One of the things we are going to find ourselves doing as people who are committed to the Scriptures is disagreeing with people, a lot. We are going to disagree with people in the world who are not committed to the Word. We are going to disagree with people in the church who are committed to the Word. And we are going to disagree with people in the church who are using the Word to further their own agenda.
I figure if we are going to do something so often as believers, we might as well get good at it. What’s more important, Paul shows us we need to think carefully about how we respond to disagreements. In fact, he gives very specific instruction to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2 how to deal with these kinds of situations.
“Remind them of these things and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people to more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaues and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.’”
Let’s try to break that down.
First, there is a kind of religious discussion that is positively unhealthy. Paul describes it here as quarreling about words and irreverent babble. It seems to have something to do with inaccurate interpretation of Scripture and is illustrated by men like Hymenaues and Philetus who were saying that the resurrection had already taken place.
Second, Timothy is called on to exercise strong and authoritative leadership when dealing with people who like to quarrel about words. He is to remind them of the gospel, of the teachings of Paul, and charge them in front of God not to quarrel about words. There is a time to disagree and to disagree strongly.
Third, Timothy is called on to work hard at accurately interpreting and explaining the Word of God. Truth is supposed to matter to Timothy and he must be willing to discipline himself to understand it and explain it well. As we disagree, we must be careful that we ourselves are accurately interpreting the Word of God.
Fourth, Timothy is himself to avoid these kinds of quarrels. There are certain conversations we have to deal with but be careful that we don’t actually get sucked up in.
Paul continues in verse 22, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace along with those who call on the Lord form a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they only 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 sense and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
There’s much to learn from this text as well.
First, quarreling about words is a youthful passion. In other words it is a kind of lust. Here you are feeling religious because you are talking about spiritual things but you are actually engaging in a lust. As we disagree with people, we need to be careful to watch our hearts and discern whether we are really concerned about the truth or we are using religious discussion to feed our pride.
Second, quarreling about words is such a serious sin that we need to actually flee it. When you flee, you are running fast. It is not cowardice but biblical to run away fast from certain kinds of conversations. Paul says it a second way later on in this passage. He says, have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies. Have nothing to do with is strong language, isn’t it?
Third, not only should we avoid certain kinds of quarrels, we should also actively pursue certain character qualities. Righteousness, faith, love and peace and we should do that in a community of people who are sincerely crying out to God. When I study the truth and think about doctrine, I need to also be watching my life. Am I actively seeking to apply these truths to my life and do I have relationships with other sincere believers as well?
Fourth, as we deal with people who are stuck in this kind of sinful lifestyle we need to avoid being quarrelsome ourselves. Instead we should demonstrate a real kindness and that’s not just to the people we like, but to everyone. We need to work at being a clear teacher, we need to be patient even when those people mistreat us, at the same time we need to be able to show the other person where they are wrong, but we need to be able to do this in a certain manner, and that is with gentleness. What is gentleness? It is humility in action. It involves empathy. It means that you recognize the person you are correcting is in fact actually a person and not simply a problem or wrong doctrine. The goal of your instruction is not to prove that you are right or win, but instead that the person might repent and may come to their senses, because even though it seems they are believers – I may be wrong – but come to their senses at least seems to superficially indicate they are believers – at this particular time they have been stuck in a snare of the devil and are actually accomplishing his will instead of God’s.