Are you Contending for the Truth or Quarrelsome?
To be quarrelsome is to be over-eager to fight, whether verbally, physically, or legally. Paul said that neither elders (1 Tim 1:6–7; 3:3; 2 Tim 2:23) nor congregations (Ti 3:2, 9; James 4:1–2) are to be quick to “throw down”. Yet Scripture commands to contend for the faith (Jude 3). So how do we tell the difference between fighting the good fight and just being an Argumentative Alex? Here are five quick questions to see if we’re quarrelsome.
- Are we quick to fight for our rights, whether material or political? (Js 4:1; Titus 3:2). In Js 4, the coveting that leads to quarreling always starts with a comparison of self to others, where self seems to get the short end of the stick. Contentment in Christ quells that kind of quarrel. This goes politically as well (Titus 3:1-2). Contentment with political disappointments, sustained by a firm faith in God’s providence over politics, goes a long way to quelling a quarrelsome heart.
- Are we fighting over issues of conviction or conscience? Is this an essential doctrine like the divinity of Jesus, or substitutionary atonement? Or is this something we can disagree about with others yet still trust and worship Jesus together? Consult Andy Naselli’s little book Conscience: What It Is, How to Train it, and Loving Those Who Differ. This will help us know which battles we can (and maybe should) lose.
- Are we too excited about speculative theology? If so, it’ll be easy to get under our skin when people disagree with our “creative” interpretations of obscure passages (1 Ti 3:2; Ti 3:2; Dt 29:29). Think about the issue in your context that’s most upsetting to you. Is the gospel itself really what’s at stake in that disagreement?
- Are we quick to fight for our ministry ambitions? Sometimes in pastoral ministry we want to do good things that are not actually ours to do. David wanted to build God a temple, and God said “not yet, and not you.” Pastor, your church cannot be quiet until your own heart is content … not complacent, just content.
- Do you respond to quarrelling with kindness, or do you to take immediate offense? After warning us to avoid quarreling in Titus 3:2, Paul says in the next verse “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” Being quarrelsome was the foolish mentality of our pre-Christian lives—that’s the way we used to be. The implication is that we can and should respond to quarrelsomeness from others with the compassion we ourselves have received in the kindness of the gospel.
In fact, that’s where Paul goes next in Ti 3:4–8—the gospel of salvation by God’s mercy to us in Christ, apart from our works, through the Spirit’s regeneration and renewal of our hearts. God’s goodness and kindness to us in Jesus—contrary to our previous quarrels against him!—motivates and empowers our own compassion for those who are still quarrelsome toward us. Paul summarizes the gospel here in Titus 3 and tells Titus “insist on these things” (Ti 3:4–8). Are those the things you are insisting on? Or are you just being quarrelsome?