In my personal journey to grow in Christ and in the knowledge of the scriptures, I love to do a study of one word or topic and find it out fully. Contention is not an easy topic, it’s personal and has alot of emotions attached. In a way, as with most of my studying, I was kind of hoping to justify myself more in what I found in the scriptures, but instead I was humbled. I was hoping to see that my understanding was correct, but I found that I was lacking wisdom in quite a few areas. I’m glad the Lord taught me through this and I hope by sharing this that He will use it to teach you as well.
We must begin by using the scriptures when finding answers to life’s questions, and I hope you will open your Bibles with me as I give the references so you can see the context and verses for yourself and form your own conclusions. These points are stated as facts simply because I believe them as such, if you disagree that is okay! Feel free to send me a message with the ‘contact me’ form to let me know your thoughts.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” 2 Timothy 3:16
So, what is contention? Simply put: Contention is striving, debate, or to use a more modern phrase: argument. By argument I mean a really bad fight (pointless, full of low-blows and personal attacks) that isn’t moving toward resolution. We can see that ‘strife, debate, and contention’ are the same by seeing how the hebrew and greek words are translated interchangeably, and how the verses themselves use the words to describe eachother. I have not noted every translation or the word numbers (found in Strong’s concordance) because I didn’t want this article too lengthy, but you can check these verses and the concordance for free using http://www.blueletterbible.org. I will use all three of the words ‘contention, striving, and debate’ to mean contention for the purpose of this article.
In scriptures I see three very clear and distinct pictures of contention, two are always negative and one is always positive. I will go into detail on each of these giving numerous verses to show you what I see, and hopefully help you to come to a benificial understanding also.
Contending on the Lord’s Side
I will start with the good use of contention, because I feel it will help us to view the other kinds in the right frame of mind. This one is the least described (and by this I mean translated to the exact word ‘contention’) in the Bible, but very strongly admonished that we use it. I will call this “Godly Contention”. In the Book of Jude, verse 3 we read
“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
We see here that we are to contend for the faith, and this is pointed out again in the book of Acts by example when we read of Stephen “Then there arose certain of the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and Asia, disputing with Stephen.”(Ac 6:9) He was reasoning with them concerning Jesus, concerning faith, and again we read of Paul: “And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him.” (Ac 9:29).
So, I conclude from these verses that Godly Contention could be described as a defence of the faith. In the Old Testament the word used for contention is also translated ‘cause’, referring to that which is being contended. We see that the Lord himself contends in Proverbs 22:23 “For the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them.” and Proverbs 23:11 “For their redeemer is mighty; he shall plead their cause with thee.” and we are also commended to contend “Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.” (Pr 31:9) Therefore, Godly Contention is the defence of the faith, and the defense of the Lord’s Cause.
The second type or picture of contention I see in the Bible is what I will refer to as the “Provoked Contention”. This person has been stirred up to contend, to strive, or to debate a cause that seems just to them (Pr 18:17). This person is contending in self defence. I want to emphasise the outward provocation here in reference to these verses from Proverbs:
“Frowardness is in his heart, he deviseth mischief continually; he soweth discord.”(6:14)
“A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife.”(15:18)
“A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends.” (16:18)
“Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth. As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife.”(26:20-21)
“He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife: but he that putteth his trust in the Lord shall be made fat.”(28:25)
I love the picture these verses paint for us! A froward man sows it, a contentious man kindles it, a proud or wrathful man stirs it, and we see in 30:33 “...the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife.” The outward pressing of strife is very clear.
Who is going to be pressed to strife? For this I looked in the New Testament and saw a pretty clear answer.
“For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Co 3:3)
“But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.” (1 Co 8:9)
The weak and carnal man who is walking in the flesh will be provoked! And to give in to this to the degree of debate and strife over things not of God is sin.
“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil”
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:” (Eph 4:26-27, 29-31)
“For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” (Ja 3:16)
A Provoked Contention is therefore: one who has been pressed to contend from a defensive standpoint and has given in because of his weak and fleshly state.
The last kind of contention I’d like to show you is that of the “Scorner’s Contention”. Scorner’s Contention is from someone who is not born again; but not only that, they start, stir, look for and meddle in strife! (I say they are not born again in this instance because Biblically a scorner is one who will not hear the Lord nor repent.) Here’s what the Bible says:
“Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.” (Pr 13:10)
“A fool’s lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes.” (Pr 18:6)
“It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.” (Pr 20:3)
“Cast out the scorner, and contentions shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease.” (Pr 22:10)
(See also Pr 6:14; 15:18; 16:18; 28:25 above)
The New Testament also has some pretty strong words for this kind of contention also; that is, the kind that is stirred up from within one’s own self. Romans 1:28-29 states that the reprobate mind is full of debate. In Romans 13:12-13 we see strife contrasted with honesty, and shown as a work of darkness. Again Romans 16:17-18 shows that those that ‘cause divisions and offences contary to the doctrine’ which was taught were not serving Jesus, but their own ‘belly’. In Galatians 5:20 we see wrath and strife as a work of the flesh, and that those who do them are NOT going to inherit the kingdom of God.
What do we do about Contention?
Now that we have an understanding of what contention is we can address exactly what we should do about it. If hurtful arguments and contentions are commonplace in your life you need to address it, as it can cause lasting damage to your relationships. Leaving contentions alone is not enough, we must remove the strife. It helps a lot to see who exactly is being contentious, to admit it, and to be on the same page with the other person in case of an argument.
The first thing we have to find out at the point of strife is who is actually being contentious, then what kind of contention is being revealed, from there we can see the proper approach for dealing with the contentions. Remember, though, that contention, debate, strife, and arguing are all used to discribe the same thing in this article.
Imagining that you are in a discussion that has turned to strife and debate, the argument starts, and for some the accusation comes out “You are being contentious!” or maybe even “Why are you so argumentative?”. You could also imagine you are the first to notice that, instead of making progress toward an agreement or understanding, personal attacks or defensiveness is coming out. The first question you’d need to ask yourself in either situation is “Am I being contentious?” This is important because Jesus said in Luke 6:41-42
“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”
If you are acting in a provoking, prideful, or wrathful manner you do need to repent. These are works of the flesh! Romans 8:5-8 states
“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
You cannot please God while holding pride in the flesh, you cannot subject your wrath to the law of God, and you certainly cannot avoid contention while provoking it carnally.
Once you have yourself straightened out, repenting of contention if need be, you can then look properly on the other person in the strife.
~Are they defending the Bible, Faith, or the Cause of God? Than by all means continue the discussion with love and patience until an agreement is met!
“And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” (2 Ti 2:5)
“Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;” (Ro 12:9-10)
“Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another” (Ro 14:19)
“Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;” (Ph 1:27)
~If they are not contending for the faith, than they are contending for the flesh. From here we have the Provoked Contention and the Scorner’s Contention. It was hard at first for me to distinguish the two, because it appears that both are contending what they feel to be a just cause. The Bible has a sure-fire way to tell the difference though: only one will repent.
“Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.” (Pr 9:8)
“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” (Matt 18:15-17)
(note here how the ‘brother’ who is unrepentent is no longer considered a ‘brother’ he has shown his heart of scorning by refusing to repent)
“But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law;, for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” (Ti 3:9-11)
The Provoked Contention (them) will respond to a gentle word (Pro 15:1), and a spirit that is slow to anger (Pro 15:18). Also provocation (you) can and should be forgiven (Mat 5:23-24), so that you can then join in unity (1 Pe 3:8-12). Remember that a provoked person is acting in the mind of self defence, and maybe something you said or how you have said it is causing them to feel attacked.
When you see the signs (the continual minial drops of contention [Pr 19:13; 27:15]), than ‘leave off’ the contention (Pr 17:14), and act in love toward the provoked and offended brother (Gal 5:14-15).
This may look like a change in subject, a careful question ‘have I upset you?’/‘do you want to talk about this another time?’, or an apology ‘I’m sorry I said that, it was rude’/ ‘I’m sorry I said that so roughly, I’m not upset at you’.
“So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swollowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.”(2 Co 2:7-8)
With the Scorner’s Contention, once discovered and addressed and shown unwilling to repent, we should avoid and aim to stay away from it. It may not be neccesary to stay away from this person completely, but you should at least do your very best to avoid any topic of contention, unless you are instructing them so that they may be saved (2 Ti 2:25).
“Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease.” (Pr 22:10)
“Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.” (Pr 26:20)
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, bur their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” (Ro 16:17-18)
“But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.” (1 Co 5:11) (the word railer here is ‘mischevious’ also, which I’d personally associate with meddlesome and devisive behaviour given the context)
In the spirit of Luke 6:41: when an argument arises I would strongly suggest that you not only look at yourself first, but constantly during the strife (1 Co 9:27), make sure that it doesn’t get ‘out of hand’. It is so easy to stumble when we are overwhelmed by human emotions, which is why it’s so important to walk in the Spirit of God (Gal 5:16). Be prayerful and vigilant (1 Pe 5:8), and trust in the Lord to guide you.