Majoring on the Minors

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I am confused! Paul warns Timothy against “quarrels about words” and “irreverent babble” (2 Tim. 2:14, 16). Yet, this same Paul quarreled with those among the Galatians who diluted and changed the gospel and went so far as

to say that they should be accursed. Jesus used similar words when He called the Pharisees hypocrites and whitewashed tombs (Matt. 23:27). Did not Jesus and Paul argue and quarrel with those who opposed the gospel?

This is a significant question. New denominations are being formed by Christians pronouncing the churches to which they once belonged apostate and heretical. They leave after protracted, strong quarrels against their former denominations. As one who was intimately engaged in such a combative struggle, I must be sure that I am not like Hymenaeus and Philetus, the two men named by Paul as purveyors of irreverent babble that led people in the church into ungodliness.

Ravi Zacharias warns Christians of turning “either/or” issues into “both/and” issues. There are truths in the gospel that are not up for debate between Christians. They must be true or they must be a lie. They cannot be both. We dare not turn these into both/and issues. Some insist there is room in the church for both those who believe Jesus is the Son of God and for those who don’t believe He is the Son of God. The Bible does not allow such tolerance. “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also”
(1 John 2:22–23). In other words, when someone in the church denies the orthodox basics of the gospel clearly taught in Scripture, we must quarrel with them. There must be conflict.

Paul told Timothy to present himself to God as one who was “rightly handling” the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). The Greek word Paul used was orthotomeō. Literally it meant “to cut straight.” Our term orthodox is derived from part of this word. With the basics of the gospel we must cut a straight line. We must not deviate from the truths set forth by Christ Himself. That is why Paul vehemently argued with those who corrupted the gospel in the Galatian church.

Aside from irreverent babble, Paul also warned Timothy about becoming involved in quarrels over foolish controversies (2 Tim. 2:23). There were those under Timothy’s charge who were turning both/and issues into either/or issues. This has been a plague attacking the peace of the church in every generation. Sometimes this has to do with subjects from Scripture that are interpreted differently by orthodox scholars. I have two friends in the ministry whose faithfulness to God’s Word is beyond reproach. Yet they differ in their interpretation of what the Bible teaches about the millennial reign of Christ. They love each other dearly and have not let this become a litmus test for orthodoxy and fellowship. Paul was warning about taking such an issue and turning it into a declaration of war.

Often matters arise concerning times of worship, structure of Sunday schools, church property, length of terms for church officers, and so on. I have known people who have left local churches and separated from brothers and sisters in Christ over flowers in the sanctuary, the type of pews or cross selected by the building committee, and the colors of the carpet and church doors. I must constantly remind myself and the officers with whom I serve that the issues we as local church leaders face in most of our meetings are both/and issues and to make them either/or issues is an insult to God’s Word and will invite discord. This is where we will hear Jesus call us to biblical wisdom, to let go of our petty agendas, and to listen to each other as brothers anointed to lead by the same Spirit.

Take this test. Are you known as one who is contentious? Do you frequently become angry with leaders in the church or with fellow officers? Do you insist on your own positions? Do you argue each issue as if it were a life and death matter?

A man I deeply respected fought long and nobly for orthodox Christianity in the denomination he loved. The battle was so furious that he developed the habit of making every issue he favored a matter of orthodoxy. He even alienated his like-minded friends. In his later years he went to an isolated mountain cabin with only his Bible. When he returned he had relearned a love and respect for his brethren. He quit debating every small controversy. When he spoke of what happened on the mountain, he said, “You can determine which Scriptures you will take to Jesus, but you cannot determine which Scripture Jesus will bring to you.” Brothers and sisters, we need to learn to take these both/and issues to Jesus and listen to His words to us. His words of truth will probably be about meekness, loving, listening, and the fact that there are other saints anointed by the Holy Spirit.

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.