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Correcting with Gentleness

Posted by on May 28, 2010 in discipleship, discipline, scripture | 10 comments

Correcting with Gentleness

The blogosphere is often filled with vitriol, name-calling, and character assassinations. And, unfortunately, it is often a Christian vs. Christian thing. This is very unfortunate and contrary to living in the Spirit, even when dealing with “opponents.” A couple of years ago, I wrote a post called “Correcting with Gentleness” that deals with this issue:


Correcting with Gentleness

In 2 Timothy 2, Paul instructs Timothy concerning how to deal with “opponents”:

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 escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26 ESV)

What does Paul mean by opponents in this passage? Is Paul instructing Timothy in how to deal with people who disagree with him over any subject matter or any topic? Or, perhaps Paul wants Timothy to deal with gentleness over insignificant matters only? What is the context of this passage?

Just a few sentences previously, Paul wrote the following words:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:15-18 ESV)

According to Paul, Timothy is to demonstrate that he is an approved worker who does not need to be ashamed by “rightly handling the word of truth”. In Scripture, the phrase “word of truth” is almost synonymous with the term “gospel”. So, Timothy is to handle the gospel correctly.

Meanwhile, others are not handling the gospel correctly. Instead, they are taking part in “irreverent babble” – or “worldly empty talk” – that is, not related to the gospel. Paul gives Timothy two examples – Hymenaeus and Philetus – of people who are contradicting the gospel by saying that the resurrection has already occurred. Later, Paul would again warn Timothy to have nothing to do with “foolish, ignorant controversies” that “breed quarreling” (2 Timothy 2:23). Instead of giving in to these types of “youthful passions”, Timothy is to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace instead (2 Timothy 2:22).

It is in this context that Paul instructs Timothy to deal with his “opponents” in a most peculiar way: 1) without being quarrelsome, 2) with kindness, 3) with skillfulness in teaching, 4) with patient endurance, and 5) with gentleness. Why should Timothy deal with “opponents” in this manner? In hopes that God would grant them repentance.

In the context, it seems that Paul is telling Timothy how to deal with people like Hymenaeus and Philetus – those who are contradicting the gospel – as well as with those who are taking part in “worldly empty talk” and “foolish, ignorant controversies”.

I think the church has lost the ability to deal with “opponents” in gentleness, primarily because we have very shallow relationships with one another. We do not know one another, and thus the only way that we can deal with one another is through “skillful teaching” – which usually turns into a shouting match instead of a kindness match.

Are there times when “false teachers” – those who teach contrary to the gospel – should be pointed out and removed from the assembly. Yes, we see this example in Scripture. But, this seems to be the exception, not the rule. We do not begin by condemning people – in fact, we should never condemn people – and we do not begin by “excommunicating” people. Instead, we must begin with kindness, patience, gentleness… teaching with our attitude and our lives as much as with our words.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-28-2010

    I think the more belligerent approach is sometimes due to us thinking it (all) depends on us. We rely on our abilities and power, and believe that if we cannot control and convince others, that failure is a reflection on us. It’s rooted in pride.

    I think it is helpful to note what this reveals about Paul’s counsel when he says, (II Tim 2:25) “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth”

    Paul thinks convincing others of a viewpoint is God’s responsibility, and that our role is simply to state the truth as inoffensively and clearly as we can, and then it is up to God to open their hearts, not us.

  2. 5-28-2010

    Paul was a spineless, anti-American, Pro-Obama, socialist, communist, relativist who wanted to undermine Christian values and open the door for a Jihadist takeover of our culture and take away our guns. Get with it and face facts!

  3. 5-28-2010

    Pray for me that I would present my thoughts that I hope comes from our Father and be a charitable listening. May the Lord help us grow together and discern His Word and may He provide brotherly love in our communications along with His direction is my prayer.

  4. 5-28-2010

    You seem to overlook the passages where Paul says he wishes his opponents would castrate themselves, where he screams at them calling them Fools, where Jesus names his opponents as snakes, whitewashed tombs, where the prophets refer to their own people as whores, where the psalmist prays for his opponents’ children’s heads to be dashed on the rocks, etc. I think for every “nice” example we can give, there is also a strong, aggressive, condemnatory one! Emphasizing one over the other is not the way to go but rather, being honest about both is what needs to happen.

  5. 5-28-2010

    But didn’t Christ give a new commandment that we should love one another and we are to love our neighbors too.

  6. 5-30-2010

    And just maybe in a post-new commandment world (as Larry has brought up), Paul was wrong to speak that way about his “opponents”…

  7. 5-30-2010

    Just because one uses the rhetoric of polemic, which can often times seem very strong and even cut to the core of someone’s sensitivities, does not mean it is wrong. I think this is us reading our modern day, “tolerance” sensitivities back on to an ancient text. I don’t think Paul was in the wrong here, nor anyone else for that matter (e.g. Jesus, the prophets, etc.). Interesting how Paul was picked out of that lineup, though to be “in the wrong”…and not Jesus.

  8. 5-30-2010


    The man Jesus is speaking to in the following passage reminds me of why most people are belligerent towards those who think differently.

    He answered, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. And you must love your neighbor as yourself.”Jesus told him, “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.”
    But the man wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

  9. 5-31-2010

    Michael, I didn’t have the luxury of time when I posted my comment to address what I see as differences between what Jesus spoke and what Paul spoke. It wasn’t that I was just picking Paul out of the lineup, but that I simply used that one example that had been given and asked a question about it.

    The reality is that Jesus did tell us to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us. I would much rather err on the side of being too nice toward any perceived “opponents” in an effort to show true love to them.

    I find it interesting that whenever this topic comes up in the blogosphere, there are always those who are quick to defend the use of strong language against others. Why do we even want to go there? Why even work to defend something that is, at best, debatable, and at worst downright wrong?

  10. 5-31-2010

    Steve, great point about erring on the side of caution, I think that is probably true about many of our actions/reactions. For me personally, I have no problem using strong language when it needs to be used. There is a difference between using strong and aggressive rhetoric (especially in a polemical situation) and hating someone. I think this is precisely the point that is being missed. Again, I wonder if modern sensitivities about self and language are being laid back on top of the text here.