by Mike Ratliff
“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. 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, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (Matthew 12:18-21 ESV)
Pride is the natural state of man. The lost person is driven by it. After salvation, the believer is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). This state of being is very different from that of the natural man. Pride still exists in the believer and its method of operation within is to utilize the flesh to seek personal fulfillment through self-focused behavior. Pride can mimic humble behavior in order for self to be seen as “humble.”
However, God does not simply save a person then leave them to mature unto Christlikeness on their own. No, He uses the process of personal sanctification, which is synergistic. We become more mature in Christ as we work with God in His plan to crush our pride and remake us into humble, Christlike believers. Having been involved in many “debates” and “arguments” that began as debates on this blog and others, I have come to realize that God was using those experiences to shape my character and teach me that winning these debates means little if my actions to do so were conceived of and carried out by my pride resulting in willful and stubborn behavior.
It makes little difference if the one(s) I was debating were also being willful and stubborn resulting in battles of self-defense against attacks on me personally. That was no excuse to return in kind. Jonathan Edwards is one of my favorite theologians. He is probably the greatest theologian ever produced in America. He understood this dilemma we have to defend the truth, but not with flesh driven, willful and stubborn behavior. We are to defend the truth, not self. We can only do this as our Lord did if we have within us a God-given peace and joy with our focus on God and His glory. Then we will have our Lord’s character becoming more and more manifest in us where we will, like Him, not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. To act towards others with a willful and stubborn behavior is to operate from pride, not humility. The following is an excerpt from Jonathan Edwards’ Charity and It’s Fruits Sermon 7 – The Spirit of Charity is an Humble Spirit. Please prayerfully read it.
Humility tends also to prevent a willful and stubborn behavior. They that are under the influence of an humble spirit will not set up their own will either in public or private affairs. They will not be stiff and inflexible, and insist that everything must go according to what they happen first to propose, and manifest a disposition by no means to be easy, but to make all the difficulty they can, and to make others uneasy as well as themselves, and to prevent anything being done with any quietness, if it be not according to their own mind and will. They are not as some that the apostle Peter describes (2 Pet. 2:10), presumptuous and self-willed, always bent on carrying their own points, and, if this cannot be done, then bent on opposing and annoying others. On the contrary, humility disposes men to be of a yielding spirit to others, ready, for the sake of peace, and to gratify others, to comply in many things with their inclinations, and to yield to their judgments wherein they are not inconsistent with truth and holiness. A truly humble man is inflexible in nothing but in the cause of his Lord and Master, which is the cause of truth and virtue. In this he is inflexible, because God and conscience require it. But in things of lesser moment, and which do not involve his principles as a follower of Christ, and in things that only concern his own private interests, he is apt to yield to others. And if he sees that others are stubborn and unreasonable in their willfulness, he does not allow that to provoke him to be stubborn and willful in his opposition to them, but he rather acts on the principles taught in such passages as Rom. 12:19; 1 Cor. 6:7; Mat. 5:40, 41; “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath.” “Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?” “If any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”
Do you see it my brethren? As we debate these things in the cause of defending the truth, we are to be inflexible and not give in to the pressure to compromise. Like Luther said, unless we are convinced from scripture then we don’t budge (paraphrase). On the other hand, when the “debate” becomes personal then we have entered into something else entirely and are dealing with those who are “presumptuous and self-willed, always bent on carrying their own points, and, if this cannot be done, then bent on opposing and annoying others.” However, the “humility disposes men to be of a yielding spirit to others, ready, for the sake of peace, and to gratify others, to comply in many things with their inclinations, and to yield to their judgments wherein they are not inconsistent with truth and holiness.”
I receive many offers to debate others on various theological positions that I do not accept for I know that the “offer” is merely a goad to get my blood up to defend my position emotionally rather than simply being inflexible and not giving in to the pressure to compromise. We do not have to get into these mud-slinging affairs my brethren. Yes, stand for the truth. Tell the truth in the power of the Holy Spirit. Never back away from it. However, when the debate changes to personal attacks, it is time to walk away.
Over 18 months ago I attempted to write a series on Amillenialism and the attacks that I received from some very vicious people actually caused me to change the rules on this blog for comments. However, I did learn from that experience that it was my reaction to that that God was after. He used it to change me thoroughly. Up until then I used to slug it out in the trenches with some very determined people, but always came out of them with a sense being dirty and compromised. I always had some heavy confessing and repentance to do afterward. After that meltdown with eschatology, I went back and looked at my responses to the attacks. I was utterly amazed at how calm I was through it all. I never responded in kind. I only gave the Biblical truth in return. That was the turning point for me in how I handle debates. I have still made errors since then because I am nowhere near perfect, but I pray that I am becoming more and more refined by my master to respond in all circumstances as He would.
Let us look inside at our motives for our reactions to other people. If an attack materializes before us that is directed at the heart of our theology we must prayerfully consider how to respond. We are to be inflexible and not give in to the pressure to compromise God’s truth, period! However, that does not mean going for the jugular of the person doing the attack. When they do that then it is time to walk away. I pray that this makes sense my brethren. Of course, God’s goal is for His people to be humble and react to everyone within that humility. When we are used by God to defend His truth then He is the one doing the fighting and we are simply the means He uses to do so. It is not about us, it is about God and His glory.
Soli Deo Gloria!