“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” 2 Timothy 2:24–26
It must be acknowledged that the Bible preacher will have opponents. They are the gainsayers of Luke 21. They are the haters of Matthew 10. They are the enemies that the Lord said every true disciple would have (Matthew 5:44 and Psalm 23:5). David wrote, “Many are those that rise up against me” (Psalm 3:1). It is part of the work of preaching to have people oppose you. And it is highly important for a faithful servant of the Lord to know how to handle the opposition. God tells us how to do this at the end of 2 Timothy 2.
1. Continue a Positive Ministry
Battles arise when the Word of God is being preached and the truth is being applied, but the preacher must not take time out of his exposition of the Bible to do battle with his critics. The books of first and second Timothy, which were written to help the preacher, teach him to face the foe first by the continuance of positive Biblical ministry.
When the second chapter of first Timothy warns the preacher about those who depart from the faith and teach the doctrines of devils, he is admonished to “put the brethren in remembrance” of “good doctrine.” He is to “give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine,” and to give himself “wholly to them.” The good minister must continue to minister when he is in a battle.
The second chapter of second Timothy calls on the preacher to charge his congregation, “That they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.” He must “study to shew,” himself a minister “approved unto God,…rightly dividing the word of truth.”
He is to purge himself both of false teachers and of their false doctrines, and lead his people to shun them. He must also flee unholy living and follow the high standards of a life of purity. His feeding of the flock and leading them in the paths of righteousness are perhaps more important in a time when the troublemakers are making trouble. God wants His servant to keep on ministering.
2. Remember Who the Opposition Really Is
The preacher must know that his opponents are not his real enemies. He must regularly remind himself of the real war going on behind the scenes, as described in Ephesians 6:10–20. The real war is in the spiritual world, and must be fought with spiritual weapons, with the protection of spiritual armor. His real enemies are spiritual: “principalities…powers…the rulers of the darkness of this world.” His human enemies are actually prisoners of his real enemies! According to second Timothy 2:26 they have been “taken captive” by the devil “at his will.” The truth is that the preacher’s real enemy is the enemy of his opponents, too! Critics should not arouse the preacher’s anger—their plight should evoke his pity.
The second chapter of second Timothy also says that those who oppose the preacher in fact “oppose themselves” (verse twenty-five). Usually the ones making trouble for the preacher are making far more trouble for themselves. So we should look at them scripturally, have compassion on them, and pray for them earnestly.
3. Treat the Opposition with Gentleness, Patience, and Meekness
The preacher is told to, “Be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing them that oppose themselves” (2 Timothy 2:24–25). Certainly we must always remain spiritual in the battle. The terms used in this passage remind us immediately of the fruit of the Spirit displayed in Galatians 5: “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (verses twenty-two and twenty-three). These qualities are the product (fruit) of walking in the Holy Spirit (verse sixteen). Walking in the Spirit is what being “spiritual” really is, and every Christian should practice it, especially the preacher. He must depend upon the Spirit for the power to live above his flesh and show forth the image of Jesus Christ. He must continue to do this in the crisis.
4. Refuse to Strive with the Opposition
Second Timothy 2:24 says, “The servant of the Lord must not strive.” The Greek term behind the words strifes and strive in verses twenty-three and twenty-four is a violent term that refers to waging battle and to war.
Some may say, wait, aren’t we instructed to strive lawfully in verse five? The Greek word translated, “Strive for masteries” and “strive lawfully” back in verse 5 is actually a sports term (athleo) that instructs the preacher, like an athlete, to keep the rules while he does his best. And in context, it is instructing the preacher to do his very best. It has nothing to do with the strife at the end of the chapter. The preacher must not go to war with his opponents.
In the years I served in the Christian ministry as a pastor, I experienced a few periods of conflict. I am grateful for how few they were! But God used them to help me grow, and I do not regret going through them. The one thing I do regret about these experiences is the times I chose to “strive” with my enemies. How often God gave me grace, when reviled, not to revile again, but a few times I got in the flesh and fought back in selfish anger. My striving did no good in the long run, hindered my spiritual life and my positive ministry, and clouded the important issues at stake. Taking a stand for the truth and against wrong is not the same as striving. Striving is a carnal thing, rooted in self-interest. Don’t do it!
5. Pray for God to Rescue Your Opponents
The idea in second Timothy 2:23–26 is that if the preacher will not get in the way by doing war with his opponents, God may have an opportunity to persuade and rescue them. And this must be our goal and prayer: that our opponents who have set themselves against the Lord and ourselves as His representatives will repent, acknowledge the truth, and be recovered from the enemy’s P.O.W. camp.