I think I heard that phrase several times as a child and as a teenager. Whereas some people are really good at toeing up to a line, I have a tendency to cross the line…by several yards. Early on in my walk with Christ this little problem of mine would show itself in the way that I would argue about certain doctrines. I would pummel someone with information until they would have no choice but surrender.
There is a point in most every argument when one side or the other just gets silly. Logic and well reasoned biblical arguments no longer matter. Instead, emotions and misrepresentation rule the day. The lengthy correspondence between Thomas Scott and John Newton eventually hit this point, as Scott began charging Newton with gross misrepresentation. Newton called him on it:
“It is easy to charge harsh consequences, which I neither allow, nor, indeed, do they follow from my sentiments”.
Newton went on to graciously explain his position and to attempt one more time to proclaim the true gospel of Jesus Christ. But he ended his letter by all but cutting off the conversation. Scott would later claim that he ended the correspondence—and he did—but Newton invited the closure of communication. And I think we have something to learn from him in this.
When an argument becomes more about winning an argument than it does about two people seeking truth it is time to stop. Newton understood that there were spiritual things that needed to happen in Scott’s heart before he would be able to comprehend the points Newton was making. Even with fellow believers there are times when we should just walk away, simply because the Lord hasn’t yet led both parties into the same view.
Here are five times when it might be better to quit than to continue a discussion:
- When either party becomes angry. When someone gets angry nobody wins.
- When one party intentionally misrepresents the other. Accidental misrepresentation happens, but when one person intentionally misrepresents the other it’s time to stop. In this as well, when someone is being charged with a “harsh consequence” that you do not hold, and they refuse to accept that you do not hold to that consequence, it is time to walk away.
- When there is a foundational difference between the two parties. Of course, you don’t walk away immediately. But you have to come to grips with the fact that on certain issues until the worldview changes your periphery argument will never advance.
- When it becomes personal. In some way, every argument is personal, but when someone is making things personal it is time to stop.
- When one side shows an unwillingness to consider the opposition. It’s one thing to be confident. It’s quite another to be unwilling to even consider another side.
There are probably others. But for me I tend to watch for these signs when discussing matters where I differ from someone. I figure that in most instances it is better to keep a relationship than to win an argument. That doesn’t make me soft—it makes me confident that the Lord will lead His people into truth. It’s simply my job to present the truth when the opportunity presents itself.