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2 Timothy 2:14-26: A Gospel Approach to Conflict Print E-mail
2 Timothy
Sunday, 24 July 2011

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Dealing with conflict in our lives is difficult.  People are sinful.  We are sinful.  We all struggle with pride and differences and miscommunication.  And when conflict inevitably arises, we don’t normally handle it well.  In the series that we are studying on Sunday Nights, Resolving Everyday Conflict, the teacher identified two ways in which we generally respond to conflict.  First, some respond by avoiding the situation.  We pretend like it is not there or that it is not a problem or not that big of a deal.  We simply avoid the conflict.  Of course the weakness with this response is that no matter how much we ignore it, the conflict remains.  Second, some respond by attacking.  We want what we want, we think we are right, we think it is our responsibility to defend the truth, and we attack.  Normally this only results in hurt and division, and once again the conflict remains (or even worse it escalates to a greater problem).  Yet, how should we respond to conflict?  Well, if you want to hear a more complete answer to this question, then I encourage you to come to our Sunday Night series.  But I want us to consider a brief answer from our passage this morning.

As Paul has already alluded to, Timothy is facing some serious conflict in Ephesus.  In Paul’s first letter to Timothy we see him repeatedly addressing the issue of false teaching within the Church.  Apparently the problem still exists in Ephesus.  Paul will spend a good bit of this second letter to Timothy in once again instructing him on how to deal with this conflict in the Church.  Before we jump in to what Paul tells Timothy to avoid and to pursue, let me simply note that application of this particular passage (and others dealing with false teaching) takes wisdom.  Timothy’s opponents are teaching things that contradict the gospel.  Their errors place them outside of true belief in Christ.  Thus, we need to understand the historical situation and not try to apply the text to modern day situations that are not parallel.  We must distinguish between simple theological/interpretive differences and errors concerning the gospel. 

A good question to help us discern is this: ‘Can a person believe different things about this issue and still be a Christian?’  If the answer is ‘yes’ to that question, then we are not dealing with false teaching and should act accordingly.  If the answer is ‘no’ then our approach will be different.  Of course, this does not mean that the principles we identify here are only applicable to false teaching situations.  It simply means that we need to be wise in our application and the differences between primary errors (concerning the gospel) and secondary errors (concerning certain aspects of theology and doctrine and interpretation).  Again, we must study and pray for wisdom.

In light of that, what instructions does Paul give Timothy concerning the conflict that he is facing?  What does he tell him to avoid and what does he tell him to pursue?

Attitudes and Actions to avoid:

Our passage could be broken up into two sections (three if you separate v. 20-21).  In both sections Paul identifies some actions and attitudes to avoid and some to pursue.  Thus, what does he tell Timothy (and us) to avoid in the first section, verses 14-21?

First, Timothy is to avoid quarreling about words and irreverent babble.  Look at v. 14a.  Paul tells Timothy to remind the Church that they do not need to quarrel about words.  Why should they not do this?  Look at v. 14b.  We should not quarrel about words because it does no good, but only ruins the hearers.  After telling Timothy what he should pursue (which we will look at in a moment), he describes again what he should avoid in v. 16a.  Look at that with me.  Paul refers here to irreverent babble.  Once again he gives a reason why we should avoid it.  Look at v. 16b-17a.  Look at that with me.  Irreverent babble will lead people into more and more sin and will spread to others like a disease.  Thus, we must avoid it.  Yet, what exactly is Paul talking about?  Well going on in verses 17b-18, Paul gives us an example of the false teaching that Timothy is facing.  Look at those verses with me. 

These two men, Hymenaeus (mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:20) and Philetus (only mentioned here) were teaching that the resurrection of believers had already happened.  They misunderstood our spiritual resurrection with Christ which happens at conversion, and therefore denied a future physical resurrection of our bodies.  Such a denial is a serious error.  They have swerved from the truth and are upsetting the faith of some.  Paul is telling Timothy to avoid such irreverent babble.  There are times when we can have debates and discussions about certain issues, but this has moved beyond mere debate.  What these men were teaching denied one of the central tenets of the faith, namely a future, bodily resurrection of believers.  Such teaching is not even to be entertained.  It is to be avoided.

Second, Timothy is to avoid youthful passions and foolish, ignorant controversies.  These are found in the second section of our passage, namely verses 22-26.  Paul tells Timothy to avoid youthful passions in verse 22.  Look at that with me.  What does Paul mean by youthful passions?  It is not easy to be certain, but in context, it seems that Paul is referring to those passions that would be problematic in conflict situations.  Thus, Timothy must avoid pride, an argumentative spirit, and the over-valuing of the ‘new’, which young people often struggle with.  These struggles can often lead to more problems when dealing with conflict, thus they should be avoided.  Again after listing what Timothy should pursue (see below), he warns once more against getting involved in foolish, ignorant controversies.  Look at verse 23.  Why should we avoid these?  Because they breed quarrels.  Again, Paul is not saying that we cannot discuss theology and the Bible (as some try to apply this passage).  Rather, when we are dealing with false teaching we must not get sidetracked by debates and controversies.  We must avoid such an approach, which will only make the situation worse.

Attitudes and Actions to pursue:

If we are to avoid quarreling about words and youthful passions and foolish controversies when dealing with conflict, what then are we to do?  In both sections of our passage Paul tells us what we should pursue in these situations?  What does he tell us?

First, we are to pursue being an approved worker.  Look at verse 15.  Why should we seek to be a worker approved?  Because being a worker approved means we will not be ashamed.  So then, what does a worker who is approved look like?  Paul tells us: an approved worker rightly handles the word of truth.  A worker approved will know the Word of God and will be able to understand the difference between spiritual resurrection, which occurs at conversion, and our future bodily resurrection, which has not yet occurred.  This takes effort and work.  None of us are given a complete knowledge of the truth at conversion.  In fact, understanding the Bible is a lifelong pursuit.  But we must work at it.  We must read and study and meditate and memorize.  Some false teachers are great communicators.  They have large followings.  They are difficult to recognize.  Thus, we must labor in handling the Word correctly.  We must not grow tired. 

And what promise does Paul remind us of to encourage us and spur us on?  Look at verse 19.  The Lord knows who are his.  Just like in the situation with Korah in Numbers 16, God knows those who belong to him.  This is both an encouragement (to those fighting for the gospel) and a warning (to those who think they can get away with false teaching).  The Lord will judge.  And His people, those who truly belong to Him, will depart from iniquity.  Paul illustrates this point with a metaphor in verses 20-21.  Look at that with me.  The house represents all those who claim to be Christians.  Within this house there are those who are true (used for honorable use) and those who are not (used for dishonorable use).  But the good news is that there is always hope for the dishonorable.  If he will repent of his ways and embrace the truth, then the Lord will set him apart as one who is honorable.  Most of us have trash bags and nice dishes in our home.  The trash bags are filled with trash and thrown out (dishonorable use).  The dishes are used for service.  Yet, the amazing good news about these verses is that according to verse 21, the trash bag can be transformed into fine china through the work of God, which leads to our second section and what else we should pursue.

Second, we are to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace.  Look at verse 22 again.  We are to join with all believers who call on the Lord from a pure heart in pursuing righteousness, faith, love, and peace.  We are to put into practice what we believe.  We are to follow the example of our Savior.  In the midst of conflict the last thing we want to do is forget the gospel.  No, we must remember what Christ has done for us and through the power of the Holy Spirit we must act like Him in dealing with those who oppose the truth.  This does not mean that we are to be soft or weak.  Rather, it means we must speak the truth in love.  Paul describes this further in verses 24-25a.  Look at those with me.  We are to be kind to everyone.  At no point in our dealings with others are we to be cruel.  Firm perhaps, but not cruel.  We are to teach and endure and correct gently.  We are to take a gospel approach to our conflict.  Why should we do this?  Paul has alluded to what can happen in verse 21 and speaks to it more clearly in verses 25b-26.  Look at those with me.  There is hope even for the false teacher.  Perhaps God will grant them repentance.  Perhaps He will open up their eyes to see their error.  Perhaps He will set them free from the grasp of the Enemy.  He is sovereign over His mercy and thus, there is hope even for the false teacher.  In light of that, we must handle conflict according to the gospel.  We must pursue being an approved worker.  We must put righteousness, faith, love, and peace into practice.  We must live out what we believe in these difficult situations.

We have not done this well in the Church.  We have done everything from burning heretics to joining them in their errors.  Yet, what we should do is seek to honor Christ.  What we should do is hold fast to the gospel.  We should remember that we too were once in need of grace and repentance.  We needed to understand the death, burial, and resurrection of our Savior.  We needed to be humbled by His sacrifice for our sins.  When conflict arises, we must remember the gospel.  Whether we are dealing with a false teacher or a fellow brother, we must keep our eyes on the good news of our forgiveness for sins through the work of Christ.  I pray that we as a Church and as individual believers will consistently take a gospel approach to our conflict.  Even in such difficult situations, may we bring honor and glory to the Name of Christ.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 02 August 2011 )

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