Being in a seminary, I’ve noticed that there are quite a few people who seem to enjoy delving into their differences. When rising tensions are apparent, fake smiles appear, eyebrows raise, and those arguing seem to enjoy it. It’s as if each member of the debate steps into the oratory ring. As they dance around each other with their words, they block hits by ignoring the other persons point, and they throw (what they imagine to be) K.O. punches. I cannot help but feel that beneath the smiles is a hungering pride that would see others at a loss, for the sake of ego. Make no mistake, in this age of social media and glorified individualism there is a rising tide of those who love to argue amongst Christian circles. Like money, debate in and of itself can be good under the right circumstances, but when we begin to love it our hearts fall to the sin of pride. At the core of that love, is an unhealthy love for self that yields disunity. Again conflict is not wrong, and I believe it is necessary to produce resolution. However, the lover of debate will never reach resolution, because he is not in it to build up but to tear down.
What can we really do about this as Christians? Do we just sit back and watch those who love debate divide us, or has God given us a way to preserve unity? We can uncover three simple preservation tactics from 2 Timothy 2:23-25, “But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance, leading to the knowledge of the truth.”
First, we can refuse. One time I spoke up in class to voice a strong opinion, later my fellow student excitedly poked my shoulder, and basically petitioned me to argue with him. It was at that point that I realized his heart was not in the right place, but unfortunately I chose to indulge him. As I continued to “talk” to him, it became more and more apparent that he was rather enjoying challenging what I believed, as he twisted my words into straw man arguments. Looking back, I realize that I should have listened to the warning of the Holy Spirit, and refused to participate in nothing less than a fruitless quarrel masked with smiles. Sometimes we must refuse to step into the ring of the debater to preserve unity.
Second, we can correct with gentleness. If a healthy conflict does emerge, we can do our part to make sure it doesn’t go south by responding with respect and care. The Bible says in Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” It seems that in todays world we have figured out all of the ways to make it look like we are being kind, while still completely stirring the pot with our words. We’ve learned how to wrap up self righteousness and pride in a cute little box, whether it be on social media, on the phone, or in person. We can help stop the facade by exemplifying true gentleness starting with the heart, and that leads us to the third preservation tactic.
Third, we can set our hearts to fulfill God’s purpose, not ours. If we are going to be able to refuse the lover of debate, and answer an argument with gentleness, then we have to get our hearts right first. 2 Timothy 2:25 says, “…with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them to repentance, leading to the knowledge of the truth.” God’s purpose is to grant repentance and truth for the one in error, not a “win” for the one who is right. Far too often, we get this backwards as Christians in churches, seminaries, and social media sites.
Each preservation tactic from 2 timothy really comes down to Godly love for the one in opposition, rather than selfish pride. We would do well to remember to refuse to engage in foolish speculations that bring about quarrels, and to treat necessary conflicts with care, while bearing a godly perspective.