, but you are not to incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor hold any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
Note how the Scripture commands us to rebuke our neighbor — just as the Lord says, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3) We see exhortation to rebuke others all throughout the New Testament — while James 5:19-20 goes as far as to say,
19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you strays from the truth and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that the one who has turned a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
Paul also tells us in Galatians 6:1,
Brothers and sisters, even if a person is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual are to restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you are not tempted as well.
Exhorting and rebuking others is a key part of the Christian journey — it is part of the glue which holds us together in righteousness. If we find ourselves overlooking other’s sins instead of rebuking them, then we are merely exercising partiality towards them because we are afraid to lose whatever benefit we perceive ourselves to be gaining from their company. If we are afraid to exhort someone because we are afraid to lose them, then that doesn’t say much for the relationship itself — even by worldly standards.
We are not here to affirm loyalty to one another — but rather loyalty toward the Lord Jesus and His commands.
Simultaneously, we should take special care for the spirit in which we rebuke others. The Scripture tells us not to hate our fellow countrymen in our heart (Leviticus 19:17) — and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18). Our motivation for rebuking someone must always come from our desire for their own good — as opposed to rebuking someone to appease the welling anger within us — which merely incurs sin upon ourselves (Leviticus 19:17).
Paul tells us that if we do not restore and rebuke with gentleness, then we enter ourselves into temptation for sin. Indeed, our intention should be for others’ restoration to a life of purity — not to angrily condemn them in the position they may find themselves in. If another becomes angry at our rebuke — assuming we truly do have the correct motivations in the Lord Jesus’ sight — then as we have already covered, the best course of action would be to rather suffer for doing good than take our own vengeance.
It doesn’t matter what others do to us — and nothing is personal — at least for our own sakes. We offer ourselves to abuse for the service of the Kingdom.
James 1:19-20 says,
19 You know this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Now everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; 20 for a man’s anger does not bring about the righteousness of God.
There again, we cannot “bring about the righteousness of God” in anger. If we have become angry — thinking our anger would “bring about the righteousness of God” — then we have merely become fools. If we become angry, then rather let us slow down — and remain silent for a time. We know that “one who hurries his footsteps errs” (Proverbs 19:2) — and Proverbs 29:20 says,
Do you see a person who is hasty with his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
James 1:21-25 continues,
21 Therefore, ridding yourselves of all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not just hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who has looked intently at the perfect law, the law of freedom, and has continued in it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an active doer, this person will be blessed in what he does.
James considers a ridding of anger to be a ridding of “filthiness and all that remains of wickedness.” He considers that in order to accept such a message, that we would have to receive it with humility. Indeed, anger — and self-justification within that anger — is antithetical to humility. We should rather receive the word implanted that it may save our souls. It is remarkable that James would be so dramatic in the matter of anger to exhort us to have our souls saved.
James continues to explain that if we rid ourselves of anger, then we may become doers of the word indeed. Verily, he said that “a man’s anger does not bring about the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20) Thus we are scarcely able to exhort anyone ever if we are unable to do so with peace and calm. We must be rid of anger if we are to become doers of the word — because part of doing the word is exhorting others out of desire for their good.
The Lord tells us that “the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.” (Luke 22:26) Everything the Christian does must be done in service to others. Venting anger at others certainly does not constitute a serve toward them — but rather, a service toward our own fleshly desires.
Often we read the very many times in the Scripture where we are exhorted not to be angry — and to treat our brethren without malice. Yet as often as we see these things, we also go our way without ever applying them to our own lives. James tells us that when we act in this manner, we do not practice “the perfect law, the law of freedom.” We will not be blessed in what we do.
How useless then has the Scripture become for us that we forget it as soon as we turn away from it? We become like Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:2-5,
2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, slanderers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power; avoid such people as these.
When we do not act in accordance with the word of God, we deny the power of the word of God. Note that the power of the word of God manifests itself in our ability to actually act in a Christian manner. The power of the word of God is not some esoteric truth hidden somewhere in Scripture which we hold to in our minds without having any effect on the way we live.
When we think this way, we become like Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:7, “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” When we act in any of the manner of verses 2-5, then we certainly have not come to a knowledge of the truth — no matter how truthful we consider the knowledge we hold within our own minds.
Thus James gives his profound conclusion in James 1:26,
If anyone thinks himself to be religious, yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
Yes, if we cannot even bridle our tongues, then nothing we believe matters in the slightest. Our religion — no matter how truthful or sacred we hold it in our own minds — becomes as useless to us as salt which has lost its saltiness. Interesting that the Lord would conclude His teaching on gentleness, purity and mercy with the words in Matthew 5:13,
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by people.
If we cannot be gentle, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:5-9), then we are worthy only “to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by people.” Indeed, our “religion is worthless.” That is a hard pill to swallow for all of us who hold our own religion high within our own minds — there to be exalted — when in fact we merely exalt foolishness by our deeds (Proverbs 14:29).
Moreover, if a religion which cannot produce self-control is worthless, then how much more worthless is a religion which does not even call for self control in the first place?
IRON SHARPENS IRON
Now we have come a long, roundabout way to reach this point. What does Proverbs 27:17 really mean for us? So far we have covered the following:
- Unrestrained anger is always sin, no matter how we may justify it
- We will face persecution for the Kingdom’s sake
- Facing persecution for the Kingdom’s sake incurs blessing upon ourselves
- We must not revile others in return for persecuting us
- We must actively remove ourselves from those who exhibit unbridled anger
- We must actively remove ourselves from those who engage in willful sin after rebuking them
- We must not be hasty to credit anyone, that our credit does not become a curse for us
- We must show an exacting and right judgment toward the character of others
- We must exhort and rebuke our Christian brethren with gentleness and a desire for their own good
- We cannot exhort and rebuke in anger because it does not achieve the purposes of the Kingdom
Simultaneous to all of these points, none of us live in perfect conformance to all of them. We all find ourselves in different stages of our Christian walk. Even when we hold these principles as true within our minds, somehow we may still fail to keep them when our emotions rise up within our flesh. In other words, knowing something does not necessarily even guarantee that we are able to live in accordance with our own knowledge.
Yet we should also note how when we put all of the above points together, we create the perfect environment for Christians to grow and learn among one another — despite one-another’s faults. When we keep these points, we place our lives in service to the Christian growth of others.
Each of us takes it upon ourselves never to be angry. We all accept that when we are persecuted, we do not revile others and we even consider it a blessing upon ourselves — thus never having the excuse to vent our anger. We keep from those who do not live in accordance with our own religion — that they do not influence us to our own destruction. We do not credit others in haste merely because we agree with them — or consider they may benefit us somehow — that we are not burdened by partiality toward them when we must remove ourselves from them. We must exhort one another with a desire for good toward them — never to appease our own anger.
If we all adopted this attitude, we do not begrudge the friction we create with one another. We have mercy on one another when falling into sin and temptation causes another to be angry toward us. We freely speak exhortation to one another. We hold one another’s good as our own good.
Nothing we do toward one another is some kind of personal grudge — we accept another’s exhortation as their own best effort to follow the Word of God. However, we may accept their intention as a best effort only when they do it free of anger. When they do it with anger, we do not revile them but exhort them, showing true love and gentleness. If they continue in anger, we merely remove ourselves from them.
As an important stipulation, we do not accept other forms of sin in one another for the sake of peace. Some of us expect a kind of mutual loyalty or partiality where no matter how we live our lives, so long as we are “nice” to one another we may overlook one another’s sins. No, we are commanded to exhort others for their sin — not overlook it for the sake of “peace.”
We also do not use commands for peace as an excuse to manipulate others in treating us how we want them to treat us for our own benefit. When we exhort another to peace, we do so for their own benefit — not our own. When we exhort someone merely because we don’t like how they make us feel, we exhibit only a self-love — not a love for others.
When we understand this, we understand that it doesn’t actually matter how anyone else ever treats us because it is our glory to overlook the dishonor they incur against us (Proverbs 19:11). Our exhortation for others never has anything to do how they make us feel, but rather how they ought to act within the Kingdom of God that they themselves — by our service to them — might stand before the Lord Jesus spotless and blameless in peace (2 Peter 3:14).
When others exhort us — whether in anger or peace — we consider their words objectively, weighing up if we may learn something or not — regardless of the tone. That is the free gift we have within ourselves when we truly follow the Word of God in peace and righteousness — we may objectively consider all information set before us, keeping the good and throwing out the bad.
When we keep to the principles of Christian fellowship — knowing full well we are all imperfect and learning — and we will cause friction with one another — but being single-minded in our desire toward the good of the Lord Jesus and the good of the Kingdom — then we offer our lives up as iron for other Christians to sharpen themselves against. We scrape and scour with one another, not begrudging the friction, but trusting that each of us will become sharp implements for the Lord Jesus’ purposes and not our own.
If we keep the Lord Jesus and His teaching firmly within our sight, then we will ultimately come to be with others who do the same. If we rub against a piece of iron which does not show a desire to be sharp for the Kingdom, then we no longer offer ourselves to rub against it. If that iron later repents of its anger — or lack of desire for the Lord Jesus foremost — then we may continue to sharpen one another.
The principles of Christian fellowship we have lain out here can benefit only those who mutually keep to its precepts. So long as we can put our fleshly whims aside and fellowship with one another in Spirit and in truth. Psalm 37:7-11 tells us,
7 Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;
Do not get upset because of one who is successful in his way,
Because of the person who carries out wicked schemes.
8 Cease from anger and abandon wrath;
Do not get upset; it leads only to evildoing.
9 For evildoers will be eliminated,
But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.
10 Yet a little while and the wicked person will be no more;
And you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there.
11 But the humble will inherit the land
And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
If we stay humble, we will inherit the land together with the Lord Jesus as king. Let us wait for Him and His perfect justice — judging rightly by not judging punitive action against another.
We demonstrate a true love for one another and desire another’s good in the Kingdom — but we do so according to the Lord Jesus’ rules, that we know a man more intimately and test him before crediting him — and if so, that credit comes from the following of the Lord Jesus. If our intentions are pure toward the Lord Jesus first, and then to one another, then the iron will sharpen the iron, and we will all be sharper tools for the Kingdom.