A “quarrel” is a verbal fight. Not all conflicts are quarrels, but a conflict becomes a quarrel when it’s sinfully combative or contentious. I’ve been thinking about my own quarrelsomeness, and this is some of the fruit of my study. The Bible has quite a bit to say about quarreling:
- People can quarrel over property (Gen 26:20-24).
- They quarrel with their leaders and with God (Ex 17:2, 7; Num 20:3, 13; 27:14; Deut 33:8).
- Disagreements can turn into quarrels (Prov 17:14).
- Brothers quarrel (Prov 18:19).
- Spouses quarrel (Prov 19:13; 21:9, 19; 25:24).
- Honorable men don’t quarrel, but “every fool will be quarreling” (Prov 20:3).
- Gossip/slander produces quarreling (Prov 26:20).
- Those who walk properly do not quarrel (Rom 13:13).
- Do not “quarrel over opinions” in matters of liberty (Rom 14:1).
- Do not quarrel about which church leader you think is better (1 Cor 1:11-12).
- There’s to be no quarreling in the church (1 Tim 2:8).
- Pastors are not to be quarrelsome (1 Tim 3:3; 2 Tim 2:24-25).
- Craving for controversy produces quarrels (1 Tim 6:4).
- Do not “quarrel about words” (2 Tim 2:14).
- “Foolish, ignorant controversies” breed quarrels (2 Tim 2:23; Titus 3:9).
- “Avoid quarreling . . . be gentle, and show perfect courtesy to all people” (Titus 3:2).
- Quarrels are the result of unfulfilled desires and passions (Jas 4:1-2).
What is the cause of quarrels?
James 4:1-2 says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” The root of quarrelsomeness is “covetousness.” Covetousness is discontentment with Christ, a desire to be satisfied in something outside of Him.
We quarrel to try to change someone’s mind or behavior because we want something (Jas 4:1-2). Our covetous wants are often rooted in selfishness and pride. We may want to win an argument, look better than another person, or showcase our intellectual superiority. So, we quarrel. We may want to crush another person so that they won’t dare challenge us again. We may want our lives to be more convenient or comfortable; so, we quarrel, trying make another person treat us the way we want to be treated. On the other hand, we may quarrel to change a person’s mind for their own good because we love them. Parents sometimes quarrel with their children and teenagers out of desperation because they want to protect them from something harmful.
Ultimately, quarreling is an attempt to control someone by fighting them with our words. When we quarrel, we’re trying to force another person to agree with us and to make them change by brute force. Quarreling is foolish because it can never win another person’s heart. We may win arguments. We may end up getting our way, like bullies sometimes get their way. But quarreling ends up driving others away, causing resentment, and damaging personal relationships.
The Lord Jesus did not quarrel.
Christ had many opportunities to quarrel, but He never did. The Pharisees and Saducees often attempted to lure Christ into quarrels, but Jesus always responded with perfectly wise speech. Christ’s disciples regularly misunderstood Him, and even contradicted Him, but Jesus never quarreled with them. Instead, He patiently corrected them and taught them, over and over. Christ spoke the truth in love to all men.
Matthew 12:19-20 says of Christ, “He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.”
Christ isn’t quarrelsome. His perfect speech stands in the place of our quarrelsomeness. That’s the doctrine of justification. As we lay hold of Christ by faith, God forgives us of our quarrelsomeness and treats us like our speech is perfect, even though it’s not. And He wins our hearts by His wisdom, gentleness, judicious speech, measured words, and rescuing love. And the more we see of Him through the eyes of faith, the more we will love Him, fear Him, pursue Him, rejoice in Him, and want to know more of Him. The more we love Him, the more we’ll learn to put off the sin of quarrelsomeness, and put on gentle and loving speech, becoming more like our Savior.
What should we do instead of quarreling?
1. We should trust God. When we quarrel, we’re actually attempting to be God, rather than trusting God. We’re trying to rule over the minds, hearts and behaviors of others, instead of relying on God to rule them. We’re attempting to leverage someone into change by fighting them with our words. But God calls us to remember that He is sovereign over the hearts and lives of others. We can never change a person from the inside out, but God can, and God does. If we believe His meticulous providence and His perfect loving care for us and others, then we can trust Him without trying to change others by quarreling. To the degree we do this, our anger and our fears will diminish as we rest in His kind providence.
2. We should rely on God’s appointed means of grace. Ordinarily, God changes people by means of His Word, prayer, and loving service. So, if we really want people to change, to trust Christ and become more like Him, we need to tell them the truth in love, pray for them, and serve them with sincerity and humility. When we do this, we need to remember that there’s no guarantee that others will ever change. God alone is Lord of the human heart. He changes people according to His sovereign pleasure, but if we want to be instruments of change in people’s lives, we have to trust God to work through His appointed means.
3. We should think of disagreements as an opportunity to love and serve. If we’re to do all things in love, then we’re to disagree in love too. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices at the truth. Love bears all thing, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7). We should first listen carefully to those with whom we disagree, make sure we have understood what they’re saying, and we should only choose to voice a disagreement, if we believe that it will serve them and God’s glory. If our goal is loving service, then we’ll always be willing to hear correction and reproof from those we’re trying to serve. We should never disagree about petty matters or things that selfishly serve our own interests. Instead, faithful disagreements seek to serve others, to do them good, to lead them to worship, and glorify Christ. They should always aim to persuade others that we care about them and their souls.
For further study, I recommend War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles by Paul David Tripp.