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Avoid Being Sidetracked by Battles Not Worth Winning

Written by Gary North on August 20, 2016

But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will (ll Tim. 2:23-26).

Avoid foolish and unlearned questions. This does not mean that you have any obligation to avoid wise and learned questions, but you must approach them wisely and learnedly. That is, you must be prepared to defend your actions with wise words based on a comprehensive knowledge of the Bible’s teaching on the topic at hand. You need cogent answers.

But sanctity the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing (I Peter 3:15-17).

Paul’s injunction applies to the avoidance of strife with people who are in the clutches of Satan. There are lots of Christians who are not in the clutches of the devil, covenantally speaking, but who will enthusiastically give the dedicated reformer a lot of trouble. Why? Because they are in sympathy with some teaching or practice that the devil finds useful in deflecting covenant-keepers from keeping the judicial and moral terms of the full-orbed covenant they profess.

What Is Strife?

The Greek word translated as “strife” can be translated “scourge.” Examples are these: “But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues” (Matt, 10:17). “And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again” (Matt. 20:19). it also refers to public confrontations. Stephen described the two Israelites who fought together until Moses intervened: “And the next day he shewed himself unto them as they strove, and would have set them at one again, saying, Sirs, ye are brethren; why do ye wrong one to another?” (Acts 7:26). James warned: “Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:2).

Paul’s warning against strife is not a prohibition on theological disputation. it is a prohibition on disagreements that escalate beyond theological discussion to a such a level of confrontation that the reputation of the church is threatened. ln the language of modern politics, strife occurs when “push comes to shove.” Pushing is not universally prohibited; there are times to push people out of the church. but this pressure is appropriate only in matters that legitimately should become judicatory. Short of bringing others before a church tribunal (we still use the old Roman terminology), teachers are commanded to be patient with those who hold different beliefs.

Strife is an illegitimate alternative to two things: peace and a formal trial. Anyone who is unwilling to seek the second should seek the first.

Cutting Strife Short

If the level of confrontation has escalated to the point of church court action, but neither participant is willing to bring a formal accusation against the other, both are commanded by Paul to cease the confrontation. A debate has become strife. Strife must be settled. Any confrontation that is not worth settling judicially should not be allowed to escalate to the point of creating divisions in the church: one vs. one, faction vs. faction.

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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