Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
2 Timothy 2:23-26
We’ve all heard the proverbial wisdom, “Religion is something you should never discuss.” Admittedly, this is because it tends to cause heated arguments. People strongly hold to their beliefs and defend them passionately, usually at the expense of an open mind and polite discourse. That’s why many tend to avoid religious discussion with as much zeal as they avoid telemarketers and pneumonia.
Yet the greatest people one reads about in Scripture did not shy away from discussing religion with others. On the contrary, they debated religion at every turn. Moses admonished Israel for idolatry (Ex. 32). Elijah confronted false prophets (1 Kings 18:17-14). Peter and John pointed out the sins of religious people (Acts 3-4). Paul debated Jews who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 9:29; 17:16-17), polytheistic Greek philosophers about their need to worship Jehovah (Acts 17:18-34), and Christians who were caught up in religious error (Gal. 2:1-5; cf. Acts 15:1ff).
These men tried to correct those who held to religiously erroneous beliefs. They did so because religious error is just as sinful as moral or ethical error. Many cannot see that today, in part because of the assumption that Jesus would never tell a religious person they were wrong. “After all,” it is said, “Jesus said, ‘Judge not lest ye be judged…’ (Matthew 7:1).” What’s ironically ignored is that they themselves are doing what they condemn by telling others they shouldn’t judge. What’s also overlooked is that Jesus also commanded us to “remove the speck from you brother’s eye” in a manner free from hypocrisy (Matthew 7:2-5). In other words, Christ commanded us to judge, only non-hypocritically and not according to appearance (John 7:24). He wants sin and error exposed (Ephesians 5:11).
Christ was in constant conflict with those in religious error. On one occasion He pointed out the Sadducees’ error. They didn’t believe in a bodily resurrection, prompting Him to tell them very pointedly, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). Their error was not that they were ignorant of the Scriptures, but that they did not understand what the Scriptures were actually teaching.
How would we react if someone pointed out that our religious beliefs were incorrect? Would we get angry and accuse them of being hateful? Would we ignore them, assuming that we are correct without investigating the Bible to be sure (2 Corinthians 13:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:21)? Many believe it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re a basically good person who calls themselves a Christian, but an open-minded investigation of the Bible shows that Jesus, the apostles, Moses, and many other godly people thought otherwise (Matthew 7:21-27; Ephesians 4:4-5; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; Philippians 2:1-2; Revelation 22:18-19; Romans 16:17-18; Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5-6; 2 Timothy 4:1-5). They risked their lives to teach the truth of God’s Word (John 17:17) and point out the error in which many religious people found themselves.
So the next time someone wants to discuss our religious beliefs with us, choose to avoid anger. Don’t ignore them and walk away. Remember that this person is only following the example of some of the greatest people in the Bible. Remember that the possibility exists that we may be incorrect about a doctrine or practice to which we hold, putting our soul in danger (Matthew 7:21-23). So if we are shown something from the entirety of God’s Word (Psalm 119:160a) that contradicts our beliefs, the person showing us is doing us an eternal favor (James 5:19-20).
And if we are the one needing to point out the error of someone else, take Paul’s words to Timothy above to heart. Speak the truth in love and patience, having as your goal the rescuing of that person’s soul from Satan rather than winning an argument, and you’ll do well.