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. Quarrels, at least in Proverbs, are unnecessary arguments, the kind that honorable men stay away from (Prov. 17:14; 20:3). And elders too (1 Tim. 3). These fights aren’t the product of a loving rebuke or a principled conviction. These quarrels arise because people are quarrelsome.
So what does a quarrelsome person look like? What are his (or her) distinguishing marks? Here are twelve possibilities.
You might be a quarrelsome person if . . .
1. You defend every conviction with the same degree of intensity. There are no secondary or tertiary issues. Everything is primary. You’ve never met a hill you wouldn’t die on.
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 with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Or the only Jesus you like is the Jesus who cleared the money changers from the temple. Those are real examples in Scripture. But the Bible is a book, and sarcasm and whips are not the normal method of personal engagement.
4. You are incapable of seeing nuances, and you do not believe in qualifying statements. Everything in life is black and white without any gray.
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 when there is a less flattering interpretation you go for that one.
6. You have no unarticulated opinions. Do people know what you think of everything? They shouldn’t. That’s why you have a journal or a prayer closet or a dog.
7. You are unable to sympathize with your opponents. You forget that sinners are also sufferers. You lose the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
8. Your first instinct is to criticize; your last instinct is to encourage. Quarrelsome people almost always see others in need of rebuke, rarely in need of refreshing.
9. You have a small grid, and everything fits in it. You view life through a tiny prism such that you already know what everything is about. Everything is a social justice issue. Everything relates to the regulative principle. Everything is Obama’s fault. Everything is about Trump. It’s all about the feminists. Or the patriarchy. Or how my parents messed up my life. When all you have is a hammer, the rest of the world looks like a nail.
10. You derive a sense of satisfaction and spiritual safety in feeling constantly rejected. We don’t want to blame the victim, but some people are constitutionally unable to exist except as a remnant. They must be persecuted. They must be maligned. They do not know how to live in peacetime, only in war.
11. You are always in the trenches with hand grenades strapped to your chest, never in the cafeteria with ice cream and ping pong. I remember years ago talking to a returning serviceman in my church who told me sheepishly that his job in Iraq was to drive an armed convoy for the ice cream truck. It was extremely dangerous, escorting the vehicle through bomb infested territory. This was brave, honorable work. And important: Even soldiers need ice cream once in a while. The amp doesn’t have to be cranked to 11 all the time. Seriousness about God is not the same as pathological seriousness about everything. 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. If you haven’t changed your mind on an important matter in several presidents, I wonder if you are a Christian or even alive. Of course, truth never changes, and neither should many of our convictions. But quarrelsome people stir up strife because, already knowing everything, they have no need to listen, learn, or ask questions.
Hit close to home? Look to Christ. He has the power to change us and has made provision to forgive. By the death of the Prince of Peace we can be at peace with God and at peace with one another.