How to Correct Foolish Opponents

One of the best statements I have heard is “It’s better to be loving than right.”

Granted, this statement needs qualification, but the quote reflects the spirit of Paul’s words to Timothy.

A teacher who is well-versed in the Bible will usually win a Bible argument. That person may win the battle of words, but lose the war over their opponent’s soul.

If we want to know how to correct a foolish opponent, Paul has excellent counsel.

Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels (2 Timothy 2.23).

Stupid and senseless controversies are the breeding ground for fighting and strife.

Anyone who has been around the church for any length of time is familiar with how stupid are arguments when seen in the light of the harm they choose.

Some of my most painful experiences in the ministry were caused by arguments over the interpretation of the Bible or personality conflicts.

Hindsight has shown me that I have been on the foolish side of controversies. At other times, I was on the right side. Unfortunately, an unwillingness on both sides to follow Paul’s direction led to hurt and division.

It seems to me that Paul is directing his readers to choose their battles carefully.

There were two occasions when Paul strongly addressed his opponents.

Paul never failed to call out the powerful when they oppressed the powerless. He sided with God’s consistent care of the vulnerable.

The other situation that received Paul’s intervention was when the gospel was compromised by false teaching.

Beyond this, the instruction was to avoid senseless controversies. We do well to follow his direction.

Character Traits of God’s Servants

Have you noticed that Paul’s major focus was on character?

When he instructed bishops, elders, and deacons, a job description was absent. In the place of a job description was a detailed presentation of the character traits of leaders.

In the face of foolish and senseless arguments, Paul returns to the character of those who are called to correct their opponents.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.

God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2.24-26).

Let’s first look at the character traits and then consider the goal of Paul’s advised activity.

(1) Character traits of leaders involve the following:

— Not quarrelsome, but kindly to everyone.

Strong’s Greek Dictionary of the Bible says that “kindness/gentleness happens as we yield to God and are committed to handling matters according to His preferred will.” My experience bears out this dictionary definition.

When I argue with others, it is often because some part of my ego has been offended. When I have settled the issue that I am the Lord’s servant and not serving my ego, it is easier to not be quarrelsome.

— An apt teacher.

Jesus said, “Do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you” (Matthew 7.6).

Dallas Willard has the best explanation of Jesus’ saying. You have to give pigs what they are willing to eat and they don’t eat pearls.

The same goes for teaching. An apt teacher gives students what they can eat. Discernment is necessary to determine what they can receive or not.

— Patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.

The Greek meaning of “patient” refers to forbearance, to suffering with someone who tries your patience.

Pedagogy and correct come from the same Greek root. A pedagogue was a slave who taught the children of their master. A pedagogue had the freedom to use corporal punishment in correcting students.

Paul sandwiched the correction of opponents between patience and gentleness. These are the characteristics we are to exhibit instead of engaging in arguments over senseless controversies.

(2) The goal of such behavior is repentance.

God defeats his enemies by making them his friends. This method is at the heart of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

Similarly, Christ’s servant should engage their opponents with a desire to help them return to the faith.

YouTube Video

Rudy Ross and I have produced a video on this passage. It can be found on the Bob Spradling channel.

Please email your prayers to bsprad49@gmail.com. The Maywood prayer team will pray for you.

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