Contending for the Faith or Striving about Words


“Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers.” (2 Timothy 2:14 NKJV)

The Apostle Paul did not shun controversy as a Christian – even with Christians. We know this from what he said about it and what he did about it. In most cases, rather than run from it, he met it head on. We can learn this from his writings and what is recorded about him, by Luke, in the book of Acts. If anyone doubts this, I would urge him to read these writings – at least the book of Acts. He must have thought it profitable to so participate in it.

Yet, this same apostle warns against engaging in unprofitable controversy (2 Timothy 2:14) and developing a “morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words” (1 Timothy 6:4 NASV). He mentions several bad things that result from such “ruin of the hearers, envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, and useless wranglings.” It seems to me that this is all saying that we should pray for the wisdom to pick our battles. Also, that we should learn the difference between expressing a position and pressing it. If we are honest, we can name a number of topics over which brethren have disagreed and even discussed for years in congregational Bible classes and other studies, in order to increase their knowledge and perception, without harming “the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.”

I suspect, if truth be told, that most of us, this writer included, have been caught up in useless controversies at some time of the other in our lives. We all need to be careful.

Maybe it is because of the internet that we are seeing more spirited discussions of some old questions that have been around for years without causing much of a stir. I have two questions in mind that may not have reached the level of striving about words to no profit or being useless wrangling – but could easily become such. They are “How does the Holy Spirit dwell in Christians?” and “How did Jesus’ death take away our sins?”

The reason I say that discussions over these things can become unprofitable is that we can become so spirited in pressing our view of “the how” in these questions that we forget the blessings of “the what” that we share.

In the matter of how the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Is it personally or representatively? Is it by the word or with the word? Or is it mystical or some other way beyond our comprehension? The list goes on.

As long as one understands that the only way the Spirit speaks to us or influences us is through the written word of God, there is room for various opinions on how He dwells in us. But teaching that the Spirit directly speaks to one, separate and apart from the word, must be soundly refuted. God’s final word to man, the revelation of the faith, was completely delivered to the saints by the Spirit, through the Apostle and Prophets in the First Century. (Jude 3). There is no room for additional revelation.

Teaching that there are additional words spoken to us by the Spirit leads to spiritual chaos. Each becomes a law unto himself. Whatever he believes the Spirit has said to him becomes the basis of his faith and practice as it does for those who follow his teaching. With most that I know who think they receive direct guidance give more weight to it than they do to what the Scriptures say. This leaves no objective standard by which to measure a multitude of claims of direct of direct communication from the Holy Spirit.

After all the dust has settled after almost endless discussion of the “how,” all sides, that I know about, agree that He does dwell in a Christian in some sense. By knowing that He dwells in us helps us to function properly as Christians. Surely, regardless of one’s opinion of “how” it is accomplished, we can agree that the plain statements that Spirit dwells in Christians serves as incentive for Godly living.

In Romans 8 and other places, it is clearly taught that the Spirit dwells in us. Connected with this statement of fact, rather than stating how this is accomplished, Paul uses this acknowledged fact to

∙ Assure us that the same Power that is within us raised Jesus from the dead and will quicken our mortal bodies “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11 NKJV)

∙ Assure us that we have help when it is difficult to pray as we would like. The Holy Spirit comes to our aid in making intercession for us “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:26 NKJV)

∙ To spur us on to godly living ‘Flee sexual immorality. “Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20 NKJV)

Lately there has been a lot of discussion in the social media and other venues of about how the death of Christ has brought about the remission of our sins. This is not a new topic. It has been around for most of the Christian dispensation. Some say, it is vicarious, others propitiatory. Some say our sins were imputed to him. Others say while our sins were not imputed to Him, that He was the atonement for sin much like the atonement of the animal sacrifice in the Old Testament – only He was the Ultimate Perfect Lamb of God to atone for our sins. And there are other views.

Those who regularly read my writings, know that I have expressed my views as to how the sacrificial death works. But hope I realize that the matter of just how this is accomplished is not a plain as some other biblical truths. Thus I try not to be dogmatic about how it works.

I am confident that all Christians that I know agree that Jesus died for us – that he died because of our sins and that without His death we would still be in our sins with no hope of salvation.

On these two topics and some more there can be no harm in civil discussions of differing views we might have on the “how” of these matters – if we do not allow the discussions to degeneration into strife about words or we become so obsessed that we give it far more attention than is reasonable or needed.

Again, there is no harm in each expressing a view on such questions, but the rub comes when we dogmatically press a view. It would be a shame for brothers to develop strained relations or become alienated by differences over the “hows” when they are in perfect agreement over the “whats.” How wonderful to know beyond a reasonable doubt that the Holy Spirit dwells in Christians and that Jesus died for our sins.

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