The past couple of days, I’ve been reading the pastoral epistles in my time with the Lord. It’s been a refreshing tune-up and re-focus. Just reading through the three letters–1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus–in one sitting made some general themes jump out at me more clearly. For example, how many times do you think the Apostle Paul warns against quarreling in these letters? How many citations can you give?
Here’s a sample list, limited only to places where he warns against arguing and harmful speech (leaving aside the number of places he addresses false teaching and contending for the truth):
Elders must be “temperate, self-controlled… not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome….” (1 Tim. 3:2-3)
Deacon’s wife/deaconness must not be “malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything” (1 Tim. 3:11).
“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father” (1 Tim. 5:1).
Younger widows sometimes “get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to” (1 Tim. 5:13).
“If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree tot he sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain” (1 Tim. 6:3-5).
“Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith” (1 Tim. 6:20-21).
“Keep reminding them of these things [God’s faithfulness in the gospel]. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value and only ruins those who listen” (2 Tim. 2:14).
“Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene.” (2 Tim. 2:16-17)
“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth…” (2 Tim. 2:23-25).
“Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.” (Titus 2:3)
“In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:7b-8).
“Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them…” (Titus 2:9).
“Remind the people… to slander no one….” (Titus 3:1, 2).
“Avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Titus 3:9-11)
Though not in the pastoral epistles themselves, I’m reminded of Paul’s concluding prediction wherever such a contentious and quarrelsome spirit lives. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Gal. 5:15).