“Shun 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 stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 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.” II Timothy 2:22-26
When I first read these verses I assumed the “youthful passions” Timothy was to shun were equivalent to the usual list of hormone induced excesses that every young person is warned against. However, I was wrong. It was, of course those, but it also included all those youthful passions of personality that would cause Timothy to be an ineffective, even an offensive teacher of the faith.
On close observation it is clear that Paul’s instruction here is part of his earlier call to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him…a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” To do that, among other things, he is to “Avoid profane chatter” (v16), “Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies” (v23), and “Shun youthful passions”(v22). What might some of those passions be which stand in the way of Timothy being an effective presenter of the gospel message? William Barclay has a wonderful list:
“youthful lusts….are far more than the passions and lusts of the flesh. They include…impatience…self-assertion…love of disputation…and love of novelty which condemns a thing simply because it is old and to desire a thing simply because it is new.”
All these can stand between a listener and the proper hearing and reception of the gospel.
Most importantly. Paul is teaching Timothy how to behave in the midst of controversy and disputes with those who alter and distort the gospel. First, he is to stand firm in his presentation of the truth. He must not back away. However, he must not be “quarrelsome, but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient , correcting opponents with gentleness.” This is a crucial lesson for us as well. When it is our turn and our responsibility to defend the gospel, how will we do it?
Our tendency is to fight with anger, belligerence, and uncharitable polemics. But that way is never allowed. For the Christian, how we confront false teaching is as important as that we do. We must not respond in ways which “deny the very foundation of the gospel itself” (N T Wright) Rather we are to follow in the way of Jesus himself:
“to bear evil without resentment…and then correct opponents with meekness- these are sure signs that the teacher has been learning from the example, and has been empowered by the spirit, of Jesus himself.”(N T Wright)
The Apostle Peter makes the exact same point in perhaps the most famous of all scriptures dealing with the defense of the faith:“Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands of you an accounting of the hope that is in you” he says and then quickly adds “but do it with gentleness and reverence”. (I Peter 3:16)
Why is the way we speak almost as important as what we say? Because our opponent is a person of incomparable worth to God and his dignity and value are to be guarded even when he assaults ours. It is God’s good hope that the gospel’s opponent will change and be restored to the truth. God wants nothing to stand in the way of that happening except the truth itself. Look and take heed to the very last words of our text and see if you cannot sense the Father’s love even for his rebellious children:
“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. Like Jesus, who was despised and rejected but refused to respond in kind, going instead to the cross for the sake of his accusers, so we also stand firm but remain gentle and reverent even in the face of calumny for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of its accusers.”
Fred Durham is the President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.