2 Timothy 2:14-16,23-25a – Remind them of this, and charge them before the Lord to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. Avoid such godless chatter, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness. Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness. (RSV)
Have you ever found yourself entangled in an argument and realized that you could not even remember what had started the argument? Or have you ever found yourself just arguing for the sake of arguing, or playing the "devil's advocate", so to speak? One morning recently, my running partner and I were talking about this very subject and how this is a constant struggle for both my wife and myself. My dad has often said of me that I would argue with a signpost, and to some extent that is probably a true statement. It is often very difficult for me to set aside my pride and stay away from an argument. I have often found myself caught up in an argument with my wife about a most completely trivial thing, later to realize just how trivial the thing really was, and find myself ashamed that the argument ever took place.
Far too often, we allow our pride and self-centredness to overtake us and draw us into an argument that has no meaning, with no beneficial result. Paul instructs in today's scripture that believers should not be a part of "godless chatter" and "senseless controversies". While in this particular context he intended to combat controversies that had arisen over false teachings, I think Paul's directive applies to various types of controversies and disputes. As Christians, we should be the ones who set a higher mark when it comes to controversy. We should always be the ones who seek and strive to avoid any "disputing" words with others.
I think Paul's writings give three guidelines to aid us in handling controversy:
- Avoid senseless controversies and godless chatter. We are not to argue just to argue, and we are not to argue over trivial, meaningless things, things which have no eternal value.
- Avoid disputing about words. We are not to argue with others about their opinions or beliefs.
- Correct others with gentleness. This is the real secret revealed to us in verse 25. If we realize that another's beliefs or opinions may be leading them down a wayward path, or in a direction away from God, then we should approach that person in a gentle, non-rebuking spirit. If we approach them with a desire just to prove them wrong, then they will immediately become defensive and our chances of "redirecting" their path will be wiped away.
Obviously these are guidelines that I myself need to follow more closely. I do not expect that I, nor anyone else, will be able totally to avoid arguments and controversies in our lives, but if we strive to do our best to abide by these guidelines, we can bring more peace and happiness into our lives and the lives of others. As an added bonus, we will be able "to present ourselves to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed".
Prayer: Lord Jesus, fill us with Your gentle, loving spirit that we might be able to avoid controversy and quarrels with our fellow man. Help us to approach each person we encounter with that gentle spirit, that we might show ourselves approved before You. Amen.