Arguments happen all the time. They occur in a variety of places (office, home, school, church, etc.) on a variety of topics (sports, theology, politics, behaviors, policies, finances, foods, plans, etc.) and between a variety of people (friends, strangers, spouses, church members, pastors, etc.).
Some arguments can be good and beneficial. They can allow the parties involved or those “listening in” to better understand an issue or see the concerns that need to be addressed, and ideally can even allow people to arrive at a place of agreement on the best path forward.
But at times arguments can be counterproductive or even sinful. That may be because of the attitude, demeanor, language, or motive of those engaging in the argument, but it might also be because continuing the argument will be worse than losing it. Below I give at least four situations in which it is better to lose an argument than to continue it.
The reason I frame it as “losing the argument” is because for some (like me) ending an argument without the other person conceding something feels like losing, and it can be hard to lose an argument. But in these situations, it would be even worse to continue trying to “win” it.
When you are wrong
The clearest and most important situation to lose an argument is when you realize that you are wrong, but this can also be one of the hardest situations. Instead of conceding the other person is right, you might try to shift the debate or nitpick at a minor weakness in the other person’s position. This might assuage your pride by providing some cover for your error, but as Christians we must be more concerned with what is right and true than our own ego. If you recognize you were wrong, lose the argument (and acknowledge your error). It is better to lose than to disparage the truth.
When the relationship matters more than the issue
Some arguments might be fine to have in theory, but you need to be willing to lose them when at least two things are true: (1) the issue is not important enough to divide over and (2) you are at risk of harming the relationship. You can be convinced that you are right (and actually be right) but be willing to allow the person who is wrong to have the final word, because your relationship with that person means more than winning the argument. Some issues are worth dividing over: Jesus and his message matter more than the closest of human relationships (Matt 10:34 – 39), so we cannot compromise on matters that affect our relationship with Him. But many issues matter less than human relationships, especially when the relationship is an important one, like between a husband and wife or between members of a local church. It is better to lose an argument than a brother or sister in Christ.
When the argument should not have been started
A good seminary will teach you how to reason, think, and communicate, which means many pastors and Bible teachers are skilled debaters. They often are better at debating than their wife or other members of their church. That can be a benefit when the skill is used to push back against false and dangerous ideas (Tit 1:9). But it can also be a hindrance when used to defend yourself against legitimate criticism (e.g., your “inner lawyer” comes out) or to silence and shame someone who raises a real concern. We can take something intended to be a conversation and morph it into an argument—one in which the other person was not prepared to engage and, therefore, we have a good chance of “winning.” Instead of carefully listening and asking questions for clarification, we can instead begin to nitpick the person’s statement or launch a rebuttal. In so doing, we risk harming the relationship and losing out on the benefit of that person’s perspective and feedback. It is better to lose an argument than to win one that should not have been started.
When the argument brings disrepute to God
Though Christians are meant to be united in love, the fact that we are still sinful will at times mean we will have disputes with one another, sometimes over significant things. Paul reprimanded the Corinthian believers for pursuing lawsuits against other believers since it allows unbelievers to sit in judgment against believers. Paul tells them it would be better to suffer wrong and be defrauded than to bring the dispute before unbelievers (1 Cor 6:6–7). Though Paul is directly addressing lawsuits, I think an argument from the greater to the lesser might apply to arguments and disputes more broadly. There are times in which arguments between Christians might bring disrepute to God because they allow an unbelieving world to scoff at God and His people. The nature of these arguments are not focused on God’s honor and glory—they are not issues of doctrinal truth and error—but are about personal honor (such that losing the argument would mean suffering some kind of personal wrong or being personally defrauded). The other person may be wrong in a meaningful and significant way, but since God’s honor matters more than our own, we must be willing to lose these kinds of arguments.