But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. — 2 Timothy 2:23–26 sight!”
Thanksgiving is one of those times we love or dread, often depending upon the relatives we’re about to spend it with. If you have one or more relatives who love to argue politics, global warming, vaccinations or alien encounters, you have my sympathy. What could have been a wonderful holiday spent reconnecting, exchanging affections and personal updates, and giving thanks together can quickly become a terse, blood-pressure raising race into angry conflict. So what can you do about it? I can’t steer you clear of it entirely, but here are a few quick thoughts.
Consider the Timing
To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven — Ecclesiastes 3:1
Remember that if there is a time for everything, then not every time is the right time for everything. There is a time to engage in debate, a time to keep silent, a time to ask questions, a time to answer questions, a time to walk away and a time to pass the gravy. Don’t assume that every moment you spend together with your clueless brother-in-law is a God-ordained time to argue over U.S. immigration policies.
Here’s a thought — perhaps you are the relative who tends to start the political debates! You might feel it is your responsibility to use this opportunity to win your family over to your wisdom regarding whichever hot topic is hottest in your lap. You may even feel a pressure to do so while simultaneously hating it. Relax. Take a step back and ask God if this is truly the right time for this discussion. It may very well be, but it might also be that God would rather have you spend this Thanksgiving building bridges through love and attention and respect rather than trying to convert your left-leaning uncle to conservatism.
Keep a Few Cards Close to Your Vest
Wise people store up knowledge, but the mouth of the foolish is near destruction. — Proverbs 10:14
A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims foolishness. — Proverbs 12:23
The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools feeds on foolishness. — Proverbs 15:14
Notice a pattern in these verses? Wise people don’t feel compelled to force feed everyone their wisdom. Like the martial arts master who feels no need to prove himself by engaging every challenge, the wise man or woman learns to be content with knowing more than they share. Part of wisdom is recognizing that people aren’t always ready to truly listen to what you have to say. Speaking anyway wins no one to your cause but does alienate you from some and cause others to dismiss you. So let wisdom guide you even about which pearls of wisdom you will share. Remember the entertainer’s adage: Always leave them wanting more. They certainly won’t want more if you give them everything you have.
Foolish people, by contrast, can’t seem to stop talking. They have an opinion about everything, and they are quite certain about each one. And they will try to goad you into conflict. You don’t always have to take the bait. Jesus sent the disciples out to preach and told them not to waste their time in towns or villages that don’t want to hear it. He also said not to cast your pearls before swine. Take a moment to evaluate the situation. Is it highly unlikely that you will be listened to? If so then why engage in it? Why not let the other person gloat in their assumption that they’ve stumped you? You know the truth. God knows it. And there’s a good chance others in the room will figure it out very quickly. They’ll see that you’re simply not going to step into a futile argument.
Choose Words That Build Up, Not Tear Down
The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of wisdom. — Proverbs 10:21
Notice that when the righteous man or woman does speak, their words are designed to feed people, to bring them health and nourishment, to build them up, not to tear them down. Don’t get caught up in trying to outwit your cousin. If he tries to make you look stupid, look gracious instead. Be kind rather than responding in kind. Remember Peter’s admonition about handling such people:
Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. — 1 Peter 3:8,9
Believe the Best About Them
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. — 1 Corinthians 13:7
If possible, begin with the assumption that your brother isn’t trying to be obnoxious, or to insult you, or to mislead people, or to do whatever other annoying thing he does when he gets into these discussions. Let’s begin with the assumption that those we’re talking with are sincere, that their intentions are good and that they are simply mistaken or deceived. Love believes all things. Love believes the best about people until proven otherwise. It bears with their haughty tones; it believes that beneath that tone is a sincerity, however misguided; it hopes that they can still be open minded enough to see where they are wrong; and it endures their obnoxious proclamations about this year’s topic of the holiday.
Recite 2 Timothy 2:23-26 Until You Know It!
This post began with part of Paul’s second instruction manual for Timothy. In these four verses, we find several helpful guides.
But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. — 2 Timothy 2:23–26
Avoid Unnecessary Disputes
What is a “foolish and ignorant” dispute? Sometimes it is the topic itself that makes it foolish. Why waste your goodwill and unity over a debate about which green bean casserole is the best? Likewise why generate strife over a dispute about whether the top income tax tier should be 37% or 38%? Or whether Jesus is coming back before, during or after the tribulation? It’s fine to discuss such things, but not to argue your way into a dispute. Sometimes a foolish argument is one in which you are wasting your time because you’re talking with someone too proud and headstrong to listen and learn.
Rather Than Be Quarrelsome, Be Gentle
People are used to quarrels. They’re quite unaccustomed to gentle souls. A gentle person is more concerned about the other person than about winning an argument.
Teach Rather Than Quarrel
Don’t try to score points, win arguments or look smart. Try to teach, but not as if you are the wise teacher and they the ignorant student. Teach as a fellow student. And teach even if the lesson is so small that your aunt still feels 100% convinced that she’s right and you’re wrong. Sometimes that one tiny seed of truth you sowed will begin growing over time, leading the other person to begin questioning their once iron-clad conclusions.
We are all so clueless. After 25 years of walking with God, you have learned so much and changed so much. And yet you know so much less than you will after 25 more! So don’t be in too much of a hurry for others to know what you know, believe what you believe, value what you value. It took God some time to get you this far. Give Him time to work on them too.
Put Humility Before Correction
Never lose sight of how important it is to be humble when you’re correcting someone. This is one of my pet peeves with most of my favorite political pundits. Listen to the radio or tv commentators and it seems like you’ll hear far more arrogance than humility. Sometimes one person’s arrogance may deceive others into assuming they know what they’re talking about. But that is not God’s way. God’s way is humble. Humility draws people in like the magical attraction of the magnet. Humility might even open a closed mind in need of correction.
Remember the Goal: To Set Captives Free
Satan blinded us all. He captured and enslaved us. Only Jesus can set us free. Only Jesus can set your brother, sister, mother, cousin, or son free. Your eloquence can’t do it. Your logic can’t do it. Your grasp of the facts can’t do it. Your Savior can, by grace and love. “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails a thing, but faith working through love,” Paul told the Galatians as he warned them not to get lured away from the good news of salvation-by-grace. So too now, faith working through love can set free your family and friends.
May your Thanksgiving be filled with thoughts about how much we have to thank God for and with conversations that glorify God.