1Cor 4:12b-13 and 16 . . . when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; (13) when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. . . . (16) I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me.
Recently a situation occurred in a denomination where a venerable long-time leader in that church was attacked in print by fellow elders for something he said in a sermon at the founding of that denomination some 40 years ago. What he said in the sermon is not germane to our topic here, nor is it worthy to be criticized. What is noteworthy however was his response. So far as I can tell, he did nothing. He did not fight back. He did not file charges of slander in the ecclesiastical court, though he certainly had that right. He did not defend himself.
The denomination in question has a mechanism for discipline. If someone sins, charges can be filed against that person. A wrong may be righted, and the sinner can be called to account for his sins. None of that happened in this case. I guess the older gentleman is following Paul’s course outlined above and allowing God to vindicate him in due time.
But think how hard it would be to follow the instructions above. Enduring persecution is difficult enough, but blessing someone who has abused you? And even worse would be trying to reconcile with the person who has slandered you, though Paul does not give the least indication that the slanderer has repented of his words. So we are to attempt to be at peace and relational normalcy with someone who is currently at war against our character?
“Bless” in verse 12b means to “speak well of” or “praise”. In other words, do not return the reviler’s abuse with abuse of your own. Do not lower yourself to his level.
And “conciliate” actually means “entreat”, or even “pray”. Thus, Paul’s instruction may either mean to call the other person to yourself attempting to repair the relationship, or it may mean simply to pray for him. Few would argue against trying the former, and if it fails to pursue the latter. Either way, Paul’s words here echo his commands in Romans.
Romans 12:14, 17-19, 21 Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not. . . . (17) Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. (18) If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. (19) Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. . . . (21) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This course of action Paul lays out for us is not mere theory to him. He lived it. He said “be imitators of me.”
We will not be able to “be at peace with all men.” There are many who would resist any and all peace making efforts. We are not responsible, however, for how they respond. Our responsibility is “so far as it depends on you”. Be imitators of Paul.