Every Thumb's Width

Distinguishing Marks of a Quarrelsome Person

This is a helpful article by Kevin DeYoung about how to identify “habitually disagreeable, divisive, hot-headed church people.” Here’s a humbling taste:

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.

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.

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.

Whispers and Flames

Quarrelers Inflame Fires

Not only do whisperers fuel drama as we saw in Proverbs 26:20, quarrelers also play a large roll in drama.

As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,
so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.
Proverbs 26:21

The first half of the proverb in verse 21 provides the comparison, As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire. The fire was already started and now fuel is added. Charcoal refers to black coal while hot embers are glowing, burning coal. We still use a charcoal grill at our house for summer barbecuing so this picture is fresh in my mind. It doesn’t take long before an added cold, black briquet is engulfed by already lit, hot, white coals. The more charcoal added, the bigger and the hotter the fire. In like manner, the quarrelsome man increases and intensifies the drama.

The main character in verse 21 is the quarrelsome man. He is a man of madon, of strife, of contention. The quarrelsome man doesn’t necessarily start fights, but he jumps on top of the pile. He fans the flames. His attitude is combustible; he’s easily excited and ready to burn. It only takes a spark to get his fire going.

Charcoal, wood, and the quarrelsome man are fuel to the fire. He aggravates the problem and escalates the situation through the roof. Though verse 21 doesn’t tell us specifically how a quarrelsome person provokes the fire, it does state the fact that he’s flammable.

The whisperer and the quarrelsome man are connected. I think the connection is contextual. Obviously verse 21 immediately follows verse 20, but more than that, both verse 20 and 21 use the image of fire. Additionally, the quarreler is inserted between two verses about the whisperer (verse 20 and 22), suggesting these three verses are a unit.

The whisperer is like wood, the quarrelsome man like charcoal and wood. Both add fuel to fire or make the fire bigger, and without them the drama dies. Verse 20 says without a whisperer the fire goes out and quarreling ceases. Verse 21 explains that the quarrelsome man kindles strife, which means sparks won’t fly without a quarreler.

And notice that both the whisperer and the quarrelsome man are responding. At least as far as verses 20 and 21 are concerned, these characters are responding to the fire by keeping it going or by making it bigger. The whisperer keeps it going, the quarrelsome man makes it bigger. They aren’t starting the fire, they’re sustaining it or stirring it up. One burns slowly, one explodes, both keep the fire going. One is subtle, one is obvious, both are wrong. One might seem sympathetic, one appears bold, both are foolish.

The implication is that the wise person douses drama. They smother and snuff out the fire. Without fuel, gossip and fights and strife dwindle and die. Extinguishing drama is the work of the wise.

The book of Proverbs provides at least two instructions for how to respond to drama:

Be quiet.

We don’t need to tell everyone everything we know, and we certainly shouldn’t tell anyone things we’re only guessing about. When it comes to drama, keeping our mouths closed is wise.

Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets,
but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.
Proverbs 11:3

Whoever covers an offense seeks love,
but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
Proverbs 17:9

Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets;
therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.
Proverbs 20:19

We fan the fire by adding our two cents. If we’re not careful, even our sympathy can unintentionally increase the drama rather than putting it out. Most of the time we need to be quiet.

Be cool.

In other words, we must keep control of our emotions.

A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Proverbs 15:1

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,
but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
Proverbs 15:18

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Proverbs 17:27

Though we can’t always control what other people say, we can control how we respond. For example, a match won’t light by striking it on any surface. So we can be like a smooth surface or like the side of the match box, staving off or inflaming fire.

We’re often in situations with flammable friends or classmates or co-workers. How we respond makes the difference between feeding the fire and increasing the drama or pulling the curtain on the drama and putting out the fire.