God’s Rescue Agent

Though there are specifics here for pastors and elders, the heart of this passage is for all of the people of God. This world provides us with endless opportunities for foolish, ignorant quarrels. And instead, God tells us to be not quarrelsome but kind to everyone, patient and gentle and with gracious speech—even when we need to speak out against what is wrong.

dylanhamata on February 13, 2022
God’s Rescue Agent
February 13, 2022

God’s Rescue Agent

Passage: 2 Timothy 2:23-26
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In many ways, today’s message is part three of what has really been one big message on one unified section of the second letter to Timothy.

Verse 14 opened up by saying, “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers” (2 Timothy 2:14). And that’s what this whole section has been about.

Two weeks ago we looked at verses 14-18, which told Timothy that, instead of getting involved in “irreverent babble,” he was to do his “best to present” himself “to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

Last week we considered verses 19-22, which showed us how “youthful passions” were at the heart of many of these debates, and Timothy needed to flee from these passion and pursue godliness together with God's people.

Today’s passage brings us full circle, bringing us back to this idea that Timothy needed to avoid quarrelling—fruitless fighting. But rather than just repeat what we’ve heard before, today’s passage answers a really important question: how was Timothy supposed to talk to these people? Whether it was the false teachers or the people who had fallen under their sway, they were all just itching for a fight with Timothy. So what’s Timothy supposed to do? Just ignore them? How does he actually proceed? And why? What’s the big perspective he should have as he engages in the right kind of dialogue with these people?

What to Avoid

Those are the questions that today’s passage answers. And we begin in verse 23, where Paul does repeat what he has been saying to Timothy all throughout this entire section: “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.”

This is what it looks like for Timothy to “flee youthful passions.” He is to just stay away from these arguments and controversies. Note that Paul does not tell him to avoid all controversies. Not every controversy is foolish and ignorant. In fact, much of what Timothy was supposed to do and say at Ephesus would have bene controversial.

But he is to avoid the foolish and ignorant controversies—the pointless disputes that aren’t helpful, don’t make sense, and are fuelled by misunderstanding and misinformation. And why? “You know that they breed quarrels.” Those debates about myths and genealogies and the like were simply a breeding ground for quarrels.

We don’t use the word “quarrel” very much these days but I think we’ve all seen them in children and on social media. A quarrel is a word fight, with two sides arguing back and forth and getting all worked up and not getting anywhere.

These pointless disputes need to be avoided because they are just a breeding ground for quarrels.

And why is that a bad thing? Because, verse 24, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome.”

This is a huge statement about the kind of person that a servant of God must be. Not quarrelsome. Not prone to fighting.

We’ve heard this before, haven’t we? Back in 1 Timothy 3 we heard that an overseer or an elder in a church needed to be “not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome” (1 Timothy 3:3). Titus 1:7 also said that an overseer could not be “arrogant or quick-tempered.” Those are the base-line character qualifications for a leader in the church. And Paul here is simply holding Timothy to that standard.

God’s servants, and particularly church leaders, can’t be quarrelsome. They can’t be known for getting into fights or picking fights or enjoying fights.

And so if these foolish controversies only produce quarrels, then Timothy needs to stay away from them.The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome.

…But Must Be…

Instead of being quarrelsome, who does God’s servant need to be? That’s a really important question. What is the opposite of quarrelsome?

What are some ways that we Canadians, even especially Canadian Christians, avoid quarrelling? I’ve met plenty of Canadian Christians in my time who don’t like fighting, and so instead they become passive-aggressive. You know, where they’ll say really pointed and critical things to you in a really really nice way. And then they can say whatever they want because it’s coming across so nicely.

Or, another common one for us Canadian Christians: we don’t want to fight with someone, so we gossip about them to other people instead.

Or maybe we don’t want to fight so we just let everything slide. We stop caring, and we turn a blind eye to everything wrong that we see.

Instead of these courses of action, who is Timothy supposed to be? Instead of being quarrelsome, what?

Verses 24-25 tell us. They lay out for us is 4 qualities which must be true of God’s servants. This is what they must be instead of quarrelsome.

1) First, verse 24, “Kind to everyone.” The word here for “kind,” in the original language, is not the same word for “kindness” that is used most of the other places in the New Testament. The word used here shows up only here and one other spot which is 1 Thessalonians 2:7, which says, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” It is a gentle kindness in view here.

And Timothy is supposed to be kind “to everyone.” Not just the good guys on his team, but to his opponents. Instead of getting into fights with them, he is to be kind to them. To everyone.

2) The next quality Paul describes is that he must be “able to teach.” Once again, this was one of the requirements for an overseer or elder in a church. And we’ve talked before about how this doesn’t mean he needs to be a preacher or a professional theologian but it does mean, like Titus 1:9 says, he needs to “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

Some elders do this from the pulpit, some do this over a coffee table at Tim Hortons, but grasping the Christian faith so that you can communicate it to others and be able to spot false teaching in the process is an essential part of an elder’s task.

And here, Timothy is being encouraged to apply these things to his opponents. Yes, they are messed up. No, he is not to get into arguments with them. But yes, he is supposed to teach them.

This word “teaching” is important for Timothy because a big part of the problem at Ephesus was that people didn’t know what they were talking about. 1 Timothy 1:7 said that some people there desired “to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”

They had no idea what they were saying. And that idea comes up again in verse 23 of our passage where it talks about “foolish, ignorant controversies.” “Ignorant” has that sense of not understanding, not being informed properly. These guys were arguing about things that didn’t matter because they hadn’t been taught properly.

And so instead of getting sucked into their arguments, Timothy is supposed to teach them. He’s supposed to give them the instruction which they need.

And you might be thinking, “Well that sounds like a fun job. Trying to teach guys who already think they know everything!”

3) And I’d suggest that might be a reason why the next quality on the list here in verse 24 is “patiently enduring evil.” Timothy had been through a lot in Ephesus, and these guys still weren’t getting it, and it would be so easy for his heart to get hard, and join the ranks of pastors throughout history who quit their jobs and went looking for greener pastures because they thought they deserved better.

But the Lord’s servant must know how to patiently endure evil. And in particular God’s servants who serve in church leadership must know how to patiently endure evil. To be a leader in a church, especially if you’re going to take a stand against wrong thinking, is to have evil things said about you and evil things done to you. There’s no way around it. And Timothy will not be faithful to the end unless he patiently endures evil.

4) The fourth and final phrase in this list, which we find at the beginning of verse 25, is perhaps the most important here because it brings together the different threads in a really important way. Timothy, as the Lord’s servant, is not to be quarrelsome but it to be kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, and, finally, “correcting his opponents with gentleness.”

This phrase tells us something really important: avoiding quarrels does not mean avoiding difficult conversations. Being kind and gentle does not mean letting the false teachers get away with their bad ideas. Avoiding a fight does not mean avoiding the false teachers entirely.

Timothy was supposed to correct his opponents.

This isn’t a new idea, right? The whole reason Timothy was in Ephesus was to correct:

“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3).

Or 2 Timothy 2:14, which we saw a few weeks ago: “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words.”

Or think of Titus 2:15: “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15).

Timothy and Titus were not supposed to be limp-wristed pushovers. They were to set people straight and correct their opponents.

But how they did it was just as important as what they were doing. Yes, Timothy was to correct his opponents, but he was do to it with gentleness.

Now the rest of verse 25 makes a really important pivot and we want to keep following the passage in that new direction in just a moment. But before we do that, we want to sum up what we’ve seen so far and ask some important questions.

What we’ve seen is that Timothy is to avoid foolish arguments and pointless fights. As God’s servant, he can’t be that kind of person. Instead, he is to be kind to everyone and patiently endure evil. That doesn’t mean keeping his mouth shut. He is supposed to teach and correct his opponents, but when he does that, he’s supposed to do it with gentleness.

What’s Really Going on Here

Now let’s make a pivot here into verses 25 & 26. And we’re going to do that by asking the question, why? Why is Timothy supposed to be kind and gentle with these false teachers, or any other person for that matter? I mean if they’re wrong, why not just go at them?

And the reason for that question is Paul’s understanding that when it comes to false teachers and controversy in the church and all the kinds of things that Timothy was up against, people were not the real enemy.

Likely some years before this Paul had written to the Ephesian Christians, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). People were not the real enemy. Flesh and blood were not the problem. Satan and his legions were the real enemy.

Satan and his legions used false teaching to do their business. And when it came to that false teaching, Paul would be ruthless. He went to war. Listen to what he says about this in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Paul fought tooth and nail against the forces of darkness and the false teaching they used. He would attack bad ideas, which we see him and the other apostles do again and again in the New Testament. But what we don’t see is those attacks turned on the people themselves. Because those people weren’t the real enemy.

And even when Paul dealt with the real enemies, the forces of darkness, he did so with the awareness that Jesus had triumphed over the powers of darkness on the cross, and that Jesus had overpowered Satan, and so Paul was ultimately on the winning team. He didn’t have to be angsty or angry or bitter or sarcastic or defensive because Jesus had already overcome.

Every thought could be taken captive to Christ. The people of God could stand against the enemy. Christ had paid for their sins and Satan’s real power was stripped away and the serpent had been crushed and Paul could be calmly confident as he fought for the truth.

Set Free by God

And that’s the perspective which comes out in verses 25-26 of our passage today. After telling Timothy to avoid fights and to correct his opponents with gentleness, Paul writes, “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25–26).

See, this is what’s really going on here. These false teachers and the people who were all caught up in foolish debates—they had been captured by the devil to do his will. Whether they knew it or not, they were in the devil’s snare and were doing what the devil wanted them to do.

The devil wants nothing more than for a church to be at war with itself. The devil would love nothing more than for a church to waste it’s time arguing with itself about things that don’t matter. And what was happening at Ephesus was the devil’s work.

So how is Timothy supposed to respond to the devil’s work? Knowing that Satan is messing around in his church, but also knowing that Jesus has overcome and God is in the business of transferring people from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of His son, what’s Timothy supposed to do?

He’s supposed to teach kindly, endure patiently, and correct gently. Everything that verse 24 and 25 has told him to do. This is his part in the spiritual battle going on at Ephesus. This is what spiritual warfare looks like for Timothy. Kind teaching, patient endurance, gentle correction.

And so as Timothy did his part, he can look to God to do his part, which is described in vv. 25-26. It is God and God alone who can give someone repentance, which will lead to a knowledge of the truth. It is God and God alone who can bring someone to their senses and help them escape the devil’s trap.

God does this work. But God does this work as His servants teach, endure and correct with kindness, patience and gentleness. Timothy can’t force this to happen. But as he does his part, he gives God room, so to speak, for God to do his part.

And maybe these false teachers, instead of bouncing from one pointless discussion to another, will actually come to see things truly and begin to work for the gospel in Ephesus instead of just distracting from the gospel.

So What?

So that’s the big picture in today’s passage, and really this whole section. As Timothy works to stay faithful to the end, he needs to avoid distraction. He needs to flee sinful passions and pursue godliness together with God’s people. And who that means is avoiding useless fights about things that don’t matter.

Instead of getting into arguments, he needs to teach and correct with kindness, patience, and gentleness. And as he does that, God may use his words to bring people repentance and a knowledge of the truth, so that they can escape from Satan’s snare.

So, with all of that in mind, let’s ask what this passage has to say to us today? And we need to ask this question, again, because not everything in this passage is for everybody. Not every Christian is a pastor or elder who needs to be “able to teach” and will be in the place of needing to confront false teachers like this.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot here that has a lot to say to all of God’s people. And so we’re going to come at that in two parts. First, we’re going to consider what verses 23-25 have to say about who Timothy needs to be, and what we all can learn from that. Second, we’ll consider what verses 25-26 have to say about what God does in the work of rescuing people from false teaching, and what we all can learn from that.

What we Learn from Timothy

So starting with verses 23-25, I hope we can see that much of this passage is for everybody. Avoiding quarrelling is for all of God’s people. We should all stay away from debating things that don’t matter.

And by the way, how do we know what matters? God’s word tells us. That’s been something we’ve been learning in the Adult Sunday School class on the will of God. God’s word helps us know which matters matter.

Second, being “kind to everyone” is for everyone. Nobody gets a pass on this. And we know this because Titus 3:1-2 tells Titus to remind the other Christians “to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:1–2).

This is God’s word and this means what it says. Christians are to be known for their kindness and perfect courtesy toward all people. That word “everyone,” by the way, comes form a Greek work which means “everyone.” Not, “Everyone except Justin Trudeau.” Not “everyone except the people on the news or on Facebook who make you angry.” It means everyone.

And if you are a Christian, this is the word of the Lord to you. The risen and exalted Lord Jesus Christ commands you to be gentle to everyone and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.

Remember that the people who Timothy was being told to be kind and gentle with were false teachers who were tearing his church apart. We do not get a pass on being kind just because we think they we’re right and someone else is wrong.

Now, like we’ve seen, being kind doesn’t mean that we never say someone is wrong. We’ve seen that and we’ll get there again. But how we say what we say really matters. And God’s people are commanded to be kind to everyone. Period.

The same could be said for that phrase about “patiently enduring evil.” This is an idea present all over the Bible. In many ways our whole life, this side of heaven, is one of patiently enduring evil, groaning with creation as we long for a better country. And Christians must be marked by patience, not angry frustration, as we suffer evil.

Now what about these statements here about teaching and correcting with gentleness? Like we’ve seen, not every Christian is going to be involved in teaching or correcting like Timothy was. But we do know that the Colossians were told, “Let your speech always be gracious” (Colossians 4:6). We know that 1 Peter 3:15-16 says that we all must be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

Having to talk to people who disagree with us about what we believe is something we all have to be ready for. And having those difficult conversations with gentleness and respect is for all of us.

But let’s be honest—this is a tough one, isn’t it? Correcting, with gentleness. I’m sure that, throughout history, people have struggled to put these things together, but I suspect that for us in Canada in the 21st century it’s harder than others.

For years now we’ve been taught this idea that being nice and kind to someone means that you don’t correct them. You just smile and nod and say “good job,” because if you correct someone, if you even suggest that they may be wrong, that’s going to hurt them and damage or at least make them mad. And so, everybody’s a winner. Everybody passes the grade. Nobody fails, nobody looses. That’s how it works these days.

But maybe not everywhere. There are people who object to this culture of niceness and think that we should be able to call a spade a spade. There are people who object to the “everybody’s a winner” kind of culture and are willing to stand up and say what needs to be said.

But in general, painting with a really wide brush here, isn’t it true that when you think of that kind of person, the kind of person who is willing to stand up and say what needs to be said, the word “gentle” probably isn’t the first word to come to mind?

Isn’t it true that we tend to either do gentleness really well, or we do correction really well, but doing both, at the same time, isn’t something we see an awful lot of? And that’s because it’s hard, isn’t it?

If it was easy, Paul wouldn’t have had to tell Timothy to do it. He doesn’t have to tell Timothy to breathe when he needs air or eat when he needs food. Those kinds of things come naturally to us. But correcting an opponent, with gentleness, is the opposite of natural.

In fact, it’s super-natural. And the reason I say that is because “gentleness” is not just a human trait—this is a fruit of the Spirit, according to Galatians 5:23. True gentleness is something produced in the hearts of God’s people by the Holy Spirit. So this is not natural. It comes from God and it’s something we need Him to produce in us by his Holy Spirit.

And so, we can each learn something from these verses. And one of the things we learn is how much we need the Holy Spirit to help us obey these words.

What We Learn From God’s Work

Now when we turn to verses 25 and 26, which show us God’s part in Timothy’s work, we also see a lot that applies to us. Isn’t it important for us to remember that we are in a spiritual battle? That people are not the real enemies?

Isn’t it important for us to remember that repentance is a gift which only God can give? That knowledge of the truth only comes after repentance—which can only come from God?

Do you think that remembering those truths as we interact with people who are deceived by false teaching or wrong thinking is helpful? Do you think it would help take away some of the anger or fear or frustration or sarcasm which is so easy when we talk to people whom we believe to be wrong?

We can put so much pressure on ourselves when we think it’s all on us. And it really changes things when we know that it isn’t. We can’t make anyone believe the truth. We can’t set anyone free from the devil’s snare. Only God can do that. But God does this work through His people as they faithfully bear witness to him and His gospel.

So in the end, though there are specifics here for pastors and elders, the heart of this passage is for all of the people of God. This world provides us with endless opportunities for foolish, ignorant quarrels. And instead, God tells us to be not quarrelsome but kind to everyone, patient and gentle and with gracious speech—even when we need to speak out against what is wrong.

And we can do that the more we believe that God is the one who grants repentance, leading people to acknowledge of the truth, helping them come to their senses and rescuing them from the devil.

And so the way that we apply this passage is to trust that God loves us and knows what’s best, and so seek His enabling strength, and then do what He’s told us here.

I’m fairly certain that each one of us will have opportunities this week to either obey or disobey what God has told us in this passage. And my prayer is that, by faith, He would help us to trust and obey Him, for His glory.

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