“Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that” (2 Corinthians 11:18-21 ESV).
As we continue our look at the characteristics exhibited by the false apostles in first-century Corinth, we now come to a graphically descriptive phrase: “…you bear it if someone… devours you.” One dictionary provides us with three negative definitions of the word “devour”…
- to eat up greedily or ravenously
- to use up or destroy as if by eating
- to prey upon (1)
When used in this context, the concept of “devouring something” involves an object that is (or has been) subsumed into something else. In other words, an entity that has been devoured is no longer separate and distinct; it has now become an indistinguishable part of something else.
If we were to apply this idea in a spiritual sense, we might say that the false teachers in Corinth sought to enforce a policy of strict uniformity among the members of the church. However, that approach effectively served to eliminate any sense of diversity or individuality within the congregation. This was something that placed these teachers in direct opposition to Paul the Apostle’s message from 1 Corinthians 11:27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it” (CSB, see 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
This reminds us that conformity to the image of Christ does not necessarily imply uniformity among the members of God’s family. For instance, we should recognize that there may be a wide variety of personal, cultural, and emotional differences among Jesus’ followers. These other members of God’s family may not think, act, or communicate in a manner that is similar to our own. Some may be more or less mature and others may not hold similar attitudes or opinions.
This may explain why the New Testament book of Romans reminds us to, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10 NIV). This does not mean that we will always get along well with one another (see Acts 15:36-41) but it does mean that we should reject the kind of enforced spiritual uniformity that underlies this passage.