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 4:20-21)
Would you rather have a rod or love and a spirit of gentleness? Is it a trick question? It’s not intended to be. It’s intended more as a promise, a caution, a heart check. It wasn’t the choice of those who were addressed. They couldn’t just say, “We’ll take the love and gentleness please.” The deciding factor wasn’t their words but their actions.
It’s like asking a child who is misbehaving, “Would you rather get in trouble or move on and get to do something you really want to do? It’s up to you. Correct you’re behavior and we’ll move on, read a book, play a game. Continue as is and you’ll be disciplined.” How the child responds is his choice. And his choice determines the outcome.
Giving the choice isn’t about manipulation. It’s not about bribing or piling on guilt. It’s a reminder of what’s coming next. It’s a reality check. It’s stating the facts. We often make it an emotional thing. We give reasons for the behavior and exceptions for the consequences. We talk about how tired the child is or how they just got home from the doctor. Maybe his parents are in the middle of a divorce, or he lost his pet. Then there’s the “he’s-just-being-a-boy” excuse. We make the same kind of excuses with ourselves and others dealing with spiritual discipline.
We’re going through a trial and just haven’t spent as much time in God’s Word as we know we should. We got distracted by the argument going on in the church. Someone else told us what we’re doing is okay. Or “we’re sinners, so we’re going to mess up.”
Reality check: we’re still responsible for our behavior. We know God knows all the conditions around us. He’s not surprised. We also know He responds with abundant grace. If we got the consequences we actually deserved, we wouldn’t even be where we are today. So let’s not blame God for the possibility of the rod. God is just and corrective. He extends grace and mercy, but His love also includes admonishment and rebuke.
God’s love is powerful. He doesn’t just say something, then respond with silence. He can do what He says He can do. And He keeps His promises. He does what He says He will do. There is power in His words, because there is power in Him. He’s not like a parent or grandparent who gives the choice of “Behave and we’ll move on. Continue to misbehave, and I’ll discipline you” then doesn’t respond in a way that’s consistent with the admonition. We repeatedly fail to back up what we say with power. And we send a message of weakness every time. We teach that what we say really doesn’t matter, and the next time, our words are ignored. We get frustrated and don’t know why, but if we think about it for a minute, we’ll understand clearly.
We might try to ignore God’s words, but it’s not for lack of consistency and power. He keeps His promises, and He follows through on consequences, both the ones we view as positive and the ones we don’t. So, what do you desire: the rod or love and a spirit of gentleness?
Dear God, help me not to avoid Your will. You give me a lot of choices, and I want to give serious weight to each choice. I don’t want to see You as a weak, inconsistent parent I can manipulate. You are powerful, in Your words and Your will. Give me admonition. Give me hope. I commit my obedience to You.