“The Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome…” (2 Timothy 2:24). Those inspired words from Paul to a young preacher have applications for us all when spiritual discussions and disagreements arise—whether with our friends, relatives, co-workers, classmates, or anyone else. God’s instruction to “not be quarrelsome” brings three things to mind.
First, God is not telling us to avoid all controversy. The very next verse says that “correcting those who are in opposition” is sometimes necessary. We are to “contend earnestly for the faith” and “always be ready to give an answer” (Jude 3; 1 Peter 3:15). It is not “quarrelsome” to defend and explain the truth in a rational way.
Second, God warns that not all controversies are worthwhile. Some involve nothing but empty speculation that is at best unprofitable, and at worst divisive and destructive (see 1 Timothy 1:6; 6:4; 2 Timothy 2:14,23; Titus 1:10; 3:9). Even Jesus treated some questions and arguments as unworthy of a response. Show good judgment. Beware of getting caught up in pointless disputes that do nothing but create strife and wreck faith.
Third, God warns against having a quarrelsome spirit. “Always ready to give an answer” does not mean “always looking to pick a fight.” Know the difference. “Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3). What’s more, when we are defending our faith, we need to be mindful of our attitude. Be forthright and bold, yes; but also be kind and humble (2 Timothy 2:24-25). Listen carefully. Handle the issue honestly. Avoid the hostility and rudeness that often rear their heads in a clash of views. Be patient when someone is slow to understand. In short, treat an opponent the way you would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
Whenever there is controversy, we need to imitate Jesus. His aim, wrote Gareth Reese, was “to win the hearts and allegiance of His opponents, not just win an argument.” That must be our aim, too.