By Joe McKeever
“The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition….” (Second Timothy 2:24ff.)
Just because we are not to be quarrelsome doesn’t mean we can’t have a good old-fashioned argument.
We just can’t have a “good old-fashioned knock-down fight.”
No one must be hurt in the process.
We can have differences of opinions, and conflicts of convictions. Since the church is composed of partially developed, not-yet-finished specimens of God’s grace–people like you and me–we’re going to have differences. That is a given, a fact of life.
If my wife and I, we who love each other most of the time and have lived together as husband and wife for going-on 52 years, if we have differences of opinions and occasionally outright arguments, it figures that rank strangers would.
The thing the Apostle Paul is cautioning young Pastor Timothy about–and indirectly the Holy Spirit is speaking to us today–is a) not being predisposed to argumentation and b) when conflicts arise to conduct oneself in such a caring manner in order that no relationship is broken, no one is injured, and the cause of Christ is not dishonored.
Division is dishonorable; harmony among the Lord’s people honors our Savior.
So, let’s cut one another some slack and try to work together when we see things differently.
Let the Lord’s children look first for common ground, not for fighting words. Let us search for what we have in common with each other, rather than rushing to highlight the conflicts and clear off a place for a fight.
Let us be slow to anger, quick to hear, always acting in love, forever seeking better ways of relating to our brothers and sisters. (That’s all in the Bible in various places, but start with James 1:19.)
We acknowledge that sometimes conflicts arise and disagreements occur.
The issue from that moment on becomes not just who wins, but how we conduct ourselves
The Lord’s bondservant lives under a number of holy sanctions…
1) He is required to be kind to everyone.
“With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance toward one another in love….” (Ephesians 4:2).
If the Lord’s disciple is not kind in a discussion or disagreement, the moment he “gets in the flesh” and becomes mean-spirited, he must retire from the field and get his heart right.
That should be etched in stone somewhere, because it’s God’s truth.
2) He must be able to teach those who just don’t get it.
To do this, he must understand their position, which means he must listen. Then, he must see their point of view to the extent that he can restate it as well or better than they. Once he does this, they are (usually) ready to hear him. “How,” they wonder, “can he (or she) understand my point of view so perfectly and yet disagree? I want to hear what he has to say.”
3) If he is wronged, he is patient and does not retaliate.
Carnal people–lost or saved–will interpret being wronged as a license to sin. From that moment on, because he was mistreated or misrepresented he can retaliate, can lose his cool, and dish out as good as he got. He’s sinning against the Lord in so doing.
The spiritual person–that would be saved people who have grown to a certain level of maturity–know and believe what our Lord taught in Luke 6:27ff. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you,” and so forth. Do otherwise, and you play right into the enemy’s hands.
4) When correcting someone, he does it with gentleness.
The best reason I can think of for “correcting someone with gentleness” is that it may turn out you were wrong, and sweet words are easier to eat. When correcting someone harshly, we aggravate the problem and make it more difficult for them to adjust.
Gentleness is always a good trait in God’s workers. A few minutes ago, I fielded an inquiry from a young pastor who was troubled about the Pope saying (something to the effect that) “atheists can go to heaven if they are morally faithful.” How, my friend asked several of his colleagues on Facebook, can he go against scripture so easily? The pastor who replied before me went on and on about “the whore of Babylon” and tore into the Catholic church. My comment on the pope’s action was simply that “This is what happens when well-intentioned people see Scripture only as a nice resource instead of ‘inspired of God and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be complete.” The previous pastor asked how I could say such a thing, and asked for my reasoning. I replied merely that I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, and nothing more was intended.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace….gentleness….” (Galatians 5:22-23).
5) His goal is not to destroy the opponent, but to win him.
After saying the above, Paul gives the reason for the gentle responses of God’s workers to those who are spreading untruth: “…if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26).
Our goal is not to clobber the heretic, not to demolish the debate opponent, and not to embarrass the misguided. We are to love them back into the Kingdom, to speak the truth, and where necessary to correct those who are wrong.
Two final words on this matter…
1) The correcting of which Paul speaks concerns church people who are wrong on scripture. We have not been sent into the world to argue doctrine with people of all those other religions. Talk about a never-ending task! To outsiders, we share the good news of the gospel. But to one another inside the family of God, we gently disagree if untruth is ladled out as though it were from the Lord, and we do it in brotherly love.
2) We must earn the right to correct one another. The way to do that is by loving them intensely, supporting those who do well, and encouraging those who struggle. Once people learn we are their servants, submitting ourselves to them as Ephesians 5:21 commands, they will listen when the time comes to issue a gentle admonition.
Let’s get this right, Christian worker. So much depends on it.
Joe McKeever is retired missions director for the New Orleans Baptist Association. Before that Mr. McKeever pastored churches in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and North Carolina.