I’m probably much closer to a conflict-avoider than a peacemaker, and I don’t have any real hope that Jesus’ blessing in Matthew 5:9 to include conflict-avoiders like me.
But, apparently, arguing — and arguing persuasively — is very much essential to the spread of the gospel. At least it is, if you’re looking at the example of Paul.
- It’s what Jesus did (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 12:9; 13:54 and parallel/other references in the companion gospels). And Paul was all about imitating Christ (Philippians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 11:1).
- Jews and proselytes in the synagogue would already have a basic familiarity with one God, the law and the prophets. So Paul could start from there to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, who had to die and to be raised from death. Maybe the most complete sermon of this approach was to Pisidian Antioch, recorded in Acts 13:13ff.
- There, the folks in the synagogue asked for a word of encouragement; Paul preached the gospel, but he did so proving each point from scripture. Not a bad example to follow.
In many instances, he encountered opposition. That means he couldn’t just preach. He had to argue with the Jews who refused to believe (Acts 14:2-7; 15:1-2; 17:1-5; 18:5-6). It was important to demonstrate, both to those who believed and those who doubted, that there was no backing down from the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Once again, Paul was imitating Jesus — who would not back down from persuading people to reach the conclusion that He was the Messiah, the Christ, who had to die and live again.
He didn’t argue much with pagans; there was too much teaching to do. And God had a tendency to either defuse tense confrontations with pagans (often with miracles) or to place Paul in them under circumstances of trial as a Roman citizen so he could teach, as Jesus had prophesied in Matthew 10:19 and Mark 13:11 (which he did, often with remarkable humility and humor – see Acts 26).
So I find that the teaching of scripture is that believers who want to share the gospel …
- need to spend their words and passion teaching those who do not know God, not so much arguing with them.
- may have to argue from time to time with those who believe in the one God — sometimes even those who believe in His Son Jesus (as was the case with the circumcision party in Acts 15) — to prove persuasively that the gospel is not a matter of obeying man’s law, but of accepting the forgiveness of God through the grace shown in Jesus Christ.
This is difficult for me. I don’t really like to argue.
But, sometimes, that is what I am called to do.