When Right is Wrong
by Rich Bregitzer
(St. Louis, MO)
8This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. 9But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.
Believe it or not I have lost my fair share of arguments. I am sure my wife would tell you that I lose arguments, more or less, on an hourly basis.
Rich: Pam, where did you put my keys?
Pam: I never touched your keys.
Rich: I put them right where I always do and they’re not there.
Pam: Well, I don’t know where you put them.
Rich: Why do you move things around? You do that all the time.
Pam: I did not move the keys, dear.
Rich: Yes you did, darling.
Pam: Why don’t you check your pocket?
Rich: Why don’t you check your pocket? (And as I put my hands into my pockets, to turn them inside out to show this argumentative woman just how wrong she can be out fall my keys.)
Now, I am not going to go into the conversation that follows, but suffice it to say that I am not thrilled at being found in the wrong and she is gloating rather obsessively.
It seems to me that the goal of any argument is for one of the participants to be right and unfortunately some of these arguments suck up an awful lot of time. In fact some arguments span decades.
I’m reminded of the Hatfield and McCoy feud that ran from 1878 to 1891. The feud between the Confederate affiliated Hatfields and the Union affiliated McCoys began when one of the McCoys returning home from the war was murdered. The chief suspect was William Hatfield, who was later found to be innocent since he had been at home sick.
As the animosity between these families grew so did the squabbles. They argued over the ownership of a pig and an affair that a young McCoy girl had with a young Hatfield boy. During the most hostile part of the feud a dozen people were killed in 11 years because each side wanted to win their respective arguments.
Let me ask you; How many times have you sacrificed being “in relationship” for the personal satisfaction of being “in the right”? How many times have you lost a friend or hurt someone, but won the argument?
Now let me ask you another question: Have Christians lost credibility with the general public because we would rather be right that in a relationship with others? It seems to me, and apparently to the author of Titus, that there are quite a few Christians that would rather be right about their positions concerning doctrine, politics or any other topic than there are Christians ready to exchange arguments for relationship with people that have opinions of their own.
It’s almost like we have become more interested in scoring points than we have in securing relationships with others…including ones that are of the same faith.
See, the visitor walks into the church lobby or narthex and most churches have some information on the church or denomination readily available to be handed over. This is who we are. This is what we believe. Even on the bulletin it’s there: this is our vision statement.
We sit in Sunday school and ask questions concerning doctrine: Do you believe in the inerrancy of Scripture? Do you believe in the rapture of the saints? Who will go to heaven? The church has deep convictions, true enough, but do the convictions crowd out the potential for friendships?
Because rarely is there a church with a bulletin asking visitors: How can we help you? How can we minister to you? How can we be your friends? How can we love you with a Jesus sort of love?
See, Jesus didn’t come so that we could get our theological act together, but to redeem our relationship with God and with one another. When we do anything other than that we are engaging in those very things that today’s scripture warned us about.
When we are tempted to enter into the heated discussion concerning our own beliefs especially if they pertain to hot button issues what are we told to do? The scripture is quite plain. It says: avoid foolish controversies.
Note it doesn’t say anything about not doing something. If you see a grievous error or injustice I believe that you are divinely called and instructed to actively engage in setting those things right, but we are not talking about fighting the good fight with actions we are talking about mere unproductive arguments…time better spent doing something to right a wrong.
I say that because regardless of the right or wrong of mere conversation what you have are two people that are convinced they both are right. The chief characteristic of such a waste of time, we are told, is foolishness. It’s foolish, so avoid it.
The scripture also tells us to not waste time on genealogies. Now that has nothing to do with your family tree, but more likely with the Jewish custom of that time where scholars poured over histories to make Messianic speculations.
So, in other words, the author, is telling us to accept Jesus as the Messiah and to stop wasting time hunting for someone else or something that is missed. Again, it is a waste of time to seek salvation in anyone or anything else.
We are also told not to waste time on quarrels about the law…why not? Surely, we need law and we need to understand it right? The issue at hand isn’t the law it’s the role we try to fill in policing those we perceive as lawless.
That is not what God hand in mind when he handed the law down to Moses. He was not looking for martial law or a police state or a billion crazy Christians ready to form a God squad to point out how other churches are doing it wrong.
Let me repeat my opinion concerning this verse once again.
God did not put us on this earth so that we can waste the few precious days we have by arguing or by trying to be right or perceived as right.
Truthfully some people believe their ministry is to point out how wrong everyone else is.
You can try to address these folks, but they’ll be the first to tell you: Well, the truth hurts.
And it can. The truth, if not tapered with Godly love, tact and gentleness can kill a persons spirit, can zap them of their strength and can ruin relationships. Sometimes it is a more Godly pursuit to forgive as Jesus did.
Sometimes, we are more truthfully the church when we are welcoming to all rather than argumentative.
I like what the first part of verse 8 says: 8This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.
That more or less summarizes today’s message. Let us build relationship rather than a case against our brothers and sisters.
Let’s make the most of the time we have together rather than spending it arguing because it is time that we can never get back and it may be spent saying things we can never take back.
And let’s be truthful; some of our fights and arguments have been over some pretty petty and stupid things.
I remember a fight I got in over a pair of shoes. That friend and I didn’t speak for the rest of the school year.
Things should never be allowed to go that far.
We should be seeking peace without seeking arguments. And those of us that witness such things shouldn’t buy into it or support it and yet we do everyday. Let me give you some examples:
East coast rappers bad mouth the west coast rappers, somebody gets shot and we are intrigued…kids buy the albums, watch even more of the videos.
A football player doesn’t like something that was said to him by another player and a fight breaks out and dad laughs about it in front of his son while they watch the game. The son does the exact thing to a team mate during pee wee practice because he figures dad approves.
The unsaved, unchurched person watches the tele-evangelist bad mouth the church that he disagrees with and because that person can find that sort of thing in rap music or by watching football players fight they figure why bother with a bunch of hypocrites at church.
When did being hostile to one another become status quo? If only people could learn to communicate a little better.
There is a way we are to address one another. In those times when we feel our emotions coming close to the surface we avoid those unprofitable confrontations, those foolish, unprofitable, useless things and instead adhere to what we are taught in Colossians 4:5-7:
5Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Some think this verse pertains to discussions between believers and unbelievers, but I hope you can see how this is useful for us all.
If we exercise wisdom and prudence in our conversations with others, if we make allowances for differing opinions then we open up opportunities for dialog and doorways to what could be long lasting relationships…
This will happen because we are looking at the big picture and thinking outside of ourselves. When we have concern for others over concern for being right we will begin to see church in a new light.
We’ll see Christianity as not just a bunch of rules to be defended, but as a group of people that care about the welfare of others; who love people more than religious arguments.
And let me tell you something else…if the unchurched, unbelieving world could see us that way we would see an exodus of people coming back to the church. The church had been overly judgmental for far too long.
So, let me encourage you to seek the peace in your conversations so that you will have peace in your relationships at home, at work, in your life and in the church.