Jump Start # 1944
Proverbs 26:17 “Like one who takes a dog by the ears is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him.”
The Proverbs are so visual and honest. There is no holding back. This one begins with a person who takes a dog by the ears. The dog doesn’t like that. It’s like picking up a cat by the tail. Not a good idea. You pet a dog. You walk a dog. You put a collar on a dog. You don’t pull a dog by it’s ears. If a person did that to the wrong type of dog, he might find that dog biting him.
That’s the picture. We get that. Very clear. Very simple. Don’t pull a dog by his ears. Doing that is like a person who walks by a heated discussion and he feels compelled to engage in it. The discussion didn’t include him. He wasn’t invited into that discussion. Now, like taking a dog by the ears, he’s in a dog fight with people. The words of interest here are “meddles with strife.” Strife means conflict, trouble. It’s not a good discussion. It’s not building one another up. Arguing. Volume. Boiling points. That’s what comes to our minds when we think of “strife.” The other key expression here is “not belonging to him.” This wasn’t his fight. He didn’t mind his own business. He got involved in something that wasn’t his fight. Now, it’s become his fight. He gets torn up emotionally and verbally because of the strife. Strife makes us tense. It bothers us. This person didn’t have to have that, except he brought it on himself. He couldn’t stay away. He didn’t know how to keep out of things.
It’s amazing how old something like this could be and yet how real it is for us. The national news is a great example of this. Standing or sitting for the national anthem—that’s a hot one right now. Health care, save it or scrap it? Global warming—real or imagined? Get two or three couples together and these things will be debated and kicked around. This stuff makes the rounds at office breakrooms. People talk about these things before worship begins. Everyone has thoughts. Everyone thinks they need to be heard. Be careful. Are you pulling a dog’s ears? Do you need to jump in those fights? Are these your fights? More so, does your voice make any difference?
“Here’s what I think you need to do,” is how meddling often begins. We love to tell others what we think they need to do. And when the person doesn’t do what we say, oh, my, that upsets us. We have to tell others. We have to drive our points until they become weary of us. Meddling and strife—not a good mixture.
All of this presents a much bigger question, what battles do I need to be engaged in and which ones should I stay out of? That’s just a fancy way of saying, “When is it my business and when is it not my business?” When is it my battle and when is it meddling? Obviously, from our passage, not every discussion is something that I need to be involved in. Some are like pulling a dog’s ears. Trouble is going to happen.
Here are a few thoughts:
- Is there any value or profit to the discussion? Some love strife. When they can’t find any, they create it. Some love to argue. They thrive on controversy. They love being the devil’s advocate. Stir the pot, is their philosophy. I have to decide whether there is any point to this discussion. Are people honestly listening or are they busy loading the next missiles to launch my way. If the discussion begins, “You are not going to change my mind,” then most likely, you are not going to change his mind.
- The time and place has a lot to do with this. Some are not interested in talking one on one. They want a crowd. They want a audience. There are some things that do not need to be discussed in a public Bible class, especially publicly. Time is also important. It’s easy to fire a few shots at someone, knowing that they will not be able to respond. That’s cheap and shows the person is trying to score points and not interested in a real discussion.
- Why do I feel the need to get involved? Do I have a perspective that isn’t being considered? Or, could it be that I’m curious and I just want to jump in. Some things are private and it’s not our business. Taking sides, even with your grown children, in marriage arguments, may be nothing more than pulling a dog’s ears. Let the couple work it out. If they come to you, that’s a different story. But you jumping in, may make things worse. I was in a bookstore recently with a young preacher. He was asking me about preaching with notes. I was talking to him about this, when a guy walked by and declared that he never uses notes when he preaches. He said that and walked on. I looked at the young preacher and thought, “Who was that guy?” He felt that he had to not just add his thoughts, but the way he said it came across that he was superior and an intellectual. It didn’t work. We both thought he was a nut.
It’s hard to keep your thoughts to yourself. It’s harder still to keep your mouth closed. Drive by statements, just like drive by shootings, usually do a lot of damage. We often do not know the history or the background of the discussions.
- If someone is misusing the Bible, I will try to kindly invite myself into that discussion to lead them to understand God’s word. If the door is closed and they don’t let me in that discussion, I don’t force it. When someone is saying something about the congregation I attend, my ears perk up and I might say, “Hey, I go there.” If they invite me into that discussion, I go kindly and gently. If not, don’t grab the dog’s ears.
In a lot of “strife” filled discussions, there is more talking than listening. The more one can dominate and the louder one can be, seems to the way some handle strife. Volume doesn’t mean one is right. No one is killed by thunder. Listening is a key component of discussions. This is sadly missing too many times.
The modern concept of this passage isn’t one walking by, but one reading stuff on Facebook or Twitter. You don’t belong in all of those discussions. Many turn ugly and south very quickly. It’s easy to take potshots on those social media outlets without getting a common understanding of words, ideas and concepts. Pulling dog ears leads to a dog fight with you’re in the middle. Once your words are out there, it’s hard to take them back. It’s easy to be misunderstood, misquoted and things taken out of context. Arguing on social media is like arguing with a mob. Too many people. Too many talking. No one listening. Take it one on one, privately, if you must.
When all the smoke of the battle clears, you may feel good that you told them how you feel about things. But in all of this, did your light shine and did you glorify God? Strife can bring out the worst in us. Some have a hard time keeping their cool. Be careful. Those dog ears look tempting, but what’s it like to the dog? Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Remember that golden rule stuff? It applies here as well.
Paul said, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Rom 12:18). Are you doing your part to keep this word? Some battles are simply not ours.