I once had a fellow Christian say to me, upon stirring up some political argument or another, “I love controversy.” Now, we all create controversy at times, especially if we have opinions on anything. The very act of teaching Christ’s word can cause controversy among some, but I’m not sure we are necessarily supposed to love the controversy.
The wisdom literature has little kind to say about one who stirs up controversy and contention.
- Proverbs 18:19 warns that contentions are like the bars of a castle.
- Proverbs 15:18 says it is a wrathful heart that stirs up strife.
- Proverbs 10:12 says controversy results from hatred.
- Proverbs 16:28 warns that strife comes from a dishonest heart.
- Proverbs 17:19 says one who love controversy loves transgression.
The writers of Proverbs go on to warn that strife separates friends in 16:28, that dry morsels in quiet are better than feasting among contention in 17:1, and that strife is like opening flood gates and should be stopped before it’s started.
The Proverb writers then offer contrasts from which we could learn much. Back in Proverbs 15:18 encourages us to be slow to anger, avoiding contention. 10:12 tells us love covers offenses in contrast to contentious hatefulness. Finally, Proverbs 15:1 encourages us to have a soft answer so we can cool wrath, and Proverbs 22:10 even advises us to avoid hanging out with argumentative people.
Engaging in controversies and contentions is the easier route, and this is yet another example where we, as spiritual people, need to exercise self-control. After all, we live in a “loudest-is-rightest” culture. It’s easy to fly off the handle when some public figure does something we don’t like. It’s easy to prod our friends and family who disagree with us. It’s easy to approach a disagreement from the standpoint of what “you” did wrong. Stirring up strife is the easy path, and it’s surprisingly empowering. We feel like we “fought the good fight,” “told them like it is,” “proved our point,” while waving the banner of our impotent rage.
Harder is to close our mouths, bite our tongues, or – even harder – recognize when it’s not that big of a deal. We have so many influences trying to pull us into secular concerns that do nothing for the cause of Christ if we become embroiled in them. At one point, I too enjoyed a good controversy, but I’d like to think I’ve moved on. Perhaps it’s time we Christians collectively told controversy, “I don’t love you anymore. I think we should start seeing other nouns. It’s not me, it’s you,” and gave it up. Maybe we need to stop watching some TV personalities, maybe stop reading some opinion columns, maybe avoid some talk radio shows, perhaps just avoid some topics altogether.
Do we want to be accused of loving controversy or loving unity? Do we want people to see us as a source of discouragement or encouragement? Do we want to fill our minds and our conversations with things that drive a wedge between ourselves and others or things that bring us all closer to each other and to Christ? We should work to have the qualities of Colossians 4:5-6, walking in wisdom, ready to have an answer, seasoning our words with salt.