by Mike Ratliff
Then Abner called to Joab, “Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter? How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?” (2 Samuel 2:26 ESV)
When King Saul died along with his son Jonathan, the tribe of Judah made David King. His military and security people during this time consisted of the three sons of David’s sister Zeruiah. The eldest was Joab. Abner was Saul’s cousin, the son of his uncle Ner. After Saul died, Abner made Saul’s son Ish-bosheth king of Israel. There was conflict between these two kingdoms continually. David’s kingdom, because God blessed him, became stronger and stronger while the kingdom of Ish-bosheth became weaker and weaker. The power behind his throne was Abner whom David considered to be a noble and fine man. On the other hand David, a man after God’s won heart, considered the three sons of Zeruiah to be harsh and virulent. He could not trust that they would keep a peace that he had made with others. Joab actually deceives Abner and murders him after David had made peace with him (2 Samuel 3).
Over the past several weeks, we have all witnessed shameful behavior in the Internet between professing Christians intent on character assassination. Debates have devolved into ugly battles replete with straw man attacks, continual ad hominem barrages, and actual secret plots by some to destroy others. This should not be so. As I witnessed much of this, the phrase that I used to title this post kept coming into my mind. I remember in the past when I have participated in some of these types of debates that it is a very ugly thing that never accomplishes anything except bitterness and entrenched hatred by some against others.
At the heart of these things is the very same thing we see in the feud between Joab and Abner. Abner kills Joab’s brother Ashael in battle. Joab hates Abner for it and goes behind David’s back to deceive and kill him. This very same level of hatred, bitterness, and revenge is exacerbated with each confrontation or event. What do we learn from Abner asking Joab those two questions in 2 Samuel 2:26, “Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter?” We should examine our motives that we are using to justify what we are doing. Are we working to bring God glory or are we pursing personal revenge?
As I mediated on 2 Samuel 2:26 I remember those times in the past when I would write a comment in response to what another person had written to me in a “discussion” that had devolved into nothing more than a “tit for tat” “back and forth” series of insulting “take thats!” I then remember very well how it would occur to me right after I hit that submit button that all that would happen is that the one that comment was intended for would eventually respond to it and all we were accomplishing through this nonsense was to make each other more and more bitter. Even if one of us would serve the final blow that would put away the other all we would have accomplished is to humiliate the other who would only become more bitter and full of hatred for the other.
This is not how things should be between Christians. When we are dealing with professing Christians about some issue then it should always be on whether they are out of line with God’s Truth and that should be the basis of our making the judgment call to deal with them in the first place. This means we do not use Ad Homiem or straw man fallacy attacks. We do not insult them or attempt to goad them into losing their composure through devious means. No, we address the doctrinal issues ONLY. We address what they have said and done in their ministries and how they have responded to questions and concerns about them. We do not try to win the day by demolishing them through the ways of arguing that the world uses, which is character assassination.
About three years ago, I wrote a Bible study called Judge Not! As I dealt with these issues on the Internet these last few weeks, this study kept coming to mind. In it, I went through our Lord’s teaching on this from His Sermon on the Mount. We are told to “judge not lest ye be judged.” This is not talking about using discernment to work with the Holy Spirit to deal with ministries that are out of line with God’s truth. No, this is talking about attacking others in an attempt to make them lower than us. We do this by trying to bring them down through attacks on their character. When we do this then we are no longer being apologists for God’s Truth, but are simply working from a motive of pride that is opening us up to judgment. I hope I am not the only who has noticed how ineffective character assassination is in this battle. All it does is cause God’s judgment to fall on the one doing it. Oh, the naïve my indeed believe the lies or innuendo, but no one is fooling God. We may very well be “right” in going after someone and their ministries, but if we do so through character assassination then we nullify any good we have or could have done.
Never forget my brethren, our goal in being apologists, using the discernment God has given us, is to address the doctrinal issues with those who are out of line with God’s Truth with the motive of their restoration through their repentance. It is never to destroy them. No, judgment falling on these people is God’s purview only.
Soli Deo Gloria!