“We’re gonna spend weeks unwinding him (or her) from that…”
Have you ever had someone read a book, attend a conference, or watch a YouTube video or TED talk that really got them fired up? I don’t mean “mad”, but just really passionate about the subject? As in, it’s all they talk about?
They then go on a personal evangelistic mission to convert others to their way of thinking. They’ll argue with you, duke it out, send you stuff, debate, debate, and debate until you acquiesce in some way.
It’s pretty easy to become a zealot about something.
But what do you do when a professed Christian gets zealous about something that’s really not that important?
Perhaps we can find some principles to help in today’s passage. Last week, Paul was reminding young Timothy to avoid the clickbait the heretics of Ephesus were using. Paul then goes on to tell Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:25-26:
25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.2 Timothy 2:25-26
New International Version
We like binary choices: left/right, correct/incorrect, walk/stay, or stand/sit. Sometimes, however, life doesn’t neatly fit into binary choices.
Even our faith can demonstrate the same tension. Take Proverbs 26:4-5 as an example: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly…answer a fool according to his folly…” (NIV).
You can also take our passage today in 2 Timothy 2:25-26 in context with the preceding verses (2 Timothy 2:23-24) for proof. Is Timothy told to avoid the clickbait and pointless arguments of opponents or is he to engage them?
The answer is yes. Timothy’s response is based on the situation. Knowing when and how to respond is an issue of wisdom, not knowledge.
Timothy knew the truth of God’s Word. Wisdom would inform Timothy on when he was to confront the lies around him and when he was to keep his mouth shut.
When he would confront the heretics of Ephesus, Timothy was given guidance about the motivation of his eventual intervention.
The motivation was “that God will grant them repentance…” (verse 25). That would be a very different motivation than Timothy just trying to prove himself right.
In guiding them towards repentance, Paul warns Timothy to instruct them gently. It implies Timothy could not harbor resentment towards his opponents. He should not be irritated at his opponents. Paul calls Timothy to gentleness.
He’s NOT calling him to be a doormat for his opponents to walk across—Paul certainly wasn’t! But Paul is calling on Timothy to stand firm in an agreeable manner. As mama used to say, “You’ll attract more flies with honey than vinegar.”
The difficulty for most of us is the gentleness of heart required to confront the people causing so much hurt. We want to be angry. We want to be resentful. We want to “lay into them” with the truth of God.
But that would be simply winning an argument.
The truth of God is worth defending but for the record: a lion doesn’t need defending. But there are rules of engagement. There is a spiritual responsibility we have for others.
Perhaps for that friend for whom “we’re gonna spend weeks unwinding him (or her) from that” needs the gentle correction coming from your heart. Perhaps they need you to fight the urge to engage them sometimes and just walk away.
We have to remind ourselves: it’s not about winning an argument; it’s about winning their hearts for Jesus.