I am consciously aware that some of my habits are time-wasters. Some of my hobbies have a moderately positive impact on my body and brain, but there are definitely other leisure time activities that just waste my time. (Rather than spelling out how I categorize specific choices, since that could offend or appall some of my readers, I’ll leave you with just these generalities.)
Other times, we need something to do in order to fill time. The wise parent can bring a book when waiting to pick up children, just as a veteran patient might have some conversation starters when there’s going to be a significant delay in the doctor’s busy waiting room. When we forget (or just don’t think ahead), though, most of us have probably found ourselves in the situation – maybe in an airport – where we’re stuck without something to engage our minds while we wait.
Still, even when we are in the middle of doing something, or having a conversation with someone else, we might still be wasting our time. Like cleaning something we’re about to throw away, or trying to explain the tax code to a toddler, we can have the appearance of external activity, but not be accomplishing anything worthwhile.
Take a look at the instructions from the following verse:
Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws. These things are useless and a waste of time.
Titus 3:9 NLT
I suspect that at least some – if not all – of the people who were engaging in wasted conversations here were sincere. I envision them taking these subjects seriously, and standing their ground against other points of view.
Why do I think this? Because sometimes, I’m in a similar situation. I get into a discussion, and maybe make an off-hand remark or take a certain position (on a topic of little to no importance). Then, I get stuck in the argument, or continue to reinforce my point of view on something irrelevant, to the detriment of my relationship with others in the conversation (and possibly my reputation).
In the Bible verse above, what were the specific irrelevant arguments about? “Spiritual pedigrees” sounds like bragging about the teacher, rabbi, or congregation that someone was associated with. Paul had some pretty clear instructions about that in one of his letters to Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-9), where he spelled out that even the most recognized of preachers was just there to do God’s work. Conflict about “obedience to Jewish laws” sounds like another topic discussed elsewhere in the writings of the New Testament (see Romans 3:19-31). No amount of keeping the Law of Moses can save us: once we break even the smallest rule of God, we no longer qualify to spend eternity with Him. The only remaining option we have is to accept Jesus’ sacrifice to pay for our wrong choices. Once that is done, we can serve God out of gratitude (and our original obligation to do so), but this no longer impacts our salvation, so why worry about whether we’re keeping a few more or a few less of the rules than someone else?
So, the next time you are about to get pulled into an argument or “discussion” (or when you find yourself already in the middle of one), consider these factors:
- Does the right answer in this debate make a real difference to anyone?
- Will winning the argument change anybody’s mind?
- Will investing the time to defend a point of view return healthy results, both for me and for others?
- Is there something better I could be doing with the time it will take to get involved in this?
- Does the other person need me to listen right now, rather than me talking at them?
- Will arguing help or hurt my relationship with this person?
If these answers are favorable, then don’t hesitate. Many people in the Bible honestly and politely debated specific points. There is a time when the right answer affects safety, or even one’s eternal destiny. And, our conversations don’t always have to be academically lofty or spiritually deep; even small talk can further our relationship with someone else.
However, if the conversation doesn’t help anyone (or if it looks like it will actively harm them or someone else), be bold and humbly choose to let it go, even if that means you appear to lose the argument. Let the other person know that you appreciate their friendship, but that this is a topic you don’t want to spend time on. Suggest something that the two of you have in common to talk about – something that will make the both of you better off, and maybe even improve your relationship.
I’m pretty sure that we all get stuck a lot in “foolish discussions”, which don’t help anyone. Maybe if we can each avoid one or two of these time-wasters today, we can collectively invest in something of much greater value.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.