How to Disagree
Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth . . . 2 Timothy 2:23-25
A few times recently, I’ve been confronted with questions for which the answers were quite painful. I knew what I thought was right, but what was right in my mind was definitely not what the other party wanted to hear. At those times, I’ve been faced with a difficult decision between a couple of options.
First, I could attempt to placate and pacify by skirting the truth. Using platitudes, I could avoid any real conflict by just telling them what they wanted to hear. This is my tendency. I don’t enjoy conflict and so, sometimes, it’s just easier to be passive. Yes, I’m sure you’re right. Let’s just move on. When the other party pushes for an answer though, I eventually open up, releasing a torrent of hostility. That’s my second option – to aggressively unload all my frustration and anger in a blistering attack. You’re the problem you idiot. This isn’t my first impulse, but once I start talking, I have a hard time controlling it.
In today’s passage though, Paul suggested a third, and healthier option. In it, he instructed Timothy on how, and when, to disagree. First, he told Timothy to avoid foolish arguments. We all know those who just argue with everything, simply for the sake of arguing. Paul told Timothy not to be like that. Then, he went on to say that Timothy must stand for the truth, but to always do so with gentleness and kindness. Truth must not be abandoned, yet it must always be sown with love. In sharing the truth in love, Timothy would maintain right behavior himself, and in doing it right, he was more likely to convince the other party of the truth.
This is the challenge for us – to avoid being argumentative and to always share the truth in love. We must learn to pick our battles – not everything needs our correction. Sometimes though, we do need to stand up for what’s right. As Christians, our job isn’t to avoid conflict simply for our own comfort. When we do wade into some controversy though, we must do so without malice or hostility. An angry hateful Christian is rarely useful to God. As followers of Christ, we must continually present the truth with gentleness and kindness. We may or may not convince others of the truth, but in speaking the truth in love, we maintain our own spiritual health.