And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. (II Tim 2:24-26)
In St. Paul’s epistles to Timothy and Titus he is instructing young men who have been ordained as pastors in Christ’s Church. The advice he gives above is advice that we should all heed, but it is advice that many of us too often ignore.
Over the years I’ve read a lot of theologians and Bible teachers. I’ve read the writings of men from the very early days of the church up until today’s theologians. I have been greatly blessed by many of them, but I have noticed that many of the teachers, in all times, have fallen short of Paul’s instruction quoted above.
Too often, Christian teachers forget that they “must not quarrel but be gentle to all” and also be “patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition.” This is not an isolated thing that Paul says only here, though once would be enough, instead we find these instruction many times.
Later in this same epistle, Paul writes Timothy and tells him “evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” and Timothy will have to deal with such corrupt people with sound teaching. He will have to “Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” (II Tim 4:2) That is hard to do, but it is God’s Word that tells us to treat those in error (or worse) this way.
In Matthew 10 Jesus, speaking to the twelve disciples, tells them that “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Now the mission they were going on was a very particular one, but I believe this part of Christ’s instruction is valid for all of us at all times. If you are defenceless, as a sheep is to a wolf, than it is good to be very wise and we Christians should seek wisdom and act wisely. We should also be “harmless as doves.”
Jesus and Paul are both instructing disciples on how to treat unbelievers they confront with the truth of the Gospel. If we are to be gentle, patient, humble, and longsuffering when we deal with unbelievers and evil men, it stands to reason that we should treat fellow believers, with whom we disagree, with as much or more gentleness, and longsuffering, but too often Christians have been brutal to fellow believers who disagree with them on even minor points of doctrine.
There is something wrong with that. It is wrong and a very poor testimony to the unbelieving world around us when they see these nasty disputes between believers.
Reformed Christians’ seem to be particularly guilty of showing no quarter, to fellow believers, who differ with them, whether they are within or without the Reformed camp. One reason for this is Reformed Christians take theology very serious, which is a good thing, but our theology must include what Christ and His Apostles taught in Scripture on how to deal with unbelievers and our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We MUST deal with our fellow Christians in love and, if there is need for correction, (which I think we all need at some point) we must correct them in love, with gentleness, humility and great patience. We should be harmless as doves when dealing with wolves; I would hope we can be harmless as doves when dealing with our fellow sheep as well.