“Only by pride cometh contention…” (Prov. 13:14)
The Oxford English Dictionary describes a contentious person and one who is not only quarrelsome, but down right “warlike.” It’s especially odious in a woman, I think. Proverbs compares it to the torture of listening to a drip outside your bedroom window all day and night (27:15). Solomon goes so far as to say he’d rather be stranded on some desert than live with an angry, contentious woman! (21:19)
But we would be wrong to identify this as merely a feminine trait, since there are numerous references to its presence in men, and some good men, at that. Paul and his friend Barnabas allowed an argument to reach the point of contention that ended in a parting of the ways between them (Acts 15:39). And, sadly, we read in Philippians 1:16, it can be the driving force behind some men’s preaching of the Gospel. Hardly a noble motivation.
So that we might have a means of nipping this hateful characteristic in the bud, our verse identifies for us the root of contention: pride. Why am I not surprised? It’s the root of so many other sins, as well—perhaps all of them. Those who are proud will always become contentious when they are contradicted, seeing it as criticism, and worse, competition. Harmless words are taken as a slight against them personally and a brother or sister is offended. It is then that contention raises its ugly head; and overcoming the resulting bad feelings is like breaching the walls of a castle, says Proverbs 18:19.
Christians may be more susceptible to this, simply because they don’t know the difference between “contend[ing] for the faith” (Jude 3) and being just plain contentious. Some of us have the mistaken notion that our pet causes and personal rights are matters of The faith. As one old, Puritan writer describes them, “[E]ach party contends vehemently for his rights, instead of satisfying himself with the testimony of his conscience, and submitting rather to be misunderstood and misjudged, than to break the bond of Divine brotherhood.” (Charles Bridges)
It should be pointed out that continual contention can kill love dead in its tracks—in a marriage, a family, a friendship, or a church. The man or woman who is always “spoiling for a fight,” will eventually find himself or herself simply “beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:26).
There will come a time when there’s no one left to fight with.