To Quote Without A Sermon

Almost every time I get inspired to write a Christian piece, I struggle with it for days on end before finally putting pen to paper. I struggle with it because I am afraid: Afraid to blaspheme, to use the word of God in vain, or to lead others astray with my words.

I struggle with it oft-times because at the time of my inspiration, it was in response to something else, and I want to be sure that what I eventually put down on paper is not beset with my feelings from that event – especially if they were of anger. But mostly, I struggle with it because I am aware of my inadequacies as concerns Bible reading, and the profundity of knowledge contained therein.

This is why, whenever you find biblical quotes in my writing, there is always a back story attached to it. Something that tells you how and why I feel what I feel, and thus explains the foundation of my conviction as concerns that quote. So that should you wish to argue, we can safely argue my convictions of the Word on an intellectual level, and I may be corrected if needs be.

But I have never been able to articulate just why it is, that I get so frustrated when other people do not do me the same courtesy. I have never been able to tell them, what I feel is so wrong about using biblical quotes in arbitrary arguments. Nor have I been able to convince them, to do otherwise. For all say:

The Word of God is just and true, how can it not be fit justification for all arguments?

…and they are right, and therein lies the problem. Because no God fearing man, dare argue with the word of God. None! and by using a biblical quote mid-argument, that argument goes from being arbitrary, to being immediately about who is more righteous. The finer points of what we individually understand of that quote (if indeed we are both familiar with it), having been skipped along the way.

Certainly, if both the sayer and the hearer of the quote, have a mutual understanding and conviction, this is a fair way to settle an argument. Or if it is known to them both, that the one possesses a greater understanding of the Bible, than the other, again, I agree that it is a fair use. But when neither is known to be true, using a biblical quote amidst an argument that is not itself about the bible, is like pouring fuel on a burning flame.

For in the same breath, the quote sayer condemns the hearer as a man, and as God; all the while asserting their own “righteousness” in keeping to (what are their own convictions of) the Word. This is what has vexed me so, in my arguments with fellow Christians. Because having been unable to use a counter-quote myself, the argument can neither move to a place of biblical discussion, nor can it be settled outside the realm of biblical discussion.

And so it is, that such arguments, be they with me, by me, with others, or by others, must end with the hearer being impugned, and the sayer being affirmed by the sayer’s conscience. Both parties, never once addressing the core issue that may be a difference in convictions.

For the Bible is both obscure and profound in its meaning at times. I have read something the one day and found it to be trivial, then read it the next day and discovered its significance. Then read it again a third day, and found even more significance… and I haven’t even read it from cover to cover. How much more must there be, in the pages left unread!?

For the Bible is both obscure and profound in its meaning at times.

So to quote so haphazardly to me, is like playing with fire. Am I sure I understand all that verse meant? Am I sure that this is the right way to apply it? And even if I am, do I know where the other party is in their faith? Do they know where I am? Will it help them?

All these questions and more (especially the question of roles and understanding), should be considered before using the Word as a weapon in an argument. Because by failing to do so, one risks making assumptions that should not be made.

This is what sermons are for. This is why it is helpful that the Bible is not just a list of dos’ and don’ts’, but rather a collection of stories and examples, and songs and notes, written by very different people accounting extraordinary events, and showing the faithfulness of God through varying situations.

Indeed, it could have been a list of do’s and don’ts’, just as the commandments of old were on stone tablets, and it would make no difference to what we should and should not do. Yet by God’s grace, it is so much more.

So much more that when the elders of the church preach on what is right and what is wrong, they have a myriad examples to choose from to illustrate God’s meaning, and their conviction. Such that in the same sermon, there will be quotes from the books of Ruth, of Matthew, the Old Testament, the New Testament… all of which support the lesson.

Thus forming a background that each member of the congregation, can explore to their own benefit, or failing that, rely on for the time being. Thus when they quote to one another, it is based on that understanding (or a derivative thereof).

But in the middle of an argument, where tempers are flaring, and emotions are stirring, there is no time, nor is there truly any concern for such back story. A fight is being fought within a realm of mutual understanding.

Yet the Bible can only be mutually understood up to a point without that shared sermon or fellowship. Because after that, the rest is a personal walk with God guided by one’s conscience and personal level of faith.

Because after that, the rest is a personal walk with God guided by one’s conscience and personal level of faith.

So for any Christian, to use an “unsermoned” biblical quote in an argument, is to take that argument from a realm of mutual understanding, to one of personal conviction; in which, they can only be affirmed. It also says to me personally (I cannot speak for others), that the sayer does not consider me an equal spiritually. As one must be the teacher, and the other the student, in the absence of a shared sermon.

Thus (as my friends can attest), I have often found myself saying the phrase “Do not quote the Bible at me,” when such arguments arise. Never fully understanding myself, why it is I felt quoted “at,” and not quoted “to.”

For as I see it, if one is unable to intellectually articulate and debate based on the meaning behind their quote of choice, they are in no position to lecture any one else on its meaning. Much less so in the middle of a heated argument on a different topic; where there is little time to adequately address such profundity, even should they have the necessary depth of insight.

Now this is not to say that there are no “fools” or “babes in Christ,” who needs be corrected by the Word of God. But rather that, in the middle of a heated argument about something else, is the wrong place to do it without forethought. For as long as it remains unclear who is the fool, and who is the wise, such an argument cannot bear fruit amongst fellow Christians. Because at the end of it, both parties walk away thinking the other is the fool.

So if it must be done, please do it outside of an argument: where you can explain the reasoning behind your conviction, and allow for that reasoning to be challenged. 

Damola Mabogunje

Software Engineer by day, Blogger, Poet and Author, by night, I spend my days writing everything from the convex comma, to highly complex code.

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