23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.
Paul uses a military term, translated “quarrelsome,” which was used to describe hand to hand combat. Apparently, he ran into the same know-it-all theologians I encountered in the ministry.
I first met them in college. They loved to debate the finite details of the Christian faith. And some of those confabs grew loud and angry. Seldom was their wrangling based on a desire to expand their understanding of God’s word. Most often it was to show off what they considered superior knowledge.
After I became a pastor, I encountered similar hair-splitters in the pews. Usually, they were disciples of a certain Bible teacher or TV preacher. But other than an irritation, they never became a serious problem. They were good people and sincere in their faith. Their differing opinions kept me on my toes and caused me to study harder.
To be sure, every church has members who differ from their pastor on Biblical interpretation. However, the basic tenants of the faith are not open for debate. These basics of faith in Christ, repentance, and submission to the will of God are common to all mainstream Christian denominations. Without the foundation we are no longer Christians but an unredeemed cult.
I grew up in the Lutheran Church and later joined the Presbyterian Church. Then I attended an ultra-conservative Bible College followed by a less conservative Baptist University. During that time, I attended a Baptist Church and then became a Southern Baptist pastor. In each there were shades of difference in some Biblical instruction. But all remained true to the faith as presented in Ephesians 4:4-6. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Of course, each protestant denomination believes their take on Christian doctrines is correct, or at least as accurate as humanly possible. But although we disagree, we should respect one another. Paul taught Timothy to “not be quarrelsome but… kind to everyone … not resentful.”
As for those who distort the faith; who deny the resurrection or the divinity of Christ — Paul advised Timothy to avoid engaging them in debate. They were argumentative troublemakers. “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.”
Timothy was a young minister in the faith. He still had a lot to learn, and Paul reminded him to focus on his strengths. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12) If he tried to mix it up with these false teaching bullies they would devour him. Timothy’s faith wasn’t based on philosophical theory, but on godly conduct and Christian love. Falling into the trap of arguing doctrine with those smug blowhards would only lead to trouble.
New Christians, Sunday School teachers, preachers, and anyone who shares their faith will encounter the know-it-alls. Don’t let them bring you down with their ramblings.
Sometimes a confrontation is unavoidable. In those times, pray for God’s guidance. Occasionally, God has given me the words to refute their positions. But most often, I have ended the conversation as kindly as possible. However, I must confess that sometimes their perceived spiritual or intellectual superiority got under my skin.
I can only recall losing my cool once, which I immediately regretted. But that confrontation taught me a valuable lesson and confirmed Paul’s instruction. You can seldom change the mind of an argumentative person, but you can destroy your witness.
People who are lost in false doctrine still need Christ. And some Christians just like to argue, and need to grow in Christ. More important than our words are our actions and the reality of Christ in us. Before we can talk the talk, we must walk the walk.
For more on this topic, check out this article: With Christian Freedom Comes Responsibility
Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 3 (July – September) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.