Our evening service was canceled last week because of the snow. The portion below is an edited portion of the larger sermon, a message on conflict from Proverbs. I thought it was worth posting (although now I haven’t preached it yet) as a follow-up to Tuesday’s post.
Quarrels don’t just happen. People make them happen.
Of course, there are honest disagreements and agree-to-disagree propositions, but that’s not what the Bible means by quarreling. While studying Proverbs recently I was struck by the fact that most of the advice about conflict is not on how to resolve it, but how to avoid it.
Quarrels, at least in Proverbs, are unnecessary arguments, the kind that honorable men stay away from (17:14; 20:3). These fights aren’t the product of a loving rebuke or a principled conviction. These quarrels arise because people are quarrelsome. Some Christians have a lifeline to Speedway and love to pour gasoline on every tiny spark of conflict.
You don’t have to be a card-carrying member of the nice Nazis to believe that quarreling is wrong. You only have to believe the Bible (James 4:1). Hot-headed, divisive Christians are not pleasing to God (Proverbs 6:19). We are told to drive them out (22:10) and avoid such people (Rom. 16:17). This doesn’t mean we only huddle with the people we like. We are not talking about awkward folks or those who disagree with us. We are talking about quarrelsome Christians–habitually disagreeable, divisive, hot-headed church people.
So what does a quarrelsome person look like? What are his (or her) distinguishing marks?
1. You defend every conviction with the same degree of intensity. You don’t talk about secondary issues, because there are no secondary issues.
2. You are quick to speak and slow to listen. You rarely ask questions and when you do it is to accuse or to continue prosecuting your case. You are not looking to learn, you are looking to defend, dominate, and destroy.
3. Your only model for ministry and faithfulness is the showdown on Mount Carmel. There is a place for sarcasm, but when Elijah with the prophets of Baal is your spiritual hero you may end up mocking people instead of making arguments.
4. You are incapable of seeing nuances and you do not believe in qualifying statements.
5. You never give the benefit of the doubt. You do not try to read arguments in context. You put the worst possible construct on other’s motives and the meaning of their words.
6. You have no unarticulated opinions.
7. You are unable to sympathize with your opponents.
8. Your first instinct is to criticize. Your last is to encourage.
9. You have a small grid and everything fits in it. Everything is a social justice issue; everything relates to the regulative principle, everything is Obama’s fault; everything is wrong because of patriarchy; everything comes down to one thing–my thing.
10. You derive a sense of satisfaction and spiritual safety in being rejected and marginalized. You are constitutionally unable to be demonstrably fruitful in ministry and you will never affirm those who appear to be. You only know how to relate to God as a remnant.
11.You are always in the trenches with hand grenades strapped to your chest, never in the mess hall with ice cream and ping pong. Remember G.K. Chesterton: “We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return to at evening.”
12. You have never changed your mind on an important matter.
Just some food for thought. I know I choke on my own words at times.