October 14, 1984
Quarreling in any form is an evil that arises from our sinful nature. In Genesis 13, Abram and Lot were faced with a disagreement among their herdsman, and Abram chose the path of peace. Alistair Begg examines the roots and consequences of quarreling and emphasizes the importance of taking initiative in reconciliation. With Christ’s selflessness as our standard, we must strive to be peacemakers in our relationships.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Will you take your Bibles and turn with me to Genesis and to the thirteenth chapter? And with our Bibles open before us, let’s bow for a moment in prayer together:
Speak, Lord, in the stillness
While we wait on thee;
And hush our hearts to listen
For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
I wonder, do you ever catch yourself saying something to your children, and just as you do, you have a flashback which doesn’t seem to be such a very long way away to when you as a child heard the identical phrase from your parents? I must confess that as a father of young children, I find it quite unnerving to realize how quickly the phrases of guidance and protection which rang in my ears as a youngster now flow from my lips as an adult. And I’m sure that those of you who are parents would identify with this this morning. And some of us, as families, have developed our own clichés which are passed down from generation to generation. Let me share with you some of mine, and perhaps you’ll find them similar. Phrases like this: “Stop that or somebody is going to be hurt.” “Just pay attention to what you’re doing, and don’t interfere with anybody else.” “Sit down; stop jumping around. I can’t see in my rearview mirror.” “Can’t you learn to share with each other?” Or, “If you can’t live at peace, I’m going to have to separate you.” Whenever I heard that one, I always looked around instinctively to make sure that there were at least two people in the room when the statement was made.
That final phrase, “If you can’t live at peace, I’m going to have to separate you,” is, in fact, a fitting introduction to the encounter between Abraham’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen, which is recorded for us here in Genesis chapter 13. And on the outline which you’ve received in your bulletin this morning, you will notice that our heading is drawn directly from the text which has just been read, in a phrase from Abraham: “Let’s have no quarreling.” You’ll find it in Genesis 13:8.
No matter, you see, how orderly our family life may be, none of us this morning are immune to the problem of quarreling. Quarreling, feuding, wrangling, dissenting, carping, criticizing, annoying, bugging each other—all those things are wrapped up in this word quarreling. And the same children to whom we make those statements as we seek to guide their lives are the same children that often ask us, especially at bedtime, “Daddy, are there any monsters?” What they’re asking is “Are there inordinately large creatures, legendary or not, ferocious, immense, part brute, part human who may come up the stairs and into my room as I now put my head on the pillow to sleep?” To which our answer is “No, of course not! Put your head on the pillow. There are no such things as a monster like that.” Oh, but you see, moms and dads, children, what about the monsters that do exist? And what about, this morning, the monster called quarreling, who rears his ugly head so quickly, so effectively, and many times so harmfully? What about quarreling? Well, this chapter helps us with this, and the outline will perhaps help us to trace our way through.
First of all, will you notice with me the source of the quarreling which is described for us here?
Now, since our studies in Abraham at the beginning, we’ve noted that Abraham exercised great care in relation to his family life. And certainly, he could not be faulted for the way that he had treated his nephew, Lot. He had looked after Lot. He’d done for him what he could do. He had made sure that the circumstances that surrounded his care of him were right. But you’ll notice that even when we set out to do the right thing, that doesn’t prevent us or preclude the possibility of being involved in quarreling. So although Abraham set out to do the best he could do by those for whom he cared, still he found himself drawn into this.
Now, the passage as we read it makes clear that both Abraham and Lot had prospered in the course of their journey. Verse 2: “Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and [in] gold.” And then you find a little later on that Lot also—verse 5—“who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents.” So as their journey continues, they now find themselves increasingly encumbered by all sorts of trappings of prosperity, all sorts of indications of material abundance—so much so that verse 6 tells us that “the land could [no longer] support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together.”
Everything we possess this morning, whether it be a little amount or a large amount, brings with it not only the potential for pleasure but brings with it at the same time the great potential for frustration and for feuding. Every other toy you buy for your children is another little implement to bring joy to their lives and to bring chaos to your family, for no sooner does one begin to play with it than the other one wants to have it. And so you end up doing all kinds of thing which we won’t go into this morning, but rather, we’ll seek to learn from what Abraham did on account of these possessions.
When you piece together the various factors, you can safely say that the quarreling, in terms of its source, had three main tributaries. And I’ve noted three words on the outline which help us to understand this.
The first one would be proximity. If your Bible is open—and I hope it is—notice verse 6 again: “The land could not support them while they stayed together.” “While they stayed together.” And again in verse 6: “They were not able to stay together.” The quarreling arose, we’re told, between the herdsmen, Lot’s herdsmen and Abraham’s herdsmen—verse 7—quickly following on the fact of possessions. And it seems inherently possible that these very possessions had much to do with what was going on. Despite the fact that it emerged amongst the herdsmen, Abraham and Lot, as their leaders, could not help but be drawn in and involved to some degree.
Now, this is a very simple point, but it is a great reminder to us this morning: that living at close quarters is a real challenge to us all. It’s one thing when he’s your fiancé, girls, and you can bid him good night, and he goes home. It’s another thing when he’s your husband, and he shares your bathroom, and messes up your sink, and puts his finger marks on your mirror, and leaves things lying around. And you may be full of all the joys of anticipation which are now going to be harnessed in a new dimension when you live in proximity to one another.
The biography of Christian leaders, the history of missions, and, indeed, the history of the church itself makes clear that some of the greatest problems emerge because we are thrown together, because we are made to live closely to one another. How many arguments arise because of our refusal to tolerate one another close up—not to tolerate one another five miles down the road or to tolerate one another in the next room but to live with one another in proximity day by day?
Again, you think of family life. You think of children—two brothers in a room, or a brother and a sister—and you have that constant upping and downing of the stairs: “Would you sort it out! Would you stop it!”
“Well, I don’t want him in my room.”
“I don’t like him.”
“He’s your brother.”
“I know, but I don’t like him.” And you hate all the things: “I don’t like his bed next to my bed. Why can’t his bed be under the window? Why do I have to sleep with him because so-and-so came to stay? His pajamas are touching my pajamas! I don’t want him near me! Get your knees on your side of the bed! Don’t you touch me!”
Now, that’s funny till we realize that when we extend it into life and family life and fellowship life, we end up with the same kind of issues, don’t we? So many times, what we’re saying to one another is “I don’t want you near me. I can tolerate you, but not this close.”
Now, friends, I want to say to you this morning that we don’t have that luxury. You read your New Testament, and read the Pastoral Epistles, read through Pauline letters, and you will find that again and again and again it reminds us that we have been brought together in Christ. There are no solo flights to heaven. It is all formation flying. We are “knit together in” the bonds of “love”; we are bound together in Christ; we are “being built together”—Ephesians 2:22—into a holy temple fit for the abiding presence of God. So we do not have the luxury of saying, “I don’t want you rubbing up against me.” You may not want it, but it may be the very thing that’s required. Proximity, many times, is a tributary in the effulgence of quarreling.
Secondly, possessions. You see, material prosperity, as we’ve noted, is a mixed blessing. If you saw the Focus on the Family series of videos with Dr. James Dobson, you will perhaps recall as I do a story that he told in there about how he bought a swing set for his children, which he put in the backyard, and how the thing, he thought, was going to bring such joy into the family life, and how the nuts and bolts started to fall off it, and then it need painted, and then it need moved, and then it need turned around, and then it need put in the basement, and then it need brought out again. And he said that every possession he has is just another nuisance along the way.
Now, there are some possessions which are more necessary than others, but most of us would be prepared to admit that material prosperity can be a mixed blessing, because material prosperity often divides relations and spoils relationships. How many families have you heard of who, at the time of the passing of a loved one, have found that they’ve just split from one another completely? They no longer speak to one another now. It’s now twenty years since the funeral, but it’s as though it were yesterday, because they thought they would get such and such, and they never did, and they have never forgiven the other person. And that which could have been a blessing has in fact proved to be the bane of their lives.
The underlying problem in Genesis 13 and the underlying problem in life today is the problem of lack of contentment. Contentment. It is elusive in our society. How many people do you know who are contented—truly contented? Paul, when he wrote to Timothy, he reminded him—he said, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” And yet many of us are malcontents, because we do not have the possessions, or because we have them and we’re unprepared to part with them. We need to learn, as we noted in an earlier study, to hold lightly to that which we can see and to hold tightly to that which we can’t.
Thirdly—and this is almost fundamental to every problem—is the problem of pride. Whenever we get involved in quarreling, we may be sure that pride is one of the ingredients. Solomon says in Proverbs 13:10, “Pride only breeds quarrels.” James 3:16: “For where you have envy and selfish ambition,” which is another way of speaking of pride, “there you find disorder and every evil practice.” It is impossible to have a proud heart and not end up being quarrelsome. It is impossible to be discontented with what I have and not end up being factious.
What is the source of quarreling? The proximity in which they lived, the possessions which they owned, the pride which they were unprepared to deal with.
Quarreling, you see, is always evil. It’s from our lower nature. Indeed, it is quite disconcerting to realize the bedfellows amongst whom quarreling is placed. And when Paul writes of quarreling, although he doesn’t use the actual word—he uses words like “selfish ambition, dissensions, factions”—listen to the place he puts them in amongst. This is the way that quarreling is viewed from God’s perspective:
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, [and] orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
And we go through the list, and we tick off the ones we’ve managed to be successful in. And some of us have to read lightly over words like “hatred, discord, jealousy, … rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions.” Indeed, if you take all of them out and put them under one banner word, what would the word be? Quarreling! If you remove that from the center of the list, you’ve virtually no list left. Let’s stop quarreling.
That’s the source. What of the solution? We’re thinking specifically of the solution, now, which Abraham used in order to deal with the situation.
It always takes two to fight. Someone blows their horn at you as you’re driving the car, you can get it going if you blow your horn back. If they jump out their car, you can jump out, or you can drive off quickly if you’re wise. But it always takes two to fight, right? And it always takes at least one to take the initiative in reconciliation. Somebody has to be prepared to make the first move where quarreling has taken hold.
Now, when we read this chapter—and look in particular in verse 8—Abraham says, “Let’s not have any quarreling.” Verse 9: “Let’s part company.” Will you notice the importance here of Abraham’s approach? Verse 9, in the second half, he says, “You choose.” And we’re going to notice these three factors in just a moment, but will you consider the background to this approach?
We’ve moved very quickly, you see, over the first four verses, and yet they’re crucially important. Because we left Abraham being booted out of Egypt, sent out in disgrace with his head down on his chest, as it were—with his tail, if he had one, between his legs—gathering his wife and his goods and his shackles and in disgrace continuing on his journey. And you remember we said at the end of last time that Abraham was going to have to go back before he could go forward. And that’s exactly what he did.
And as you read this, you notice that in verse 3 we’re told that “from the Negev, he went from place to place until he came to Bethel”—in fact, “to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier.” And that rings a bell for us, and we turn back in our Bibles to 12:8, and there we see him in the previous chapter, pitching his tent “with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east.” And “there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.” It was a time of great blessing. It was a time of encouragement in his life. It was a time when his pilgrimage was at its beginning. And now God, from the place of failure, doesn’t just pat him on the back and say, “Tough, Abraham. Pity about that saga in Egypt. Never mind, old chap. Just carry on from where you left off.” No, he says, “Abraham, you and I are going to have to go back to the point at which you left the road, back to that sacred spot between Bethel and Ai, back to the place where you bowed before me and gave your life to me and called out to me in obedience.” And you’ll notice that here we find him, back for renewal of lapsed obedience, back to the place of communion, back to the place where he’d called on the name of the Lord, and again he “called on the name of the Lord.”
Look at that sentence there: “Abraham called on the name of the Lord.” What do you think he said? “Sorry”? What do you think he said? “Forgive me”? What do you think he said? “Lord, is that it?” And God came to him and reminded him that with God, failure is never final. And he picks him up now, and he sets him on.
But there’s an interesting factor. Notice that the feuding followed the renewal! So many times, we hear messages preached today whereby “a spirit of renewal,” “of dedication,” and of all of this will introduce you into some blissful existence where nothing dreadful will ever happen to you. Well, it’s not the case. And it was after he got it together again with the Lord and as they were moving around that the feuding and the quarreling began.
And so here we have him, Abraham, the senior man; Abraham, who owed nothing to Lot; Lot, who owed much to Abraham; Abraham, who could have, in the human, asserted himself, given orders, but he chose to be a peacemaker. He chose to be a peacemaker. He chose to be a peacemaker. The issue is not whether we feel peaceful. The issue is not whether I feel like stopping quarreling. Most times, I don’t. The issue is whether I will do it—by an act of the will set things right. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they [shall] be called [the] sons of God.”
Are you a peacemaker this morning? Are you a peacemaker? Are you a smolderer? Are you a “go in the bedroom and shut the door and stay there for four and a half hours” person? Are you a “blow it out the top of your head for twenty minutes” type, and then you don’t speak for a day and a half, a week and a half? I know some families, some brothers, separated by many miles, who haven’t spoken to one another for twenty-five years. What’s needed? One of the two of them needs to take the initiative. Until that happens, quarreling will always continue.
Notice, then, the hardest things to face many times are the facts. And how often do we find ourselves saying when we’ve been involved in a feud, “Well, if he wants to do something about it, that’s fine. I’m here. He knows where to get me. He has my number.” Ring any bells? “If she wants to do something about it, that’s okay by me. She knows what I said. I left it that way.” What are we saying? “I refuse point-blank to take the initiative in dealing with this situation.”
On two occasions in Matthew—and you may like to turn to them just to underline them in your Bible—Jesus confronts his disciples with the necessity of being initiative-takers. Matthew chapter 5, in the Sermon on the Mount, verse 23: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you…” Notice that. So, here he goes in worship. He comes to offer a gift at the altar. Our worship on a Sunday morning, incidentally, is supposed to be a similar offering. Hebrews  tells us that our worship is to be “the fruit of lips that [acknowledge] his name.” So we might say that here is somebody on a Sunday morning, and he’s about to go to church. And as he drives to church, he remembers that his brother has something against him. So he stops, and he makes a telephone call, and he says, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I sit on the other side of the church every Sunday. I’m sorry that I’ve been so unprepared to take the initiative. I’m sorry that I’ve been prepared to tolerate this for so long, and I’ll meet you this morning, and we’ll sit together.” Because he’s first going to go and be reconciled to his brother, and then he’s going to come and offer his gift.
Now, I don’t speak this morning with things in my mind, but I can think of churches that I’ve been in where if that had been applied ruthlessly between the morning and the evening service, the telephone lines of some cities would have been completely jammed, and the church would only have been a quarter full until about forty-five minutes after the normal starting time of the worship. But we’re unprepared to take the initiative.
Matthew 18. You’ll notice that in that case, it was if somebody “has something against you” that you know about. Now, when you come to Matthew 18, what does it say? Matthew 18:15: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault.” Now, notice: “just between the two of you.” This is something very private, very personal in the first case—very, very precious. It’s not to be done with a big show. It’s not to be done with a crowd of people around. It is to be done in the context in which renewal and restoration can take place. And then, following that, we have the instructions as to when a brother refuses to listen—then what should happen. And if they then, in turn, refuse to listen when witnesses are called, then it is to be told to the church. And “if he refuses to listen even to the church,” you should “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” That is just normal, basic New Testament church discipline practice, and it starts, if you like, in the privacy of your car in the parking lot. And if it is not applied there, it will end in the publicity of the church fellowship. Do you see how important it is to take the initiative?
Secondly, Abraham solved the quarrel not only by taking the initiative but by using wisdom. You see, he was sensitive to what was right. He was sensitive to what was reasonable. And though he was perfectly entitled—again, in the human context—to defend his position, he demonstrated the kind of wisdom of which James speaks. James :17. This is what he says: “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” That’s wisdom, says the New Testament: impartial, sincere, peace-loving, considerate, submissive. What did Abraham do? He submitted to his nephew! He submitted to this young chap, to whom he could have said, “Lot, you know, if I hadn’t done anything for you, Lot, who knows where you’d be? Lot, if it weren’t for me…” He didn’t say any of that. Look what he said to him.
And that brings us to our third point: selflessness. It’s almost unbelievable. “So Abram said to Lot, ‘Let’s not have any quarreling.’” Verse 9: “Is not the whole land before you? Let’s be wise. Let’s be reasonable here in relation to what has happened. Let’s part company.” Now, notice, he gives Lot the choice: “If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.” So the older, wiser, worthier person relinquished his own rights for the sake of peace. What was naturally due to him he gave up for the sake of peace. Tension, you see, is always removed from confrontation when one party acts selflessly. Soon as one party moves forward in selflessness, tension is removed. And the suggestion that he made makes clear that his motives could in no way be concluded as being selfish.
Now, I can only imagine—and probably you would, too—the looks that had gone around the confrontation as Abraham and Lot’s men must have looked at one another and said to themselves, “The old boy has lost it! Do you hear what he’s saying?” As the word went around the camp: “He stood up there and he said to Lot, ‘Lot, if you want to go left, go left; right, go right.’ He must have…” And Lot perhaps was saying, “My uncle has finally gone over the top. The old boy has no longer got the smarts that he had when he was younger. He’s going soft in his old age. Look at the lovely place that I’m going to get!” But he wasn’t going soft. He was going peaceful. He was applying a rule for family life which may be capitalized in two words: No Quarreling. And on the basis of that, he was prepared to make these actions.
That brings us finally, then, to the standard—the standard which presents itself to us in these verses this morning. It is the standard for family life embraced in the phrase which is the title for our sermon: “Let’s Have No Quarreling.” That’s the standard. Nothing less than that is the standard. That is it.
For myself, I am not to be quarrelsome. Second Timothy chapter 2. You may like to turn to it again so that you have these verses before you. Two Timothy 2:23–24: “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel.” So it’s absolutely categorical. The standard is clear: for myself, I must say no to quarreling.
Therefore, we need to learn the very, very difficult lesson of not being drawn into “foolish and stupid arguments.” Somebody may think it’s fun to talk about that, but we know that the end of the line is quarreling. And since we’re not to quarrel, we won’t get involved in the argument. Instead, we’ll be “kind to everyone,” we’ll be “able to teach,” and we’ll “not [be] resentful.” Now, that has particular relevance, it seems, to someone involved in pastoral ministry, since Paul wrote this to a young man who was to assume that kind of responsibility. But it holds equally true for everyone who serves God.
So, for myself, no quarreling. For my family, no quarreling. Let me give you a couple of verses in Proverbs. Proverbs 18:19: “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes,” or quarrels, “are like the barred gates of a citadel.” What an incredible picture! What Solomon’s saying is essentially this: “Want to put yourself in a cage? Want to lock yourself in a jail of your own making? Then go about and be quarrelsome. Go about and be offensive. Go about and be argumentative. When somebody says “Black,” you say “White.” When someone says “Up,” you say, “No, I actually thought down.” No matter what is said, the person is a quarreler. They are quarrelsome. It destroys them; it destroys families. In the next chapter of Proverbs, 19:13: “A foolish son is his father’s ruin, and a quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping” tap. And a quarrelsome husband is like a gate that swings on its hinges that needed oiled twenty years ago and grinds in the night.
And finally, no quarreling for myself, no quarreling for my family, and no quarreling for my fellowship. First Thessalonians 5:13. I’m giving you these references so that you’ll see this is in the Bible. One Thessalonians 5:13: “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, [and] who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. [And] live in peace with each other.” Remember what was said as Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, to the couple of ladies there in Philippi who were making a mess of things? Philippians 4:2, I think. Yes: “I plead with you Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.” Why? Because they were quarreling! And Paul says quarreling will not go hand in hand with the blessing of God.
One final reference. First Corinthians 1:11: “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Then listen to what he says: “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’” And then he goes on to point out this is an absolute nonsense. This cannot be tolerated.
Well, let’s draw this to a close. First of all, let’s be honest in acknowledging what’s behind most of our quarrels. What is behind most of our quarrels? Wounded pride, envy, jealousy. Let’s, secondly, accept this as our standard: no quarreling. And let us do whatever is involved in order to implement the standard. Let’s be peacemakers. “Blessed are the peacemakers.” And let’s allow God to make our choices for us.
If there were a fourth point, it would be the sequel. Because it’s very interesting to realize that Lot chose what his eyes could see. Lot, verse 11 tells us, chose for himself. Lot said, “I’m going to have it my way and do my thing and go where I want to go,” and he discovered that all that he was about to enjoy turned corrupt and confronted him with insecurity. Abraham, on other hand, chose what he couldn’t see. Abraham, on the other hand, walked, if you like, with the blindness of faith. And as he moved out, God said to him, “Lift up your eyes, and I will show you all that I’m going to give you.”
A verse of a hymn came to my mind as I drew this to a close in my own notes, and it goes like this:
I dare not choose my lot;
I would not if I might.
Choose thou for me, my God,
[And] so shall I walk aright.
Let’s have no quarreling.
Shall we pray together?
And now may the peace of the Lord Jesus fill our hearts and bring harmony to all our relationships. May the love of the Lord Jesus flow from our lives and bless those with whom we come in contact. May the joy of the Lord Jesus give radiance to our countenance and encourage questions as to the faith which holds our life. And may the God almighty of peace and mercy and love descend upon our lives and bless them with his goodness now, and in all the days ahead, and then forevermore.
 Emily Crawford, “Speak, Lord, in the Stillness” (1920). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Colossians 2:2 (KJV).
 1 Timothy 6:6 (NIV 1984).
 Galatians 5:19–21 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 5:9 (NIV 1984).
 Hebrews 13:15 (NIV 1984).
 See Matthew 5:24.
 Matthew 18:17 (NIV 1984).
 2 Timothy 2:24 (NIV 1984).
 1 Thessalonians 5:12–13 (NIV 1984).
 1 Corinthians 1:10–11 (NIV 1984).
 Genesis 13:14 (paraphrased).
 Horatius Bonar, “Thy Way, Not Mine, O Lord” (1857).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.