When we disagree
The Lord wants unity, but disagreements in discussions are also a fact of life. Sometimes discussions can fall apart pretty quickly, even before we really understand why. How should we react to this? How should we proceed in discussions when we are dealing with disagreements? Here are some suggestions:
1. Be generous. Assume the best first. Don’t assign evil motives to other parties. They may have intended something else. Let the principles of love guide our discussions. Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7). This is simply an extension of the “golden rule”: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Matt. 7:12).
2. Be respectful. Don’t begin a response by insulting and insinuating that the other parties are intellectually deficient. There should be no room for inflammatory comments. Just address the issue without resorting to ad hominem attacks. Kindness and respectfulness should mark all conversations. “What is desirable in a man is his kindness, and it is better to be a poor man than a liar” (Prov. 19:22; cf. Col. 4:6; Eph. 4:32).
3. Be Reasonable. It’s possible that we misunderstood something. Be willing to discuss and foster good communication through definition and clarification. “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13). In the same way, be logical. It is one matter to just state, “I disagree,” or to just state a contrary proposition. It is another matter to state the disagreement along with reasons. Learn how to make actual arguments (in the good sense). If we want others to consider our positions, we need to able to give the “because” for our positions. If we can’t state the “because,” then we don’t have adequate grounds for decent discussion and we are just pointlessly naysaying.
4. Be open. It’s possible that we are wrong ourselves and haven’t thought something through as much as we should. Are we willing to change if we are shown to be in error? Consider the other position and make sure that we understand it before rejecting it outright. If we are still sure that we disagree, then proceed with the other principles in mind. Be a truth-seeker, and “understanding will watch over you” (Prov. 2:11).
5. Be honorable. One of the most frustrating parts of a disagreement is when the other party misrepresents what we believe. We all make honest mistakes in our reasoning and conclusions, but if we purposefully twist or distort something in order to win an argument, we have crossed over into dishonesty. This is never honorable or right. When representing what others believe, be fair and accurate. If we find that we have not been accurate in how we represent a position, then be willing to listen and gain further understanding. Never intentionally misrepresent just to win an argument. “A trustworthy (i.e., honest) witness will not lie, but a false witness utters lies” (Prov. 14:5).
6. Be direct. We may often be frustrated in discussion because we cannot pinpoint the real problem. Being generous and kind does not mean that we have to beat around the bush when we address the issue. State clearly the objection and the reasons for the disagreement. What is the real problem? The principle of being direct, whether in rebuke or disagreement, is part of wisdom: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:6). We can be friendly, tactful, and kind while at the same time being straightforward and addressing the real issue.
7. Be committed. First, be committed to the Lord and His truth. Then be committed to the well-being of others. Be committed to souls and seek salvation for all. Winning an argument is pointless just for its own sake and can be a form of self-glory. God calls us to a higher standard. “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4). “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
You can probably think of more. Reason and persuasion are a part of being disciples (cf. Paul in Acts 17:17; 18:4; 19:8-9). Scripture gives us the principles by which we may proceed in discussions that are often bottlenecked by stubbornness and unreasonable posturing. We can do better. We can seek the Lord, seek truth, and seek for the greatest benefit for others. This must be intentional, bearing in mind the wisdom of God.