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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Gentle Answer Turns Away Wrath

Friday I talked about forgiving your enemy as a gesture of friendship, even if that friendship is not returned.  Today I want to talk about the Christian way to argue.

We all know the non-Christian way to argue.  You know, when you get mad, you get even; payback has to be at least as serious as the offense; and when someone offends you, you don't let that person take it back or forget that it happened.  In short, non-Christian argument techniques always escalate and cause maximum damage, and this is not something God desires or intends for us to do.  It can harm our health and blow a hole in even the most "stable" parts of our lives.

On the other hand, sometimes we are given the mistaken impression that Christians don't argue, and that they aren't allowed to disagree or get angry.  The Bible doesn't support this teaching, either.  In fact, neither does real life.  When we give our hearts to Jesus, we don't lose our minds.  There will still be perfectly valid reasons to get angry, and these reasons will almost certainly make us angry at least once.  What then?  How do we properly "Fight like a Christian"?

Words to Argue By

The Bible talks a lot about anger and what we should do about it--even Jesus.  Here are the basics that Christians should know:
  • "In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent," (Psalm 4: 4 NIV).  What does it mean to be angry but not sin?  It means that when we are angry, we shouldn't add to the harm by coming to blows with someone, saying things that wound the heart, or in any way taking revenge.  We can experience the feeling of being angry, and that feeling is not a sin, but we must not act upon it.  We search our hearts and see that we are not capable of being an unbiased judge, and we hold back. 
  • "It is mine to avenge; I [the Lord] will repay.  In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them," (Deuteronomy 32: 35 NIV).  I have hinted at the human propensity to retaliate, but it is no small problem.  Some of us prefer to launch into shouting and blows when we are angry, while others hatch elaborate plots (like The Count of Monte Cristo).  Either way, the revenge is never as complete as justice, and in the end, we get hurt ourselves.  The fact is, justice from an outside party is better than revenge, because it not only supports the victim, but also requires confession and possibly repentance from the wrongdoer.  Justice is more complete than "making them pay" or "making them suffer, too,"  because it deals with the original offense in a complete way.  It is best to wait for God to institute justice.  It may seem that God is "taking too long," but He has given us His word--no one ever escapes Him.  Compared to the suffering of a sinner being punished by God, ours is brief and easy.
  • "'In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold,"(Ephesians 4: 26, 27 NIV).  Here Paul cited the first verse again, but he also added that we should do something when we are angry--we should attempt to quickly resolve a fight.  When we allow ourselves to stew and think about the anger we are feeling, we are more likely to follow up with sinful retaliation.  The division between us and the one we are at odds with may also become more permanent, the longer we wait.  Ending the standoff prevents Satan from gaining an entrance.
  • "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison," (Matthew 5: 25 NIV).  It may seem to be a dramatic verse to put here--I mean, the average argument doesn't lead to prison time--but the generalizable point is that we must be quick to seek a resolution when we argue, perhaps even by giving up our "right" to win the argument.  A parallel verse, in which God is the judge and eternal death is the prison, really brings out the meaning here: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins," (Matthew 6: 14-15 NIV).  It is best to resolve a dispute before God has to step in and make a judgment, especially if we are the ones who started the argument, or the ones who have dragged it out by refusing to forgive.  Is the matter serious enough to take it up in God's court?  At what cost are we demanding our "right" to be right?
  • "Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.  If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic," (Luke 6: 28, 29 NIV).  Was Jesus instructing us here to roll over and play dead?  Some interpret this verse to mean it, and from that, get the idea that disagreeing with someone is a sin.  However, what I see is strategy, here.  When people are cruel, they expect cruelty in return.  When cruelty is withheld, it knocks them off-balance and works feverishly on their conscience.  Many cruel people may fool themselves into thinking this is a naive move by a "patsy" and come back again to do more harm, but for the rest, this is a chance for God to use us to gain entrance into the life of a sinner.  Arguments are a given, but how we handle them might just benefit our opponent and give God glory.  This verse also calls us to look closer at the situation.  It is not up to us, in our own strength, to defend ourselves and our own.  God will defend.  Those who keep swinging are only making it worse for themselves, because they are messing with God.
  • "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you," (Proverbs 25: 21, 22 NIV). This is a similar concept to "turning the other cheek," but here, we are instructed to go farther than just putting up with an offense without retaliating.  Christians "get back" at their enemies by being exceptionally kind!  If a lack of retaliation sets a wicked person off-balance, open kindness might just win the person over--or, if not, it might stop the wicked person from continuing.  When I was small, I loved the image of burning coals; I imagined God taking His revenge on my behalf by methodically singeing hair and eyebrows with invisible coals.  That is exactly what a conscience feels like when God gets to work on it.  "Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone," (Proverbs 25: 15 NIV).  We Christians, of all people, should not question God's way of dealing with our enemies.
There are more examples in the Bible about how to handle anger and to "fight like a Christian," but these are pretty much the core teachings.  If you want to make some further points, feel free to quote Scripture in the comments section below!

Thanks in advance for your comments.  Until next time, stay savvy!