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Not to Quarrel

Part 3: Contending Contentiously
by Anton Bosch

“…avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”

(2Timothy 2:23-26).

These verses are a clear and unequivocal command: The servant of the Lord is to avoid disputes and must not quarrel, but be gentle to all. There are no exceptions, ifs or buts. It does not say we are not to quarrel except with those who are heretics and only be gentle to those who agree with us. We are not to quarrel. Period. We are to be gentle to ALL, including the heretics and “those who are in opposition.”

I know that some will quote various other Scriptures of what Jesus and Paul may have done. But these verses from Timothy are a direct command to us, equal to the Ten or any other direct command in the New Testament. Those who claim that the Bible sanctions ungracious, vindictive and rude behavior are blatantly disobedient to this very clear instruction. Such disobedience places them at the same level as those whose doctrine they condemn. They choose to ignore certain Scriptures and to emphasize others, exactly the same thing that those with the bad attitude and “right” doctrine do. We had better remove the splint first.

It is important to note, however that the injunction to “…avoid foolish and ignorant disputes… [to] not quarrel but be gentle to all…” is specifically to the “servant of the Lord.” Those who ignore these verses must therefore disqualify themselves from being servants of the Lord.

Paul lists four aspects of our attitude that need to be in place when we try to correct someone else’s doctrine. Today’s post will cover the first three:

1) First, we are to be gentle to all. For “gentle” some expositors use the word “like a baby,” meaning that we should be harmless, without guile, and gentle as a baby would be! The Greek word for “gentle” in this passage is also used by Paul to describe his attitude to the Thessalonians: “we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.” (1Thessalonians 2:7). That’s right – Paul expects us to display the same kind of gentleness towards those who are in opposition as a mother does towards her baby! Yes, I know that is very far from what many do, but this is the clear teaching of the Word. The reason for this lies in verses 26 and 27 which I will explain in the next couple of weeks.

2) Second, Paul expects us to be “able to teach.” This is the same requirement he places on those who wish to be overseers in the church: “A bishop must be… apt to teach” (1Timothy 3:2). There is a huge difference between those who are skilled in teaching and those who know many facts. Someone who is skilled at teaching teaches others. One cannot be a teacher without ever coming face-to-face with students, learners or disciples. You cannot be a teacher in a vacuum, your study, or your academic ivory tower. You can only be a teacher when you impart wisdom (not knowledge) to disciples.

Unfortunately, it has been my observation that many (not all) who get involved in apologetics ministries are not skilled at teaching. They live in isolation since they believe that they alone have the truth. People like this often find it hard to relate to other people, let alone impart wisdom to others. Thus many of them sit in their glass houses, discern error and point fingers at those around them.

Let me be very clear on this: No one who is not involved in a local church (no matter how small), and who does not regularly teach the Truth, has the right to teach against error! There is no mention of a fault-finding, or critical ministry in the Bible. It is those who are “apt to teach” the Truth, who also then point out the error and warn concerning the wolves.

The reason for this is that daily interface with others, especially weak believers, helps to keep us humble, dependent on the Holy Spirit and in touch with the real issues of Christian living. There is nothing like relating to the weaknesses, problems and challenges of “normal” Christians to keep our ministries out of the area of theory and the academic. And there is nothing like the difficulty of imparting Biblical Truth to struggling believers to keep us aware of our own frailty and dependence on the Lord.

Every spectator on the sidelines of a sports game knows better how to play the game than anyone on the field! Yet there is no room for arm-chair critics in the church – only for those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty with the vomit and diapers of new babes.

3) Thirdly we are to be “patient.” Most commentators say of “patient” that it means to be “patient of ills and wrongs, forbearing” and “putting up with evil.” That does not mean we must condone or accept wrongs and evil but, rather, that we should be patient with those who are wrong. This goes with the previous point on being apt to teach.

One of the most important skills in teaching is patience since many disciples are slow to learn and often make mistakes. Patience is even more necessary when dealing with those who are in error since it takes a long time to turn a ship around that is on the wrong course. Teaching babes is relatively easy as they are often a “blank slate” on which we can simply write the Truth. But when dealing with those who are in error, we must first delete the error before we can begin to write the Truth. This takes much more patience than teaching spiritual babes. If you do not have the patience to teach young Christians, then you will also not have the patience to correct those who are into error.

Let me hasten to emphasize: I am not condoning error or heresy, neither am I unaware of the enormous damage false teachers have done and are doing. But unless we go about the task of defending the Truth in a godly way, we are wasting our time since the Lord is not working with us.

(To be continued)

The Truth:

“Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another. . . . Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:9-10; 21)

[If you have been blessed by this series, you might enjoy Anton Bosch’s book Building Blocks of the Church, recently published, which examines the application of many more New Testament Scriptures to the functioning of churches and our Christian life.]