Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. (2 Timothy 2:23-24)
Americans love to argue and debate! As one who has traveled extensively and lived in Asian cultures, I can testify to the fact that Americans are viewed as arrogant and rude by most cultures in the world today. Being opinionated, debating, arguing, and criticizing others have become virtues in our culture. Turn on any cable news network and you will constantly find people of opposing views arguing and attacking one another. And the shows that do it the most have the highest ratings! Americans love this kind of behavior.
So this may come as a surprise to most Americans who read this, but such behavior is viewed in the Bible as wrong! The verse above written by Paul to his young co-worker Timothy is one of the best statements attesting to this truth. Timothy was a missionary like Paul who preached the gospel message about Jesus and established churches in new places. There were many people in his day that opposed his ministry, as well as the ministry of Paul. In this instructional letter to Timothy, Paul makes it very clear that Timothy was NOT supposed to argue with those who opposed his teaching.
The command to not argue did not mean that he was not to oppose false teaching and false doctrine. On the contrary, we are encouraged to always be ready to make a defense to those who oppose our message. Notice how the apostle Peter addressed this issue:
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
Our communication and defense of the truth is to be “with gentleness and respect” – not arguing and attacking. Take a look at the entire instruction Paul gave to Timothy in this respect:
Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:23-26)
Timothy was instructed to oppose those who taught false doctrine, but by “gently instructing” and not by debating or arguing. The key point here I think is respecting the person or persons who are opposing you, realizing that if they are trapped in false thinking, they are walking in darkness. Therefore they have desperate needs to change their way of thinking (repentance), and come to a knowledge of the truth about Jesus and salvation. Their very lives and eternal destiny are at stake, and we must have compassion and love for people who attack us and oppose us!
While confrontation and arguing is seen as a virtue in American culture, many cultures in the world today value non-confrontation and courtesy. This includes the Middle Eastern culture of which much of the Bible was written from. During Paul’s day there was undoubtedly a conflict of cultures between the Semitic Jews and the Roman/Greek Gentile culture, which is the foundation of Western culture today. And since Timothy was brought up in the Greek culture (he was not from Israel), Paul considered it important to cover these issues regarding how to oppose and confront others. As a missionary, this was part of Timothy’s ministry. What made it even more difficult was the fact that Timothy was young, and considered a “youth.” Notice how Paul instructed him to confront others:
Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2)
Is this the way you confront others? Or do you follow the popular American culture which values “sticking up for your rights” and participate in arguments and debates that seek to tear down and humiliate the person you are opposing? Unfortunately, that is the American way, but it is NOT the way of the servant of Christ. Those of us serving Christ are called to be courteous and respectful to those we are opposing, loving them and desiring that they come to a knowledge of the truth about Christ and salvation.
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe. (Philippians 2:14-15)