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Our evening service was canceled last week because of the snow. The portion below is an edited portion of the larger sermon, a message on conflict from Proverbs. I thought it was worth posting (although now I haven’t preached it yet) as a follow-up to Tuesday’s post.


Quarrels don't just happen. People make them happen.

Of course, there are honest disagreements and agree-to-disagree propositions, but that's not what the Bible means by quarreling. While studying Proverbs recently I was struck by the fact that most of the advice about conflict is not on how to resolve it, but how to avoid it.

Quarrels, at least in Proverbs, are unnecessary arguments, the kind that honorable men stay away from (17:14; 20:3). These fights aren't the product of a loving rebuke or a principled conviction. These quarrels arise because people are quarrelsome. Some Christians have a lifeline to Speedway and love to pour gasoline on every tiny spark of conflict.

You don't have to be a card-carrying member of the nice Nazis to believe that quarreling is wrong. You only have to believe the Bible (James 4:1). Hot-headed, divisive Christians are not pleasing to God (Proverbs 6:19). We are told to drive them out (22:10) and avoid such people (Rom. 16:17). This doesn't mean we only huddle with the people we like. We are not talking about awkward folks or those who disagree with us. We are talking about quarrelsome Christians–habitually disagreeable, divisive, hot-headed church people.

So what does a quarrelsome person look like? What are his (or her) distinguishing marks?

1. You defend every conviction with the same degree of intensity. You don't talk about secondary issues, because there are no secondary issues.

2. You are quick to speak and slow to listen. You rarely ask questions and when you do it is to accuse or to continue prosecuting your case. You are not looking to learn, you are looking to defend, dominate, and destroy.

3. Your only model for ministry and faithfulness is the showdown on Mount Carmel. There is a place for sarcasm, but when Elijah with the prophets of Baal is your spiritual hero you may end up mocking people instead of making arguments.

4. You are incapable of seeing nuances and you do not believe in qualifying statements.

5. You never give the benefit of the doubt. You do not try to read arguments in context. You put the worst possible construct on other's motives and the meaning of their words.

6. You have no unarticulated opinions.

7. You are unable to sympathize with your opponents.

8. Your first instinct is to criticize. Your last is to encourage.

9. You have a small grid and everything fits in it. Everything is a social justice issue; everything relates to the regulative principle, everything is Obama's fault; everything is wrong because of patriarchy; everything comes down to one thing-my thing.

10. You derive a sense of satisfaction and spiritual safety in being rejected and marginalized. You are constitutionally unable to be demonstrably fruitful in ministry and you will never affirm those who appear to be. You only know how to relate to God as a remnant.

11.You are always in the trenches with hand grenades strapped to your chest, never in the mess hall with ice cream and ping pong. Remember G.K. Chesterton: "We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return to at evening."

12. You have never changed your mind on an important matter.

Just some food for thought. I know I choke on my own words at times.

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87 thoughts on “Distinguishing Marks of a Quarrelsome Person”

  1. JJ says:

    Consider me convicted. Grateful for sanctification.

  2. Kevin Subra says:

    At the risk of being viewed as a quarrelsome person, would it be improper to desire (expect?) Scripture references for this list? Otherwise, is it not just a Kevin list? I just say this from a background of human-based ideas, rather than Biblical authority. I would hope that we would evaluate ourselves (& others) based upon more than someone’s list (which could be considered for the #13 slot). No offense to anyone, including Kevin. The world is just full of such lists.

  3. RS says:

    I am reading that mention secondary issues. Tell me what exactly are secondary issues? Isn’t all of God’s word primary for the Christian? I don’t ever remember reading where God said, one thing thing he says was more important than another. It is all important.

    What about calling out false teachers? Is that not divisive? Yet we should be doing that for sure. Otherwise the church ends up in the state that it is today.

    Maybe I am being divisive… If that’s the case then we should be divisive at times. When it comes to matters of God’s word. However, I would say the ones that preach primary vs. secondary doctrines are some of the ones leading us down the wrong trail.

  4. Kevin says:

    A necessary follow-up question: Who determines what are primary vs. secondary issues? To some, gender differences are secondary; to others, foundational (as an example).

  5. RS says:

    God determines what is primary or secondary. He did not distinguish. There are no secondary issues. All of God’s word is primary.

    Only the ones who create a god of their own making believe there are secondary issues or gradations of importance in God’s word. He has told us who he is, how we are to live, what we are to believe/think. Anything outside of that and we are treading on thin ice.

    Christ said (paraphrase)”why do you call me Lord and don’t obey me”? So if the Bible says no women pastors and you have women pastors how can that be secondary? Do people’s doctrine overrule God’s doctrine? What is that called? False doctrine? It is all primary.

    God’s doctrine is the only thing that matters. All else sends one to Hell. It really is that simple. Do I know all of God’s doctrine perfectly? No. But I am trying. Different hermeneutics? That won’t be an excuse when the time comes. No, he says what he means, and means what he says. We all better get it right. There is only one chance. There is only one God, there is only one Savior.

    There will be many on that day saying Lord, Lord. And he will say I never knew you. Why? Because we thought there were secondary issues. Or, we thought that God loves us just as we are. No change was necessary. Or we thought he would just wink at our sin. We must get it right the first time.

    Once again I may be considered divisive by saying this. So be it.

  6. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Is Universalism a primary or secondary doctrine?

  7. RS says:

    What do you mean by “universalism? The question on that term should not be primary vs. secondary. But truth vs. false doctrine.

    If you mean that all who come to truly follow Christ as their Lord and savior will be saved. It is truth. All of God’s word is primary.

    If you mean that all people will get to heaven, then no is it false doctrine. But what God has to say about it, would still be primary.

  8. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    I mean the “Universalism” that Rev. DeYoung is discussing in his recent posts regarding Rob Bell’s new book.

    I claim that Rev. DeYoung can, and should, and, in fact, already has contended vigorously against “Universalism” and that his observations against Rob Bell’s “universalism” does not mark him as being a “quarrelsome” Christian.

    Although some people might view Rev. DeYoung as quarrelsome for his warnings against Rob Bell’s teaching, I do not think that this is a fair assessment.

    One can argue and claim that a position is heretical (false teaching) or that a person is a heretic (a false teacher) without necessarily being “quarrelsome.”

  9. RS says:

    Rob Bell is defiantly a heretic. I don’t believe he is a christian in any sense of the word.

    Yes, You,(and Pastors must) can and must call out false teachers, as we are told to in the Bible without being quarrelsome. Jesus came to divide when it comes to truth.

  10. jan says:

    Maybe a more helpful way to think about primary and secondary doctrines is not in terms of importance (e.g., the doctrine of justification is more important than the doctrine of infant baptism), but in terms of clarity.
    Generally, I think, primary doctrines are seen as those which are the most clear in Scripture: God exists, as Three-in-One; Jesus is God and man, fully both simultaneously; Jesus’ life was sinless and His death was substitutionary; God the Father adopts sinful humans into His family based on their faith in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the propitiation of His death; just to state a few.
    Secondary doctrines are seen as those which are less clear in Scripture: the necessity of baptism for salvation, the propriety of infant baptism, speaking in tongues as the sign of salvation, the place of women in church leadership, or various timelines of eschatology, to name a few.
    The issue is not whether certain issues are more or less important, or whether certain passages of Scripture are more or less important or more or less inspired of the Spirit. The issue is whether well-meaning, devout believers, who show the fruit of God’s Spirit in their lives and respect the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, can honestly disagree on what the Bible says about a given issue.
    A quarrelsome person, I think, is someone who hasn’t got the humility to say, “I may not understand this issue fully.” A quarrelsome person is unwilling to learn, to discuss with others who disagree, to ask hard questions and sincerely seek the answers in the Bible from the Spirit. Should we staunchly defend the truthfulness of the Bible? YES, absolutely. Should we as staunchly defend our own understanding of the truth the Bible teaches? Absolutely not. We are human, we are fallible, and the mysteries in the Bible are infinite because its Author and Subject is infinite. Humility is key to learning the Scripture, and is also key to “calling out false teachers”, as RS pointed out, in a way that is gracious, truthful, and non-quarrelsome.

  11. Allen says:

    I’ll agree with Jan on his definition of primary/secondary issues. You can or might loosely think of it in this way. Primary issues are considered necessary for Salvation. They will separate the Heretic from the True Believer.
    Secondary issues are things that, although we might feel strongly on, are not essential for salvation. i.e. Baptism (paedo/believer), or Amill/Pre/Post in eschatology.

    You’ll know when a pastor thinks something is a secondary issue when they qualify their statements with the phrase, “but I would not die on that hill”, or such.

  12. Ahmed says:

    Just a thought or two.

    First, with respect to the Scriptural basis for this list, I think you have it in the first paragraphs — this was based on an overview (and I believe consistent) look at Proverbs, and I’m sure even beyond. Sometimes we want to look for the “proof-text” and effectively ignore the broad context and teaching of Scripture. Case in point: Not a single verse says “Jesus is God”, a proof-text problem often cited by Jehovah Witnesses, etc. But their classic heretical error is they ignore the pervasive SCREAMING OUT of his deity from the New Testament texts / contexts. Anyway, I digress.

    Second, in terms of Secondary issues — doesn’t Jesus (as only one example) tell the Pharisees that they strain at gnats and swallow camels? Isn’t that a picture of relative size/priority? He tells them that they do well to keep their traditions but FIRST they should change their hearts (which they couldn’t of course without his grace). Does Paul spend an equal time in his epistles on the issue of head coverings as he does on the grand doctrine of grace and justification? I think that’s the point of this article really — is Kevin’s list inspired? No, but no sermon ever is. But I think it comes uncomfortably close to speaking to my heart that when I’m quarrelsome, it’s often due a lack of grace on my part — a heart that should be in the process of transformation. Paul said we are to live at peace as much as lies in us — if that doesn’t mean giving up secondary or tertiary things, I don’t know what it could mean at all.

  13. Kevin says:


    I understand what you are saying. However, the list still would, in my opinion, require some level of “proof” to be teachable. The list might work within his sermon or series, but not in a post such as this.

    The list also is, to me, hyperbole, using words such as “never” and “every,” etc. Maybe it convicts everyone; maybe it convicts no one, with such statements.

    I do not wrestle with the concept of “levels of issues” (however we might label them). My issue is, who decides what is important, and who decides what is less important? If I argue a point because I believe it to be primary, and you classify the issue as secondary, am I then quarrelsome? Or are you dismissive?

    Without a doubt some things require more fervor and defense. Some thing gender discussions are secondary. Others think that they are the very fabric of society. Are discussions on topics such as this to be negated because of such a list?

  14. Ahmed says:

    No doubt, even the question of what is primary or secondary is in itself a knotty problem. We’ll never get it right (perfectly) this side of glory. What is ALWAYS needed is a deep measure of grace in dealing with one another. The Son of God and our Savior could have easily stayed in heaven and left us in our misery if he wanted to apply strict adherence to the rules. He chose instead to be infinitely gracious and condescend to save his people. Even typing that out makes me tremble at what he’s accomplished. So do I know what is primary/secondary? I don’t claim to — but I have my own ideas on it, with respect to what the Apostles placed the most emphasis on, and what the early church insisted on (keeping in mind the early church believed in the Trinity but didn’t yet know all the technical details they would come to later). So, the rule of faith is primary — do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and are you trusting him for salvation from your sins? THAT (I’m confident) is primary! And while our church clearly teaches reformed theology, our church does not insist that you be a Calvinist to join the church — but you better be willing to sit under that teaching!

    In terms of “proof”, I’m not arguing that more evidence could be put forth — I’m just saying that everytime someone makes some application (in a post) AFTER what I’m sure was intense study of God’s word, we don’t need to always be told exactly which verse supports which point if the application is in keeping with the whole counsel of God. E.g., even your post above doesn’t mention a single verse, but I can discern roughly if you’re being Biblical or not.

    Hey, but let’s not quarrel!

  15. Philip Lazar says:

    Kevin can you tell me without quarreling what you have learned so far from author’s like Roger E. Olsen who had exposed the lies and myths propagated by the Calvinist racist???? What steps you had taken to avoid by reading Arminians true believers in Christ readings??? tell your blog reader openly. I can share with you the conversation I had with John Hendryx from Monergism and the harshness he had shown towards me later he had removed our conversation from the comment box.

    Philip Lazar, Pastor

  16. Rose says:

    After hearing the rest of the sermon last night, I still think that this discussion encourages harshness toward people who rub us the wrong way. Driving out or cutting off people who believe that everything relates to the regulative principle (aka “I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me,”) or who regularly participate in discussions so that we start to suspect that they don’t have an unexpressed opinion, or who are willing to come to us with concerns, but who have the sense that when one has done what is required, one is still an unprofitable servant, and understand that “flattering lips will be cut off,” does not fit the counsel of Proverbs. Cutting off and driving out for quarrelsomeness or divisiveness requires a much greater offense than any of these behaviors, however annoying we might find them. This is moving us onto very dangerous ground. With this standard we have to conclude that the Church was right to drive out and cut off Luther. He sure was hung up on that “Sola Fide” issue, wasn’t he?

  17. Tim says:

    You missed one…continually posting opinions that have an obvious number of flaws that most people would have no problem “arguing” over.

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  20. Carrie Sue says:

    Thank you so much for posing this blog. I was dealing with an attorney who was simply horrible and I needed help in my reaction as well. It is good to examine yourself. I am sure the tree stump in my eye is pretty bad too.

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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