I've been preaching for almost ten years now so it should come as no surprise to anyone that there have been a number of occasions where someone has disagreed with me or I have disagreed with someone. And, of course, I have witnessed many disagreements (both scriptural and personal) between brethren.
Unity is so important (Jn. 17:20-21; 1 Cor. 1:10; 4:6-7; Eph. 4:1-5; Phil. 1:27-2:4, et al) and so much of what I preach and teach revolves around this message. So it pains me to say this, but sincere, God-fearing Christians will inevitably have disagreements. The question, then, is not, "how can we avoid disagreements?" but rather, "how do we handle disagreements?"
In this short article, I'd like to emphasize three ways to disagree properly...
- Always, always, always be honest! In Acts 17:10-12, when Paul challenged the Bereans, they didn't become defensive; they didn't take offense. Instead, they were "fair-minded...in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (vs. 11). When a disagreement arises, open God's word and accept the truth no matter what the consequences or challenges might be.
- Do not forsake the "fruit of the Spirit." So often, debates and disagreements become personal, or it's a question of who can talk the loudest. I have seen brethren treat one another with such disrespect that I worried for the babes in Christ or the non-Christians standing by. More than that, I worried for the souls of those who resorted to such rude, unloving antics. Paul wrote to Timothy, "And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth" (2 Tim. 2:24-25). The power isn't in our eloquence or wit; it's in the gospel (Rom. 1:16)...and the gospel doesn't need to be yelled or crammed down someone's throat to be effective.
- Ensure that there is purpose behind the disagreement. As we just noticed in 2 Timothy 2:24, Christians are not to be quarrelsome, or argumentative. In Titus 3:9-10, we're told to "avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about law; for they are unprofitable and useless." Don't get me wrong, the Scriptures are clear that we must take a stand for the truth. However, the fact remains that some things are not worth fussing about. Is it a matter of faith, obedience or salvation? Or is it nothing more than a petty argument over some technicality that matters not either way? Learning to make this distinction is not only crucial, but reflective of great spiritual maturity.
Certainly much more could be said, but I am convinced that if we will apply these three simple principles to any future disagreements we have in the church, we will avoid so much of the drama and division that unfortunately have split many churches and discouraged many Christians. Remember, God's people are to be concerned first and foremost about glorifying Christ, not winning the argument.