Imagine that as you near the end of your life you wish to pass on final instructions to your close associate of many years, a young man who will carry on the work you began. That is the context of Paul’s second letter to Timothy. He is to soon be executed and he wishes to tell Timothy one last time the essentials for being a good Christian minister.
Especially relevant to the discussion is the passage found in 2 Tim. 2:23-26. Paul was an inspired apostle of God to the Gentiles. Timothy, probably about 30 years old at this time, had grown up studying the scriptures (2 Tim. 3:14-15) and had been the personal assistant to Paul for probably 15 years. Imagine the knowledge he had concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ! That is why Paul instructs Timothy concerning this knowledge. As a good gospel minister with deep knowledge of God’s word, there is one thing that should not be done with that knowledge and one thing that should be done with that knowledge.
Paul first tells Timothy what not to do with his knowledge, namely, do not waste it on “foolish and ignorant questions” (2 Tim. 2:23). It must be readily admitted that there are many questions about the Christian faith which are legitimate. Yet it is also true and important to recognize that there are questions which we cannot answer or which we cannot satisfy everyone’s opinion. Unfortunately, by using mental effort and time in attempting to address these questions, we neglect answering the essential questions others may have concerning more relevant, answerable, and eternally consequential topics.
It is sad to see members of the Lord’s church debate over issues which matter only in their own minds and not in the greater scheme of eternity. They do not take the loving path of Paul who said he was at liberty to do as he pleased concerning the eating of meat but that if such offended a weaker brother, he would not eat meat (1 Cor. 8:13). Instead, on account of the debate over such issues, strife is created, the very thing which is warned against in 2 Tim. 2:23!
Paul next tells Timothy what to do with his knowledge, which was to teach it in a loving manner (2 Tim. 2:24-25). Notice the words that are used throughout the passage: “not strive”, “gentle”, “forbearing”, “in meekness.” It is not enough to teach others; the teaching must be done in love, just as all Christian works should be done (1 Cor. 13). When we teach in love, we will look at the one we are teaching as a lost soul and not someone to win to our side of the argument. We will not be striving to teach them that they are going to hell because of an incomplete understanding of scripture. Instead we will gently and meekly encourage them to reap the rewards of coming to a more accurate knowledge of that scripture.
Sadly, this is not how knowledge is gained in our world in spiritual or earthly matters. It seems that the ones who scream loudest in convincing others their way is right are the ones who get the attention. Such an environment makes it more difficult to teach the truth in a biblical manner.
There is one final thing Paul instructs Timothy concerning the scriptural knowledge obtained by the young man. He taught him that it is not the Christian’s place to forcibly make anyone believe anything. This is such a difficult fact to grasp. We may think it easy for someone to read the scriptures and clearly see that they teach this or that principle. But there are other factors that may influence the way another sees those same scriptures and thus the principles they believe it imparts to them. That’s why Paul writes that it is God who may give the repentance and that it is the opposing individual who delivers themselves from the snare of the devil (2 Tim. 2:25-26). The Christian minister may throw the “eternal life buoy” to a drowning sinner, but it is the decision of the sinner to cling to that buoy or not.
While we should always rejoice when we convert someone to a knowledge of the truth by taking a stand for the truth, we should still rejoice even when we don’t convert them. Did not the apostles defend the truth before the council in Acts 5:17-41? Yes. Did they convert any member of the council? No. Did they rejoice for their defense of the truth? Yes (Acts 5:41). So too should we rejoice even when we do not convert the other.
Let us all be encouraged to use the knowledge God has given us in those ways that glorify Him and do good for our fellow man. Anytime we use our knowledge simply to cause strife or turmoil, we do not please God…even if our knowledge is correct. By doing so, we ourselves may be “taken captive by him (the devil) to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:26).