“Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power. What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Corinthians 4:18–21, NASB95PARA)
In verse 6 Paul wrote that he had written to them so that none of them would be puffed up against another. Here he is addressing those who had gone past that. They had already become puffed up. The word translated here as “arrogant” is the same Greek word previously translated as “puffed up”, with “puffed up” or becoming inflated being more descriptive of what was happening. These people had an inflated view of themselves and they were pressing their views on others. It’s as if they took their pushed-out chests and forcibly backed others down.
The reason given that they felt free to do this is that they believed there was no one with any authority who would stand against them. In their eyes someone with the authority of Paul wasn’t going to return, and they were free to press their own views in their own ways. But Paul was not intending to let them continue in their bullying. It was his intention, if the Lord willed, that he would come and see for himself what was actually happening and deal with it firsthand. Then their real power, or lack thereof, would be revealed as their words gave way to the God-given authority of Paul who came in the power of Christ.
Words might seem powerful, but in reality, they are nothing compared to the power of God. Jesus did not come and talk a good show. He went to the cross, was crucified, buried, and resurrected from the dead. He proved that as “the Word” He had the power not only to forgive sins but to give life and direct the steps of those lives. These self-exalted believers were going to be brought face to face with the real power of God unless they changed.
It was their choice how they were going to be met by Paul at his coming. He could either come as their disciplinarian appointed as an apostle of Christ or as someone who loved them dearly and treated them gently. The amazing thing is that if they turned they would not have to answer for what they had done but for how they responded once having received this written reproof. If they continued in their haughtiness then they would be brought low, but if they accepted his correction, softened their hearts and walked rightly with one another then they would be met as brothers in Christ.
In the church this is probably the most difficult thing to deal with. When one person stands in open opposition it is the role of church leadership as shepherds and overseers to call them back to right walking before God and with one another. This does not mean that every disagreement is a matter for church discipline. What it does mean is that when one becomes openly and persistently disruptive, including the teaching of contrary doctrines, that the leadership is put in a place that some form of action needs to be pursued.
God’s desire for us is that we learn His truth and walk in it. When we see where we have gone off track, we are make the effort to get back on track. Then we are to continue to walk accordingly. This is what we read in passages like 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God [literally “God-breathed”] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NASB95)
Paul wrote these words to Timothy and he encouraged others to respond to them even here in the midst of a church that was in real need of growing up in Christ. These principles were true for them, and they are true for us whether these points of change are big and blatant or small and not seeable by others. God’s plan is that as we are shown something inconsistent with His way according to His Word given to us that we then move to change such that we align ourselves with His truth.
It is the principle of putting off, having our minds renewed, and putting on that Paul wrote of in Ephesians 4:22-24 “that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:22–24, NASB95)
This was Paul’s instruction to the puffed-up people of Corinth and it is our instruction for change as well.