There must, indeed, be factions among you, so that the approved among you may be recognized.
1 Corinthians 11:19
How do you behave in conflict? Are you quick to become angry? Do you take sides before you hear everyone’s perspective? Or, do you go to the other extreme and mix truth and error? The scripture above is clear: how we behave in conflict reveals our character, whether or not God approves of our values, thoughts, and actions.
The word translated “approved” in the text above is dokimos, an adjective, and along with the verb form dokimazo is used several times in the New Testament. It means to be tested and approved, and was used originally of metals that were tested to prove what they were really made of.
The word is often used in Scripture to show that what we approve of in life reveals our character. For example, in Romans 1:28 the root word appears twice in describing the fallenness of human society, once when it says “they did not see fit to acknowledge God,” or, literally “approve God” meaning that they did not think highly enough of His standard of righteousness to be obedient to it. Again, the adjective is used when it relates the result of their rejection of God, that God gave them over to “a depraved mind.” “Depraved” is the negative form, adokimos, meaning, literally, an “unapproved mind.” What we let in and what we keep out of our lives reveals the values of our hearts.
The word is also used to describe the importance of being approved of God, such as 2 Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God…” There the emphasis is on how we handle the word of truth, or the Holy Scriptures. In 1 Corinthians 11:19, however, the emphasis is on how we handle conflict in the church and in life. We are in those moments being tested to see what we are truly made of, whether we are allowing the Spirit of God to transform our character into the spiritual image of Christ. Conflicts in the church are often characterized by ugly scenes of harsh accusations against one another, taking insignificant matters and blowing them up, magnifying the slightest discrepancy to make it seem much greater than it truly was. Grace covers over the sins of others; Love is patient and kind and does not take offense quickly. But in conflicts, such thoughts are sidelined and vicious, exaggerated, and often unsubstantiated attacks on others are common.
In God’s providence He allows trials to reveal the mature among us. A God-approved spiritual leader is revealed when in the midst of chaos and meanness he or she is able to retain a clear vision of God’s character and God’s will and respond ethically and wisely to the situation. Approved leaders are able to make clear decisions that maintain God’s standards, but that also protect the unity of the church and the dignity of God’s people. Paul set the example for us all in the words the Spirit inspired him to write in the letter of 1 Corinthians – clearly addressing the problems, even warning and rebuking those who were in the wrong, but lovingly encouraging the entire congregation at the same time.
Lord, teach us to keep our eyes on You at all times, to be slow to speak words that might harm others, to be slow to anger, and to be quick to listen and pray. Strengthen us in times of testing, that we might be more useful to You and Your work. Amen.