1 Timothy 3:3 and Titus 1:7
The trait of not being quarrelsome is another essential in leadership. This trait is the absence of constant suspiciousness, negativism, aggression, and cynicism toward others, and instead is marked by graciousness and kindness. Christ commanded us to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matt 10:16), so this is not plain naivety, not simple-mindedness, or ignorance of human nature (John 2:24-25). Rather out of faith in God and personal humility it is a positive attitude toward others.
In each of his letters to his sons in the ministry, the Apostle Paul stressed the importance of this trait in leadership. In 1 Timothy and Titus he used the exact same words – literally “not a striker” – and in 2 Timothy he used complimentary language when he wrote, “And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone” (2 Timothy 2:24). Some translations use the phrase “not overbearing” to describe this: meaning to be the opposite of dictatorial, or harshly and arrogantly domineering. Chrysostom thought it referred also to those who “strike with the tongue.” Calvin thought this typified those who often threatened others and were warlike in their temperament.
The trait that is commanded is graciousness and kindness: the ability to see others as allies and not enemies, a willingness to look for the common ground and not the dividing points. Some describe this as the win-win attitude, as contrasted with the “I-win-you-lose” attitude. In relationships it means to find a friend first instead of provoking a fight.
Negative examples of people who did not have this trait are easily found – I can think of many, such as the young preacher who once bragged to me how mad he made people when he preached, thinking this was some badge of honor. Certainly good and clear preaching can provoke anger in unspiritual people, but he was mistaking a quarrelsome spirit with the prophetic voice. There was a popular teaching a few years ago that claimed this was inherent in the prophetic gift – to rile people up – and I believe this misled many into thinking that rudeness and plain meanness was somehow an inseparable part of prophecy. This is all nonsense, of course: “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel,” just for the sake of quarreling.
When I served as a Third World missionary, we took the gospel into homes and villages where it had not been plainly proclaimed. My colleagues and I knew that the truth could offend people, but we made it our goal to remove all personal offense so as not to interfere with the communication of the gospel to the inner person. We were out to make converts, not enemies. If they were offended by the cross (cf 1 Corinthians 1:23), then so be it, but if we ourselves impeded the work of the Spirit due to pointless conflict over non-essential matters, then we had failed. The old preacher wisely prayed, “Hide me behind the cross that others might see Jesus and not me.”
Many great evangelists and pastors have been able to have friendships with people in the world who typify almost everything opposite in their character: George Whitfield and Benjamin Franklin, for example, with Whitfield in friendship giving a gracious and consistent witness to the older and non-believing Franklin. Or as the graciousness and sacrificial commitment of David Livingstone touched Henry Stanley, who later said that he won him to the gospel, though he had not tried to. To stand for the truth in a gracious, kind, and persistent manner will in the end bear more real spiritual fruit than a quarrelsome spirit. Not only will it win friends and converts, but graciousness leaves a legacy of more graciousness and strengthens the future generations to serve as a united force for Christ.