Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes … now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (I Corinthians 13:9-12)
These past three weeks Terry, Neil and Ike have challenged us regarding how we hold our convictions, how we ought to listen, and the theological mandate for unity. Terry beat me to one of my favorite passages – Romans 14. So let me focus for a couple minutes on Paul’s way of life; that is, the “better way” (I Corinthians 12:31). The Corinthians were a divided bunch: divided over knowledge (who was right), gifts (who had the best ones) and piety (who was the most). Paul repeatedly warned the church against division (chapter 12 of his letter reminds them that the church is a family of diverse people who are united as Jesus’ body). Each part is equally necessary, and no part should look down on another. In his book The Significance of Silence, Arnold T Olson declares that the Free Church Statement of Faith was intentionally silent on those issues that had divided believers: equal piety, knowledge and commitment to the Word. He reminds the reader that there were “to be no second-class members” in Free churches. Thus, while they had strong convictions forged out of persecution, they refused to break fellowship with those who disagreed with them on a myriad of issues that divided other churches.
This sounds much like Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians. His words in chapter 13 are not primarily intended for weddings – they are intended to challenge a church where members found reasons to view others as second class. Paul wants them to choose the better way of love. And so, he says that love is better than spiritual gifts, knowledge and piety. “If I could speak all the languages of earth… if I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge…but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. Love is patient and kind, love Is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude…prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!” Love moves us to be patient, kind, humble, and respectful. Further, in the verses I quoted above, he argues there are good reasons to choose the way of love over arrogant, dogmatic knowledge. In short, our knowledge is partial, incomplete. As mere mortals, we only see part of the big picture – and it is fuzzy at that!
Moving from argument to discussion makes perfect sense when we realize that we are not qualified to argue (with 100% certainty) our positions and opinions dogmatically.
We are mere mortals who have at best a partial, fuzzy knowledge and understanding. Further, even if we knew 100% of all there is to know on every topic in the universe, God’s call on us is to pursue the way of love. That means arrogance, rudeness, and unkindness all ought to be off the table for God’s people. Love of our brothers and sisters, humility regarding what we think we know, and gentleness and respect (see I Peter 3:15) are the default settings for those who “set apart Christ as Lord”. The way of love is the “better way” that moves us from argumentation (meant to belittle and defeat) to loving discussion (that seeks to clarify and understand). If our conversations generate more heat than light, then we are likely not practicing the better way.
EFCC Executive Director