There is a grave error in the world of Christianity today; it’s a problem that I feel doesn’t get spoken about much, and yet it needs to be addressed because it is a disgrace to the name of Jesus. The issue is this: in many attempts to contend for the faith in this wicked day, believers are also being contentious. I have seen this in good, Bible-believing churches. The message on their lips may be right, but the manner in which it is said often contradicts the message they’re trying to get out. This is a shameful reality and one that hinders the lost from coming to personally know our gracious Savior.
There are numerous church leaders today that proclaim they are standing for the truth. They may very well be desiring to, as I do not want to judge anyone’s motives. Again, the words coming out of their mouths may sound good and line up with Scripture, but their disposition reeks of pride and arrogance and snatches away any effect their words may have. There is an absolute difference in contending for the faith and being contentious. The Bible says we are to earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3); the word contend meaning “to be in earnest to strive or fight for something.” The word contentious means “causing or likely to cause an argument; controversial.” There is a huge difference here. Contending means being passionate about protecting a truth or cause; contentious means you like to argue or create controversy with people. Contending means standing up for what’s right; contentious means finding pleasure in letting others know they’re wrong. Contending is absolutely Biblical; being contentious is certainly not.
My plea to every Christian out there is to contend for the faith without being contentious. Not only is this possible, but, again, it is the command of our heavenly Father and is what will draw others to the Savior. Most folks are not touched in their hearts by a contentious individual, no matter what the message is. Some people will be deceived by these leaders, that is true, but it will be many that also have a contentious spirit – birds of a feather flock together. Contentious people like to oppose others; they enjoy being part of a group that hoops and hollers and belittles the opinions of others (even if it is the wrong opinion). The attitude of these leaders and congregations is a “holier than thou” attitude. Again, I do not want to judge motives, but I believe that some of the loudest so-called contenders for the faith, if they are being contentious, are not really contending for the faith at all. They have learned how to manipulate people so they can best serve their own agenda. I am not questioning the salvation of such individuals. Some may not be saved, but some may be and are just imitating a style they’ve seen from others or are just walking in their flesh. But mark this down: you’re not contending for the faith when you’re not practicing the faith, and true faith in Christ will lead to a gentle and meek spirit.
Some may object, “But Jesus overthrew the tables and drove the moneychangers out of the temple with a whip.” Indeed He did! Standing for truth still means we will oppose sin and lies, even exercising a righteous anger at times. But I doubt Jesus had a smug look on His face or was really enjoying taking a whip to those merchants. That is not the heart of our God or the heart of Jesus that we see so clearly demonstrated elsewhere. He wept over Jerusalem instead of wishing destruction on them (Mt.23:37). His mission was to get to the heart of people, not just to yell really loud and win an argument. The way some contentious leaders talk makes one think they really don’t care about the heart of others; it seems they care about themselves and getting themselves more attention by stirring up more controversy. A spiritual person understands that truth will naturally oppose, but he doesn’t live for that opposition or have an ungracious spirit towards others.
The Bible is replete with verses concerning what right speech and a right attitude look like. In Romans 12:14 we read, “Bless them which persecute you; bless and curse not.” Ephesians 4:15 states that we are to “speak the truth in love.” Paul said in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” These verses sound quite different from what is often heard on the lips of many believers, especially in a day when we have so much that we disagree with. It’s one thing to identify sin and error that is in our society, it’s another thing to be mean-spirited in our speech, and I’m afraid sometimes we cross that line. Our words should be characterized by love and grace, not a brashness that justifies itself because the words are truth.
In 1 Corinthians 13, the famous chapter on Godly love, we find these words, “(Love) Doth not behave itself unseemly.” That means that there is NEVER an acceptable time to act rude! Love does not act in an unbecoming way. Its’ words and actions do not repulse folks, but draw folks closer because of kindness and tenderness. Earlier in that chapter, God says it doesn’t matter how well you can speak if you don’t have love. Friend, God’s not impressed if you know His Word and can identify error in our world, but you berate those who are on the wrong side. Colossians 3:14 states, “And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” Are you putting on God’s love on a daily basis? Do you ask the Spirit of God to shed His love in your heart afresh and anew (Rom.5:5)? Love is the bond that holds everything else together in our lives. One of my professors at college used to say, “Fundamentalism without love is just another false religion.” Don’t misunderstand, churches need right doctrine; churches need to have a Biblical philosophy of ministry. They need to have sound standards based off principles in Scripture. But all of these things must be enveloped in the love of Jesus! The church must function at all times with the grace of humility, not a pretend holiness based on externals. Most lost people could care less about your doctrine or standards, but they notice and appreciate your acts of love towards them.
I have saved for last one of the clearest and strongest verses for how Christian leaders (and all of God’s people) ought to act: “And the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient” (2 Tim.2:24). To strive means “to quarrel or fight.” Engaging in a heated argument with raised voice and frequent name calling is not of God! That is striving, not gentleness. The louder one gets doesn’t mean the more right he is. Again, I have seen this from Christian leaders. The message is right but the manner is wrong. Not just wrong, I would say embarrassing to my gentle Savior. If we are to represent Christ affectively, we must represent His love and graciousness to others that we are trying to win. We can speak the truth in a non-striving manner; we can be gentle in our speech, not unnecessarily derogative.
I recently read the testimony of a Russian man who came to Christ back in the 1960s. He was under a communist regime and was taking a great risk in becoming a believer in Jesus. But once the Spirit of God shone in his heart the truth about Christ, he knew what he had to do. A statement he later made is very telling about what really draws people to the Lord. He said, “Jesus has won me by his politeness.” The stark contrast between the Christ of the Bible and what he was seeing in communist Russia was more than enough to convince him to personally accept Jesus. My friend, don’t be a part of the contentious crowd that give Christians a bad name. Contend for truth today, but please don’t be contentious!