There is a difference between having an argument and being an argumentative person.
There are times when we need to “argue” and even “fight” for the truth or an important idea. But there is a difference between having an argument and being an argumentative person. In Jude 3 we read, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude’s readers were under attack by people that were distorting the gospel of Jesus. There was a need to fight for the truth, and that is what motivated him to write. Unfortunately, some folks take passages like this as permission, or even a mandate to fight. About anything and everything. And this has never been more apparent than during the age of social media.
There will always be enemies to battle. But the argumentative person has a polarizing effect. They can turn every conversation into a debate and every person into a potential enemy. In the margin of my Bible at the end of the book of Titus, I have a list of these passages that all have to do with the problem of being an quarrelsome person. They are listed below (ESV) with some observations.
I Tim 1:4, 6-7 “…nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith… 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”
This passage strikes me because it points to the danger of speculations. There are some things in scripture that are really clear and really important. But other things are less clear. Many Christian movements and denominations are based on speculation. People fight about the implications of Bible texts, and about the implications of implications. And strangely the people that know the least about a subject are the quickest to voice their opinion. It has been said, “more heresy is preached in application than exegesis.” How true. Controversy is more common and more damaging when we wander away from things that are clearest.
I Tim 2:8 “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.”
We cannot come to God rightly if we have ongoing problems with our brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, frequent arguments and debates lead to anger and fractured fellowship. It prevents us from entering into prayer the way He intends.
The argumentative person can turn every conversation into a debate and every person into a potential enemy.
I Tim 6:3-5 “3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”
Some people crave controversy. This is NOT a virtue. And these kinds of people love to argue about words. Of course words are important. But these kind of people see words as opportunities to act like lawyers looking for loopholes. What is startling about this passage is how it describes the fruit of quarreling, “envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction.” All of the works of the flesh thrive in the atmosphere of controversy.
2 Tim 2:14-16 “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness.”
Here we are actually commanded not to argue. And the reason is all the nasty fruit: The “ruin of the hearers,” and “more and more ungodliness.” An approach to Christianity that is constantly fighting destroys people, and leads to nothing good. Passages like this should make us pause before entering the fray and ask if it is really worth it. Being a brawler is not an innocent pastime.
2 Tim 2:24-25 “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.”
Here Paul is clear that those in ministry shouldn’t be quarrelsome. And when they do need to step into an argument they need to do with patience and gentleness. The intent should always be constructive, one of love and hope for the other person. The desire to destroy others is in conflict is desperately evil.
Titus 3:2, 9-10 “…speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people…9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him.”
Sadly arguments often lead to insults and rudeness. We move from arguing for the truth, to verbally attacking people. In the process we lose track of courtesy. We are to avoid these kinds of controversies. Some things are not worth arguing over because there is little to be gained. They are “unprofitable and worthless.” This is one of the few times in the Bible we are told to avoid people. “I’m sorry I can’t be around you, you are a trouble maker.”
Tim Keller wrote a helpful series on this called, “Gospel Polemics.” You can find it here.
Photo courtesy of the Museum of Hartlepool