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Friday, February 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Steve Massey: Respect must outweigh contentiousness

Steve Massey

“I hate it when they shout over each other.”

So she quickly tuned out last week, quitting her resolve to watch this fall’s presidential debates in their entirety.

“No,” she explained before taking her turn in the check-out line … no, she wouldn’t be watching tomorrow night’s debate either.

“They don’t respect each other enough, or us voters, to behave like adults,” she said. “I’m better off not watching it.”

I found myself agreeing with her. Disappointment in the public behavior of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – particularly toward one another – makes it difficult to stomach voting for either one of them.

It’s all so ugly.

Also ugly is the reality that within my own heart is an argumentative spirit, a desire to be heard, to be right, to get the last word. I recognize this spirit every time self-protection rises up in conversations involving viewpoints other than my own.

I’m not alone in this. You’re dealing with it, too. All of us are, in some measure.

Happily, the contentious spirit is not always in control, at least not in most of us. But it is always present, easily awakened, ever alert to defend self.

In this we have something in common with Clinton and Trump, as much as we might deny it. We favor ourselves and can easily be tempted toward an escalating self-protection.

A contentious spirit not only makes for ugly political spectacle, it’s spoiling our relationships, and eroding civility in our families and communities. We ought not to cringe too much when we see it in kids; they’re learning it from us.

That’s why the Bible warns us against indulging our contentious spirit.

“A quarrelsome person starts fights as easily as hot embers light charcoal or fire lights wood,” says Proverbs 26:21.

Feed your contentious spirit just a little, and it’s soon out of control.

It grieves me to read, or hear, of Christians fighting like cats and dogs over politics. Whether we’re fighting with the culture or each other, there’s far too much of it.

God commands us to contend for the faith, to be uncompromising in our stand for truth – as he defines it. Yet to do so does not require us to be ornery and disrespectful in our behavior.

In short, we can contend without being contentious.

It saddens me to realize that, to many people, Christians are perceived to be those who are merely angry about this, exasperated about that, and often unlovely when expressing those very real concerns.

Contentious Christians misunderstand the harmony between truth and love that is necessary if disagreements are to cease being sparks that turn into childish infernos.

No matter how intensely we might disagree with someone, we owe them respect. We owe them the same treatment we would most desire to receive from them.

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you,” says Matthew 7:12.

Those are the words of Jesus, by the way, who suffered the greatest indignity in all of history – God himself rejected by mere mortals.

As an incredibly contentious election draws nearer, I’ve been praying that God would give more of us Christians grace to learn to carry on discussions with those who differ with us without adopting the psychology of the current debate stage.

We cannot rightly represent Christ to our community when our desire to win arguments leads us to substitute contending respectfully with raw contentiousness.

The Apostle Paul put it this way: “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.”

Steve Massey is pastor of Hayden Bible Church (www.haydenbible.org). He can be reached at (208) 772-2511 or steve@haydenbible.org.

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