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How to Have a Holy Argument

heart with a waterfall coming from the middle

Recently, I came across the life and work of Lemuel Haynes, the first Black man to be ordained as a minister in the United States. As a fellow New Englander, I was predisposed to like him. After reading some of his writings, my admiration was cemented. Though his sermon refuting universal salvation is well-written, it was the words in his preface that stood out to me:

“There is no greater folly than for men to express anger and resentment because their religious sentiments are attacked. If their characters are impeached by their own creed, they only are to blame.”

I had to remind myself of when they were written—over two hundred years ago. These words penned in the early 1800s could still be spoken today over many personal relationships (and all social media platforms).

As I mused on the truth of Haynes’s words, the Spirit brought a coordinating passage of Scripture to my mind: “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (Jas 3:13). The message from James and Haynes is the same: if you have wisdom, show it by the way you live and talk, even (perhaps especially) with people who disagree with you.

We ought to be showing the world our solidarity with Christ through the way we love one another (John 13:35). But instead, many of us are trying to prove our personal greatness by tearing others down because of how their beliefs differ from ours. This fighting between people who claim to be Christians is, at best, a great folly. At worst, it slanders the name of Christ.

How can we say we believe in a holy God when we have unholy, angry thoughts toward one of God’s creatures? On Sunday, we use our tongue to “bless our Lord and Father,” and on Monday, we “curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing” (Jas 3:9).

We who say we believe in the God who says “be holy as I am holy” (1 Pet 1:16), does he not require this holy love, kindness, and humility in the hidden places of our hearts? How can we claim to worship a righteous God when our spoken and written words reveal a torrent of unrighteous arrogance? My brothers and sisters, these things shouldn’t be (Jas 3:10).

It’s imperative that our doctrine be purely true to Scripture; that’s why James lists this characteristic first when describing godly wisdom.

But the very next traits seem to be overlooked in arguments among believers: “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (Jas 3:17).

Can you look at the disagreements you have with others (whether in real life or over the internet) and see the mark of peaceability and gentleness? Or is it full of arrogance and jostling for the last word?

James is incredibly clear about the severity of this problem when he says “no human being can tame the tongue” (Jas 3:8).

Is there no hope for change?

There is hope, but it won’t be found in deleting social media apps or refusing to engage in arguments. Hope is only found in changing the very spring from which our words flow. Our Savior said it best, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34). Our hearts need the radical transformation of the truth we claim to believe. The holy God who sits in the heavens sees the depravity of our sinful hearts, hears the harsh words from our tongues, and knows there is only hope for peace with our neighbor if we first experience peace with God through the perfect Peacemaker, Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1).

Only when we know the peace that comes from Christ and changes the very hearts our words come from can we live out the truth of the gospel. Only then can it be said of us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matt 5:9).

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Written by
Christa Threlfall

Christa Threlfall is a pastor’s wife, mother of four, and the author of Come to Jesus. She enjoys reading, filling her home with plants, and exploring New Hampshire. You can follow her on Instagram and sign up for her monthly letter.

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Written by Christa Threlfall