Inadequate justifications for arguing.

September 29, 2014.

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
(Romans 13:8-10)

Over the past few weeks I have noticed an elevation in confrontation and arguments amongst Christians in certain circles of which I am a part. Quite frankly, I’m getting tired of it. Is this really what we have come to? Is this the love of Christ, that we bicker back and forth with one another about the same old things that we never have really reached a satisfying conclusion? I’ve noticed a rise in the level of arrogance on both sides, which often comes from creating and establishing a strong defense, at least in the eyes of the defender, especially when that defense is challenged. I see arrogance from the “traditional” side as they hold fast what they have always been taught and I see arrogance from the “progressive” side who are throwing off traditions and reading scripture in a new light. Both types of arrogance are unwarranted.

That’s the thing. There is a reason our advisory is called the deceiver. Even when we are fully in the word of God, he throws in a bit of arrogance and pride, and we all fall down. He is good at whay he does, but I tend to think we make his job very, very easy. How often are we prone to pride? How often are we prone to an arrogant spirit. I believe I have discussed before how no one believes that what they are doing is wrong. Does that make sense? I don’t think anyone (well, anyone who is without guilt and is in the right relationship with God at least) would think “Oh, yeah… this practice is wrong… but I’m just going to keep doing it and say it’s right.” I’m not talking about sin here,  I’m talking about the way we live our Christian lives. The way we worship, the way we conduct ourselves. The way we look at the bible and interpret it. No one thinks that they are wrong.

Now, it is true that you can (and will if you are growing) your mind about some things you have studied. If you believe the exact same things as you did when you first became a Christian, how have you grown? Rather, you have become stagnate. That isn’t to say that you have to change major belief systems every 6 months or so in order to be dynamic. But you will indeed change some. However, the moment you think “Oh, I wasn’t right about that…” you have already changed, and now you are doing (or set out to be doing) what you believe to be right. You still will not think you are currently wrong.

Perhaps I’m rambling a bit, but I say all of this too encourage you to take a step back from an argument and see that on the other side, they feel just as strongly about you being wrong as you to about them. That’s why arguments are so bad. They work up a lot of passion into creating a defense of one’s own stance as opposed to open discussion and critical thinking about the subject at hand. Arguments rarely, if ever, actually solve a problem. Maybe I’m a bit biased because I hate confrontation, but I do believe this is the truth. It is hard for me to see any argument come out of love.

I have in an earlier post went over some caveats to what we believe, but today I want to focus on 4 reasons that people sometimes use to justify arguments. This is not a cut and dry, black or white issue, so I will say that there is some truth to each of these statements, but I don’t there is enough to justify having an argument with someone.You don’t have to agree with me, but I do ask that you hear me out. I pray that we all, myself included, can recognize our pride and stifle it when it rears its ugly head.

1. “Jesus was confrontational.”

Yes, I would consider this to be a true statement, but not constitutively true. There were indeed times, especially when He was dealing with the scribes and Pharisees, when Jesus was confrontational. Jesus even offended people. The gospel is an offensive message to some. That’s just the way it is. And trust me, I know that there is indeed a time to be confrontational. I am not denying that. However, Jesus was not always confrontational. There are many examples where Jesus chose specifically not to argue with some people, until they pressed Him hard. And even then, He said one thing and left it at that. Perhaps the most well known time He did this was with the woman caught in adultery.

“… Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.”
(John 8:1-6)

The scribes and the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus. They wanted to pick a fight, so that they could catch Him in a fault and make Him loose His following. What did Jesus do? Stooped down and wrote in the dirt. They kept on pressing the issue. What did Jesus do? Stood up, said one thing (which was very profound) and stooped back down to wrote in the dirt. Where was the argument? Where was His confrontational nature? Yet He silenced all the accusers. Another specific time that I can think of where Jesus chose not to speak when He could have was when He stood before Herod.

When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him.”
(Luke 23:6-10)

Here was another argument that Jesus could have had, for He had the truth. He could have put them all to shame, as He had in times past with a simple phrase or reasoning. But He didn’t. Now, this was likely to fulfill the prophecy made in Isaiah 53 and because He knew that His hour had come, but He still was silent. These are just two times where Jesus was not confrontational. He also hid Himself from crowds who wanted to kill Him, had compassion on those He taught who were in the wrong and told people not to proclaim Him as the Christ early on in His ministry because it was not time yet (it likely would have caused an uproar, as it did in many places).

So yes, Jesus was confrontational at times, but I believe He chose His battles very wisely. Sometimes He even stifled the confrontation before it started by asking a question before He healed on the Sabbath. Jesus knew the hearts and minds of the people around Him, and He knew when confrontation would make the right point. He also knew when confrontation would have been a bad thing. To use this as a justification to always be confrontational is to misuse the example of Jesus, for He was not always confrontational.

2. “Paul and the other apostles were confrontational.”

Ah yes, just read some of Paul’s letters and you will find that he wrote with a bold stroke. It almost seems he was the king of rebuke. After all, wasn’t he like that before he became a Christian too? He was a Pharisee, a Jewish sect known for their judgment and confrontation. A Pharisee of Pharisees is what he called himself! Even the people he wrote to noticed how “judgmental” (to use the phrase in the way we do today) he was when he wrote, but how he wouldn’t say the same harsh things when he visited in person:

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh.”
(II Corinthians 10:1-2)

Paul indeed knew how to be confrontational. However, when you look at the letters more closely, you get a different sense of intent. Paul was not confrontational to be confrontational. He did it only when it was absolutely necessary. Contrary to popular belief, He did not want to do it nor did he like to do it. At least that is what is portrayed in his letter to the Corinthians:

For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.”
(II Corinthians 2:1-4)

When Paul corrected someone, he did it out of love. I don’t think we really understand this love. It seems when we go to correct someone it is because we are right and they are wrong, not because we love them. And again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t correct people, or even that we shouldn’t rebuke people. There is a time an a place for it. But here again, Paul chose wisely, and I don’t think that this was his main focus in his ministry. We only see so much of Paul’s correction because that was usually the point of the letters- to correct. I like reading the beginning and ending of letters because I think that is where you will find much of Paul’s love and encouragement to the churches.

So yes, Paul was confrontational, but it was out of a deep love for Christ and his fellow brethren. We first need to find that love before we try to start correcting people. And I mean true love, not just a statement of “I love you, and that’s why I’m doing this.” True compassion and care for the other person. I have seen things go very wrong when love was not found first.

The other apostles indeed were confrontational at times, but all the points made above would also apply to them. Peter specifically was a confrontational person, but his confrontational nature actually got him into more trouble than it helped situations. James and John caused arguments amongst the disciples when they asked for the seat next to God in the resurrection. Thomas wouldn’t believe the other disciples when they told him they had seen the risen Lord. He insisted that they were wrong and that he wouldn’t believe until he saw Him. Simply citing the apostles as a reason for being confrontational I do not believe is an adequate justification for picking arguments.

3. “But they’re wrong…”

This almost makes me laugh when I read it. I can’t tell you how many times I personally have had this attitude. “They’re wrong… I must make them see that they are wrong!” Again, there can be some truth to this statement, and indeed there are examples of people being corrected when they were wrong about something in the New Testament. But this attitude is very dangerous to have when you enter an argument and can quickly lead down a path that you do not want to take. This attitude sets the stage for destructing pride. “I’m right, you’re wrong, now let me prove it to you.” Let’s look at one example of someone who was wrong in the New Testament.

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man,competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.”
(Acts 18:24-28)

Here we see that Apollos was boldly proclaiming the good news of Christ with much fervor and zeal. But Apollos had a problem- part of his teaching was incorrect. He only knew about the baptism of John (Paul actually deals with other people who only knew about this teaching at the beginning of the following chapter). So when Priscilla and Aquila heard this misunderstanding, what did they do? Start a public debate? Call him out in front of the people? Argue with him immediately? No. They took him aside privately and explained to him the way of God more accurately. Did that work? Absolutely. Apollos then went on to do much work for the Kingdom. Is that how we handle correction today? When mistruth is being taught, it is indeed important to correct it. But it is just as important to correct it in the right way. Ephesians 4 is a very good chapter to read concerning this topic and how we should speak to one another.

Before we start out to correct someone, however, we must first examine a couple of things. One, we need to be sure that what we are teaching is indeed rooted in scripture. Remember when I said that everyone thinks they are right? That hasn’t changed. So if someone disagrees with you, of course you are going to think you are right. But you need to be sure what you believe is grounded in actual truth. If you cannot find it, you should probably consider not correcting the other person. Arguing over opinions is worse than arguing over truth. Secondly, we need to be sure that it is necessary to bring up. So many times do we have arguments over very petty things. Things that simply don’t matter. Romans 14 is a very good reference for this. If what someone else believes doesn’t actually effect anyone’s salvation, even if it’s wrong, then is it really necessary to bring up? Will there not be more harm done from arguing than is done from mistruth? Now obviously something that does effect salvation indeed should be corrected in the proper way. But some things simply don’t matter.

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
(Romans 14:1-4)

4. “But they are condemning and offending me!”

So what? I don’t mean to be harsh, but really? Can they by words actually condemn you to hell? And if they are speaking truth that is grounded in the word of God, you probably should listen. But if not, then does it really matter? I believe that this is another pride issue, and one we don’t understand. Typically, we think of those who are condemning or restricting the use of something as “weak in the faith,” as described in Romans. If they are the weak brethren, then should we be the ones complaining about them? If we are the mature, shouldn’t we act like it? Shouldn’t we let things roll off? Shouldn’t we bend over backwards so as not to make our brother stumble? Now that is love.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
(Romans 14:13-19)

Notice who Paul is speaking to. He’s not talking to the one who is weak in the faith here, but to the one who is supposed to be mature! “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.” Now there is a hard statement. If what someone else does or says offends us, we need to walk in mature love and, well, not get offended and even conform to the weaker brother’s beliefs when we are around them so as not to put a stumbling block before them (conform is not the right word, per say, I just can’t think of a better one). Paul said that if meat offended his brother then he would no longer eat meat (ref. I Cor. 8:13)! How many of us would be willing to do that? I know I like my meat… This is the true love of Christ. Sometimes we just forget how the mature person should act, not out of pride, but out of humility.

I hope even this hasn’t offended you too much, but rather caused you to pause for a moment and consider words before they are used. We all fall into this trap from time to time. I’m pretty sure I have used each of the excuses above at one time or another in order to justify arguing with someone about a biblical topic. We are not perfect. But we do seek perfection. Perhaps these words will help each of us think before we speak and always have our speech seasoned with grace so as to teach in the love of Christ.

Suggested Daily Reading: Acts 18, Romans 14, I Corinthians 8, Ephesians 4.

Grace and peace.

-Walter

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