Paul writes to Timothy, encouraging him and explaining how Timothy ought to defend his flock against false teachers (2 Tim 2:14–19). Two particularly troublesome men, Hymenaeus and Philetus, had wrongly claimed that the resurrection already happened (2 Tim 2:18).
His advice to Timothy, however, is somewhat counter-cultural for us today. Paul tells Timothy to pursue virtue, gentleness, and patience so that God may grant Timothy’s opponents repentance.
Paul’s Advice to Timothy
Here is what Paul says:
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 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 Tim 2:22–26).
Be Gentle So That God May Grant Repetence
One reason why we correct our opponents with gentleness is so that God may grant them repentance. The converse, treating our opponents un-gently, may rob someone of the opportunity for repentance.
And that’s not the mind of Christ: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezek 18:23)
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).
“God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Rom 2:4).
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
God desires all people to come to repentance. Since he loves all people, he came into the world to save all of us (John 3:16). And he showed his blessed kindness to all so that we might repent and believe in him. Instead of fighting back, he allowed himself to be led like a lamb to the slaughter. He died for sinners because he loved us even in our weak and sinful state.
That’s what love looks like.
God’s Countercultural Command: Gentleness
In our contemporary world, Political discourse and cultural norms have created an atmosphere where vicious, groupish attacks are the norm. Some Christians have adopted this pagan mindset, assuming that the meaner and stronger they are, the more orthodox they are—the more faithful.
Sometimes we call this cage-stage Calvinism, and it represents one rung on the ladder of our ascent to holiness. And while the problem seems domesticated because we have named it and collectively eye roll when we see it, it nevertheless represents a morally evil, pagan philosophy that may prevent someone the opportunity for repentance.
So while we ought to be patient with our cage-stage friends (I was there too, mea culpa!), we should also be clear that mean-spirited, ungentle behaviour does not match the biblical idiom for how we ought to treat our opponents.
Certainly, Paul warns his congregations with strong words. Yet as a general pattern, when he advised direct interaction with opponents, he instructs us to be gentle. The reason for our strong language against opponents seems mainly for the benefit of the flock who need the warning. But the kind of speech we use in direct conversation with opponents seems to be gentleness.
Even if that particular argument is not convincing, Paul does tell Timothy to be gentle in the context of unfaithful teachers who have claimed the resurrection did not happen (2 Tim 2). So something is happening here!
Besides, it’s much easier to mimic the anger of the world than it is of God. Hence, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). So the clap-back culture of today’s
Instead, we need the mind of Christ, that gentle desire for the repentance of all. May it lay seed in our minds by the Holy Spirit and flourish into a flower of love.