One of the hardest things in the life of the church is a difference of opinion. Far too often, minds are made up with few facts, and assessments are skewed by our life experiences, emotion and subjectivity. The clash results when opinions are closed to reason, or any thought that I might be wrong. Healthy self-doubt is good for the Christian --we can pretend we are as fair and objective, and really believe we are (far so than the other guy), and yet be miles away from God's will on any given subject.
Scripture, however, gives us some guidance in this. How do we know that we are rendering a wise, godly opinion? James tells us:
James 3:13-18 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
First, it is held in meekness. The anger of men generally does not serve the purposes of God. Yes, there are occasions for righteous anger, but they are few and far between, and usually not on matters of difference between believers. In matters where truth and righteousness are not at stake, being tentative is a virtue.
Second, it is pure. It does not act from selfish motive, concern about the opinions of others, or one's own standing or selfish advantage. It seeks the welfare of God and others above its own.
Third, it is peaceable It does not provoke or seek quarrels. It ratchets down the temperature of discussions. This is one reasons elders are to be men without hot tempers --a hot temper usually equals foolish decisions.
Fourth, it is gentle. The wisdom of God is not harsh, unyielding, demanding and performance-driven. These are not godly qualities.
Fifth, it is open to reason. How often have I seen in church debates where men have said "I have made up my mind and you aren't going to change it." That is an inherently godless position; it goes against what Scripture here says. God hears us out; he considers our cause; he even "changes his mind" (I know, that's anthropopathic language, but it proves my point. To our appearances, God changes his mind). God is reasonable and open to entreaty and his servants ought to be too.
Sixth, it is fraught with mercy. A Christian should be quick to forgive and quick to seek forgiveness. He cannot live comfortably at odds with another Christian. He needs to put himself in the position of his opponent, to try to see things from his perspective, to understand him.
Seventh it is impartial. It does not regard persons, does not favor anyone, but considers all facts. It is not done out of malice or prejudice against a person.
Eighth, it is sincere This is difficult. We may sometimes know when we are being insincere, but we are capable of being sincerely wrong and heinously so. Sincerity by itself is nothing; it must be joined to these other fruits, if we are to find assurance we are in the right.
Ninth, the result is peace. I have seen torn session rooms come together by wise counsel. Men who were greatly at odds calm down, reason through, and someone proposes a solution. It satisfies everyone, and everyone leaves smiling.
I reiterate: these things must hang together. Separately, each can delude and become dangerous. A smattering of them is not enough --they must hang together. They are qualities of character and they can only come from the Spirit. Without him, is no wisdom at all.