Contention in the Church of God

Study No. 119

  My Austrian grandfather loved to contend with Jewish merchants. He took special pleasure in haggling over the price of merchandise, gloating when he had gotten the victory and "pulled one over" on them. In this instance he was a "lover of strife."


What is Contentiousness?

"Contentious," according to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, means "given to contention, marked by an often perverse and wearisome tendency to quarrels and disputes, likely to arouse an argument, conflict, or marked difference of opinion, a perverse and irritating fondness for arguments and strife." Contentious persons always have a "bone of contention" to bring up against someone else. A related word, "quarrelsome," means "a fretful ill-natured disposition to quarrel for petty, ill-grounded reasons."

Although it should not be, contention and quarrels sometimes do afflict those striving to follow the Bible. Let us examine what the Bible says about contention.

There are several Hebrew words for contention or strife. (1) Matstah, Strong’s #4683, means "contention, debate, strife." (2) Madown, #4066, means "brawling, contention, discord, strife," while (3) #4079 midyan is a related word. Finally, (4) #7379, rib, means "chiding, strife, controversy." As we study what the Bible says about contention, we will differentiate these Hebrew words by 1, 2, 3 or 4.


Contention is a Mark of Foolish Pride

Proverbs 13:10, "Only by pride cometh contention1 but with the well advised is wisdom."

Proverbs 28:25, "He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife2."

Proverbs 20:3, "It is an honour for a man to cease from strife4: but every fool will be meddling."

Proverbs 18:6-7, 17, 19, "A fool’s lips enter into contention4, and his mouth calleth for strokes. A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul . . . . He that is first in his own cause4 seemeth just; but his neighbor cometh and searcheth him . . . . A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions2,3 are like the bars of a castle."

Proverbs 17:19, "He loveth transgression that loveth strife1 and he that exalteth his gate seeketh destruction."

Isaiah 58:4, "Behold, ye fast for strife4 and debate1 and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high."

Proverbs 23:29-30, "Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions2,3? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine . . . ."

Strife Comes From Wrathful, Selfish People

Proverbs 15:18, "A wrathful man stirreth up strife2: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife4."

Proverbs 29:22, "An angry man stirreth up strife2, and a furious man aboundeth in transgression."

Proverbs 30:33, "Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter . . . so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife4."


Slander and Gossip Cause Strife

Proverbs 22:10, "Cast out the scorner, and contention2 shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease."

Proverbs 16:28, "A froward man soweth strife2: and a whisperer separateth chief friends."

Proverbs 6:12, 14, 16-19, "A naughty person, a wicked man, walketh with a froward mouth . . . . Frowardness is in his heart, he deviseth mischief continually; he soweth discord2. These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren."

Avoid Strife: Mind Your Own Business

Proverbs 17:14, "The beginning of strife2 is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention4, before it be meddled with."

Proverbs 26:17, 20, 21, "He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife4 belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears . . . . Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife2 ceaseth [is silent]. As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious2,3 man to kindle strife4."

Proverbs 25:9, "Debate thy cause4 with thy neighbor himself; and discover not a secret to another."


Women Can Be Contentious

Proverbs 21:9, 19 [see also Proverbs 25:243], "It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling2,3 woman in a wide house [house of society] . . . . It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious2,3 and an angry woman."

Proverbs 17:1, "Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices [good cheer] with strife4."

Proverbs 19:13, "A foolish son is the calamity of his father: and the contentions3 of a wife are a continual dropping."

Proverbs 27:15, "A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious2,3 woman are alike."


God’s People Sometimes are a Strife to Others

Psalms 80:6, "Thou makest us a strife2 unto our neighbors: and our enemies laugh among themselves."

Jeremiah 15:10, "Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife4 and a man of contention2 to the whole earth . . . ."


Priests and Levites to Judge Controversies

Deuteronomy 17:8-13, "If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood . . . then shalt thou arise . . . . And thou shalt come unto the priests and Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and enquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment: And thou shalt do according to the sentence, which they of that place which the LORD shall choose shall shew thee . . . [see also Deuteronomy 19:17, 21:5, 25:1]."


God Has a Controversy With Sinners

Hosea 4:1 [see also 12:1, and Micah 6:2], " . . . the LORD hath a controversy4 with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land."


We Are Not to Have Arguments About God’s Law

Titus 3:9, "But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions5, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain."

In the New Testament, the main Greek word for "contentions" is Strong’s #2054, eris, which means "debates, strifes, contentions, variance." A related word is Strong’s #2052, erithia, meaning "faction, contention, strife." We will note the occurrences of eris and erithia by numbers 5 and 6.


Contention in the Church of God

Sometimes, even church leaders cannot get along:

Acts 15:39, "And the contention was so sharp between them [Paul and Barnabas], that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus."

I Thessalonians 2:2, "But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully treated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention."

The Church at Corinth had numerous arguments:

I Corinthians 1:11, "For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions5 among you."

I Corinthians 3:3, "For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife5, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?"

I Corinthians 11:16, "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God."

The Greek word for "contentious" here is Strong’s #5380 philonikos, a word which comes from philos, meaning "friend", and neikos meaning "quarrel", thus literally meaning "fond of strife." Strong’s relates neikos to #3534 nikos, which means victory, the name of a Greek goddess of victorious warfare. We use the word "nike", which means "victory", for a brand of athletic shoes. A contentious person always wants to argue and the get the best of, be victorious over, others. My grandfather would boast about his "victories" over Jewish merchants, but likely wouldn’t mention his defeats. This kind of attitude has no place in the Churches of God. Believers are to serve others, not gain the victory over them.

II Corinthians 12:20, "For I fear, lest when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates5, envyings, wraths, strifes6, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults."

Philippians 1:15-16, "Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife5; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention6, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds."

Contentions Are a Work of the Flesh

Romans 1:28-29, "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate5, deceit, malignity; whisperers . . . ."

Galatians 5:19-21, "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance5, emulations, wrath, strife6, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."

Romans 2:8, "But unto them that are contentious6, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath . . . ."

James 3:14-16, "But if ye have bitter envying and strife6 in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife6 is, there is confusion and every evil work."


What To Do With Contentious Persons

I Timothy 6:3-5 [Amplified Bible], "But if any one teaches otherwise and does not assent to the sound and wholesome messages of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, and the teaching which is in agreement with godliness — piety toward God — he is puffed up with pride and stupefied with conceit, [although he is] woefully ignorant. He has a morbid fondness for controversy and disputes and strife5 about words, which result in (producing) envy and jealousy, quarrels and dissension, abuse and insults and slander, and base suspicions, And protracted wrangling and wearing discussion and perpetual friction among men who are corrupted in mind and bereft of the truth, who imagine that godliness or righteousness is a source of profit — a money-making business, a means of livelihood. From such withdraw."

Proverbs 22:10, "Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease."


Remedy for Contention

Philippians 2:3, "Let nothing be done through strife6 or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves."

Romans 13:11-14, "And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife5 and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."

Today, people are starving for the word of God. However, some in the church are engaged in contentious arguments, often involving trivial matters. There is little or no respect for one another, but instead an attitude of strife and debate. Rather than helping others, encouraging others to live by the truth, some are engaged in strifeful debates, often about small points of God’s Law. It is high time such folly ceases! Those who continue in such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Let us put on the mind of the Messiah and eliminate all contention in the Church of God. W


Wicked men succeed because righteous men do nothing.

If you don’t use your mind, someone else will.


Bible Study Index