The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. – 2 Timothy 2:24-26
Whether you’re downloading some software, signing a contract, or making travel arrangements online, at some point you’re going to have to tick the box, “terms of service.” It’s where you agree to the rules and regulations set down by the service provider. In 2 Timothy 2:24-26, Paul wants Timothy to tick the box. Here, Timothy’s father in the faith sets before him in clear script the terms of service regarding pastoral leadership. In this passage we find the calling, character, and conduct of the true servant of God.
At the heart of this text, is a description or depiction of pastoral leadership. Paul wants Timothy to see himself as the Lord’s bond-servant. (2 Tim 2:24) Interestingly, this is the seventh image employed by Paul in chapter two to describe the Christian leader:
- Trustee (2:2)
- Soldier (2:3-4)
- Athlete (2:3-5)
- Farmer (2:6)
- Workman (2:15)
- Vessel (2:21)
- Servant (2:24-25)
The Greek term used here is “doulos” which is a common term for a slave and appears 124 times in the New Testament. There was a host of words available to the biblical writers if they wanted to describe a domestic servant—but they didn’t borrow those words. Slave is the term Paul uses here. The image of the pastor as a slave of Jesus Christ is a stark and uncompromising one and has tempted English translators of the Bible to blunt its sharp edges by using less offensive words. But fulfilling our ministry requires that we as God’s servants face up to the idea of being a slave of Jesus Christ.
Embracing the idea of a slave, we see that gospel ministry ought to be expressed not as a matter of choice, but as a matter of compulsion. Slaves are subject to an alien will and have no rights of their own. Slavery is a life of surrender, service and sacrifice. This is the mindset that ought to motivate our ministry. Out of a sense of indebtedness to Christ for having purchased us by His blood, we seek to live a life of surrender, sacrifice, and service for the advancement of His kingdom. (Rom 6:17-18; 1 Cor 6:18-20; Titus 2:14)
Let us look past our English translations and fight the temptation to soften the radical implications of being a slave of Jesus Christ. Like an old pastor I read about, let us wake up every morning and before rising from our beds pray, “Lord, this bed is the altar and I am the sacrifice.”
According to Paul, the servant of the Lord will exhibit certain traits and behavior that will protect the church, enhance the Gospel, and multiply their effectiveness. (2 Tim 2:24-25) Some of these actions and reactions are framed in the negative and some in the positive.
What you shouldn’t do
Paul begins by warning Timothy not to be quarrelsome. (2 Tim 2:24) The servant of the Lord is not to engage in fruitless theological disputes, especially with false teachers. The pastor ought not to be argumentative in spirit. This word “quarrel” speaks of hand-to-hand combat on the battlefield. So Paul is envisioning a war of words between Timothy and the false teachers.
Now, this isn’t a prohibition to all controversy. Paul is not saying that the local church pastor shouldn’t be involved in apologetics. In fact, we are to contradict those in error and be set for the defense of the Gospel. (Tit 1:9; Phil 1:7) Paul himself called Timothy to fight the good fight of faith. (1 Tim 6:12)We are not only to contrast false teachers in their doctrine and lifestyle, we’re also to contrast them in our manner
Paul’s warning is to not engage in debates that are speculative in nature, that don’t have the Bible as the basis for discussion. Paul is prohibiting discussion and argument that generates strife rather than unity, that ends up hurting people rather than helping people, that gives oxygen to false teachers, and gives a platform to heresy.
The slave of Jesus Christ doesn’t have an argumentative spirit. We are not only to contrast false teachers in their doctrine and lifestyle, we’re also to contrast them in our manner. Jesus had a humble heart and a gentle spirit. (Matt 11:29) If we’re going to defend His honor, we must do it in a manner that reflects His character.
I believe it was C. H. Spurgeon the great Baptist preacher who warned his pastoral students to avoid going through life with a theological revolver tucked in the belt of their pants spoiling for a fight. Paul essentially warns Timothy not to become trigger happy when drawn into theological controversy and conflict.
What you should do
The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to all. (2 Tim 2:24) Instead of living with a clenched fist, the servant of God is to be gentle to all. This is a spirit that doesn’t insist on every right and a disposition that diffuses rather than escalates a situation. This is a bent toward courtesy and conciliation. The pastor is to handle people and their problems (and problem people) with an affable spirit, a kind manner, and a thoughtful way. He knows that kindness is the oil that takes the damaging friction out of ministry.
The servant of the Lord must also be able to teach. (2 Tim 2:24) In speaking of God’s servants, Paul didn’t just say that they are to teach or desire to teach, but that they are to be able to teach. The implication is they not only know the truth, but they know how to communicate it effectively.
Every preacher will want to avoid the commendation given to a pastor on a particular Sunday morning by a passing parishioner. The parishioner said, “Pastor, the sermon this morning was divine. It was like the mercy of God in that it endured forever. And it was like the peace of God in that it passed all understanding.”
Next, the servant of the Lord must be patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition. (2 Tim 2:24-25) This text literally means patient when wronged or patient under injury. It’s the opposite of touchiness—it’s a big-hearted, thick-skinned, ability to continue to minister in the face of ridicule or rejection.
To quote Spurgeon once more! In promoting this kind of longsuffering leadership, he said to a group of pastors, “Every pastor needs a blind eye and a deaf ear.” That may sound like compromise to some of us, but it’s not. Spurgeon is not talking here of excusing flagrant sin or ignoring dangerous doctrine. In calling for patience and deference this great man of God is merely acknowledging a pastoral reality that people aren’t as sanctified, as submissive, or as theologically sound as they should be or we would like them to be. They need our patience, understanding, and gentleness so that Christ might be formed in them—it’s a process.
In closing this section of the letter Paul turns to focus on the damaging effects of false doctrine. (2 Tim. 2:25-26) His heart aches for its victims. He longs to see people escape the shackles of false teaching and destructive thinking so that they might come to enjoy the freedom, forgiveness, and fullness of the Gospel. In this section, Paul expresses the stance and spirit of a soul winner.
The word translated “gentleness” in verse 25 paints a beautiful picture. It was used of medicine that took the sting out of an infection and of a light breeze that brought refreshment. It’s like Paul was saying Timothy’s manner ought to be like medicine to the broken and like a fresh breeze to the weary. It’s a great reminder that you ought not to try and bully people into God’s Kingdom. Souls must be handled with care.
On top of that Paul sees those who oppose the gospel as victims. He prays that God would grant them repentance and that they might escape the snare of the Devil, having been taken captive by him. (2 Tim 2:26) Paul isn’t denying their culpability, but he is acknowledging that Satan makes it easier for them to stay lost and harder for them to get saved. By implication, Paul is reminding the Christian leader that the real enemy is not the false teacher, but Satan himself. He is the father of all falsehood and one who can turn himself into an angel of light. (John 8:44; 2 Cor 11:13-14) There is a certain sympathy here for people because there is an understanding that people are not the primary enemy, but Satan.
Finally, as the man of God patiently and gently evangelizes and educates those in opposition, he does so in the hope that God will grant repentance and release to those who are held under Satan’s sway. (2 Tim 2:25) The phrase “if God perhaps” can be variously translated “for it may be that” or “in the hope that.” Clearly, it speaks of looking to God to effect the change necessary for salvation, since salvation belongs to the Lord. (2 Tim 1:9; 2:10; Jonah 2:9) Bottomline Timothy was to minister in gospel hope and optimism! Timothy was to approach every evangelistic encounter fired by the thought that God can save, God does save, and perhaps in the case of the person being ministered to, God will save. No one is beyond the reach of redemption!
When the godly Robert Murray McCheyne arrived in Dundee, Scotland, and scanned the horizon and the city streets he said, “Perhaps the Lord will make this wilderness of chimney-tops to be green and beautiful as the garden of the Lord, a field which the Lord has blessed!” That is gospel optimism, and it was a prayer God answered.
Here in 2 Timothy 2:24-26 the apostle Paul outlines the terms of service for a church leader. I hope you are ready and willing to tick the box!