What Is the Root of Quarrelsomeness and How Does It Get Fixed?
The Scriptures tell us that an elder is not to be quarrelsome (2 Tim. 2:24). Being quarrelsome is different from having arguments. A quarrelsome person doesn’t just find conflict, he creates it, goes looking for it. He inserts himself into conflicts. Often he is a fault-finder, constantly critiquing others. Quarrelsome people view themselves as having a ministry of correction.
The apostle Paul warns against those who have an “unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people…” (1 Tim. 6:4b-5a). He states that “quarreling over words” succeeds “only in leading the listeners to ruin” (2 Tim. 2:14). The apostle is not describing someone who simply has arguments, but rather one who is characterized by them.
Yet what does this quarrelsomeness root in? Because only when we understand the root of the problem can we begin to find the solution.
WHAT IS THE ROOT OF QUARRELSOMENESS?
A quarrelsome person finds a sense of purpose and worth in arguments.
It’s that sense of purpose and worth which causes problems. James clarifies that we get into quarrels precisely because of the desires in our hearts (James 4:1-2). We have fights and quarrels not because another person is wrong but because we want something that they won’t give us. We fight because we have a desire to be right, and to be thought of as right, which gives us a sense of purpose. Ultimately this desire stems from pride and insecurity.
We, of course, know that pride leads to destruction (Prov. 16:18), but more pointedly pride will keep us from genuinely caring for a congregation. Where the Bible calls us to do “nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3-4), pride asserts self-importance.
Pride says that my view, my perspective, my voice, my position is most important. My views are more important than their views, and in fact my views are more important than them. Likewise, insecurity will keep us from loving because of our need to be validated.
A quarrelsome person can’t ignore a wrong comment, nor can he accept critical feedback. He must justify himself and defend his views. He must be right, and he will only finally accept it if someone else affirms it. The insecure person will quarrel in order to preserve their self-image, and pressure others to reinforce that self-image.
Evaluate yourself, pastor. Do you find it difficult to resist correcting others? Is it hard to obey Romans 15:1? Are your social media accounts full of conflicts? Do you insert yourself into arguments online? Do you use other words to describe your quarreling (like disagreement, dialogue, or discussion)? Would other people characterize you as quarrelsome?
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
The way forward for the quarrelsome person involves a level of humiliation. The proud and insecure heart will always want to set the terms of repentance. True change will come not simply in trying to be humble, but in being humbled.
The quarrelsome person needs a gracious authority in his life to whom he must confess his sins. Where his quarreling has been public (e.g. online), he needs to make a public confession under the guidance of such an authority. Pastors must be held accountable, and so an elder board full of “yes-men” will not help them to grow and change. But key figures who have the wisdom, the backbone, and the love to call their pastors to repentance will.
A quarrelsome pastor is an unqualified pastor. Therefore, we need not only to evaluate ourselves, but we need others to help us. A prideful and insecure heart will destroy a ministry, but a humble heart can serve the Lord and his church well.