But Paul realizes that many professed believers have yet much to learn about gaining Christ and attaining to the resurrection from the dead. With such disparity in our respective points of understanding and maturity, we’ll inevitably encounter believers whose perspectives differ from ours. Some we will recognize as “younger” than us in the faith. Others, if we are indeed mature enough to have even a modicum of humility, we’ll recognize are “older” than us, more godly, wiser and Christlike.
To those of us who may be relatively more mature and who occasionally encounter others of a less developed faith, Paul enjoins: Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. (v15,16) How thankful I am to have known more mature Christians who did not dismiss my misguided yet developing grasp of Scripture and my immature even incorrect practical applications of the Word as I’ve grown in Christ. Many things I once believed about doctrine and the Christian life, I no longer hold. I benefited from more mature brethren (some who are chronologically younger than me) who kept living by the standard to which they had matured while allowing me to be further taught by God in areas of my relative immaturity. I’m humbled to realize, having been a believer for several decades and a pastor for more than a quarter century, that I yet have not already obtained it or have become perfect – so I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
By God’s grace, I am sufficiently discerning enough, by and large, to identify many of those despised evil working dogs who threaten God’s people with false teaching. I pray for maturation in discernment as Satan’s lies come repackaged in new deceptive and enticing garb. I’m thankful that I can learn from others more discerning than I. Like Paul, I too despise false teachers. Paul describes them: they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. It is easy for my ire to rise even as I type their Scriptural profile, but as I sense my righteous indignation surge, my conscience gives my anger a speeding ticket, for I have raced past a Pauline standard which he attained and in which I am, sadly, yet quite immature. I raced past the words, for many walk, of whom I often told you and now tell you even weeping. Paul could not consider false teachers and those deceived by them, without weeping for them. He sees them on the threshold of the impending return of our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ who is about to execute judgment and transform the body of our humble state into the body of His glory by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
Paul could not engage in dry-eyed polemics. The dogs and false circumcision who so abused him, discredited his ministry and threatened the church were indeed enemies of the cross of Christ. But Christ had taught Paul to love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:27,28). Here is a standard attained by Paul which measures me as being yet quite immature. I’m still waiting to grow up in my knowledge of Christ to where I can genuinely, consistently weep for the enemies of the cross.
How’s that for a polemic? What response would we get were those who despise Christ to see us weeping for them as we perceive them standing on the brink of Judgment, under the wrath of God? Are they wrong? Yes. Are they a threat from which the church needs protection? Yes. Can we engage them in polemics without weeping for them? Sadly… Yes. So, I press on…Alan Dunn, Pastor Grace Covenant Baptist Church Flemington, NJ