Fighting the Works of the Flesh: Contentions

In the eighth post in this series covering the works of the flesh, we look at several strategies we can use to combat common contentions in our life.

Fighting the Works of the Flesh: Contentions
Most people don’t like to get into heated arguments with others. Even those who enjoy the intellectual exercise of moderated debate do not usually enjoy a discussion that develops into a chaotic and emotional argument. However, the Internet now offers a way to argue and contend with others while avoiding the uncomfortable situation of doing it face-to-face.

On Facebook and other social networking sites, comment threads often involve people vociferously debating and “going for the throat” on many issues (particularly politics!). Many news websites allow commenting on stories, which often degrades into chaotic, unrestrained debates. It is clear that the anonymity of the Internet has caused many to lose civility and practice this particular work of the flesh: contentions.

Contentions can be described in many ways, so here is a basic example:

Person A: “I believe the government should give more tax breaks to the poor and fewer tax breaks to rich businesspeople.”

Person B: “I believe the government should give more tax breaks to businesspeople, and then benefits will trickle down to the poor.”

So, these two have reached an impasse where they definitely disagree on a controversial modern issue. Instead of agreeing to disagree, coming to a compromise or calmly discussing their different reasoning in a mutually respectful manner, contention ensues!

Person A: “People like you don’t care about the poor. You greedily want to see all wealth in the hands of the wealthy. I can’t stand people like you!”

Person B: “You hate those who work hard to earn wealth. You’re an immoral Marxist who has no clue about life or economics!”

Contentions usually cause people to toss all respect out the window and lead people to determine to win the argument at all costs.Contention!

Whether the discussion is in person or on the Internet, when it degrades to this level, it doesn’t even matter what the original subject was anymore. Things go from discussion of the issue to hurt feelings, awkward moments, regrets and perhaps even completely broken relationships! But it doesn’t have to be like this.

Lies about contentions

Lie No. 1: “Arguing is healthy for relationships. It gets people to see different perspectives.”

This lie blatantly ignores the difference between discussion and contention. Discussion allows people to put forth their views and opinions in a respectful manner, expecting the same respect in return from someone who either agrees or disagrees. Contentions usually cause people to toss all respect out the window and lead people to determine to win the argument at all costs.

Behind contention is a spirit of war and competition, which is undeniably linked to pride (1 Timothy 6:4). Notice Titus 3:9: “But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless.”

Avoiding contentions is, of course, easier said than done, especially when emotions run high.

Lie No. 2: “My opinion is just as valid as anybody else’s opinion about anything and everything in the world.”

This may sound like a joke, but it quickly becomes a reality when you consider Internet comments or calls into talk radio shows. It is amazing how many “experts” there are on foreign policy, police procedure, economic strategy, education reform, parenting, health advice and financial advice.

The Bible has a word for people who express pretentious opinions about things they know little about: fool. Proverbs 18 gives insight into two characteristics of a foolish person:

  • “A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart [opinion]” (verse 2).
  • “A fool’s lips enter into contention, and his mouth calls for blows” (verse 6).

Notice that neither description says the fool knows what he is arguing about—just that he argues!

Strategies to overcome contentions

1. Contention is almost always linked to anger, so calm down.

The book of Proverbs gives many gems of practical wisdom to help us avoid the pitfalls of life—including contentions.

  • “A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays contention” (Proverbs 15:18).
  • “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts” (Proverbs 17:14).

These two proverbs hint at one of the most basic keys to stopping contentions: calm down. When we see a blog post we disagree with on the Web and want so badly to add our “two cents,” we should wait. We can let the initial rush of emotions pass, perhaps getting up and doing something else. We likely won’t be as emotionally charged when we return.

If we are in a conversation and hear a comment that angers and tempts us to begin an argument, we can take a minute and bow out of the conversation. A comment may be necessary—but we should do whatever we can to make sure our words are not driven by our initial emotional response.

The Bible is very clear that we should “avoid foolish disputes … for they are unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3:9). 2. Practice listening to different opinions with respect and self-control.

Sometimes we hear something outrageous in conversation, or see something online, and we can barely hold our angry retort in for more than a few seconds. The Bible tells us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19, English Standard Version).

Jesus Christ set a perfect example. Throughout His ministry, He was mocked, challenged and reviled by His enemies. He always listened and answered in an intelligent, effective manner (John 8:1-8). Sometimes He simply left and did not dignify their foolish arguments with a response—showing amazing self-control (Mark 8:11-13).

3. Learn to hate contentions.

Hatred of contentions (not of people) is one of the ways to remove this sin from our lives. Contentions divide people over mainly frivolous and meaningless differences of opinion. Even when the differences being discussed are relevant and meaningful, contention moves people away from reconciliation and toward pride and a spirit of anger.

The Bible is very clear that we should “avoid foolish disputes … for they are unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3:9).

This is the eighth in a seventeen part series on Fighting the Works of the Flesh. To read part 7, see “Hatred.” To continue the series, see part 9 “Jealousies.”

Topics Covered: Relationships, Christian Living, Overcoming

About the Author

Eddie Foster

Eddie Foster

Eddie Foster was born in Ohio, and after living in several parts of the northeastern United States, he once again lives in the Buckeye State, most likely for good this time. He lives in the Dayton area with his wife, Shannon, and two daughters, Isabella and Marley. They attend the Cincinnati/Dayton congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.

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