What Does Paul Mean By “Quarrelsome”?
Brother, whether you’re an elder or an aspiring elder, Scripture calls you to live a life characterized by Christlike humility. Paul instructs Timothy, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil” (2 Timothy 2:24; cf 1 Tim 3:3). Let’s focus briefly on the requirement to “not be quarrelsome.”
What does Paul have in mind with that word “quarrelsome”?
First of all, the word here translated as “not quarrelsome” is ἄμαχος (amachos), translated by BDAG as “peaceable.” This word is also found in Titus 3:2, where Paul tells Titus “to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (NASB). The other characteristics in Titus 3:2 surrounding the word “uncontentious” help us to understand what this word means. It is to speak favorably of others, to be Christ-like, humble, and gentle (Matt. 11:29). The tenderness and care Christ shows toward the bruised reed and smoldering wick must also be evident in the words of his under shepherds.
To be uncontentious means to avoid fighting. As 2 Timothy 2:23 says, “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels (μάχας).” Similarly, in Titus 3:9, “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes (μάχας) about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” These controversies result in quarrels. So, if we want to avoid fighting and quarrels then we must stay away from the controversies described in these verses.
Simply put, a quarrelsome man argues about foolish controversies. He doesn’t have the sense to realize that what he is talking about will not be profitable. He continues to tread into conversation topics that breed division, not unity. He focuses on secondary or tertiary issues of the faith in an argumentative fashion; he frequently wants to argue and discuss these things.
At times, it’s important to discuss controversial or challenging topics. How a man addresses these topics will show his character. When they’re discussed, they should be done while showing consideration for others (Titus 3:2).
So ask yourself: Do you discuss these issues with empathy while attempting to understand the other person’s position? In difficult conversations, are you a peacemaker or a pugilist? Do you think that you’re the expert that others need? Do you think that qualifies you to teach and correct them? Do you come to conversations wanting to be listened to, or do you strive to be a good listener?
In summary, a quarrelsome, contentious person wants to argue and fight the right issues, but they do so usually at the wrong time and in the wrong way. Does this describe you? Discuss these questions with someone who knows you well, like an elder in your church.
May the Lord help us as we see our sin and ask him to conform us more closely into the image of the Chief Shepherd who is gentle and lowly.