Disagreements and differences are a normal part of life. They aren’t wrong, but necessary to help clarify a position and to challenge error. When I state we ought to be quiet when we want to disagree I am not talking about crucial issues. It is vital that we be open to disagreements and when disagreeing do so in a gracious manner.
However, there is a type of person that is disagreeable about most anything. They enjoy controversy and stirring the pot. And they usually have some “facts” to defend their position.
Leaders are typically more guilty of this than others because they, of necessity, must have strong opinions. One of the reasons they are leaders is that they have thought through positions and are able to articulate them clearly. Too, people often approach them with requests for information and advice and they are accustomed to giving direction from a specific paradigm.
I feel sorry for my kids sometimes because I am a pastor and one of my responsibilities is to be aware of and study a broad number of areas. Because of that I have formed strong opinions on a number of issues. So, too often my mouth goes into motion before my mind tells it – “Hey, this isn’t important and isn’t worth bringing up. Nobody’s interested and it’s not helpful, so be quiet”.
Sometimes people have personalities that lend themselves to pursuing details beneath the surface. It isn’t that they are trying to prepare for a debate, but they simply enjoy learning. However, this smorgasbord of minutiae in one’s mind can make a person intolerable as they spout ironclad opinions when, in fact, they are not that important.
Years ago I learned something that helped me immensely in reducing conflicts with others. I realized I didn’t have to offer my opinion on every subject. Opinionated people tend to talk too much and listen too little. I learned to love people more than my opinions, to watch myself in conversations and not be compelled to throw my thoughts in on every subject. Though my temperament tends to be introverted I have still had to learn to be quiet about some things.
Someone wrote, “As a man grows older and wiser, he talks less and says more”.
One of the reasons people react to those that are disagreeable is not only their spirit, but the issues on which they choose to make a hard line. Military historians use the phrase, “Make sure this is a hill upon which to die”. (There are some battles that are worth our standing for, but that is not the subject of which I am writing. I’m talking about people that constantly bicker over irrelevant and silly issues).
Opinionated people tend to be nitpickers. They major on the minors and minor on the majors. They focus on the trivial and insignificant. Obviously this leads to unnecessary conflicts. And that results in strained relationships.
Perhaps an understanding of the colloquial term “nitpicking” would help us understand the nature of voicing opinions on irrelevant issues. Now stay with me because this is a bit gross.
When a person has head lice it is the result of eggs on the head called “louse” (the singular is a “nit”). They are extremely tiny and difficult to see. (Take out a penny and look at the back side where it says “United States of America”. A nit can fit inside the capital “U” in the word United).
These tiny nits attach themselves to individual hairs on your head and it requires a specially made comb with very fine teeth to remove them. As the comb goes through the hair it removes many of the “nits”, but also makes it easier to see others that are still attached to the hair follicles. It is laborious and tedious work for the person that is helping.
Thus, the phrase “nitpicking”. Culturally it has the idea of searching for the smallest of issues and not only to argue them, but to make them important opinions worthy of defending. The inevitable result is disagreeing with others when they don’t conform with your “nit”.
Of course, it’s not wrong to be interested in trivia, details, and minutiae, but it is wrong to elevate them to a place of such strong opinion that we find ourselves in constant quarrels over silly matters.
The Bible chimes in on the issue frequently – “…avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions…” (Titus 3:9)
“Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith…” (I Timothy 1:4)
“But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.” (II Timothy 2:23)
“…strive not about words to no profit…” (II Timothy 2:14)
Those of us that enjoy particulars of a matter (and I am one of these) must be careful to not make it a major disagreement, unless it is a foundational, cardinal doctrine of Christianity (Jude 3).
Let me illustrate it from a story I’d rather not tell. I have always loved words. (I know, I’m a nerd!) My mother gave me a love for reading and somehow I became interested in etymology and how we came to use certain words. It was fascinating to me.
In my mid-teenage years though I didn’t know anything about the Greek language I began to read Bible commentaries that gave background on different words and how they were used. (The New Testament was written in Greek and I enjoyed studying the Bible). I don’t remember ever even telling anyone about it because to me it was of no consequence for the better or worse; I was just doing something enjoyable and trying to understand the Bible better.
One night at a Bible study in my Junior year of high school the teacher was speaking about the rapture of the church. This is the precious truth that Christ will one day return again for those that belong to Him (I Thessalonians 4:13-17). The teacher mentioned that though the word “rapture” was never used in the Bible that it came from the Greek word “rapere”.
I knew the precise word “rapture” was not in the Bible and that it comes from the words “caught up” in I Thessalonians 4:17. Also, I was very confident that the word “rapere” was a Latin word and not a Greek word. The teacher had just misstated a fact, not key to the thrust of his lesson, but it was incorrect.
Incredibly, I lifted my hand and he acknowledged me and I said, “I don’t think the word “rapere” is a Greek word, but a Latin word from which the word rapture comes from”. For a moment he was speechless (at my stupidity) and then defended his position, “No, it is a Greek word”.
As wrong as I was to even mention this to him I had enough sense to immediately back down and not push the point. I sensed the Spirit of God convicting me for saying what I did. My pride had embarrassed him needlessly and I sat there ashamed. Though technically I knew I was right in what I said, I was dead wrong for saying it at all. It was totally unnecessary and brought nothing helpful to the lesson.
A few days later I bumped into the man leading the class and he said, “Hey, I looked up that word “rapere” and you were right. It’s not a Greek word, it is a Latin word”. My face turned red and I didn’t enough want to look at him, but I mumbled out an apology and told him I was foolish and wrong to even bring it up.
I never ever did that again in a classroom setting or a Bible study on an insignificant issue. I learned my lesson well from that moment. But I wish I had applied it in other areas of my life as I have sometimes disagreed over silly things with my wife. I’m sure she thought, “How pious and small you are to focus on such an insignificant matter”. So, I know I have that propensity still in my heart. I wish I didn’t.
I am learning to deal with this better as I grow older. Most of the time I just keep quiet, but sometimes I’ll say, “Paula, I’m not going to even go there, it’s not that important and I’m not going to argue about it”. It has saved us a lot of unnecessary discussions and kept things cool when they could have become heated – over a silly issue.
This is a good time to pause and just allow God to examine your heart. Are you a nitpicker? Would your wife or husband, children or parents say that you have a disagreeable spirit and have such strong opinions that it is having a negative impact on your family? This is not wise. We ought to be quiet when there isn’t much at stake – even if we are interested and feel strongly about it.
God gives us characteristics of what true wisdom is – “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy”. (James 3:17)
A wise person from God’s perspective is not loaded with facts, but is “peaceable…gentle…easy to be intreated…full of mercy”. Does this describe your spirit and approach when you deal with differences? Perhaps the difference you have shouldn’t even be pointed out at all.
I know one thing: when Christ comes for us at the rapture, I won’t care if the event was named after a Latin or Greek term. I’ll just be glad I am going home and that the desire to disagree over unimportant matters will finally be gone from my heart. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)