We must not allow our emotions to get the best of us when we hear an idea that we think is bad or false. We might get angry or we might feel that we must answer this bad idea immediately, but what if we haven’t really thought about how to answer the bad idea that we’re hearing? Could we make things worse by answering a bad idea with a weak rebuttal? Absolutely! We may leave people with the impression that there is no good argument against the idea that we believe is bad. When we speak on any subject or try to answer any subject, we should be interested in giving the most reasonable and thoughtful answer that we can give. We must give ourselves and those whom we are trying to reach a solid foundation to stand on. Weak arguments are not a lasting defense against error and folly.
There is another problem that can arise from our “reactions” to bad ideas. If we are not careful and loving, even when we respond to bad ideas, we may end up giving a voice to a bad idea. An overly emotional or aggressive response can turn a person with a bad idea into a victim in the eyes of those who are observing the debate. The person with the bad idea often wins sympathy with others because of how they are treated, and many times the sympathizers become sympathetic to the bad idea as well. Consider, for example, the ongoing debate in our culture about kneeling for the national anthem. Many people have expressed their disagreement both with the gesture itself and with the message that has been connected with kneeling for the national anthem, and a lot of that disagreement has been expressed in very unloving ways.
What if someone was kneeling during the national anthem to bring attention to the number of babies that are aborted in America every year? What if their message was, “Soldiers have died to defend our freedoms, but we’re not living up to the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Let’s start talking about how to give these aborted children a voice.” Would we consider this disrespectful? Would we hurl insults and accusation at those who were kneeling?
“For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things which they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.” (Titus 1:10, 11) Loving others does not mean that every idea deserves to be treated equally. As the people of God, we need to think primarily about the significance of religious conversations, but if this is true in religion, why shouldn’t it be true when we talk about other issues? There are bad ideas, and those who profess them should be silenced, but how? Well, Paul had just said that the elders of local churches must hold fast the faithful word in order to teach good doctrine and refute those who contradict (Titus 1:9).
This is how we silence bad ideas - with truth! Elders in local churches could eventually decide that a bad idea had been answered sufficiently and that they weren’t going to allow it to continue to distract from the truth. In society, where we are concerned about silencing ideas arbitrarily, we can still silence bad ideas by answering them so thoroughly and so carefully that very few people take those bad ideas seriously any more. However, if we “react” emotionally with bad arguments and bad behavior, we may create confusion or arouse sympathy for a bad idea.
A related “reaction” that we might see in religious settings is when we talk so much about what a passage doesn’t teach that the actual message of the passage is blurred or lost on the hearers. We can get so caught up in trying to silence what is not true that we may run out of time for proclaiming the great truths of faith in Jesus Christ. We only have so much time. Let us be consumed with proclaiming the greatness of God, the love of Jesus Christ, the power of the gospel to change lives, and the hope of eternal life. These truths, proclaimed early and often, will do much to fortify us against many bad ideas.
We may feel that we hear a hint of sarcasm and even strong language in the answers of men like Paul, John the Baptist, or even Jesus. Yet, it is hard to be sure what the tone of their voice was when they spoke such words. In light of Paul’s words in Colossians 4:5, 6, it would seem wise to use sarcasm and strong language very carefully: “Conduct yourself with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”
Friends and brethren, let us not react. Let us respond with words of truth, well thought out, and spoken in love. If we are not careful, we may actually end up promoting the cause of a bad idea.