It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to view the post-modern climate of today’s world and discover that it is a breeding ground for pugnaciousness. If one were to browse any given social media platform, you’d quickly find a world filled with envy, rage, and an eager spirit to fight.
Inevitably, you’re shaking your head in agreement right now, having seen the vitriolic nature that our current climate fosters so well. From Twitter to Instagram to most news outlets, there’s a fight around every corner, 24/7, or so it seems. But where does this leave the Christian? After all, we are a people who are to contend for the truth, right?
In the book of Jude, written by the half-brother of Jesus, we are even told that we are to “contend.” Jude says in verses 3-4
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all time handed down to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into indecent behavior and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
So, not only do we have constant battles outside of the church, but we also have endless battles within the church.
The challenge then, especially for the Christian, is whether or not we are fighting because we love the truth and wish to see God and His word lifted high or merely fighting because we love to pick a fight. I’m reminded of an event where a prominent polemics ministry leader was disqualified, and one of the red flags along the way was a pugnacious spirit. Of course, for the pastorate, this is a disqualifier. 1 Timothy 3:1-3 reads,
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.
In other words, the man of God must not have a combative spirit. While these are qualifications of an elder, they are also those characteristics that every Christian should exhibit. A peaceable spirit should characterize the believer, whether preaching from the pulpit or sitting in the pew.
However, it isn’t always easy. Suppose you are like me or the millions of others regularly exposed to social media. In that case, you’ll instantly recognize the pull towards aggression, anger, and combativeness as we engage in social media. But these things are of the spirit of the age and something which, as believers in Christ, we must resist. It’s challenging to be sure; imagine you pull up your Twitter app, and within 1 minute, you come across a culture that celebrates the same sexual perversion for which God destroyed entire cities, a barrage of people bent on maliciously murdering children in the womb, a dozen different heretics spouting everything from Apollinarianism (from Apollinaris who denied the full deity and full humanity of Christ) to modalism, to women preachers. You name the heresy or perversion, and you can find it quickly on social media.
Indeed those that love the truth desire to set these things straight and speak to the issues of the day, but the real question is, what is the heart behind our responses? The concern and danger are that a heart set on fighting uses the guise of “contending for truth” as a cover for something that is altogether antithetical to the Christian way of life. Of course, for the majority, this is probably not the heart they have when fighting for truth, but still, we must be guarded against temptation.
The first thing we should consider is simply the fact that we do not need to respond to, nor should we respond to, everything we see. Admittedly, I fail in this area from time to time. Occasionally, I respond when I shouldn’t, and other times I fail to respond when perhaps I should have. In this, I can relate to the Apostle Paul, and I am sure you can too, when he says in Romans 7:15 when he says, “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” But we must realize that prudence, discretion, and self-control teach us that we do not have an obligation and, in many cases, it is unnecessary to join every battle that makes itself known to us. We should and must fight plenty of legitimate battles when appropriate; we don’t need to add to the list.
The second thing that is helpful in guarding our hearts is remembering why we fight. Again, Jude’s admonition is not merely “to fight.” But rather than we “contend for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” The goal of fighting isn’t for the pleasure of the fight but for the glory of God; for the preservation of truth; and ultimately, so that the lost might see the church for what it is, a holy congregation declaring the Good news of the Gospel to those who are without Christ.
We fight, not because we enjoy it or even because we want to, but rather because we must, because we are compelled by our love for Christ, our desire to see a pure church, and a longing to see the lost saved. This is a call for a heart check, and this is from the writer who is checking his own heart. And that brings me to the final consideration. What should our disposition be if we are to guard our hearts against pugnaciousness while simultaneously engaging in battle for the truth? I’d suggest contemplating passages such as Ephesians 4:29, which reads, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”
Imagine if every tweet we tweeted, every Instagram we posted, and every Facebook message we sent were in line with Ephesians 4:29. (Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.) I don’t know about you, but that is a convicting thought and one, I would argue, will keep our hearts from entering that which the spirit of the age would tempt us to; a culture of pugnaciousness. So let us fight boldly but humbly, unashamedly but gently, and for the Glory of God rather than the self-satisfaction of putting down an opponent.