After Moses died, according to Jude, the devil and the archangel Michael had a ding-dong over who would get his remains.
“But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”” (Jude: 9)
Evidently, the devil wanted to use Moses’ remains for his purposes, whilst Michael wanted to use them for the glory of God.
Arguments are like that. Different sides enter dispute, utterly conviction that their point of view is correct. They can so quickly and easily slide into slander and accusation, the original subject of dispute entirely forgotten in a blizzard of accusation and slander.
Let me give a simple illustration. Imagine if I were to argue with my sister over who would get the last biscuit. Before any time at all has passed, the biscuit lies forgotten on the plate whilst my beloved sibling and I fling accusations and past hurts at each other (Not that this sort of thing has ever happened, eh Debs?).
Jude tells us that Michael’s reply was the name of the Lord. We can be sure that this was the last thing on the devils lips, but Michael does something very interesting. He does not base his argument on the nature or value of Moses’ corpse. Instead, he simply gives the argument to God and allows the power of the Lord’s name to resolve the dispute.
I have to be honest and say that, most often, my disputes are not with the devil. I KNOW that the father of lies is wrong. Instead, my disputes tend to be with people I love. My children (often), my family, friends and other Christians. Further, ordinarily, these are not necessarily huge disputes. They almost never have to do with the bodies of dead prophets. It is almost always not worth losing relationship for the sake of the last biscuit on a plate. Biscuits are just not that important.
Sometimes, however, disputes are about matters of truth and theology. When there arises a dispute between the meaning of one prophet and who has the correct interpretation, both sides of a discussion might claim the metaphorical body of Moses as the evidence of their argument. Such a discussion can quickly slip into personal accusation and slander, causing a breakdown in relationship and, at worst, a split in the family.
It seems evident to me that ‘being right’ can, more often than not, lead to unnecessary division and hurt. At times it is necessary to agree to disagree and walk in separate directions… but not often. Most often it is necessary to guard unity because the root of our unity is not our ‘identicality’, but Jesus. In the end, it is the Lord’s name that will settle disputes and bring light to dark places. Accusation and slander NEVER bring peace and unity.
“All who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained” (Phil 3:15-16)
Paul’s perspective is very interesting.
He was utterly convinced that he was right on matters of faith and he wrote and spoke about his theological understanding with passion and vehemence. He confronted others when he disagreed with them (even Simon Peter) and planted churches by teaching the Gospel, as he believed it. It was his belief that if a person was in Christ and mature in their faith they would simply agree with him.
Yet, his security in his faith was such that he didn’t need others to admit that he was right. Often, the issue with arguments is not that we want to be right so much as we want others to tell us that we are right. Paul was happy to let others disagree with him and was not in any way shaken in his faith if they did so. He believed that he was right and his faith was founded in Jesus, rather than in his own understanding.
Paul’s faith, therefore, was that the Holy Spirit would lead others to the truth and that it was his task only to speak the truth in love. The Spirit of God would lead the one who was wrong to a position where they could come around to the truth and if the person who was wrong was Paul himself, then so be it. Paul seems, in the context of Philippians, to be entirely focused on the truth of Jesus and so is willing to be submit anything that he has wrong in order simply to be in step with Jesus.
That is not to say that he allowed people who were opposed to his theology to prosper where they might be dangerous to the health of the people of God. He had not truck with Gnostics and was more than willing to let those who taught a different gospel to be put out of the church community. His primary task was to protect and build the flock, in line with the calling of all Elders. He did not, however, accuse them or condemn them. He simply had faith in God.
It is so easy for a disagreement to become divisive and to slide into accusation and slander in order to win an argument. Yet, if we have a mature faith, the truth is God’s and our responsibility is to speak the truth in love and leave the persuasion up to the Holy Spirit.