The church has always had some of those people associated with it. There have always been people who maintain an offensive disposition when it comes to their faith. These are the people who seem to love nothing more than a good fight. They bait every conversation with a few key words, hoping that you will blunder into a discussion they know they can win. They play one Christian off another. They might elevate themselves into positions of Christian leadership for the purpose of enriching themselves at everyone else’s expense.
Even back in the days when the Apostle Paul was traveling from city to city to preach the gospel and plant churches—even then there were people who had an unhealthy craving for controversy (see 1 Timothy 6). At one point he wrote Timothy to warn specifically about these people. He identified them as professed Christians who especially love to quarrel about theological nuances and who have a knack for causing fights between others. It’s a too-common “gift” this gift of spiritual discouragement.
But as I read 1 Timothy and hear Paul warn about these controversialists, I hear him sound a second warning as well. This is a warning about a second kind of person who sins very differently but no less seriously. If we have controversy on the one side of the equation, we have complacency on the other. This, too, is a sin and it, too, is very dangerous.
The complacent Christian is the one who is afraid to speak up even when the situation is serious and in dire need of attention. He is the one who cowers before men and who would rather not speak at all than risk offending another person or risk taking sides. He would allow his Christian brothers and sisters to face spiritual risk instead of speaking up in defense of the truth. As we read the New Testament it seems possible, and perhaps even likely, that Timothy’s temptation was toward complacency. Paul felt it necessary to remind Timothy of the importance of taking sides in order to protect the purity of the gospel and to defend God’s people.
As I thought about controversy and complacency, I realized that in my own way and in different contexts I am prone to both of them. In real life and in face to face conversation, my tendency is toward complacency. Fear of man can compel me or shame me into silence. I have to push myself to speak boldly when there is controversy that needs to be addressed or, even worse, controversialists who need to be rebuked.
But I’m a hero behind my keyboard and have a natural tendency to be bold and brave and, if I’m not careful, downright obnoxious. I have to push myself to resist the temptation to speak up about issues that do not concern me and for which I have no business offering an opinion.
Controversy and complacency—both are alive in the church today. Sadly, both are alive in me as well.