The Word of God is a glorious book. One of the many facets of the Bible that I find most wonderful is its balance. But we are so prone to swing from one extreme to the other—either we go all out in the pursuit of discipline at the expense of reason and slow, steady progress, or we slump into laziness and simply chalk it up to grace. We are either too harsh, or too lax; we talk too much, or we talk too little; we speak truth with no practical acts of love, or we care only for people’s physical welfare and never for their souls. The list could go on and on. But the reality is that we all tend toward imbalance at some level. The Bible, on the other hand, provides us with the balance we desperately need. One of those areas where we are provided with this much needed balance is in the area of pastoral ministry, especially in 2 Timothy 2:24-26. It reads,
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.
Notice the first instruction: the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome. Why would Paul need to say that? Because it is a massive temptation for some men to make fighting and arguing and confrontation their starting point in ministry. For some, the ministry is primarily about rebuke, correction, and admonition, and some may even find joy in seeking to argue for the sake of arguing—they want to fight.But Iain Murray aptly warns us,
The minister who makes controversy his starting point will soon have a blighted ministry and spirituality will wither away (The Forgotten Spurgeon)
I wonder how many churches and individuals have been destroyed by pastors who have sauntered into pastoral ministry without any check on this attitude? I wonder how many pastors have destroyed themselves?
What is the next instruction? The Lord’s servant must be kind to all. Not someone who is constantly looking to pick a fight, but someone who is compassionate, gracious and kind. Yet, not just kind, but able to teach. Here is the balance: a Christlike pastor is not only kind and gracious, he is able to teach the truth and ‘correct his opponents’ when it is necessary. Nevertheless, even this correction must be tempered with gentleness, as the verse indicates. As John Piper puts it, this kind of pastor must have a theological backbone of steel, and yet be as tender as a field of clover.
Soon after I became a Christian, I heard a true story of two Bible college students whose theological discussion had escalated into a heated argument that finally boiled over into a fist fight. On the one hand it is difficult to fathom such a blatant contradiction between profession and action: you would think that talking about Scripture, Christ, and theology would preclude violent debates between brothers. On the other hand, it is rather easy to see in myself such a tendency because my pride is at stake in these discussions.
But the way of Christ is better. Not quarrelsome. Kind to all. Patiently enduring evil. Correcting opponents with gentleness. Imagine the kind of ministry that will grow out of such rich soil. I want to be like this. I trust you do too.