The gospel changes the way you argue.
It doesn’t prevent it from happening, but it certainly alters the dynamic. Take, for example, a passage like Ephesians 4:17-32. In particular, verse 26: Be angry and do not sin. The assumption here is that you will be angry, and yet there is a way to be angry and not sin. When it comes to arguing, then, these verses have much to say along the lines of not sinning even when you are angry:
- Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor (v. 25).
- Don’t let the sun go down on your anger (v. 26).
- No foul language is to come from your mouth (v. 29).
- All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you (v. 31).
Will we argue? Yes, we will, and yet because of the gospel, our arguments have been changed. But you know the struggle with this as well as I do. A disagreement begins, and it’s funny at first. But then it begins to escalate. And then escalate some more. And in the midst of the barbs flying back and forth, you might even come to the realization that what you started arguing about in the first place is not worth the time and effort you are putting into it. Or you might suddenly realize that you are, in fact, in the wrong.
But it’s too late – the train has left the station. So you find yourself devolving into parsing every one of each other’s words, each one looking for the loophole regarding what was said to seize upon like a hungry animal. It’s in those moments when you know the gospel ought to have changed the way you argue, but your pride, your stubbornness, or your self-righteousness took over. And in your anger, you did indeed sin.
How, then, can we remind ourselves of the gospel during times like these? And then how can we open ourselves to letting the gospel truth do its work even here, in the midst of our petty squabbles and disagreements? Here is one thing that has been helpful for me to remember:
I always have something to apologize for.
I have been around myself for around 37 years, and if I’ve learned one thing during that time it’s that my heart is constantly divided. It’s divided between good and evil; sacrifice and self-indulgence; justice and entitlement; being right and being validated. And if it’s true that, in every argument, I always bring that divided heart with me into the debate, then I always have something to apologize for. Even if I’m right.
See, the gospel not only reminds me of what Jesus has done for me, that I have been changed at my core, brought into the family of God as His adopted Son; the gospel also reminds me that I am still being formed into the image of Jesus. And because I am, I need the gospel today as much as I did those years ago when I first acknowledged I was a sinner. My divided and duplicitous heart needs the daily forgiveness and restoration of Jesus.
That means in the heat of the moment, when I feel the tide turning my way, when I know I have valid points and my ego starts to be stroked as I know I am winning this particular argument, the gospel steps in and tells me that I, even in my arguing rightness, have something to apologize for too.