When was the last time you had a good quarrel with someone? I suspect that everyone has been around someone who prided themselves in their ability as a quarreler. I remember a man who worshiped with the church where I preached some years back who would say quite often in a public setting, “You take any side of an argument you want and I’ll show you where you are wrong.” He thought that was a good thing. I’m not so sure it was. It seemed to me that it just made a person of him whom you could never know if he really believed what he was saying or not. I’ve met many along the way who were thrilled at their ability to win arguments. They felt that being able to decimate another person in an argument was some kind of spiritual gift. What I’ve noticed is this, “I’ve never known it to be the case that the person who was destroyed in an argument was changed from such an argument to become a devoted follower of Christ.” I went through a time when I really enjoyed going to debates on different topics. As time went by I found myself feeling sorry for the person who was being ripped to shreds by the other debater even when I was sure the one who was destroying the other person was right in what he said. Winning an argument normally doesn’t lead to winning souls.
Paul may have been the best at reasoning and demonstrating the truth of God’s message of anyone other than Jesus. Listen to what he wrote to young Timothy about his efforts at preaching and teaching. “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, 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 2:22-26)
What if the one you are arguing with is an atheist, how should you deal with him? God’s answer is “Gently” “Perhaps God will lead them to repentance.” But why can’t I lead them to repentance by showing how utterly silly and wrong their arguments are about there being no God? Because even if you can change a person’s mind on a thing, it doesn’t necessarily change their actions or their hearts. There are utterly millions of people who have an intellectual faith in God but who live as though they were total unbelievers. If we are to change a person’s heart it will only come through acting differently and treating them differently.
The reality is there are multitudes of people that have been driven from Christ and the church by the poor, unchristian conduct of the ones who claim faith in him. If you read through the gospel accounts about Jesus and His ministry on earth there is something that stands out from beginning to end. The ones he was hard on were those who claimed to be faithful servants of God and active in ministry to God but whose lives and hearts were messed up. When Jesus dealt with the unbelievers, the Gentiles, or Samaritans he did so with kindness and respect. He healed their sick, raised their dead and offered them hope for new life in him.
The church too often gets it backward and reverses the very things that Jesus did. We tend to be hard on the world and the lost and easy on one another who are believers. Compare for a moment how Jesus talked about Pharisees with how he talked about tax collectors. Even when he told his story of the Pharisee and tax collector going down to the temple to pray, which was the hero? The Pharisee prayed with himself and thanked God with how good he was and how spiritual he was. The tax collector pleaded for mercy, and found it. He went down to his house justified and the other man went down condemned.
Our job is to share the good news of Jesus with the world and to show them respect and kindness even when we believe that how they live or what they believe is wrong. It is God’s job to lead them to repentance. We can be absolutely certain that preachers or politicians shouting to the world of how awful homosexuals are or how horrible abortion is won’t turn anyone around. It will only lead to anger and determination to stand where they are. When we live with kindness, offering gentle instruction there is the very best chance that anyone might be willing to take a second, more serious look at their actions to determine what is right or wrong about them and even to consider making a change.
Think for a moment in your own life when you changed what you thought about some topic. What helped you to change? I heard some preaching along the way that said quite clearly that what I believed on certain topics was wrong, but it never even tempted me to make any change. But then I got to know two different people, one an older man and one a young man, close to my own age. The young man treated me like a friend without correcting me about things unless it was a incidental that he mentioned on something. The older man invited us over to his house and talked to me kindly. Even when I tried to start a quarrel with him, he refused to go there. He shared the story of Christ and the church and showed how the whole Bible fit together. He pictured for me a future not only as a Christian but as one who shared the message of God with others. It took a while, but the vision he painted wouldn’t leave my mind. God led me to repentance.
It is way past the time we learned to quit the fussing, the quarreling over silly and stupid things and learned to be gentle in talking with those with whom we disagree trusting God to lead them to repentance.