By Max Tice
I remember the first business meeting I ever attended as a young Christian. Some of the brethren had a disagreement over how certain deacons had been chosen. The climate in the room quickly grew significantly warmer as heated accusations and sarcastic comments were being exchanged. I came away feeling somewhat disillusioned and wondering how these could be the same people with whom I had worshiped so often. Little did I realize that this was only a foretaste of bitter experiences yet to come.
Having been a Christian now for over thirty years, I have both witnessed and heard about many scenes in which brethren have displayed less than exemplary and often out-right disgraceful behavior toward one another. These episodes have been especially common in Bible classes and business meetings. Imagine the effect of such conduct upon young Christians and visitors. Imagine also the demoralizing impact upon a local church. Although it is inevitable that brethren will sometimes disagree, it is far from necessary that they wrangle and misbehave. In James 4:1, James asks, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” In other words, such things are the product of allowing fleshly lusts to have free reign. Whenever a little thoughtlessness and twisted reasoning are added to these evil desires, then shameful conduct is an absolute certainty. Habits are formed which lead to misbehavior under the slightest provocation.
It is in the hope of promoting peace, that I would like to discuss some of these habits and the means by which they can be broken. I humbly ask you as a reader to own responsibility for your actions. Please do not say, “I’ll be sure to give this article to brother. He’s the one who needs it.” What about you? Do you have any of the habits which are described below?
Failure to Listen to Others
I have sometimes witnessed two brethren arguing with one another who were in complete agreement on the topic under discussion. Why were they arguing? Because they did not know they agreed? Why didn’t they know? Because somebody wasn’t listening. Some brethren are terrible listeners (with a capital terrible)! When they recite what they think someone else has said, it is often the very opposite of what was actually said. Although an entire room full of people may try to tell a brother he has misunderstood another party, he will continue wasting everyone’s time while blasting away at his supposed opponent.
Brethren there is a very simple solution to this problem, assuming that one does not just wish to fight. It is called paying attention. If someone tells you that you have misunderstood what was said, maybe you have. Ask for clarification.
Failure to Listen to Self
I have a strong feeling that if some brethren could watch themselves on video, they would be surprised at how they “come across” to other people. If only they could hear their ill-natured tone and inflammatory language, perhaps they would make some changes. Proverbs 12:18 states that “there is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Insistence on One’s Point of View
In both Bible classes and business meetings, there are sometimes brethren who have not outgrown the immature self concept of egocentrism. Everything must revolve around them. They seek to dominate discussions, and their point of view has to be right. The controversies which they generate are not really about the meaning of a Bible verse or some decision by the elders or the men of the congregation. They are about ego! These brethren feel a need to control others. Their behavior may be driven by insecurity, jealousy, or pride. The cure for this personality defect can be found in heavy doses of brotherly love and a biblical (rather than a twisted) concept of self.
Exaggeration of Questions Importance
With some brethren, nearly every question is a “matter of life and death.” Those who take the “wrong position” must be fiercely debated in the interest of sound doctrine. For example, consider all of the heated exchanges that have arisen over whether or not people baptized in John’s baptism be-fore Pentecost need to be rebaptized (not that they know too many to whom this would apply). This does not mean that such questions are unworthy of Bible class time. There are many subjects which do not affect basic issues of faith and God’s requirements for our salvation that are interesting to study. Yet, we must not exaggerate their importance. They are worth a limited amount of discussion. However, they are not worth embarrassing arguments with exhibitions of hot temper and rude remarks.
The Tendency to Judge Others
One reason some brethren get so angry during business meetings and Bible classes is their habit of judging others. They assume there are hidden agendas behind proposals. They imagine that the reason for a disagreement over a Bible passage is that the other party has no respect for God’s Word.
In short, they believe that any number of evil motives most likely drive other people’s words and actions. While these assumptions may sometimes be correct, they may also amount to jumping to completely erroneous conclusions. Both Jesus and James warned against unjust judging of others (Matt. 7:1,2; Jas. 4:11, 12). James asked the question: “Who are you who judge your neighbor?” Indeed, who are we to play God and pretend to know with certainty the innermost thoughts of another man’s heart?
Whenever we behave in such a way as to unnecessarily alienate our brethren and cause visitors to our classes to wish they had never come, we should be ashamed. We are allowing worldly lusts, thoughtlessness, and twisted reasoning to take control. Although we cannot avoid having disagreements, we can certainly avoid shameful conduct. If Christ lives in us, it will be so!
Guardian of Truth XL: 7 p. 22-23
April 4, 1996