Controversy is a passionate battle between two opposing views, with each side typically unwilling to entertain the other’s arguments. Thus, controversy is different than dialog or debate, both of which consider the other’s views to seek growth, common ground, understanding, and perhaps compromise.
The controversy that we mostly encounter in America is stressful, producing quarreling and few solutions. You may see slander, shouting, rage, propaganda, divisiveness, and sometimes violence. It’s like an emotion-filled argument where both sides just shout at one another, and neither side is willing to budge nor do they expect any sort of compromise.
Controversy is full of bad stress that doesn’t lead us or others to change.
Consider some current controversies: gay marriage … climate change … undocumented immigration … police misbehavior / Black Lives Matter … the war between Ukraine and Russia … sex-change operations. Are the sides entrenched and unwilling to move? Doesn’t it seem like a never-ending battle?
Why controversy? Controversy is not the only way that we can raise awareness or dialog about issues. But it has a powerful effect: controversy is fast-track. It quickly captures people’s attention because it taps into people’s emotions and deeply held convictions, and it can have an addictive effect because of the emotions it exploits. This means it can quickly expand an audience around an idea. Businesses sometimes use controversy to grow their name or quickly sell a product, politicians use controversy to get supporters into their camp, social media influencers use controversy to rapidly build their audience and rise above thousands of other voices, some news organizations peddle controversy to build their ratings, and churches (unfortunately) use controversy to grow their church or deepen the commitment of their members.
When Paul is writing to Timothy about people who engage in controversy, he says that they are prideful people who are blinded by truth, and they produce some of the fruit of evil we see in the lists of Galatians 5:19-21 and 2 Timothy 3:1-5:
[A person puffed up with pride/conceit] has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth. (1 Timothy 6:4-5)
You may be thinking it is OK to spend time around those who practice controversy, so long as you aren’t at the center of the controversy and doing those ungodly activities. But even spending time around those who practice controversy – blindly listening to their propaganda, following their social media – can poison our minds and train us to address issues with controversy instead of love and kindness. This is why Paul advises that we are to have nothing to do with those who persist in controversy (Titus 3:9-11).
The Alternative to Controversy. There are some very real and important issues that we all face, but there are better ways to approach solutions that are consistent with the mandate of love that God has entrusted to Christians. Paul describes this to Timothy:
23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies [See Note Below]; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:23-26)
Breaking it out, here are the points that Paul makes for anyone who wants to dialog about a sensitive issue:
Avoid being quarrelsome, and back away if it begins to happen.
Be kind … not hateful. Desire good things for others. Kindness is an attribute of love, so treat them like you would treat your mom.
Sufficiently know the subject well enough, that you can instruct others. Be open to dialog.
Have patience, even being able to endure evil, so that you can maintain the relationship in tense situations. Sometimes a person won’t listen to good reason, and they need to have God impose truth on their heart.
Our society is screaming with controversy. It is everywhere. But it should never be a practice within the church community or within the life of a Christian. Use other ways to engage with others that involve love, respect and value.
A quick note on “foolish, ignorant controversies”:
As part of the discussion of this message, one person asked about this phrase from 2 Timothy 2:23 (also Titus 3:9). They were wondering if God wants us to avoid all controversy (that is, all controversy is foolish and ignorant), or if God might consider that some controversies are not foolish and ignorant, and thus it is OK to engage in them.
Controversy is a tactic of opposition, and these two terms imply that the driving force behind this tactic is both frivolous (unproductive) and uneducated (unwise). The counter tactic that Paul highlights in 2 Timothy 2:24-26 is one intended to be both productive and based on knowledge of the truth. So, controversy is a foolish and ignorant tactic.
Paul is not suggesting that we avoid confrontation or discussion on sensitive matters. He is only saying that we do so in a way that does not produce the fruit of evil, but instead produces the fruit of righteousness.
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