It began with a compliment. One individual admired another individual’s swimsuit. Upon learning that said suit was purchased at Target, a heated debate ensued. Was it okay for Christians to shop at Target? Some thought not, and others disagreed. While many shy away from controversial issues of the like, I thoroughly enjoy a good debate. I believe that tough conversations are a part of life. How can we learn from each other if we don’t take the time to thoughtfully discuss our points of view, ideas, and what God has been putting on our hearts? But what do we do when discussions lead to arguments? Sadly, I’ve seen friendships severed over political disagreements.
When I enter into a heated discussion, my goal is often to change someone’s mind and to be so compelling in my arguments that they’re left speechless. And yet, Ephesians 4 urges us to bear with one another in love, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. The question I must ask myself as a believer is this—within disagreements, am I eager to maintain unity and peace? Or am I eager to be heard and convince others that my way of thinking is the correct way? Oftentimes I champion my personal beliefs more than the mandates of scripture (i.e. to love my neighbor and consider them better than myself. Gal. 5, Phil. 2).
Christlike disagreement is possible!
But what about biblical matters? On some things, Scripture is so clear, and yet, there will still always be those set on believing the opposite. If we look to Scripture we see the way Jesus handled the contrary sort. In Luke 20 Jesus’ authority is questioned by the chief priests and teachers of the law. Jesus asks them a question, knowing that the correct answer will prove His authority. The men feign ignorance so as not to support Jesus’ claims. What does Jesus do? Knowing what is in their hearts, He chooses not to engage. Matthew 7:6 says this–”Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces”. When we follow the way of Jesus, we find that even though all authority belonged to Him, He did not make it His mission to change the minds of everyone He encountered. He spent much time in prayer asking the Father for His will. Though Jesus never turned away those genuinely eager to learn (read about Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3!), He was very deliberate in His conversations. If we stopped to pray before our conversations with others, I believe we would avoid much discord in our lives.
If you get the sense that someone is especially argumentative with no interest in hearing what you have to say, follow Jesus’ example and choose not to engage. Many have already made up their mind about what they believe and simply want to argue. 2 Timothy 2:23 warns us to “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies”; knowing that “they breed quarrels”. I have read many arguments online between Christians that would be very embarrassing if a non-believer were to read them. Colossians 4:5-6 gives an excellent reminder that we are to be wise in the way we act toward outsiders; making the most of every opportunity. “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone”. When used appropriately, salt makes food more enjoyable. The words that we speak should be communicated in such a way that we do not hinder the wisdom and good news of Jesus to those who listen.
Live as PeacemakersPsalm 34:14 tells us to seek peace and to pursue it. Matthew 5:9 even goes so far as to give the title of “sons of God” to those who are peacemakers. Friends, I want to make it clear that I am not saying hard conversations won’t happen, or that you aren’t to be bold in sharing your faith and convictions. To the contrary, 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have”. But follow Jesus’ lead in being prayerful, eagerly seeking peace through seeking wisdom from God. Matthew 10:14 tells us “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet”. When we are eager to create peace in our relationships, we will look different to the world. We may exit conversations at seemingly strange times, or choose not to engage all altogether. Our ministry as followers of Christ is often effective in conflict not by the words we say, but by the words we choose not to say.