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Not Quarrelsome but Kind, Patient and Gentle

January 30th, 2009
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This morning in the Treasury of Daily Prayer's readings the Holy Spirit hit me with a two-by-four right square between the eyes with this exhortation from St. Paul's words to St. Timothy:

The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. (2 Timothy 2:24).

I believe that this is something I struggle with mightily. I find myself sometimes so eager to defend the truth and reject error that I do not "correct with gentleness" and am not always kind to everyone.

Now, in today's climate, people will automatically assume that any correction of any error, let alone the assertion that there is absolute truth, is reason enough to accuse somebody of being quarrelsome who speaks the truth. Any attempt to correct, no matter how gentle, will be received as being unkind.

How easily though it is for this reality to become an excuse for us to not take care on both points, and how much more must we, now more than ever, strive to avoid adding to already strongly held perceptions by praying for God to help us avoid doing anything on our part that is unkind or lacking in gentleness?

Let us pray for one another that the Holy Spirit so guide us that we are kind to everyone and gentle in correcting our opponents.

Does anyone else feel that perhaps this is a particular challenge
for those who wish to strive to maintain, defend and extend the truth
of God's Word? I welcome your insights!

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Categories: CPH Resources
  1. Don Hansen
    January 30th, 2009 at 13:20 | #1

    The goal, I think, is to use only as much force as is necessary for the circumstances. That’s true in most every area of life, theology included. I.e., ideally, the softest and gentlest means of working through conflict is the way to go, like two friends having a friendly conversation about some topic they disagree upon, but both of whom desire to come to a common and truer understanding, and so you work through the nuts and bolts of it, not only with calm respect, but also with depth and clarity of mind. BOTH parties “win,” because BOTH parties have the same goal: The Truth.
    But we all know that it rarely works that way, as all sorts of social, emotional, spiritual problems interfere (including ourselves) and then you have to decide how to respond. Sometimes the use of force can be a means for healing and recovery, even if it gets painful and ugly during the struggle (Jacob?).
    I have a basic rule: In private conversations, where there is nothing at stake other than our respective misunderstandings, I don’t push a point if the other party is being irrational or showing other signs of ‘blockage’ to an intelligent conversation. It just isn’t worth it, and nothing is gained by pushing it. In contrast, in public discussions, where there are countless others reading/listening, any of whom could become confused by bad information and ideas being conveyed, it is indeed worthy of pushing the point, and therefore the feelings of the other participant take a back seat. Fallacies of logic, facts, rhetorical jujutsu tricks, etc., must be exposed and eliminated from the debate, otherwise it becomes more like politicians seeking to spin reality to make themselves look good and the other guy, bad, without any connection to Truth or reality. And that harms everyone. Don’t be overly concerned with the feelings of public discussion participants, at the expense of fallacies being promoted in the Public Square.

  2. Rev. Allen Bergstrazer
    January 30th, 2009 at 15:27 | #2

    Yes it is a constant challenge, because being right is always easier than living in the righteousness of Christ, but sometimes we cannot tell the difference.
    When I was preparing my sermon for the conversion of St. Paul I wondered how often the image of Stephen’s death and his words “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” haunted Paul and tempered his rhetoric.

  3. Lindsey
    January 30th, 2009 at 16:19 | #3

    yes, it is most definitely a struggle for me.
    I, on the other hand, think that you are one of the least quarrelsome “religious” bloggers I’ve encountered. In fact, I read your blog a lot even though I do disagree with your point of view on certain issues. I feel that you share alot of my same concerns and yet, when you present yourself, you do it with courtesy, civility, and kindness without resorting to straw-man techniques, bitterness, sarcasm, red herring, ad hominum attacks, etc. Not to say that you’re perfect (nobody is), but your blog stands out as being one of the nicer, more civil ones in the blogosphere.
    I can most definitely tell that God is working in you to “speak the Truth in love.” Don’t be discouraged.:)

  4. Ben George
    January 30th, 2009 at 17:39 | #4

    This quote, with a few modifications, basically applies to anyone who is defending something subtle that doesn’t easily yield-up soundbites:
    “The great temptation of the Catholic…is the temptation to intellectual pride. It is so obvious that most of his critics are talking without in the least knowing what they are talking about, that he is sometimes a little provoked towards the very un-Christian logic of answering a fool according to his folly. He is a little bit disposed to luxuriate in secret, as it were, over the much greater subtlety and richness of the philosophy he inherits; and only answer a bewildered barbarian so as to bewilder him still more. He is tempted to ironical agreements or even to disguising himself as a dunce…” GK Chesterton-”The Thing”

  5. January 30th, 2009 at 17:49 | #5

    I also struggle with this. I really appreciated the advice from Don Hansen of not pushing the point in private if there is some sort of irrational “block.” But in public it is another issue, yes. It is hard to sometimes curtail my desire for the purity truth when the other party is not being rational.

  6. Randy K
    January 31st, 2009 at 09:36 | #6

    Excellent comments. When we are hammers, everything to us (me included) seems to be a nail. In the denomination in which I was raised, we used to point to the LCMS as an example of those who stood strong on inerrancy and withstood the blight of liberalism — see, we were not the only ones! And yet, as my wife has challenged me to do this year, read 1 Cor 13 every morning, we can see as you pointed out in your note—truth must be coupled with love.
    That is so hard for me. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory in Christ Jesus. It makes the office of the keys and the sacraments mean all the more to me when I realize I can’t do what you note in your comments by “deciding to be a good Christian” (as I had once been taught), but rather by grace infused in me from heaven. —I praise God for that truth which I didn’t understand until becoming Lutheran. Now, God help me, to share that in love.
    Thank you.

  7. Grace
    January 31st, 2009 at 11:32 | #7

    What a hard line this is to walk! There is danger on both sides – if we fall off to the one side, truth is compromised. If we fall off to the other, people can be hurt and turned away from the truth we are trying to present.
    After having spent about four years in the world of online Christian interaction, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like I was being smacked with the broad end of a shovel by folks who had a point to make at all costs. And to be honest, I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve done my share of shovel-smacking others in my zeal to make a point.
    I think that the temptation is especially strong in the world of cyberspace, where it’s easy to forget that there’s a human being (with all the sin and frailties that come with that package) at the other end of that keyboard. When I’ve failed to remember that, I’ve usually also failed to make my point – however well I argued it.
    Lately in my online interactions, I’ve been trying to assess how I would respond to a live person if they were standing right in front of me at church, and others were listening in on the conversation. If I wouldn’t say what I’m about to post online (in a dialog) to person in a group setting at church, I’m trying not to say it to the invisible person behind the computer screen either. Of course, this only relates to dialogues, and not to presenting a case to a general audience. In that case, I think we can still be kind, but perhaps more forceful, if necessary, than when addressing a specific person.
    I like Proverbs 3:3-4: it shows that kindness and truth are not an “either-or” proposition, but a “both-and”:
    “Do not let kindness and truth leave you;
    Bind them around your neck,
    Write them on the tablet of your heart.
    So you will find favor and good repute
    In the sight of God and man.”
    Kindness AND truth…that’s the best of all worlds. Now if I could only do it!
    By the way, Pastor – I’ve only been around your blog for a short while, but I appreciate your approach!
    Thanks for all you do!

  8. Matt Jamison
    January 31st, 2009 at 22:00 | #8

    I struggle with this as well. Thank you for discussing this most personal issue.

  9. Don Hansen
    February 3rd, 2009 at 16:32 | #9

    One more thought on this:
    There is something very disturbing and (to be honest) a bit disgusting to me about the dialogs on ALPB.org. I’ll call it a “bland banality” — the exact opposite of the proverbial two-edged sword. The kind of thing that makes you want to yell “you’ve got to be kidding! Hello? Anybody home?” So, if the intention is promoting peace, harmony and love, if this is the price to pay for it (a big hazy fog of confusion) then no thanks. I prefer an environment which is sharper and clearer. Blandness bothers me more than honest quarrels, even if they devolve into yelling matches. At least then you get honest opinions out in the air.
    Which reminds me of something I heard from a marital counselor: Couples who go through horrible riffs in their marriages, where they devolve into “letting it all hang out” about what bothers them about the other, but who eventually work it through and stay married, end up having better marriages than before the riff, because it wasn’t until the riff happened that they truly spoke their minds, for fear of hurting the other’s feelings. So, that ultra-delicate manner of dealing with one another can actually do more harm than good to our relationships.
    Now of course, I’m not suggesting that the opposite extreme is the way to go, but rather as with all things, there is a time for peace and a time for war, a time for ….
    I don’t want to go through life in a state of war, but I also don’t want to go through life living in pleasant, bland apathy. I want to see passion for the Truth in others, and in myself, even if we are less than perfect in our expressions of it. So what if it gets a little messy in the process? “Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead”. We have a mission ahead, and it won’t be accomplished without taking risks of injury. So either be a wimp and play it safe, or pour on the afterburners and go for it.

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