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Don’t Be Filled With Selfish Contention

Don’t Be Filled With Selfish Contention July 6, 2021

mary1826 : Contention divides / pixabay

“By insolence the heedless make strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom” (Prov. 13:10 RSV). One of the things we all have to accept is that we do not know all things. We are not capable of judging all things by ourselves. We have to rely upon each other. We need to listen to and heed the expertise of others. When they tell us something to do which goes against our desires, we shut put aside our selfishness and follow their directives, so long as they given sufficient demonstration as to why we need to do so. Contention and strife readily develops when we are unwilling to heed the wisdom of others, and through that contention, we often end up hurting others as well as ourselves. St. Basil, understanding this, warns us not to be contentious in our nature:

Contentious natures frequently reject even good ideas and judge as noble and useful not that which seems so to all others, even if it is advantageous, but that which is pleasing to them alone, even if it is hurtful. And the cause is folly and perversity of disposition, not heeding the advice of others, but trusting to their own opinions only and to whatever considerations enters their minds. Those things in which they take pleasure enter the mind, and they take pleasure in what they want. Now, he who thinks that which he desires is advantageous is not a safe judge of the right; he is like the blind who are led by the blind. [1]

We can see this in the way so many have rejected proper medical advice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of listening to medical experts, instead of heeding what scientists have learned, many of us wanted to ignore the pandemic and wish it away through conspiracy theories. A great number of people needlessly got sick and died because many of us did not want to listen to and follow proper medical advice. Many did not socially distance themselves,  nor did they wear masks. As it was inconvenient, they avoided their social responsibility. Because of such selfishness, the COVID19 pandemic was far worse than it should have been. So many people did not want to be told what to do; some, indeed, did the opposite out of spite. How many people, how many Christians, thought they should be free to satisfy every whim of theirs, even if it lead to the death of so many people, including their loved ones? Those who claim to be Christian should know better because Jesus told them that the freedom they have is meant to be put to use for the good of others; it is meant to be used to satisfy every inordinate pleasure they could have.

We must follow love, not hate; we must work for the common good. Ignoring the good of others and justifying our response through libertarian claims of freedom is far from the Christian spirit. Any Christians who embraces their own wants and desires over the common good risks cutting themselves off from Christ and his deifying grace:

Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth (1 Jn. 3:15-18 RSV).

Christians must act in and through love, not their own inordinate, selfish desires. There can be contention which is born out of love, contention which seeks after and promotes justice, encouraging us to fight for it when the powers that be stand against the common good. Such contention, to be valid, must not be selfish; it must not be focused on merely attaining our own private desires, using our desires to determine what is or is not just. Instead, the good of everyone should be at the forefront of such contention. It is a contention which comes out of wisdom. It follows the advice of experts. It obeys the dictates of justice, promoting restitution when needed. Experts who know the causes and sources of injustices must be heeded, as they will be able to show us how to overcome and fix such injustice. This is not to say they will be perfect. We must remember what is practical often is not ideal. Experts will also realize this, so they will promote what is practical, establishing it by what is ideal. When things change for the better, what is practical will also change, which is why the pursuit of justice takes time and patience. We must never make the perfect the enemy of the good. Those who seek after justice, those who promote the common good, when they contend with injustice and the powers that be, are not, therefore, selfish even if they become contentious, because their goal goes beyond their own private interests. What makes a spirit of contention bad is when it employed selfishly, so that it is used by us to neglect justice and to ignore what wisdom would have us learn.

Sadly, we see many Christians, with their selfishness, try to use Christ for their own personal desires, following the spirit of contention to the promotion of injustices. In doing so, they hinder Christ and his own cause. Paul experienced this as many wanted to use Christ to promote their own particular partisan ideology, ignoring the love and common good which Christ calls us to follow. “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of partisanship, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment” (Philip. 1:15-17 RSV).  It is therefore possible for someone to preach Christ incorrectly. If they use Christ to engage their own partisanship over love, and therefore, over the common good, when they are rejected. they end up acting like Paul’s rivals, attacking and harming their critics.

When we see someone contend against the common good, when they actively fight what must be done to promote it, we see someone who has already cut themselves off from the love which Christ would have them possess, and so, in that way, from Christ. So long as they ridicule the common good, so long as they are contentious, we must “drive them away.” For in this manner, those who want to do what is good and just will not have such people in positions of power and authority to cause them harm. “Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease” (Prov. 22:10 RSV). This is why Paul told Christians to drive out some kinds of  sinners from the community, cutting them off from communion; it was not because Paul did not care for them and their good, but rather, he cared for them as he cared for the good of all. If and when they recognized the error of their ways, and they were willing to join in with the rest of the community, they were welcomed back. But so long as they reject the common good, so long as they caused strife, splitting the community through their injustice, the community suffers. What they do has to be acknowledged and rejected. They must not be allowed to turn others against the common good.

A spirit of contention, when it is founded upon selfish ideologies, is a dangerous thing. It is never satisfied. It does not promote justice. It does not seek after or promote the common good. It is as foolish as it is dangerous. Christians should follow Christ. Jesus wants to unite all things as one so as to render them over to God the Father. Selfish contention does not know such unity, it does not know the peace of Christ. Let us, therefore, strive to avoid needless contention, let us not embrace a spirit of contention, and rather work for and promote the cause of Christ, the cause of unity and peace.

 


[1] St. Basil, “Letter 307” in Saint Basil: Letter. Volume 2 (186-368). Trans. Agnes Clare Way, CDP (New York: Fathers of the Church, 1955), 300.

 

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