What Does Proverbs Teach about Being Quarrelsome?
Paul says an elder must not be quarrelsome (1 Tim. 3:2-3). What can we learn from the book of Proverbs about what it means to be quarrelsome?
What is Quarrelsomeness in Proverbs?
A brief survey of the Proverbs offers a helpful summary of “quarrelsomeness.” It is a form of “strife”— relational conflict, disagreement, tension, and verbal fighting between individuals (Prov. 17:14; 20:3). Proverbs implicates both genders in this tendency. The “quarrelsome wife” (Prov. 19:13; 21:9, 19; 25:24; 27:14) and the “quarrelsome man” (Prov. 20:3; 26:21) are both identified.
What form does this “relational conflict” take? Quarreling is when a conversation begins to ramp up in intensity: “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out” (Prov. 17:14). Quarreling is what happens when people enjoy the “drama” of a verbal joust rather than working patiently toward solutions (Prov. 18:18, 26:21). Quarreling occurs when people are entrenched in their positions and unwilling to give an inch to others (Prov. 18:19). It is the mark of a fool (Prov. 20:3).
Where Does Quarrelsomeness Come From?
In Proverbs, quarrelsomeness tends to reside among those who have strong opinions. Proverbs calls such people “powerful contenders” (Prov. 18:18). These people are “unyielding” (Prov. 18:19). They have very few unarticulated thoughts. They are easily triggered by what others say. They have a perspective that they want others to embrace, and they are willing to “go to the mat” over it. These are not wholesome arguments, marked by charity, listening, humility, clarifying questions, and genuine inquisitiveness. Rather, they’re fruit of a person who feels “alive” when they engage in heated, confrontational dialogue with other image-bearers.
Also, Proverbs presents quarrels as arising out of personal offense (Prov. 18:19). Someone says something they don’t like and so they respond. We take it upon ourselves to inform the person of our opinion, to correct their position, or to attack their person. If we feel slighted or insulted, we are pulled toward quarreling.
How Is Quarrelsomeness Addressed?
If we find ourselves in the midst of a quarrel, Proverbs offers simple counsel: stop it. Just “quit” (Prov. 17:14). To those who are tempted to engage in a quarrel, we are told quite directly: don’t. If we do, we’ll get bit (Prov. 26:17). We must “keep aloof” from such things (Prov. 20:3) and if necessary drive such behavior out of our midst (Prov. 22:10). “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where this is no whisperer, quarreling ceases” (Prov. 26:20).
Quarreling, like a fire, feeds on fresh wood. If the wise keep their mouths shut around foolish quarrelers and resolve to maintain unarticulated opinions on any number of disputable matters, they will find themselves participating in far fewer fights. After all, the wise find quarrelsomeness to be a great annoyance (Prov. 19:13; 27:15). It is exhausting and not at all life-giving. They would rather live in a desert (Prov. 21:19) or on the corner of a housetop (Prov. 21:9) than be involved in another senseless argument.
What about you? Do you find your heart exposed by these Proverbs? If so, feel free to get in on this rebuke if the shoe fits, and let’s resolve to walk in the ways of the wise. I see the seeds of this in my own life and am eager not to fertilize them lest I reap a bumper crop in the flesh.