In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius counsels his daughter, Ophelia, about Hamlet’s vows of love, saying, “When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul lends the tongue vows. These blazes, daughter, giving more light than heat, extinct in both even in their promise as it is a-making, you must not take for fire” (Act 1, Scene 3). Her point is that passionate desire causes a man to profusely promise anything in order to get what he wants, but it may lack substance and trustworthiness. It appears more promising than it really is. We’ve likely all witnessed and experienced this. What good is a fire if it doesn’t produce heat?
When it comes to discussing religious matters, things can get pretty heated. Unfortunately, as the temperature rises, solid conclusions are elusive because there is much more emotion than illumination. Inasmuch as God’s Word is to be a light and lamp (Ps. 119:105), these are times where all are benefited by more light than heat. Too often, instead of proving or disproving something, we resort to personal attacks on the other person, assert a position appealing to a variety of alleged proofs or rationales without benefit of a singular Scripture, or we’ll abuse, distort, and contort a passage to say what it does not mean. As battle lines are drawn and trenches are dug, the two sides become wider and more intensely apart while the matter under discussion fades into the background.
Because the New Testament repeatedly commands unity (Eph. 4:1ff; 1 Cor. 1:10-13), we must “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19). Are there tangible actions we can take to pursue more light than heat in these matters that distress our unity?
- Genuinely listen. That doesn’t mean merely hear what the other is saying, but listen open-mindedly, seeking to understand what the other person is saying. Don’t presuppose or listen with prejudice. Truly, “He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13).
- Genuinely love. Love for God should be preeminent, but such love is not in opposition to brotherly love. In fact, they are intrinsically bound together (1 Jn. 4:20-21). While love does not mean compromising truth, it will prompt us to do what love requires (cf. 1 Cor. 13:4-8)—be patient, be kind, act becomingly, don’t be provoked, etc.
- Genuinely learn. Do we really know their view or merely think we do? This requires great self-examination and disciplined introspection. If we champion a position and have argued the matter before, we may think our fellow disputant believes what he or she does not actually believe. Preconceptions eclipse thoughtful interaction. We should ever be students, making sure we’ve not missed it.
- Genuinely long. Peace and unity will sometimes be impossible, but we shouldn’t let that be because we didn’t sincerely seek it. By lovingly seeing the other person as an eternal soul for whom Christ died (as well as any and all who would be influenced by the other person), surely we will strive to gently, civilly, and earnestly discuss the matter (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26).
We live in divisive times. They are carnal times, full of “bitterness and wrath and clamor and slander…with all malice” (Eph. 4:31). We must remember that the “anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:20). What does? God’s Word (Jas. 1:18-25)! Too often, we’ll be locked in matters of truth and error and must uphold truth. But let’s be so careful to discern when that’s the case and always speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Such will produce light rather than heat!