As the Internet shrinks the world, exposure to false teachings grows more common than ever. Just Google “Women’s Bible Study” and you’ll immediately be hit with Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer and Anne Graham Lotz. There are also lesser known teachers whom I haven’t researched, many of whom more likely than not mishandle God’s Word at some level. I’m not saying that all women Bible Study teachers are false teachers (Susan Heck and Martha Peace are certainly trustworthy women), but by and large it’s much easier to find doctrinal error than to find solid teaching.
So it’s more crucial than ever to follow Jude’s example of contending for the faith (please see Jude 3). Offering correction when we see doctrinal error, although it usually seems harsh and unloving, is really one of the most compassionate acts a Christian can perform. Sometimes we’ll actually convince someone to turn away from heresy and embrace Scriptural truth.
In no way should we minimize the value of contending for the faith!
At the same time, we must recognize our potential to contend in an argumentative attitude. All too often, I’ve been guilty of feeling my oats to such a degree that I have sought out devotees of Beth Moore simply so that I could pick a fight. I stayed in those verbal battles, determined to show my opponents my superior debating skills. In short, I contended with impure motives.
Lately, the Lord has used the book of Proverbs to challenge me about being a contentious woman. While numerous verses address this sin, perhaps it’s best to only quote one right now.
15 A constant dripping on a day of steady rain
And a contentious woman are alike;
16 He who would restrain her restrains the wind,
And grasps oil with his right hand. ~~Proverbs 27:15-16 (NASB95)
When contending for the faith morphs into a sport, we’ve crossed a very dangerous line. We cease to exhibit godly character, becoming instead caricatures of nagging busybodies who are, at best, troublesome nuisances whom everyone wants to avoid. As a result, people won’t take us seriously when we actually do point out real errors.
Of course, Scripture doesn’t teach that contentious attitudes are unique to women. True, four of the six verses using the word “contentious” in the New American Standard Bible 1995 specifically use it in relation to women, but the most explicit passage applies it to men — and thus, both sexes.
20 For lack of wood the fire goes out,
And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.
21 Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,
So is a contentious man to kindle strife.
22 The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels,
And they go down into the innermost parts of the body.
23 Like an earthen vessel overlaid with silver dross
Are burning lips and a wicked heart. ~~Proverbs 26:20-23 (NASB95)
This passage illustrates the devastating effects of contention, doesn’t it? If you’ve ever been through a church split or in a Twitter argument, you’ve seen how contentious people create havoc with inflammatory accusations and the whispers of gossip. If the matter they highlight dies down, they waste no time stoking the fires of controversy. Especially when they have a specific agenda to promote.
Contentious women (as well as contentious men) don’t let go; they have to force their opponents into concession. I’ve sinned this way in my marriage, and I don’t think I’m the only wife guilty of this infraction. We gain a sense of power by relentlessly arguing until the other party knuckles under to our demands. So we keep pounding away, frustrated when we fail to obtain victory and smugly delighted when we finally beat someone into submission.
But God calls wives to submit to husbands and for Christians to submit to each other in reverence for Christ. When we choose hills to die on, we must be sure those hills line up with God’s Word rather than our selfish desires. If we contend simply because we want others to tell us what we want to hear, ignoring and distorting the Word of God to support our positions and/or goals, we pervert contending for the faith into contending for ourselves.
I had a brief conversation the other day with someone who worried that applying Proverbs 27:15-16 to my behavior on Twitter could result in a failure to contend for the faith. He correctly pointed out that there’s a big difference between being contentious and contending for the faith. I agreed. But I added that, as big as the difference is, there’s also a fine line between the two. It’s imperative that we understand where that line is.