You’re in jail, and you know you’ll die there. The final part of your life has been about a central issue and you worry that it will die with you. Unless…you have a legacy. People who will pick up the baton and carry on the race after you’ve fallen.
That’s the backdrop of 2nd Timothy, the Apostle Paul’s last letter. The central issue was guarding the Gospel. As apologists, or to use J. Warner Wallace’s term, Christian Case-Makers, that’s what we do. We guard it from outside attacks, inside attacks, and strengthen our own faith through it.
I originally looked at 2nd Timothy 2:23-25 for a way to deal with squabbles at work. While applicable there, its context is in defending the faith. How can we guard the Gospel? To summarize before we expand; by picking our battles with the right attitude, and ability with a goal in mind. This will be almost universally applicable as you’ll see.
Pick Your Battles
Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 2nd Timothy 2:23 NIV
On social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, arguments start and devolve really quickly into anger and pointlessness. YouTube is infamous for attacks in the comments. In the end, you’ve wasted energy and time for nothing. It’s worse when the other person enjoys winding people up, manipulating them for their entertainment.
This is why you have to pick your battles. Ask yourself if it’s an area of tradition or opinion. Is it a non-negotiable, an area that if it’s gone, everything falls apart?
An example of this is the deity of Christ and the Resurrection as compared to method of baptism or church attire. The first is a core doctrine of the faith, the second is a tradition, and the third is a matter of preference. It’s majoring in the minors. Which is of more importance?
We have to gauge the person we’re addressing as well. The Four Soils parable in Mark 4 is a good metric; rigid, shallowly receptive, receptive but overwhelmed, and open enough to consider what you say. If it’s been a repeated conversation with no give from them, then they may not be ready. If you see something so blatantly out of context, they either aren’t knowledgeable in it, or trying to wind someone up. This leads to anger and fights that hurt our example to non-Christians.
The Attitude Needed
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” 2nd Timothy 2:24 NIV
“The servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome…” Honestly, that’s a good attitude to have overall. Who likes to be around argumentative people? Can you have a legitimate conversation with them or do they just dispute everything you say?
Being nice is good, kind and gentle is even better. However, if you get angry easily, then your attitude isn’t ready. I get annoyed easy which is why self-control is needed. Fortunately, it’s a fruit of the Spirit that growing Christians have. That’s a good thing because I sure didn’t have much of it before.
Then you can still be kind, not trying to hurt them, so you can engage them civilly. A wild fighter flails away. A calm, focused one delivers precise strikes. Same with dialogue, if you intend it to be meaningful.
Which is better?
This leads to knowing what to say and being the right person for the job. You can have the knowledge, and the skill, but without the other’s trust, your effectiveness is limited. On the other hand, you can have their trust, but not the ability (ow…my pride).
This means a few things: know your stuff about the non-negotiables (including arguments against), and know the history of the traditions and know it inside and out. It’s a process, a learning curve, you probably won’t be on the level of a college trained theologian..yet.
Plus, you’ll have your particular areas of interests where you’ll have more understanding. If it’s a philosophical argument, I’m good at a very elementary level. If it’s evidential, then I’m a bit better in that arena. However, my strength is when I have time to weave apologetics, theology, philosophy, and evangelism into a post.
Patience is key, frustration only hurts the movement of the conversation. Rather, forgive slights and lack of knowledge, and be gentle. We all are guilty of being ignorant in other areas. Let them teach you by asking them questions, so you can find common ground, areas that need addressed, and areas that need to be set aside.
How To Engage
“Opponents must be gently instructed,…” 2nd Timothy 2:25 NIV
“I thought we weren’t supposed to fight,” you may ask. About trivial things and certain people, yes, that is true. Some things you have to stand against, like murder, rape, slavery, and abuse. There is a saying, ‘Stand for something or fall for anything.’ I thought Thorin had said it, but couldn’t find it. I did find this, “Fill your life with purpose. Without purpose man is just an empty vessel filled with maggots.”
He’s always had a way with words. The thing is that some things you plant your feet and tell the other, “No. You move.” Other things, you have to move on, or not even worry about it.
Then you have those that are receptive, and aren’t opponents in the traditional sense. They just have an opposing view. These, we question, listen, learn and guide; all with politeness and respect. Not rude, nor rough, but kindly and without arrogance. The sum total of our interactions is to get them to think about and through our point.
It’s an economy of thought. They deposit an idea, thinking through it is equivalent to interest building up. Answering a question is like withdrawing the amount of interest to transfer over. All benefit from this.
Attitude In Action
The Asbury commentary reads that the Lord’s servant (a Christian) is characterized as a shepherd of words, not a gladiator. The goal is to bring back lost sheep, not kill them and make an example out of them. It kinda hurts the goal of bringing people to Christ. Fear of man is a poor tool for a true conversion. The focus is hopeful, not resentful. They’re captive and this is a rescue mission.
“…in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” 2nd Timothy 2:25 NIV
Why do we try to persuade people? For us as Christians, it hinges on this: “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” in John 14:6.
We want them to consider a better way by following Jesus. To know the Truth that is Jesus. Truth by its nature is exclusionary, shades of it still end in absolute truth or falsehood.
To have the Life that is more than now, but eternally. The opposite is death, eternally.
It’s a rescue mission, except who we go after has the option to say no. It’s not compulsory, we just plead, and the individual has the final say. Not us, not even God. Hell is when God lets us have our own way—to not have a relationship with him, so he separates from us. C.S Lewis wrote that it’s when God says, ‘Let thy will be done.’
He loves you enough to give you a choice. To force you into Heaven would make you miserable since you’re with someone you don’t want to be with. So, like marriage is an example of the depth of a relationship with Christ, divorce could be thought of being like the final separation. Off the path, without knowledge of, and away from the source of life, being forever separated in a place that wasn’t even intended for you, but for fallen angels.
Satan doesn’t rule Hell. He’s destined for imprisonment there. His pride led him there, and he wants to bring as many with him as he can. The war is won, but the battle continues, and we—the once wounded—are rescuing those who are still wounded.