“But avoid stupid debates, genealogies, rivalries, and quarreling about the law, for they are unprofitable and useless.”
In the previous verse we were told that the things of God and doing good works is profitable and useful. Here we are given the contrast…the things that are unprofitable and not useful for man. These are things that one should avoid. Literally, Paul writes that we should go around them — bypassing them in such a way that there is not even a chance or a temptation of being pulled into them. Indeed, such is the way that mature believers are called to live.
What are these things to avoid? To begin with, Paul writes that we are to avoid stupid debates. This is not to say that we are to avoid all debates, Paul himself engaged in numerous debates in his ministry. The question really is what sort of debates are meaningful and what ones are stupid? Based on the example of Paul, it should be said broadly that when it comes to matters of the Truth of the Gospel, these are debates we must have. Notice the rebukes that he offers to the Corinthian and the Galatian churches. These are often strong words of condemnation because the people were forsaking the Gospel. Jesus, himself speaks likewise when he says that we must not throw pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). Yet, foolish debates are those that have no substantive meaning. Sadly, questions like this have abounded in the history of the church…things like, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” or “Can God make a rock that is so big that even He cannot move it?” Debates such as these, which are unprofitable for man, we are called to avoid for they are nonsensical and do not draw us closer to God or to an understanding of God’s word.
Similarly, genealogies are listed in Paul’s prohibition. This does not say it is not profitable to trace your own ancestors…we see that practiced in the Bible throughout the Old Testament and many interesting things can be learned as we research our roots. That being said, if we begin to establish rankings amongst men based on our bloodlines, that will lead to vanity and empty claims. Similarly, rivalries typically do more to turn our attention to ourselves rather than to glorify God. And quarrels over the law anticipates the damage that legalism does to the souls of men and to the church. Again, this does not mean that the law is unimportant nor does it mean that there aren’t times to debate and clarify the intent behind the law. Yet, how much damage has been done to the witness of the Church across the generations by people creating hierarchies in the church based on one’s keeping the details of the law — law that was made to inform man of God’s character, not to bind man and keep him from God.
The sad thing is, how often the church, instead of focusing on good works and the teaching of the Bible, has focused on these things…useless and unprofitable things rather than that which is both profitable and useful. How important it is for the leadership of Christ’s church to be intentional in breaking down this false piety and to replace it with that which honestly and truly honors our King, Jesus Christ.