TITLE: Words for the Argumentative Christian
By Mike Shoemake
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"'Teacher’, they said to Jesus, ‘this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?’
They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, ‘All right, stone her. But let those who have never sinned throw the first stones!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.” (John 8:4-9) NLT
Those of us who are Christians can certainly become passionate about our beliefs. Many of us are very passionate about political issues. Others are very passionate about boycotting or protesting. We can come off as argumentative, dogmatic, and preachy with little to no effort at all. We find numerous ways to justify it. We may be singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" while the world watches and sees judgment, scorn, and even hatred. Then we wonder why those who are not Christians hate us so much. A few years ago I was listening to a liberal radio show when I heard the host refer to Christians as the Neo-Fascist Zombie Brigade. I wasn't all that amused. I wonder if we often remind God of the stone throwers of Jesus' day. Not only do we have difficulty with those outside the church but even other Christians can give us trouble. But, the good news is that the Bible clearly addresses how we should interact with each other. Be warned though... It's not remotely intuitive. In fact, you'll find that you can be exactly right and exactly wrong at exactly the same time.
A PARADIGM SHIFT
Some Christians love to argue and fight with those outside the church. When you visit Christian blogs and forums, it's easy to find Christians using words that are antagonistic, condescending, ridiculing, etc. I've accidentally gone down that path myself. We see things in the world we don't like and we desperately want to irradicate them, so we go on the war path. Our favorite targets are homosexuals, politicians, pornography, music, and the film industry, but we will turn our attention to pretty much anything we don't agree with. It seems to be the right thing to do, because we actually have God's instructions for how we should live so we want to tell everyone else how they should live as well. Unfortunately, people who don't believe that the Bible is the Word of God refuse to play along.
But, in the passage below from 1st Corinthians, Paul clearly says that we are not to walk around judging those in the world for their sins.
"When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or who are greedy or are swindlers or idol worshipers. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. What I meant was that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a Christian yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Don’t even eat with such people.
It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your job to judge those inside the church who are sinning in these ways. God will judge those on the outside; but as the scriptures say, 'You must remove the evil person from among you.'" (1 Corinthians 5:9-13) NLT
For those outside the church, only one thing matters: getting them to Jesus. If they will come to Him, He will work on their behavior as a natural outcome of being in a relationship with Him. If we actually succeed in getting them to stop whatever it is they shouldn't be doing, they are no closer to salvation than they were before. In fact, we've accomplished nothing from an eternal perspective. Trying to get the lost world to conform to God's standard of holiness is a backward implementation of what we were called to do.
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) NLT
Jesus is the light of the world. We try desperately to get those in this dark world to act as if they’ve found the light even though they haven’t. We want them to be able to navigate correctly but they can’t because they’re still in the dark. So our solution is to become the “seeing eye dog”. We try to lead them where we want them to go without bothering to turn the light on for them. Maybe it makes more sense to give them light so they can actually see where they're going.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN
When dealing with those inside the church, the rules are very different. In fact, this is where life as a Christian can get the most complicated. Earlier we read 1st Corinthians 9:5-13, where Paul actually charges us to “judge” those within the church who are blatantly sinning among us. According to earlier verses, the situation that prompted these verses to be written was that a man in the church was having an affair with “his father’s wife”. Clearly this has a certain “ick” factor associated with it, and yet apparently it wasn’t really bothering these Corinthians very much. They did what we do. They probably talked about them behind their backs for a little while until they got bored and moved on, having gotten used to it as just the way things are now. "Why should we say anything? Their sin doesn’t affect us!" Or does it? Earlier in the passage, Paul explains why he is so concerned about this:
“How terrible that you should boast about your spirituality, and yet you let this sort of thing go on. Don’t you realize that if even one person is allowed to go on sinning, soon all will be affected? Remove this wicked person from among you so that you can stay pure…” (1 Corinthians 5:6-7) NLT
Paul’s concern is that, the more we have sin around us, the more we become desensitized to it. God wants us to stay as far away from sin as possible to keep sin from eventually starting to feel normal or acceptable. Sin always has negative consequences but they’re not always visible right away. When we live in that state with seemingly no consequences for a period of time, we start to relax and settle in. Other things we wouldn't have considered doing in the past start to look interesting. Before long, it can turn into an addiction and we begin to lose control of it. At that point, the consequences often start rolling in.
Paul warns us to guard ourselves and those in our circle of influence. Even though it’s uncomfortable, we need to help our fellow Christians see what they’re doing and get help. If they won’t get help, the wisest thing we can do, according to Paul, is create distance between ourselves and their sin. We are all susceptible and none of us can just live around sin for extended periods of time without being affected somehow. For our own safety, it’s better to just work through the discomfort and do the hard thing-- create distance. This becomes a consequence to them as well, which may serve as a catalyst to turn them around. And for you, it’s obedience—and God always honors that.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Through it all, we're called to be respectful to those around us, even when we disagree with them. When we have to judge someone in the church who is out of control, we must do it in a way that honors them as well as our heavenly Father.
“Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. The Lord’s servants must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone. They must be able to teach effectively and be patient with difficult people. They should gently teach those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will believe the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:23-25) NLT
Why do we argue when we’re having discussions about our faith? When we speak, what is the purpose of our speaking? Is it to hear ourselves talk, or is it to be heard and understood? For many of us, it’s simply to convince those around us of our brilliance. “What I'm saying is the truth and if they would just listen…” Whether we mean well or not, it's just not an effective way to make a difference in someone's life. Nothing ever gets solved in arguments like that. You may walk away feeling like you've won, but that's generally because the other person is tired of doing it and just wants you to go away. You don’t actually win anything if the other party simply decides to disengage. If you manage to walk away with a damaged relationship, it turns out you both lose.
And yet we know that this is not how we are supposed to treat each other. 1st John says that Christians should love one another. I don't think this is saying we should love those we agree with. Whether they believe everything we do or not, we are called to love them. As Paul says later in 1st Corinthians, "love does not demand its own way". It’s not likely that any of us has everything figured out anyway. Just within the Christian church, I read recently that there are over 30,000 different denominations, all of which have a unique perspective on truth. We all have things to learn. What is it when we walk into a conversation completely assured of our own rightness? Could it be.... pride? Arrogance? It’s one thing to know what you believe and to be able to articulate that effectively. It’s another to be so driven by your own perceived rightness that you want to win at all costs, arguing and beating the other person with a stick until they surrender.
God loves those around us just as much as he loves us. And I think he expects us to treat them with respect and love whether they agree with us or not. Respect means allowing the other person to agree or disagree--to make up their own mind. Do your best to rationally explain why you believe what you believe. If they choose to disagree, let them. That’s what love does. We know that because that’s what God does, and God is love. Jesus didn’t make you believe. He didn’t beat you over the head until you finally gave up. He knocked. For some of us, he knocked for a long time—because he loves you. Let's follow His example.
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