August 25, 2014.
As I have been growing in the faith over the past years, there are a few things that I have come to realize about how we handle what we believe. I am in no way an expert, but I have made some observations that I think are very helpful if applied to a religious discussion, especially if two (or more) sides don’t agree. There are 5 concepts that I think are beneficial to take a step back and consider before we dive head first into a discussion. Some of these I have learned from first hand experience and others I have thankfully gained from the insight of others. I only hope that I might be able to do the same for you.
1. Arguments get you nowhere.
Way back during my freshman year of high school, one of our favorite things to do when our band director was not there and we had a substitute or something was to get in a big circle and talk bible. Not all the band would do this, of course, just a group of us who were religiously minded. And when I say “talk bible,” I really mean get into a heated argument about some topic (or several) that we disagreed on. We would have three or four people represented from different fellowships and we would just sit around and throw bible in each other’s faces. “Oh yeah, well what about Acts 2:38?” “John 3:16!” “Colossians 2!” “Ephesians 2:8-9!” “I Peter 1!” “Hebrews 10!” Well, you get the picture. We would go back and forth, getting all worked up, and you know what would come from all of it? Nothing. No one changed their mind about anything, no one even considered the other view point, and certainly no one left those circles feeling like they had successfully proclaimed the gospel.
That’s what arguments are good for- nothing. When you have an argument, you are setting up the other person not to listen to what you say, as you are not going to listen to what they have to say. The point of a discussion is to have a free exchange of ideas and weigh each matter thoroughly. The point of an argument is to win. Jesus didn’t care about winning arguments. He cared about winning souls. Remember the rich young ruler who came to Jesus asking what he had to do to inherit eternal life? After the rich man said that he had kept the commandments from his youth up, Jesus looked on him and loved him, even though he knew he hadn’t. What is the greatest command? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. What did the rich young ruler love more than God? His material blessings. Jesus could have set out to win an argument here and prove to the young man that he was wrong. But he didn’t. He looked on him and loved him, and then told him a calm truth. The man went away sorrowful (ref. Matt. 19). Arguments do not harbor the love of Christ.
2. Conviction is good, but arrogance is divisive.
Before I go on, I want to say that having conviction about your beliefs is important. We need to know why we believe what we do and be able to tell others what that reason is. Paul has this to say when it comes to matters of opinion:
“The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
However, arrogance in our beliefs will destroy us. Actually, in this very passage Paul is talking about passing judgment on other Christians about what they eat or the days they esteem as holy. Arrogance and love are mutually exclusive of one another when it comes to Christianity. We need to have our own beliefs, but when we are discussing those beliefs with others, it cannot come from pride. We cannot think as though we have so much of a higher understanding of the topic at hand then the other person in the discussion, even if what we believe is the truth. If you believe a certain topic that is plainly laid out in the bible and have many scriptural references to support your case, you can still do so much more damage than good by being arrogant about it. The way we handle situations gravely impacts the amount of influence we have over the other party. If you just shove bible down someones throat, they are much less likely to agree with you even if you are 100% accurate. Often, you will not save a soul this way, but rather, you are likely to push one far, far away.
But the place where I think a lot of our arrogance comes from is those beliefs that we hold on tightly to without a strong biblical basis. This is what Paul says to the Corinthians:
“I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”
(I Corinthians 4:6-7)
When we have a biblical discussion about something and seldom actually bring up the bible, we are simply arguing over opinions, and opinions lead to pride. “Well, this is what I think.” “No! I don’t believe that all!” “I completely disagree.” I don’t mean to be rash, but who cares what you believe? Is it what God said? Can you show me the passage you get it from? No offense, but I don’t trust what the word of man has to say. I trust the word of God. When we go beyond what is written, we enter a dangerous territory that almost begs for pride and division. The Corinthian church seemed to have a huge problem with this, as they were creating factions who claimed to follow Paul, Apollos, Peter or even Christ and not working as one body to obey the Lord (ref. I Cor. 1). They were going beyond what is written. Often, we make the same mistake.
3. Our judgments do not save or condemn anyone directly.
“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”
(I Corinthians 4:3-5)
Why was Paul pleading with the Corinthians to stop arguing over opinions? Because we have no power to save or condemn. What is it to you that I don’t believe what you are doing is correct? Will my judgment alone send you to hell? Of course not. Now, I do believe that it is my duty to bring up what I think it is you are incorrect about (as I believe it is your duty as well for me) in love and show you in the scriptures why I believe you are wrong (see the next chapter for Paul’s thorough discourse on this matter). But it must always be done in love, and even still, my judgment does not condemn you directly. I don’t have that power. No human does.
However, there is a flip side to this. If no human has the power to condemn anyone, the opposite must be true. Notice what Paul says: “In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.” Just because we think we are right does not mean that we are. The Lord judges us all, and that is precisely why we cannot go beyond what is written. Our feelings and beliefs cannot acquit anyone just as much as they cannot condemn anyone. We have to go to the word of God to see if we are right or wrong. It is His word that will judge us in the last day, not ours.
So yes, we are to help one another in love by searching and studying the scriptures. But the ultimate judge is the Lord, not what I think and not what you think.
4. If Jewish rabbi’s and Pharisees were wrong, we can be too.
This is a tough one because we all think that we are right. I was listening to a sermon series on Revelation a while back and the preacher made this point about prophecy: if the top religious scholars of Jesus’ day were wrong about who the coming Messiah was though they had all the prophecy, who are we to think our interpretation of the prophecy in Revelation is absolutely correct? This is a very valid point that I think can apply to much more than just prophecy. The Jewish leaders who were supposed to have it all correct in Jesus’ time were wrong. In Matt. 23, Jesus gives seven woes to the Scribes and Pharisees because they were not practicing the law of God like they should have been. They had missed the point, though they had studied and been trained in the law. Just as an example of what Jesus said:
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred?And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.”
Contrary to popular belief, Jesus never got on to the Scribes and Pharisees because they were keeping the Law. He got upset with them because they were doing it wrong and had missed the entire point. Now these were men who had been trained from a young age in Jewish law and customs. I have been told that one of the tasks that an aspiring Rabbi had to complete was the memorization of the entire Torah. Can you imagine memorizing Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy? If you ever wondered how Paul could just pull Old Testament scripture from out of the blue, it was because he was trained to do so. But they were still wrong.
Now, compare their instruction, teaching and learning to how much study the average Christian does on any given topic. It is sad to say that I don’t believe we could compare very easily. But we still think we are so right about what we believe that we want to argue and fight about it! I have been learning that the more you study the bible and all the inter workings and connections of this marvelous book, the more you realize that you really don’t know everything, and how you can be very, very wrong about something laid out in Scripture. I think there is beauty in this, which I’ll explain in the next point. But, who are we to be so arrogant to claim authority of the correct viewpoint on a hard issue. Are there simple things to understand in the bible? Yes. And I will teach you those by reading you Scripture. But there are many deeper subjects that might look easy to understand at first, but the implications that they rest on are so profound. Whenever you enter a discussion, just remember that it is possible that you are wrong. Either your wrong, the other person is wrong, or you both are wrong. Truth exists. It’s our job to search it out, and sometimes we will fail at this. That’s okay. Just keep trying and studying.
5. If we can know everything about God, He is a god too small.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
A friend of mine said this during my freshman or sophomore year of college. He said that he didn’t want to be able to understand every thing that was in the bible because if he could, then the God of the bible would be a very small God. How true this statement is. Who is man to know all the thoughts of God? Perhaps one day we will be given this ultimate knowledge when we are perfected in the age to come, but as it stands now, man is fallible. And it stands to reasons that if man is fallible, then there is not way for him to comprehend fully an infallible God. Sure, there is much that we can learn and understand, but there will still be concepts and teachings that we cannot compute completely.
Wether you want to believe it or not, there are things in the bible that are hard. Do you understand why God let Hezekiah live for longer then he was supposed to, even after telling him he was going to die? Do you know why the penalty for the rape of a virgin who was not betrothed under the old law was 50 shekels of silver and taking her as his wife? Do you know why a testament can only go into effect after the death of the testator? These might seem to be easy answers at first, but when you really get into them, you might find that the answer is much more elusive than you thought. Certainly there are a lot more questions that are hard to find the full answer to than just these as well. And I think there is something beautiful in that- the fact that God’s reasoning is above our reasoning. I think one day we will find our the answers, and they will blow our mind.
There is a character in the bible who, at least at some level, thought he knew the mind of God. He called for an answer, and an answer he got:
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Job repented in dust and ashes, signs of distress and humility. I think it would do us well to take some of this humility upon ourselves.
I hope this list has helped you in some way. Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have conviction, nor am I saying that you shouldn’t teach those who are in error. I have written plenty of posts on that. But we should consider these five points before we do so, in order to humble ourselves before a discussion and set our minds in the right place before entering a potentially fragile situation. I pray that we can learn to be humble and season our words with grace at all times, so that the glory of our Lord be spread to the ends of the earth. I pray that he gives both you and I wisdom from above that we might set our minds on Christ and carry out his will.
Suggested Daily Reading: Matthew 19, 23, I Corinthians 4-5.
Grace and peace.