Yes there are folks who love to argue and pick fights. This is how we should deal with them:
Consider this article to be sort of a public service announcement, a bit of free advice, and/or some hopefully wise counsel. It is directed mainly to other Christians, and if you are a regular reader here you will know that I have discussed this issue in the past.
But it seems the need keeps arising to address the issue again and again, since the actual problem keeps rearing its ugly head. I refer to the issue of trolls, and those who exist simply to argue and pick fights with other people. Too many people see it as their sole mission in life to belligerently and arrogantly attack others and launch into extended arguments with them.
We would certainly expect misotheists, Christophobes, and atheists to routinely engage in this sort of activity with believers, but here I want to focus on Christian trolls. Yes they do exist, and they exist in abundance. Anyone who has any sort of public ministry, or utilises the social media, or has an interactive blogsite (and I am involved in all three), knows exactly what I am talking about.
I raise this issue again for at least two reasons: I have just once more had to deal with some annoying, time-wasting and arrogant Christian trolls; and I have just read again in the book of Acts what might be considered similar sorts of situations.
As to the first, these trolls are ever with us, sadly. Just as it is hard to keep those pesky flies off your face under the hot sun here in Perth (where I am now speaking), so too these pesky trolls are always swarming around you, causing incessant trouble and being a real pain.
As I have said often before, if someone seems open, teachable, humble, and eager to learn, I am happy to spend a lot of time with them, answer their questions, and deal with any objections or criticisms they might have. But we must have discernment here.
Some folks are not at all interested in learning or being gracious with you. They simply want to argue and be a first-class annoyance. These sorts of folks are NOT worth wasting time on. I always apply the ‘three strikes and you’re out rule’: if after three exchanges they are proving to be just grumpy old men or keyboard pugilists who get cheap thrills out of arguing, then give them the flick.
You are under no obligation to keep going with them. They will waste all your time, derail you from God’s purposes for you, and just cause you plenty of grief and headache. Dump them! They are not at all acting like Christians, showing grace and humility. They are acting like angry atheists and should be given short shrift if they show no signs of openness and teachability.
As but one example, a Christian guy recently objected to something I had posted on the social media. He kept coming back with the same old tired objections, even though I had carefully replied to each one. It soon became quite clear that he either did not bother to read a word I said, or was just an argument junkie who liked the sound of his own voice.
He was either one of the more dim-witted folks around, or he was just on a mission to cause maximum mayhem and trouble. After three days of dealing with the guy on and off, I finally just had to unfriend him. People like that are NOT my idea of friends, nor do I regard them as brothers in Christ.
There are two errors to avoid here: One is to too quickly become impatient, irritable and upset with someone who simply asks questions or raises a few objections. We need to be willing to reply and not take things personally or get all hot-headed. Trying to explain things and clarify things can take time, and not all those asking hard questions and the like are our enemies or being troublesome.
But the other thing is to learn to discern who may well be an enemy, or at least someone who is diverting you from what God wants you to do. We are under no obligation to waste our time with those who just get their jollies out of picking a fight and arguing all day. They can just take a hike.
As to biblical texts which may go along with all this, there are actually many. No, there were no internet trolls two millennia ago, but there have always been people who like to argue, or who will resist the gospel message. Just like today, believers back then had to know when to pull back and not waste time with such folks.
A few days ago in my daily reading Acts 18:5-6 stood out: “When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’.”
There you go. We are not required to persist with those who are not open to truth. Sometimes we just need to move on. In the next chapter we find more of the same: “Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:8-9).
In doing these things Paul was simply following what Jesus had said and done. In Matthew 7:6 Jesus said this: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” And Jesus instructed the disciples in Matthew 10:11-15 with these words:
Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
The book of Proverbs of course contains numerous warnings against arguing and those who like to argue. Here are a few such verses:
Proverbs 15:18 A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,
but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.
Proverbs 15:28 The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking;
the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words.
Proverbs 17:14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam;
so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.
Proverbs 20:3 It is to one’s honor to avoid strife,
but every fool is quick to quarrel.
Proverbs 26:17 Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears
is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own.
The Apostle Paul often spoke about this as well (having also learned some hard lessons through years of unfortunate experience with such things). In Romans 14:1 for example he says this: “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarrelling over disputable matters.”
And in the Pastoral Epistles he raises this point frequently, as in these passages:
1 Timothy 1:3-4 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.
1 Timothy 3:2-3 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
1 Timothy 4:6-7 If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.
1 Timothy 6:3-5 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
1 Timothy 6:20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge.
2 Timothy 2:14-16 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.
2 Timothy 2:23-24 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.
Titus 3:9-10 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.
Of course to present such texts does NOT mean there is no place for believers to stand for sound doctrine, to defend core biblical truths, and to argue against false teachings. We are to contend for the faith (Jude 3), and we are to always uphold basic biblical doctrines. That we must always do, as I have argued elsewhere, eg: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/07/05/yes-sound-doctrine-matters-absolutely/
So we need the biblical balance. We must avoid those Christians who get their kicks out of arguing and quarrelling all day, often over unimportant or secondary matters. But we must also stand for sound doctrine, and when necessary, make the case for – or argue – biblical truth claims.