When Christians Disagree: How to Respond Biblically
2 Peter 3:15-16: There is a Wrong Way to Interpret the Bible
Context of 2 Peter
- Warning against false teachers who are making doctrinal errors (2 Pet. 2:10ff; 3:4) that lead them to all sorts of sin (2 Pet. 2:10ff).
Observation and Interpretation
- They are using Scripture but distorting it. This means there is a wrong way to read the Bible.
- The Scriptures are “hard to understand,” but their misinterpretation is self-destructive and brings them under God’s judgment (2 Pet. 3:7, 16). This means our doctrine matters and affects us, even when it is hard to understand.
- Their misinterpretation is deliberate and brings them under God’s judgment (2 Pet. 3:5; cf. Rom. 1:18ff). This means deliberate misinterpretation is a serious sin.
- They are foolish like animals (2 Pet. 2:12)—irrational, acting on impulse and emotion. This means interpretation ought to be responsible and biblical, not led by our whims and feelings.
- Peter affirms Paul and the “other Scriptures.” This means the whole Bible is unified.
- Paul, Peter, and “the other Scriptures” all come from God (2 Pet. 3:15; 2 Pet. 1:14, 16ff; cf. John 14:26; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). This means the whole Bible comes with God’s authority.
1. Avoid the error of thinking that all interpretations are equal.
2. Take care to interpret the Bible correctly. Three rules of interpretation taught in 2 Peter 3:
- The Bible comes first in interpretation, not our personal feelings and ideas.
- Read in context.
- Compare Scripture to Scripture (“analogy of faith”).
3. Don’t give up on interpreting the Bible correctly just because it is hard.
Ephesians 4:1-16: Maturity in Love, Unity, and Truth
How to respond to doctrinal disagreements (Eph. 4:1-5):
1) With all humility and gentleness (Eph. 4:2)
2) With patience (Eph. 4:2)
3) Bearing with one another in love (Eph. 4:2)
4) Eagerly desiring a unified church (Eph. 4:3)
How do we accomplish (or rather maintain) a unified church? (Eph. 4:8-16)
1) Christ gives different gifts to different Christians as he wills. (Eph. 4:8-10).
2) Some of these gifts involve leadership. Pastors and teachers equip us to build up the church and maintain the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:11-13; 2 Tim. 4:1-5).
3) If you want unity and you want it God’s way, don’t be a lone wolf Christian. All churches are flawed. But you need to accept God’s grace to you through those gifted as pastors and teachers and come under their leadership if you want real unity (Eph. 4:12-13; Heb. 13:17).
4) We must acknowledge that not everybody is right. False teaching exists, and we must learn to identify it and guard each other against it (Eph. 4:14).
5) We guard each other against this by speaking the truth in love to each other. If you want unity and you want it God’s way, you must learn to speak the truth in love to guard one another against false teaching. Taking a stand on the truth is not unloving (1 Cor. 13:6). (Speaking the truth in love gently and tactfully: 2 Tim. 2:25; Pr. 25:15; Gal. 6:1. Sometimes speaking the truth in love more sharply Titus 1:13; Gal. 3:1ff; 4:8-20.)
6) A mature, healthy, loving, growing church is the result of all this. (Eph. 4:16)
1. God is gracious to Christians in the area of doctrine. We are saved by grace through faith, not by works or through having spotless theology (Eph. 1:7; 2:8-10; 1 John 3:23). But if we care about our sanctification and holiness, we should care about learning sound doctrine too. We must be open to correction and reproof from the Scriptures and not look like unbelievers.
2. Christians should be gracious and loving toward each other too in the area of doctrine. Learning and keeping sound doctrine can be a real struggle, just like struggling with sin. Let us be gracious toward professing believers who are struggling with their doctrine. Divisions are sometimes necessary (1 Cor. 5:4-5; 11:19). Nevertheless, we should seek as much as possible to have fellowship with them because our unity is a testament to the gospel (John 17:23; Eph. 2:11ff).