Those of you who have followed my writings and speaking over the years will likely have heard or read my take on relationships. I believe we have only two types of relationships.
1. We have relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ, other believers. We interact with them as brothers and sisters in Christ based on that commonality.
2. We have relationships with those outside the body of Christ wherein everything we do is intended to move them into relationship #1.
How, then, do we approach this second relationship?
Examples of bad approaches and flawed technique abound – shouting matches, social media battles, insults, and the like. None of that speaks well of the Lord, and it is rarely effective toward the desired end.
Avoiding the Quarrel
And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 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 24-26, NIV-1978
The Lord’s servant (literally slave) must not quarrel. There are those who simply are not teachable. It is important, first, not to be such a person, but also to recognize that quality in others, lest we be casting our pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6).
There are those (see Facebook, Twitter, etc.) who enjoy “foolish and stupid arguments,” (2 Timothy 2:23). Paul instructs Timothy to refuse them, to have nothing to do with them. These are vacuous debates that will suck the well-meaning believer in like an inescapable whirlpool. They are a dark trail at night lined with mouse-traps and traveled by barefoot hikers. Refuse them.
But notice, my friends, what it is Paul is saying we should avoid. We are to avoid the argument, not the person.
We are to be kind, merciful, patient. We are to gently instruct the irascible man or woman in hope that God will grant them repentance, and we do this with meekness and humility.
Remembering the Goal
When I was a teenager, my father suggested I should go to law school. His logic for this was pretty sound. He said, “You love to argue. Even when you know you’re wrong, you argue just for the love of the argument.” I don’t know that I fully agree with that, but there is some truth to it.
As a Christ-follower, winning the argument is exactly what we are not to do. The goal is not to win the argument, but to win the soul.
When we engage an argument, or a debate, our doing so usually results in one being victorious, and one defeated. We rarely see men and women defeated into the kingdom, but frequently see them won there. The skillful teacher will teach in such a way that the pupil arrives at the correct conclusion on their own. There is a world of difference between one conceding their error, and one seeing their error and choosing to correct it.
When engaging someone in the world, attempting to draw them into the body of Christ, it is critical to understand what is really happening. It is not the case that we are winning an argument, or that we are cleverly persuading one to see and accept the truth. Neither is it simply a case where they are making a positional move from outside of Christ to in Christ. That happens, to be sure, but it is much more than that.
We need to understand the true nature of the position non-believers are in.
In verse 26 of our target passage above, the apostle Paul uses a term of sobriety (ανανηφω – ananeipho) to describe the interaction of the instructor and instructed, as though one is being helped out of a state of drunkenness. “Come to their senses.” Satan makes the susceptible drunk with lies, and those of us in Christ are at work helping them on their way to sobriety.
Lies and deceit are cruel companions.
- Romans 7:11 – Paul says, “sin deceived me.”
- 2 Thessalonians 2:10 – Paul tells us that evil deceives the perishing.
- Ephesians 4:22 – Paul says deceitful desires corrupt us.
- Hebrews 3:13 – We’re told that we are hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
The person to whom we are reaching out is a prisoner, one whose freedom we are laboring to gain. They are snared, captive, believing a lie and they don’t even know it.
What I’m trying to get us to embrace is the idea that those in the world are not our enemies to be defeated. They are captives who need to be rescued, set free. Jesus said he came to set the captives free (Luke 4:17-19). We, as his servants are to do the same.
Remember, there was a time when each of us stood in opposition to God, held captive by the lies and deceit, ensnared by the devil to do his will. We were what and where they are! We do not dare approach them with smugness and piety, but with gentleness and humility.
Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person. – Colossians 4:5-6, NASB
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Victoriously in Christ!
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