A few years ago I found myself in a debate with another Christian arguing for a position that was clearly contrary to Scripture. In the middle of the discussion I privately came to realize that my position at that time was inaccurate, but continued to argue a wrong position. As I was thinking about it later on, I came to the painful realization that I was simply arguing because I like to fight and not because I was concerned for truth. I have always been a debater and at times even considered myself to be an aspiring apologist, but this discussion forced me to take a good hard look at what I was doing and why I was doing it. I have always strove for theological precision and was quick to look for and find the holes in another person's system of belief. But that debate sparked in me a journey of repentance away from an argumentative spirit toward what is hopefully a more godly way of interacting with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
I am writing about this because it is where my mind keeps wandering to as I prepare next week's sermon. At our church I have been preaching through Ephesians and this week is the second week in Ephesians 4:2. In chapter 2 of Ephesians, Paul labored hard to show the Gentile Christians of Ephesus all that Christ had done to create unity and peace, not only on a vertical level between God and man, but also on a horizontal level, even to create unity between Jews and Gentiles. Ephesians 2 is a massive gospel indicative about what Christ has done to create unity and peace. Then in Chapter 4, Paul spends the first three verses showing us how we should respond to those gospel indicatives by giving us a number of gospel imperatives to obey for the sake of preserving the unity that Christ has procured. Ephesians 4:1-3 says, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." This week I am preaching on the relationship between unity and gentleness in verse 2.
The word "gentleness" in Ephesians 4:2 is a word that was used to talk about a wild animal that had been tamed. It is a word that conveys the idea of a powerful wild animal such as a horse being subdued and controlled by another. Gentleness or meekness is power under control.
What does this have to do in my personal spiritual journey away from being an argumentative jerk? Everything! In 2 Tim. 2:25, Paul gives us instruction for how we are to correct those who are in error. What we read there may be surprising to some. When I think of the apostle Paul, I think of this heresy-eating machine, a force to be reckoned with who would always win a debate on anything theological, not because of apostolic authority, but because of his sheer presence,the thundering boom of his voice and his force of personality which would demand submission and respect. But in 2 Timothy where Paul instructs us on how to correct those who are in error, that is not his approach. 2 Tim. 2:23-25 says, "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,"
First, Paul tells us to pick our battles. There are some arguments, some disagreements which are just foolish and should be ignored because to engage them would only create controversy.Then he goes on to tell us that when we correct error, it should be done in a spirit of gentleness, power under control, so that "God might bring about repentance." The apostolic command from Scripture is not that we bring the thundering hammer of our personality or resort to verbal and personal attack; no, it is coming alongside those in error, with our power under the control of God's Spirit, patiently and lovingly correcting those in error working toward the end of repentance and a knowledge of truth.
As I was studying this morning, I couldn't help but think that in a sense our cultural setting is far removed from that of Paul when he wrote Ephesians 4 and 2 Timothy 2. With the advancement of technology and the ease of access to people and ideas on the internet, it seems as if we have lost touch with what Paul is saying. Every day when I check my Facebook, read a number of Christian blogs, or read through religious groups pages on Facebook, I see far too much of myself and far too little of the Apostle Paul.
Here are a number of my concerns with how the advancement of technology have blindsided the church in the area of gentleness:
1. I see pastors being publicly attacked and maligned with an attempt at discrediting their ministry, presumably without having ever been given the a loving exhortation, without any one-on-one clarification, and accusations being publicly received about pastors without two or three witnesses (1 Tim 5:19). I see pastors deceived and baited into interviews where accusations are brought to their attention for the first time in front of an audience of millions. I see men and women trolling the internet, looking for these spiritual leaders to"expose them", propagating the lack of love and sowing seeds of discord with their every stroke of the keyboard.
2. I see genuine seekers of the faith being turned away by over-zealous jerks who are more concerned with winning an argument than winning a soul. Proverbs 11:30 says, "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he that wins souls is wise." Did you read that? "He who wins souls is wise." That means we should be winsome. That means our interaction with the lost, even on the internet, should be purposefully directed at speaking the truth in love in a way that is both without compromise yet in a gentle winsome way.
3. I see so-called street preachers who have made it their life ambition to preach as hard of a message as possible and turn it into the most controversial Youtube video possible. I know there are some fine street preachers who are preaching Christ, and for that I rejoice. I am not talking about them. I am talking about the folks who are more concerned with making a Youtube video that will spark controversy than preaching Christ, people who make it the mark of their ministry to preach "hard sermons," against the wickedness of sodomy, pornography, drunkenness, rock music, and liberal Bible versions without ever giving their hearer a good dose of Christ and Him crucified. I am talking about men who puff themselves up in pride for not being as wicked as the world without ever showing them the beauty of Christ. The apostolic preaching of Paul was not concerned with creating controversy or verbally attacking people for the sake of getting a holy high-five from his friends. The ministry of Paul can be defined in his own words in 1 Cor. 2:2, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."
4. I see Facebook pages that were likely created with good intent that have divulged into nothing more than places where we discuss the errors of others and take pride in the fact that we have sound doctrine while the rest of Christianity wallows in the freakish misery of their heterodoxy. I believe there are times to discuss theology and there are even appropriate times to discuss aberrant doctrines, but again I am concerned that many in the church have - myself included - from time to time been blindsided by these advancements in theology and have forgotten the dangers of spiritual pride. They have forgotten to be gentle when correcting false doctrine. They have forgotten that Christ died to create peace and reconciliation between us and those we are attacking.
I know to many this may sound like weakness. To others it might sound like I have given up all concern for doctrine and want to throw as broad of a theological net as I can justify. I also know there is much more that could be said that has been left unsaid. But at the end of the day, we would all do well to remember the words of Titus 3:2-6 where we are instructed "to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For
we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to
various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy,
hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He
saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but
according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal
of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior."