Pugnacious, what does that mean? This word shows up twice in the Bible (NASB): First Timothy 3:3 and Titus 1:7. In both cases, Paul had listed qualifications for leaders and pugnacious is found in the lists. For example, an overseer must be above reproach, married to one spouse, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine, gentle, peaceable, and free from the love of money. Near the end of that list, Paul wrote an overseer is not to be pugnacious (1 Timothy 3:3).
Pugnacious (plektes) is translated striker; one ready to exchange blows or to bruise another. One expositor defined this word as someone who wants to prove they were right, even to the point of inflicting pain. Over time it evolved to describe an argumentative, contentious, or quarrelsome person. Another expositor stated that this word refers to someone who wounds people with their words while defending their point. No doubt we can inflict pain with our fists by striking someone, but we can also inflict pain with our words. Truly, life and death are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).
It is essential, not only for leaders but for any Christ follower to avoid being pugnacious. A contentious person will stir up dissension, conflict, and much hurt in others. In the wake of their leadership or ministry will be bodies of wounded vessels who have felt the blows from their argumentative spirit. Such people are usually armed for war, ready to defend their position at almost any cost. Years ago, while in my first pastorate, there was a leader who defended their opinion to a fault. I watched them argue and defend their point; they were so right that they were wrong. As I look back on it, they won the battle but lost the war.
My heart breaks when I hear, and even read on Facebook, the barrage of hurtful words that believers use to defend their opinions; they strike other brothers and sisters in Christ at the cost of arguing and defending their point. Sometimes I’ll get emails that start out, “I’m not trying to argue but…” I’ve often joked that I’ve had to hold some letters sent to me with asbestos gloves. A pugnacious person will likely hurt others with their contentious attitude sooner or later. They consider their opinion to be the only right one and should someone differ with them, then a war is on.
Paul knew the problem pugnacious leaders would cause in the church if left unchecked. There’s another aspect to being argumentative; if a person is contentious with people, then they may be contentious with God. Think about God’s call to Moses to deliver the Israelites from Egypt. There were several questions that Moses asked of God that may or may not be viewed as argumentative. But near the end of their dialogue, Moses said, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10).
Consider this line of reasoning. In other words, “God, you’ve messed up because you’re calling an ill-equipped person.” I wonder how many of us have argued with God because we felt inadequate for an assignment. Certainly God has made a mistake: we don’t have enough money, we don’t have enough education, we don’t have enough friends, we don’t have enough experience, we don’t have enough people, or we don’t have enough support. Perhaps our pugnacious spirit will talk us out of being obedient to God’s commission. God isn’t looking for a debate with contentious people, but obedience from those who will fulfill His call—no matter what.
God answered Moses by stating that He made his mouth. It wasn’t an issue for God and it shouldn’t have been an issue for Moses; yet, Moses was pugnacious, and God became angry (Exodus 4:12-14). I remember reading an article called, “God’s Second Choice.” The point of the article addressed what often happens when we argue with God. At the conclusion of a crusade led by Reinhard Bonnke, where over one million people came to faith, he was thanking God for the call in his life. Bonnke said God spoke to him and said, “Don’t flatter yourself; I asked seven others before you.”
I want to be a man who always says yes to God with no arguments. We don’t need to understand the call, we merely need to obey. A pugnacious person, however, will often feel the need to debate with God in case He isn’t aware of the various limitations they’re up against. Are you pugnacious? Do you feel the compulsion to argue, to defend, to question, and to be contentious with people or with God? I’ve had people tell me that they were opinionated, perhaps, they are pugnacious instead.
Take a moment and ask: Father, am I a pugnacious person?
The opposite of pugnacious is meekness (gentleness). Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). A pugnacious person will only inherit conflict, hurt, pain and disappointment. Let’s ask the Father to transform our hearts so that we are meek, humble, and gentle because true leadership, and authentic Christian living, is found in those characteristics.
Father, transform my heart and make it just like Jesus; one that is humble, contrite, and meek, amen.