“Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm” –Proverbs 3:30
In other words don’t pick fights that aren’t yours. That sounds reasonable enough but it kind of begs a question: what fight is mine?
Consider this example. I attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have a vested interest in what happens there. Dr. Albert Mohler is our President. He is someone that I consider to be a very faithful man and a great leader. In a very real sense he is one of the authorities that the Lord has placed in my life. So, what happens when bloggers start taking on Dr. Mohler? Is this my fight? It involves me…sort of.
Or another example. I am a pastor at First Baptist Jasper in Indiana. I certainly have a vested interest in what happens here. If the local paper began maligning one of our members would this be my fight? It involves me…sort of.
Though it is difficult to wade through these questions it is not impossible. In his commentary on the Proverbs Charles Bridges notes:
We must guard…against causeless strivings. A propensity to embroil ourselves in quarrels kindles strife, instead of following the rule of peace. This spirit is a great hindrance to holiness and inconsistent with a true servant of God. Irritable persons strongly insist upon their rights, or what they conceive to be due to them from others. ‘Is there not’—say they—‘a cause?’ But impartial observers frequently judge it to be a striving without cause; that no harm has been done; none at least to justify the breach of love; that more love on one hand, and more forbearance on the other, would have prevented the breach; that ‘there is utterly a fault—Why do ye not rather take wrong?’” (Bridges, 39)
From Bridges’ commentary, the rest of Scripture, and my own experience I have developed these ten questions that I at least subliminally consider when deciding to “contend”.
- Is this really “harm”? Will a response from me only ratchet up the offense (add fuel to the fire)? Sometimes we make things a bigger deal simply by pointing them out or challenging someone on them. If it’s not actually harm then don’t ride your sled down the slippery slope and make a big deal out of nothing.
- How directly involved am I? Is this my wife being maligned or is this a friend of a guy I knew in college?
- What is my heart in this? Am I going to contend just to show how masterfully I can argue my points? Is my contention just to gain notoriety or to win an argument? Do I have a natural propensity to unnecessary controversy? If I do, then I had better proceed with caution.
- Does my opinion matter? Of course, like your grandma says everybody’s opinion matters. But some opinions matter more. That’s just life, sorry granny. Per the above example concerning Dr. Mohler. At this particular time in my life even if I “defended” Dr. Mohler from negative blogs—my opinion carries such little weight on these issues because I’m so far removed from his position that I probably should just let others closer to the situation deal with it.
- Is this a “fire” issue? Am I defending the deity of Christ or am I defending what prison Paul was in when he wrote Philippians?
- Can the offense be covered in love? Seriously, can I reasonably just drop this or will it continue plaguing my soul. If you aren’t sure wait a day before responding to that blog comment. If you “lost your chance” or you aren’t as fired up about it tomorrow it’s probably a good thing you hit “cancel reply”.
- What do impartial observers say? I know in our instant online society you post a tweet—it’s awesome for about 20 minutes and then nobody really remembers it. But perhaps before entering a contention you should ask a few people that are distant observers.
- Is it helpful to simply “eat this one”? Most controversies will die out if you don’t respond to them. Is that helpful? Can you just not respond? So what if a guy leaves a comment and thinks that my article was really dumb and he is upset that I misused a comma.
- Do I have the right to interject truth? I’m a little more quick to “contend” or give my opinion if it is with someone that is in my church. I have “won the right” to interject truth. But I don’t have any plans to write Rob Bell and tell him to repent. Others have “won the right” to interject truth. There are some issues that I should just leave up to a guys pastor or accountability group to deal with.
- Should my contention be public or private? Even if I do decide that I ought to contend I still cannot just type up a response and hit send. I need to make sure that my contention should go public. And that is an entirely different issue.
You might be thinking, “Wow, this seems tedious. I probably would never comment if I followed through on all these”. My response? Good. If it’s not your fight don’t bring boxing gloves and start throwing left hooks.