Avoiding Foolish Controversies
Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. 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 2.23-24
2 Timothy is the apostle Paul’s last letter to Timothy. Much of it is a reiteration of his previous teaching about how Timothy should lead. So here, he gives Timothy guidance in avoiding quarrels. Because of Timothy’s position as an elder/pastor, it was imperative that he carry himself a certain way. Even in our day, it is unfortunately uncommon for a lead pastor/elder to lead humbly like this. In fact, the position by nature allows for pride and arguments to arise. I often hear of pastors who abuse their position. This is why Paul instructs Timothy as ‘the Lord’s servant.’ Here Paul is talking specifically about a church leader. This leader must be the Lord’s servant just as Jesus was the servant of Yahweh. This word servant is the word for slave, so it reminds us of someone who is in the lowliest positions, and it reminds us of Jesus Christ who became the servant of Yahweh and humbled himself unto death. For the servant to lead properly, he mustn’t quarrel.
What leads to fights and arguments? We see at least one thing in verse 23: foolish and stupid disputes. In other words, often leaders take great pride in picking fights with others about where people are wrong. Instead Paul shows Timothy a more honorable way: The Lord’s servant should seek to be kind, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. Each of these is the way in which a pastor ought to seek to carry himself as leader of a local church. Each one is valuable. The Lord’s servant should seek to be kind. This instruction is specifically for times when it seems almost impossible to be kind. When someone is pressing your buttons, seek to be kind Timothy! The Lord’s servant is able to teach. This seems like an odd thing in a list of ways to avoid quarrels. But think of this, you could talk to a group of people all day, but that doesn’t mean that you were a capable teacher. A capable teacher invests in a relationship with his students. There is an emotional investment that produces great fruit. Reflection on these relationships enables at times the teacher to address the students where they are at and to avoid ignorant controversy before it begins. The Lord’s servant patiently endures evil. He doesn’t give back evil for evil, but entrusts himself to him who judges justly. He see the evil done against him as a blessing (we can think of the beatitudes), and see the person committing the evil as a sinner like himself. The Lord’s servant corrects his opponents with gentleness. This means that he must learn to respond to harsh comments with care and not bitterness.
Why should Timothy even consider doing these things? Because the way he as a leader lives is a potent message that the gospel of Jesus Christ actually means something. Timothy doesn’t need to defend his honor. Instead, he should be considering how he can bring his opponents into fellowship with Jesus Christ and with his church, so that they may escape the snare of the devil. It is better to be insulted if that means God may grant the insultor repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. The wonderful thing is that these instructions aren’t just for Timothy and pastor/elders of different churches. Instead, these instructions are ones that we all can take to heart. In seeking to show kindness to everyone, enduring evil patiently, and seeking to teach in a winsome way the gospel, we too can live in a manner that displays the miraculous effects of the gospel. We don’t have to be worried about our pride; it doesn’t hurt us to be shamed and to lose control over our situation. We can live this way hoping that the Lord may be pleased to grant others repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.