Danger is part of life. I walk out of my door in the morning and risk hundreds of disasters. I could step off the curb and a car could run over me. I could step off the bus and be assaulted by any number of people. I could crash my car into any number of obstacles. Danger is more prevalent in different situations, but we still take measures to be cautious. I look both ways before I cross the street, keep myself fit, and follow driving laws.
With so many sub-conscious physical actions taken to protect ourselves, it only makes sense that we should take measures to protect ourselves and others intellectually and relationally, as well as physically. Hence we should approach the area of debate with caution.
Beer is Good
Throughout the Old and New Testament, we see passages where alcohol is deemed to be a blessing. Yet we also see scriptures that warn us against drunkenness. We translate these seemingly conflicting messages as a call to moderation and reading the Bible as a whole, find that indeed, beer can be a good thing in the right company.
In the same way, reading the Bible as a whole, we see that argument, or debate, can be a two edged sword:
“For he [Apollos] vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” -Acts 18:28
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” -1 Peter 3:15-16
Stop Being Selfish
If we dig down into the heart of what we’re trying to accomplish with debate, we come across three core motivators:
1). We want to prove a point.
2). We want to convince the other person to agree with us.
3). We want to defend our position.
These aren’t bad things in themselves, but when they become priorities over our call to care for, minister to and protect people, debate becomes a dangerous weapon.
Love to Debate or Debate to Love?
The Gospel calls us into relationship with people, because it is within relationships that God’s redemptive work always takes place. How does God change us? He draws us into relationship with Himself.
If you really want to change someone, if you really want someone to agree with your point of view, you need to know them and care for them on a deep level. Your debate is only as good as your relationship.
Do you really have to prove your point? Really?
1 Corinthians 6:4-8 talks about suing fellow Christians, and while we aren’t covering that topic today, something at the bottom of the passage really convicts me in the area of debate:
So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? (Emphasis added).
There comes a point in a relationship where the person you’re trying to reach knows you’re right, but simply won’t acknowledge it. It isn’t your job to convince them, but rather to love them and allow the Holy Spirit to work. You fail the worst, when your debate shuts down the avenue of communication.
Stop Your Legalism
The second paragraph in this article talked about beer, specifically because alcohol is such a controversial subject. That wasn’t a mistake. The area that debate is most volatile, is where legalism (personal conviction turned mass standard) is present.
1 Timothy 4:1-5 gives us a startling picture of the danger of legalism – following the teachings that deceitful spirits and demons propagate:
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”
The only place that we find legalism conquered, is in the Gospel.
You’re a Sinner (But You’re Redeemed)
When examining any issue, we always bring it back to the Gospel, and the Gospel exposes sin. In the light of the cross, we are laid bare as what we really are: sinners in need of a savior. Christ is that savior and when He died for us, He covered our sins: Past, present and future. Though we are new creations, we still struggle against our sin nature (Romans 7:14-17), and as a result, sin frequently. Praise God that He has applied the Holy Spirit to us and began His transforming work in us, making us more and more like Him as we mature in Jesus Christ.
How does the Gospel shape the way that we debate? It exposes – makes us more aware of our hearts. Through that awareness, we begin to recognize our motives are not always pure, our debate is not always healthy, and sometimes we end up hurting people more than helping them.
Debate for God’s glory, with love, compassion and understanding.