“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-2
With the beginning of the new semester just around the corner, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the students back on campus. It’s a ghost town around here during the summer, so I love the breath of life that they bring back into our little community. There are some things that I absolutely love about working in a Christian academic setting—the gospel conversations, my professors’ libraries at my disposal, the intellectual humor—but there are other things that grieve my heart.
One such thing that I see with each new semester are ungodly debates and arguments. It seems that in every crop of eager new students there are a few who, when inundated with wonderful and new ideas about Scripture and God, unfortunately make it their mission to convince everyone and anyone who will listen of their views. Regrettably, I’ve even found myself in this camp…though by grace not as often recently.
The excitement over what we have learned (and are still learning) is natural and good, but sometimes there is a tendency to forget to temper that excitement with the command to love our neighbors. The Me-Monster rises from the depths of our hearts with all its fiendish glory and the selfish ambition to prove ourselves right—and others wrong—takes over. We start flinging Scripture grenades at people and don’t even give them a chance to recover. We end up with unkind, ranting, ugly arguments instead of gracious iron-sharpening-iron conversations.
James 3: 13-16 says: “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my ‘wisdom’ to be demonic—grasping for glory and self-worship. Seminary land (or anywhere for that matter) is full of all sorts of enticing footholds for the enemy—pride, self-righteousness, favoritism towards those who think the same way, and other sneaky sins that can crop up when one is bent on learning wonderful things. Once the enemy gains a hold, he deviously leads his victim down varying paths of arrogance, entitlement, and hypocrisy (or maybe hopelessness, doubt, and confusion…).
The study of Scripture and theology is good, if and only if, they lead you to worship (in spirit and truth – John 4:23) the One True God, and through that worship become more like Him. The ‘wisdom’ we want bears out the image of God in its extension of grace to others. James continues in verse 17: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” It is reasonable, gracious, kind, gentle, and refuses to put itself above the good of others. There is a certain winsomeness that gains the ear of the hearer in that kind of humility.
If you have trouble determining when to speak up or when to hold your tongue, you may find this chart helpful (as I did) at Justin Taylor’s blog on when to correct or when to let things go.
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:22-26