Word-wrangling: A new rodeo event for preachers?

“Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.” (II Timothy 2:14)

I’m not sure most of us preachers fully believe the scriptural command to avoid word-fights.

After all, aren’t some words worth wrangling over?

“Wrangling about words” conjures images of cowboys at the corral trying to tame a bucking theological term that won’t hold still.

It’s an interesting translation of the Greek logomacheo, with the logo meaning “word” and macheo referring to fighting.  “Wrangling” is as good a translation as any. Maybe “wrestling,” or simply “fighting over words.”  (Logomacheo is found only here in the New Testament, but the noun logomachia, found in I Timothy 6:4, is translated “disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth….”  A little free information there. )

Be that as it may, many of us preachers do love to argue about words.

Wonder why that is.

Paul suggests it’s because  of our “depraved minds,” those old natures which love a good dare, a challenge, a fight.

A pastor friend said, “When I was a young pastor, there is nothing I enjoyed more than arguing with another preacher about some issue or other.”  He grew out of it, thankfully.

Well, why shouldn’t we love a good fight over biblical words? Here are some reasons why Paul says it’s a bad idea….

–it’s useless. (2 Timothy 2:14).  That is, it settles nothing.

–it leads to the ruin of the hearers. (2:14 again)  The word “ruin” is literally catastrophe and means “destruction.”

–And, according to I Timothy 6:4-5, such wrangling leads to “envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction.”  Looks like some excellent reasons to avoid that corral and leave those mavericks to someone else.

A couple of current stories about word-wrangling which may (or may not) make the point….

Recently, we read of a dispute concerning the hymn “In Christ Alone” in which a denomination wanted to change one line before including it in their new hymnal.  “The wrath of God was satisfied” would become “The love of God was magnified.”  The hymn-writers refused to consent to the change and the denomination dropped the hymn.

That set off the firestorm.

The issue was not the wrath of God, as we might have expected, but HIs wrath being “satisfied.”  A spokesperson said it smacked of God making Jesus die to satisfy something in Himself.  Accusers and defenders came out of the woodwork. Charges of liberalism and heresy were flung back and forth.  Soon people were slamming that denomination, drawing far-fetched conclusions and making ugly accusations. It all went downhill from there.

“It’s useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.” Yep. It does that.

Second story.

One day recently, a Facebook friend messaged that something I’d written several years ago was being ripped apart on a website devoted to discussing theology. I went there, read the original post (after going back to see what I’d written in the first place, the piece which ticked someone off), and then began following the discussion back and forth.

It was rather amusing. How anyone could draw the conclusions the original critic was posting was beyond me.  I thought about entering the discussion to explain a point or two, without being either defensive or combative, and eventually did so.  A click at the bottom of the screen and thereafter, every comment made in this discussion was sent to my mailbox as an email.

My mailbox filled up quickly.

The critic, to my delight, lumped me in with Charles Haddon Spurgeon, saying my thought was in line with the great British preacher, but this still does not make a thing right. No argument there.  (But I’ll take being thrown in with Spurgeon any day of the week.)

The discussion grew bizarre.  One commenter posted a link to some weird preacher and said, “Well, at least you aren’t like this guy.”  Just below, a friend of the critic exploded, “You are saying (friend’s name) is like that person? You ought to be ashamed!”

After a couple of days of this, the webmaster sent a note saying the discussion had gotten ugly and he was taking it all down.

Was anything accomplished? As far as I can tell, that harsh exchange may have produced the following four results:

1) Some people got angry with their brothers in the ministry, thus violating the law of love by making baseless accusations;

2) No one had his mind changed on anything, but became entrenched in his position, whether right or wrong;

3) Some probably walked away from their computers in an angry mood and became troublesome for their spouses or children until they recovered;

4) The owner of the website probably repented that he encouraged such debate in the first place.

All of that is well and good. I can, however, think of one sound reason for disputing over words.

If we do not say what we mean by our words, the enemy may move into the vacuum and make them mean what he says and thus corrupt our message.

Therefore, we need to clarify what a word means and to state clearly what we mean in using that word.

What we must be wary of is fighting over words.  Doing so puffs the flesh, gives occasion to the enemy to laugh at us, angers our opponents, dishonors Christ, and diverts God’s people from the work we were engaged in.

The rest of Second Timothy has more to say on this subject. You’ll enjoy reading it and benefit from reflecting on it.


4 thoughts on “Word-wrangling: A new rodeo event for preachers?

  1. This is an excellent posting and, I’m as sad to say as I am thankful, that this describes what I used to be as well. I am sad to say I was one of those disputers but I am so thankful to our Lord that he rescued me from that body of death! Such disputes, I conclude, come out of arrogance and the need to “prove” how “right” you are instead of being humble and learning what one can.

    Are there points of importance? Of course. When we discuss homosexuality among brethren; if we must cast out a “brother” or deliver a brother to Satan that his flesh might be destroyed but his spirit saved in the Day of Our Lord, that is a worth while “discussion” that is entirely Biblical. However, when we quable over Calvinism and Arminianism; are we not doing two things: A) we’re leaving ourselves open for all the previous things you mentioned and B) if we are out doing what our Lord commanded us to; going into all the nations Baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; feeding the hungry, healing the sick, clothing the naked, etc; then how do we have to argue? Likewise, if we have time to argue, then we are neglecting the things our Lord commanded us to do.

    In this I can only attest to my own arrogance and how many times I left chapel services in a huff because someone said something I disagreed with and was all to ready to proclaim heresy. I wonder how many great friendships I missed out on and how many brothers and sisters I never formed a relationship with because I pushed people away in a self-righteous huff?

    Thanks be to God that He humbled me. In my neglecting the TRUE commands of God, I fell into some pretty nasty sin. When my sin was exposed to me I realized how foolish I really was before God. My wisdom became foolishness thus I was able to make myself a fool before God that He could grant me wisdom.

  2. I still don’t understand the emphasis about not arguing over — WORDS. I can understand arguing. But what does it mean to argue about words? I can understand what it means to argue USING words — because words are needed in order to argue. But what does it mean to argue about the words themselves? Is he saying to avoid arguing in general, or just avoid arguing “about words?” But what does it even mean to argue about THE WORDS THEMSELVES? Arguing about the words themselves is what happens when we seek to define terms, with an opponent. Which you say we SHOULD do. I agree, but how do you get that out of the verse?

    • Julie, the history of Christianity is lined with incidents of fights and splits over the meaning of certain words, over which word should be used in a certain situation, etc.

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