By Patrick T. Donahue
Sometimes we emphasize the Bible’s warnings against strife (Gal. 5:20), debate (Rom. 1:29), contention (Prov. 17:14), etc., to the point that listeners get the idea that a Christian should not be described by these characteristics in any sense. Of course, the Bible teaches a rightful place for these practices.
The difference is in what we are striving, debating, or contending for. The Bible teaches us to “strive not about words to no profit” (2 Tim. 2:14). This has to do with striving for false doctrine (2 Tim. 2:16,18), striving about questions that the gospel does not concern itself with (1 Tim. 1:4). On the other hand, the Christian is to strive “to preach the gospel” (Rom. 15:20).
A certain kind- of “debate” is condemned in the Bible (2 Cor. 12:20). Another kind is enjoined (Prov. 25:9). Paul’s example of reasoning “out of the scriptures” is commended to us in Acts 17:2. Apollos debated with the Jews, “shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ” (Acts 18:28). Debates are right and good as long as we are debating for the truth of the Scriptures and not false doctrine or our own opinions and ideas.
It is wrong to be “contentious” against God’s ordinances (1 Cor. 11:16,2). It is right, however, to contend for God’s ordinances. Michael the archangel was “contending with the devil” in a righteous way (Jude 9). The Bible even commands us to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
Jeremiah was “a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth” (Jer. 15: 10). We should certainly be the same. As a matter of fact, we should make it a point to become like, and do like Jeremiah. We should work to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh” us “a reason of the hope that is in” us (1 Pet. 3:15). We should always be “set for the defense of the gospel” (Phil. 1:17).
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 5, p. 143
March 2, 1989