Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth by claiming that the resurrection has already taken place. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.”
In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves of the things I have mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work. Shun youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
Over the years I have worked for a number of Japanese and Swedish corporations. Although they differ they are the most collaborative and consultative cultures I have come across. Issues that might ordinarily take a few hours to discuss can go on (seemingly) endlessly. In a lot of cases, the deep and long debates that go on in Japanese and Swedish companies can result in a deep and long-lasting commitment to a policy or plan; but in some cases it can seem like an excuse for avoiding making a decision! So, I have a great deal of empathy with Paul as he warns us to avoid wrangling over words. Sometimes you just need to go and do something, rather than talk about it.
The one-time Chief Executive Officer of Avis, in the early 60s, Robert Townsend, would not have worked well in Japanese or Swedish cultures. He is famed for turning Avis around. One reason he cited was how he made decisions. He claimed that he made his decisions quickly, and in doing so only got 1/3rd of them right, but quickly realised when they were wrong and then corrected them. Avis could make two decisions (and get it right) long before others had debated and come up with the right decision first time. Clearly this approach can’t be used in all cases, but I suggest it could be useful sometimes even in our churches. Have you sat through local mission committee meetings endlessly debating what to do … when a practical approach would have been to go and try something, and if it didn’t work change your approach and try again? As the old Latin proverb puts it solvitur ambulando; literally solve it by walking (doing), or as Nike puts it, just do it!
Dear Lord, it is good to talk; talk can bring us closer together, talk can enable us to understand others better, talk can identify how we are to love our neighbours.
I pray that you will give us the gift of communication to let us listen to the cries from our neighbours.
But when talk prevents us from doing, or becomes a screen to hide behind please let us stop the talk and gird ourselves for action.
I pray Lord that you would equip and strengthen us for work we have to do.
Finally, Lord, I pray that you will give us the wisdom to know when to talk and when to do. Amen
Alan Yates is a member of Trinity, High Wycombe URC and Moderator of General Assembly.