Disagreements, Contentions, and Strife, ‘Oh My’
Proverbs 17:14 “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts.”
Strife is defined as a conflict, struggle or a rivalry. Contention, which is many times seen connected to strife can be defined as: an opinion or claim stated in the course of an argument or disagreement.
This morning we are going to use this definition: Strife, a conflict brought on by an opinion or claim originating in the course of a disagreement.
President Woodrow Wilson had this to say concerning strife: The way we generally strive for rights is by getting our fighting blood up; and I venture to say that is the long way and not the short way. If you come at me with your fists doubled, I think I can promise you that mine will double as fast as yours; but if you come to me and say, "Let us sit down and take counsel together, and, if we differ from one another, understand why it is that we differ from one another, just what the points at issue are," we will presently find that we are not so far apart after all, that the points on which we differ are few and the points on which we agree are many, and that if we only have the patience and the candor and the desire to get together, we will get together.
Before I was blessed with the position of Pastor and Shepherd, I sometimes found myself either the instigator of or the mediator between, two people in conflict and disagreement. The odd thing was that whoever reached me first with their side of the story usually influenced me to take their side. And, as many times as not, when I finally heard both sides, I would either withdraw my agreement with the first party, or, find that there was fault with both parties. When I first started dealing with people as a Pastor, I brought along with me my old habit of responding favorably to the first person to reach me. I rarely do that anymore. My first response now is to just listen and to wait for the rest of the story to surface before I make any judgment. I have found that this is by far the best way.
As true believers, we need to be aware of strife and contentions.
1 Corinthians 3:3 “ For where there are envy, strife and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?
Mere men is here meant as those who are living under their own will and not within the will of God. They serve the ‘world’ and not God. When we witness strife and divisions within the body of Christ, the church, we are witnessing some of the worst of behaviors. Any action taken by a true believer and disciple of Jesus that does not fall under the will of God is wrong. Period. Strife, disagreements and contentions leading to divisions within the body of Christ are unacceptable on many levels.
We may disagree with each other. That is almost for sure going to happen. There is nothing wrong with the act of disagreeing. Sometimes, disagreement, when handled in a spiritually mature way, can be very beneficial. But when disagreement is acted on by the immature, contentions and divisions are very likely to be the result. If the divisions in the body of Christ only affected us as individuals, there would not be much of a problem. The thing that makes divisions so terrible in the body of Christ is that it makes God look bad to a world that already has a hard time believing in Him.
Proverbs 13:10 “ By pride comes nothing but strife, But with the well advised is wisdom.” You will find, in your journey through the word of God, that pride is something that God absolutely despises. Pride that is immature. Pride that sets people against each other. False pride that makes one man feel that he is better, above another. People who are full of this kind of pride will rarely accept wise council from anyone. To be well advised means that you are open to, and accept, advice. You may or may not follow the advice. But your self pride will not get in the way of listening to advice from others. It is a foolish man that does not consider the advice of other believers. God may have set this person in your path. Men full of false self pride love to give advice, not receive it.
Proverbs 26:21 “ As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife.” Looking at our earlier definition of contention, a contentious man will take his opinions, already hot with the anger of an earlier argument or disagreement, and go around telling everyone who will listen how the other person is wrong. How the other person has said or done something that has inflamed his anger, and the contentious man will not be content until he has had his fill of malicious gossiping, until he has flamed the small warm coals into a full fledged, white hot forest fire that has everyone around him in the middle of the flames. Look at the previous verse: 26:20 “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.” The Bible also tells us that a wise man keeps his lips shut, even a fool will appear wise if he keeps his mouth shut. To become contentious is a sin, to spread the strife all around makes it worse.
We need to have our spiritual radar system on all the time. We are commanded to have gentle spirits. Attitudes of love and compassion. We should be on our guard watching for those instances when others will come to us with a bad report concerning someone else. What is their motivation for sharing that information? Is it because they want to help the other, or is it because they feel they have been wronged and are just out to raise votes for their opinion?
2 Timothy 2:23 “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife.” Knowing these disputes will lead to strife, we join in anyway. Isn’t that something? How many times have you seen or heard someone arguing and you turn and walk towards the ones in the middle of the fuss? When you are in the middle of a disagreement, handle it with maturity. When others are having a disagreement, stay out of it, if it has no bearing on you.
Paul says not to strive about words to no profit as they will work to the ruin of the hearers. To shun profane and idle babblings, as they will lead to even more ungodliness. And the message will spread like cancer. So says God.
Proverbs 10: 12 “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.” The best antidote for anger that leads to strife, contentions and divisions is love. Not the love that the ‘world’ embraces, but the love that Jesus commands us to have for one another. A higher love that finds its strength in God. As true believers, we should be praying for the help of the Holy Spirit of God to show us how to cultivate this kind of love in our minds and our hearts for others.
Disagreements handled rightly are no problem and can even have a positive effect. But disagreements that lead to strife and contentions create havoc in the life of the believer and in the body of the church.
Strife can be started by hate, pride of self, a disagreeing spirit or personality, or wrongly handled advice. It can be elevated by wrong attitudes or spiritual immaturity. We are to avoid strife that leads to divisions and contentions at all costs. Proverbs 20:22 “Do not say, “I will recompense evil; Wait for the Lord and He will save you.” We may be wronged unfairly. We may be accused unfairly by another believer. Even that does not give us license to rail against the wrongdoer. It does not pave the way for even more disobedience from the one who feels wronged.
Sometimes we have problems put in our path. But when we have any choice or control in the matter, we should develop the habit of keeping our mouths shut. We need to let God intervene for us. Let me leave you with this thought from Proverbs 20:3 “It is honorable for a man to stop striving, since any fool can start a quarrel.”