In a world full of quarreling and fighting, one writer dares to embrace cliché’d openings, and post a bunch of useful quotes….
I think one of the things I will remember about 2016 is seeing a lot of people who identify as Christians act like total jerks on social media. From defending political viewpoints or candidates, to getting offended about various issues related to race, the Trinity, gender, and dozens of other things, it seems easier to “lose your religion” now than ever before. Here’s some good advice to counter that current cultural trend, and to point us back to the truth of Jesus’ call to be peacemakers, and not quarrel mongers.
- John Newton helpfully notes here that some Christians who are bitterly passionate about certain issues, actually do more harm to the cause than good. “If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service to the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit. What will it profit a man, if he gain his cause, and silence his adversary, if, at the same time, he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?” John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace” (Hat tip to David McConnell, who posted this on his FB page earlier this month)
- Charles Spurgeon counsels Christians to avoid cliques and tight knit groups that exclude others: “Know nothing of parties and cliques…and care for all alike. Blessed are the peacemakers, and one sure way of peacemaking is to let the fire of contention alone. Neither fan it, nor stir it, nor add fuel to it, but let it go out by itself. Begin your ministry with one blind eye and one deaf ear.” Charles Spurgeon’s advice to young ministers is also good advice for all of us!
- Charles Spurgeon also offers this advice about not biting back when somebody criticizes you: “A peacemaker is not only a citizen, but a man, and if sometimes he lets politics in general alone, yet as a man he thinks that the politics of his own person must always be those of peace. There, if his honor is stained, he does not stand up for it [himself]: he considers it to be a greater stain to his honour for him to be angry with his fellow man than for him to bear an insult…He hears others say, “If you tread upon a worm it will turn;” but he says, “I am not a worm, but a Christian, and therefore I do not turn, except to bless the hand that strikes, and to pray for those who spitefully use me.” He has his temper, for the peacemaker can be angry, and woe to the man who cannot be.., for anger is one of the holy feet of the soul when it goes in the right direction; but while he can be angry, he learns to “be angry and not sin,” and “he does not allow the sun to go down upon his wrath.” Charles Spurgeon (Note: the expression “If you tread upon a worm, it will turn” means that even the most quiet and defenseless creature will turn and defend itself if sufficiently provoked by an attacker.)
- In what is probably one of the most pointed Christian arguments against being a jerk, John Newton counsels a friend who is about to enter into a disputation with another person to conduct himself with love and Christlikeness and be clothed in humility relative to the conflict. To Newton, his friend’s conduct in debate was every bit as important, if not more, than the subject being debated. “Your aim, I doubt not, is good; but you have need to watch and pray for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you; he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defense of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers which are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God. Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.” This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, “not rendering railing for railing, but instead blessing; knowing that we are called to this.” The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but peaceable and gentle; and the lack of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the pot of ointment, will spoil the savor and efficacy of our labors. If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves. If you can be content with showing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands. Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.” John Newton,
- “Peacemaking is a divine work. For peace means reconciliation, and God is the author of peace and of reconciliation… It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the particular blessing which attaches to peacemakers is that “they shall be called sons of God.” For they are seeking to do what their Father has done, loving people with his love.” John R. W. Stott
- Be careful about devoting too much time to answering your critics, “Answering critics may either be direct replies to them or anticipating and adjusting my comments to guard against them in some way. Either way, the critic sets the agenda for some part of my ministry and life rather than God’s calling. This is why Paul tells the Corinthians, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Cor. 4:3-5). The apostle focuses instead on being faithful as a steward of the mysteries of God (4:1-2). We can’t answer our critics. There are too many of them.” Thabiti AnyaBwile
- The year that my wife and I got married, we went on a premarriage couple’s counseling weekend retreat with several other couples. It was a very helpful introduction to marriage, and even though it was 20 years ago, I remember one bit of advice that has been helpful dozens, if not hundreds of times: When arguing with somebody, put the issue you are arguing about out to the side and focus on IT – never direct your verbal jabs and anger at the person you are arguing with. This is incredibly wise. Tony Payne gives this same advice in terms of a sports metaphor:As in football, so in debates and arguments, we should strive to play the ball not the man; to discuss the issue itself rather than attack the person presenting the issue. This is not easy. It requires the ability to separate the pros and cons of a particular argument or issue from the personality who is presenting them, and to subject your own arguments to the same honest scrutiny that you bring to bear on the alternative view. In my experience, this is not only hard to do, but all-too-rare to encounter (especially online).
Several little indicators give it away. You know you’re dealing with someone who is playing the man not the ball when he makes a straw man of your view; that is, when he presents your side of things in an extreme or ugly light, or describes or illustrates it in such a way as to make it unattractive. By contrast, a ball-player endeavours to describe and present the opposing view as fairly and reasonably as he would like someone to present his own view. Ball-players also freely and honestly acknowledge what is good and right in the opposing view, and avoid intemperately damning the whole because of a defect in the parts. They seek to stick to the issue at hand, and not broaden or generalize the disagreement into a questioning of character or bona fides.
Playing the ball also means seeking to remain in good relationship with the person you’re disagreeing with, so that you can hopefully shake hands and share a coffee after your debate, or continue to work together on other projects or platforms. This is the ideal, and we should strive for it—to avoid targetting the person, and to deal instead with the issue, in the hope of coming to a common mind.
- When you are accused wrongly, or debating, or being treated unfairly, fixing your eyes on Jesus will be of great aid in not responding to travail and trial in an ungodly manner. In 1551, John Calvin wrote a letter of encouragement to John Le Fevre, a pious witness of the Reformation that would eventually be burned at the stake in Lyon, France. Le Fevre had asked Calvin for advice in dealing with his adversaries in disputation, and Calvin’s reply focused on the strengthening and victory that Jesus provides:
My dear Brother, — As God has called you to give testi- mony to his Gospel, never doubt that he will strengthen you in the might of his Spirit...Have your eyes always lifted up on high to that kind Lord Jesus, who will be your surety, seeing that you are only persecuted for his name. Think upon that immortal glory which he has purchased for us, to the end that you may be able to endure in patience the afflictions wherein you are. Beseech this kind Lord continually that he would give you such an issue as he has promised to all who are his own, and that according as he has thought fit to try your faith, so he would cause you to experience the strength of his promises. And that as he is the Father of Light, he would enlighten you to such a degree, that all the thick fumes which the wicked raise up before you, may not be able to dim your eyesight, and that all their quirks and cautions may not be able to darken your understanding, that you should ever lose sight of the true Sun of Righteousness, who is the very Son of God,
- Be careful about inserting yourself in the middle of conflict – if you do so, handle it in a Christlike manner, and rarely choose sides. Here’s Charles Spurgeon, again,
on being a peacemaker with husbands and wives (or any friends/neighbors that are fighting): “The peacemaker is a neighbor and though he never tries to meddle with his neighbor’s disputes, especially if it is a dispute between his neighbor and his wife, for he knows well that if they two disagree, yet they will both agree very soon to disagree with him, if he meddles between them. If he is called in when there is a dispute between two neighbors, he never stirs them up to animosity, but he says to them, “This is not good, my brethren; why do you quarrel with each other?” And though he does not take the wrong side, but always tries to do justice, yet he always tempers his justice with mercy, and says to the one who is wronged, “Can you not have the nobility to forgive?” And he sometimes puts himself between the two, when they are very angry, and takes the blows from both sides, for he knows that Jesus did this, who took the blows from his Father and from us also, so that by suffering in our place, peace might be made between God and man.” Charles Spurgeon’s Excellent Sermon on Peacemaking.
- Here’s an authoritative command to close out: As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. The apostle Paul’s paragraphs on being at peace in Romans 12 are some of the most powerful words of counsel ever written on how not to be a jerk: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil.Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. But If your enemy is hungry, feed him.If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.” Romans 12:14-21