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Before You Disagree

We live in a world of disagreements. Our opinions clash like untimely cymbals in the orchestra of life. Sometimes we disagree over little things; like where to eat, what to buy, what color to paint the hall? Sometimes it is over larger things; like religion, doctrine, the meaning of life, where should we live, what is truth? We disagree with the politician on TV, or the decision of our employer, or the choices made by our neighbor, or the thing that pastor said.

Disagreements are not bad, per se. Talking about those things on which we disagree can be good, healthy, sanctifying, and productive. Such conversations may lead to eventual agreement, or at least a better understanding of the problem itself. A disagreement, well-managed, may be more pleasing to God than a bitter unity. Eventually, you see, we will agree: “till we all come to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man…(Eph 4:13).”

But too often we are not very gracious in the way we disagree. And we Christians, confusing rudeness with faithfulness, are often the worst culprits when it comes to graceless disagreements with others. We can come off as simply disagreeable people. Therefore, “test yourselves” (2 Cor 13:5) may not be bad advice before we decide to voice our next disagreement with someone.

In thinking from the context of my own heart, the following tests strike me as possibly helpful:

TEST ONE: NECESSITY

Do you have to voice the disagreement at all? Is it needed? Is it a matter of unfaithfulness on your part if you fail to speak up? Or, maybe, is the other in grave danger by holding the view that they have expressed, such that charity for our neighbor demands a response? Surely there are times when silence is sinful. But, to be fair, those times are probably rare. More often we may be wiser to heed James’ counsel to be “slow to speak (James 1:19)” and to “bridle” the tongue (James 1:26). The Proverbs give good advice about our tendency to speak up when silence may be preferred, saying that “He who has knowledge spares his words (Prov 17:27)” and “whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles (Prov 21:23).”

TEST TWO: HUMILITY

The second test to give yourself as you prepare to disagree with someone is the test of humility. This test gets to the very heart of why we find it necessary to disagree. Few things are more self flattering than the display of knowledge. “Knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1), the apostle reminds us. And correcting someone else inevitably puts our knowledge on display. Therefore, great caution should be observed whenever we find it necessary to disagree. Are we confident that we are right and they are wrong? Am I sure this isn’t just pride at work, looking for a little attention, a little recognition, a little glory? Does not the apostle warn every person to “not think more highly of himself than he ought (Romans 12:3).” Am I willing to allow for even the possibility that I have misunderstood the other person? No? Then I wonder if this Proverb might be true of us, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him (Prov 26:12).”

TEST THREE: SETTING

Where, and in what setting, have you chosen to make your disagreement known? If your choice of location is public, was that the absolutely necessary for setting for it to occur? Yes, there is a time and place for public rebukes and correction. But are you sure that this was such a case? There is a lovely story in Acts 18 about the preaching of Apollos. He was a gifted speaker with a good heart, but was not fully instructed in some things concerning the faith. And there we are told that Aquila and Priscilla “took him aside and explained the way of God more accurately.” They took him aside. Translate this to 21st century language: they sent him a DM. They texted him to meet for coffee, or maybe a beer. And there they explained some things he didn’t see yet. The temptation to “correct” people in front of others is tantalizing, and social media gives extensive opportunity to do so. But consider the setting first.

TEST FOUR: LOVE

Far too often, if we are honest, the reason we voice our disagreement with a person is because we don’t like them. Thus, the motivation for our correction or rebuke is not the good of their soul, but to simply justify our own displeasure in the individual. And because we dislike them, we would prefer it that others dislike them too. Disagreement becomes a convenient cloak for revenge. We can’t punch them…but we can tell them they are wrong…and that feels almost as good. But Scripture calls us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and to pray for them (Matt 5:44). Therefore, it is worthwhile to inquire closely into whether our disagreement is truly motivated by love.

TEST FIVE: THE GOAL

Finally, it may be helpful to ask ourselves what is really the end goal of the disagreement we are about to express. What do I hope to achieve? Do I hope to learn something from the interaction that may help me walk more faithfully, gracefully, and godly? Is my goal my brother’s (or sister’s) welfare? What is motivating me at the moment of voicing my disagreement? Is it the fear of God? Is it the glory of God? Have I committed the matter to the Lord in earnest prayer, asking His blessing upon my actions and His restraint upon my sin? If I cannot sincerely pray God’s blessing upon it, then maybe I need to wait until I can.

Photo by Mateusz D on Unsplash

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