"Again I say, don't get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people's hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil's trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants." (2 Timothy 2:23-26)
Why is it so difficult to keep Scriptures like this at the forefront of our minds? I don't know about you, but time and again, I find myself caught up in a direct or indirect 'debate' about doctrine, about politics, about ethics, about any number of topics that involve a disagreement about what truth actually is, and what it means for us as believers.
Don't get me wrong. Debate isn't always bad. The above passage tells us to 'gently instruct those who oppose the truth.' The problem is that 'gently' is all too often overlooked. Instead, it is too easy to get caught up into heightened emotions, which in turn end to lead to arguments laced with sarcasm, hostility, even rage. As Christians, these things are far removed from who we are called to be. Not only are our hearts not able to be heard through our contentious voices, but we risk invalidating any credibility that we may have otherwise brought to the table.
Likewise, when we fall into this type of emotional engagement, we cease to see the other person as another child of God, but as the embodiment of evil. As we become more reactive and aggressive, it is no wonder we find ourselves feeling attacked, which only contributes to the downward spiral. Such arguments completely betray what Christ has called us to do.
So, what do we do? Do we avoid any semblance of conflict?
Yes and no.
Romans 12:18 says, "Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone."
Yet, Scripture also calls us to stand for truth, to contend for the faith, and to show those who oppose truth where they are wrong. The apostle Paul was not afraid to name names, and even went so far as to publicly confront Peter to his face when the latter began to stray from the truth he had received (Galatians 2:11-16).
I write these things today because I find myself still struggling in this area. I want to live at peace with everyone, yet I also want to defend the truth when I see it distorted or attacked. I want to show mercy, yet I also feel compelled to promote justice. I am afraid, though, that in trying to find the happy medium, I am only contributing to 'foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights,' and that by quarrelling, even if it is only via Facebook comment threads, I am playing right into the devil's tactics to create further division among those who seek God with sincere hearts.
In trying to 'rescue' others from the devil's trap, I want to make sure that I don't fall into it myself.
I will be the first to admit it -- I have fallen victim to my baser nature in some of the Internet 'discussions' I've had in the past, letting my anger get the better of me, and in doing so, losing whatever ground I might have gained. What also haunts me is that I may have also hurt others by my emotional extremes in my efforts to counter falsehood and error.
What we need to remember is that the battle is not ours but the Lord's, and that "we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12)."
Ultimately, it is as the Scripture says, "Perhaps God will change those people's hearts, and they will learn the truth." Like Jesus illustrated in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13), and Paul reiterated in 1 Corinthians 3:5-7, we are responsible only to sow the truth, but it is God who changes the hearts of men.
Hostility, sarcasm, bitterness, and anger are not the ways to stand for truth, nor are they fruits of the spirit.
And love is also a commandment.
And love expressed in word and deed, even when opposing others, is the one of the greatest ways we can glorify God.
This is a major part of what it means to live our lives as Jesus did (1 John 2:6).
I am still learning how to walk this out. How about you? Are you victorious is this area? If so, what does that look like for you? I would love to hear from you.
Love in Christ,