When it comes to an argument, I’m going to win. Believe me when I say this, as I’ve had much practice in the art of argument. You see, I grew up with four siblings and that means, in part, excelling in the art of winning an argument. And when it comes to the Bible and all the doctrinal issues we think are important to being Christians, I’m going to win those arguments too. I know my Bible and my educational background is in Bible, ministry, and theology. I’m not trying to brag, I’m just trying to explain my confidence in my ability to win the argument.
But I’ve learned that I can win an argument and still lose!
Some Attitude Please!
The Apostle Paul writes a letter to the Philippians, a church where some Christians have a disagreement with each other. He writes in Phil 2:5-11:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This is all about the attitude we must have. Paul recalls this early Christian hymn which tells the story of Jesus. It’s a story of humility, serving, and obedience leading to self-sacrifice and these are the virtues which must shape our attitudes, leading to the Christ-like virtuous practice.
Arguments are about being right and winning. Arguments start because there are disagreements and when we disagree on some matter, it’s because we believe we’re right and the others are wrong. So an argument is about being right but far too often, the fact that we’re right or at least think we’re right is eclipsed with the need to win. The problem though is that winning often comes at the expense of relationships, which is Paul’s concern in Philippians. And since the church, yesterday and today, is the reconciled family of God, there’s a big problem when we sacrifice relationships on the altar of winning the argument.
If we’re going to have the attitude of Christ then we must learn to value relationships over being right. Jesus was right as right could be as he came into this world with divine right and yet he chose to be wronged. So if we’re going to have this attitude then we have to ask ourselves if we can be wronged? Can we let go of our way even when we know we’re right? This is what the text is asking of us.
To Fight or Not Fight…
I know there are some issues worth fighting for without backing down. The other day I was asked what, if any, issues would I fight without any compromise. I replied,
When the gospel is practically denied to people because of their race, ethnicity, religious background, sinfulness, etc… I’ll fight for that because, as we sometimes sing, “The blessed gospel is for all…”
That’s not the only issue but in my experience, most of the issues we think require a “No-Retreat, No Compromise” stance are so only because we want them to be and tell ourselves such. We hate to lose, and so we dig our heels in and stand our ground. It takes discernment to know the difference between the very few non-negotiable issues and the many other issues.
I write as a minister who knows how much the attitude of Christ is needed in the local church. But I also think we need to develop this mindset beyond the local church and practice it among the larger Christian community. I’m thinking in particular of the way we have social-media conversations, especially in the interaction that takes place among Evangelicals, Emergents, Missionals, Neo-Reformed, Mainliners, etc… There are many great things about blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc… But the emotive debating over some Christians say/do is not one of them. And we know this when we step back and put some distance between ourselves and the issue rather than just reacting.
As I suggested earlier, I’ve learned that we can win the argument and still lose. But I’ve also learned that we can lose the argument and win. Christ did! It takes faith, some grace and patience, and some gospel imagination. Remember…. Christ chose to be wronged rather than assert his divine right and since then men and women of every tongue and tribe have been professing him as Lord.
So if we want to win, we need to start learning how to lose. And when we do, everybody wins… We win with Christ!