Teaching with Patience and Gentleness

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 Timothy 2:22-26, ESV)

Have you ever been in a situation where you were teaching or leading a Bible study and someone began to argue with you on a particular issue, offering a different interpretation of what the Bible taught? How did you respond? This can feel very awkward and messy because different things impact my reaction. On the one hand, if I’ve taken a stand on something in a group and someone contradicts me, I may naturally react defensively. I don’t like being contradicted in public. On the other hand, how the person who disagrees with me acts can make a difference. If they disagree, yet offer clear, convincing reasons in a gentle and friendly way, then I’m more open to changing my mind, and I may even be grateful they challenged me to rethink the issue. But, if they are argumentative, or offer reasons I find less than convincing, I may argue back, and the discussion can deteriorate to where we’re no longer really listening to each other.

Paul knew that Timothy would face some false teachers in Ephesus, and he wanted to offer guidance on how to respond. He begins this passage, warning Timothy not to become involved in “ignorant controversies” that lead to quarreling and division in the church. It is best to avoid some topics, because they are foolish arguments that do nothing to build up the body of Christ. Timothy must learn to discern important issues to address as well as what should be ignored. For unproductive controversies, the best thing is to avoid entering into the debate at all.

When, in a discussion, disagreement occurs over an important issue, Paul urges Timothy to respond in kindness, taking time to teach and explain what the Scriptures say, and in patience if others mistreat him in the process. Gentle correction will more likely encourage the other person to reconsider what was said, to be sensitive to where God may want them to change their thinking, and to repent and embrace the truth, so they no longer be misled by the Devil. The people who disagree or argue are not the enemy—Satan is—and Paul encourages Timothy to have empathy for them, and to care about more than just winning the argument.

Paul’s words are good guidance for me, as well. Sometimes I am tempted, if challenged as I teach, to win the argument at all costs, validating my intelligence and mastery of what the Bible teaches on an issue. On the contrary, God calls on me to care for my brother or sister and seek to win them over, assuming they really are misunderstanding something important. Teaching should be an act of love and care for the other person, not a contest of wills or wits. I must develop thick skin as I teach, forgiving others if they disagree with me in unkind ways. I must also be willing to listen and learn from them if they bring up an important point I need to consider. Gentleness and patience of this kind allows us to continue the conversation long enough to gain clarity, and God can use that dialog to correct wrong understandings, and even to bring about repentance where needed.

I knew a man who participated in various apologetics debates. When I listened to him talk about recent events he had participated in, he would sometimes gloat about having “drawn first blood.” I understand debating is a different venue with additional goals to consider. But as I read Paul’s words to Timothy, I am convinced that not only what we say matters in a debate – as if winning people over was simply an intellectual exercise – but also how we say it, and how we treat those with whom we disagree. If our behavior is arrogant, unkind, insulting, or bullying, we may win “points” but we will lose the true goal of the debate – convincing people to change their minds and embrace an important truth. Our demeanor may cause others to dismiss our altogether. As we teach, our character matters, not just the message we share.

Paul’s wise words to Timothy instruct us, as well. In teaching, our focus is to win persons, not points, and at times this will involve grace, gentleness, forgiveness, and patience, as we trust God to change minds and bring about repentance. It is God at work in the minds and hearts of those we teach. This gives all the more reason that we pray for those we teach, and for ourselves, that we would help, not become an obstacle to their learning. I pray this goal will characterize your teaching in your Bible study group.

Father, thank you first of all for patiently teaching me through your Word. I am grateful for the wonderful blessing of Your steadfast love for me, in spite of my disobedience and stubbornness. As I teach, would you help me to have the same patient love that you have for me? May my teaching be characterized by gentleness and patience, allowing you to do the convincing and convicting work that leads to repentance. I am so thankful to be able to partner with you in my teaching efforts, knowing that you bring about the lasting change needed—to you be the glory! Amen.

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