I don’t read a lot of blogs, but I use social media enough to notice an excess of what 2 Timothy 2:23 refers to as “foolish and unlearned questions.” The online world provides a perfect platform for these kinds of questions because there are so many willing participants.
Ask a question online that invites people to debate the finer points of grace vs. legalism or to share their philosophies of why other ministries aren’t culturally engaged enough, and you’ll have ready (and perhaps heated) engagement. We know this practice as trolling or baiting Christians into often useless, carnal discussion. The sad thing about this engagement, however, is that most of it will be done by leaders who already agree on 99.9 of doctrine and practice but are now drawn into online strife.
This is exactly why Paul told Timothy to avoid such questions: “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes” (2 Timothy 2:23).
Don’t get me wrong. There is a need for deep theological study and careful development of biblical ministry philosophy. I’m not advocating against understanding grace or reaching people in our communities with the gospel. That’s why I wrote books like Guided by Grace and Out of Commission. But there comes a point when we need to recognize those who are simply baiting us into discussion rather than encouraging us to reach the world with the gospel.
Paul gave clear instructions to Timothy regarding those who would try to draw him astray: avoid them.
And he gave clear instructions regarding who Timothy should follow instead: “…follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
The reality is that we are in the midst of a world that desperately needs the gospel, but too many of us are splitting hairs about the finer points of semantics.
That’s why this week when I preached in West Coast Baptist College chapel, I preached from Luke 16, “A Warning from Hell.” We need a revival of Spirit-filled, soulwinning leaders. Not just people who talk about if others are reaching the world and how, but men and women who embrace the gospel and personally and proactively bring it to a needy world. We need soulwinning spiritual leaders.
The message Paul gave Timothy was a message of focus.
It’s not that there could be no interesting intellectual stimulation in debate, but that pointless discussions would pull Timothy into strife and away from his real responsibilities.
Before you’re drawn into the next online discussion—via social media or blogs—you might ask yourself, Is this helping me fulfill my calling? Is it helping me see people saved or edified?
You’ve probably seen the acrostic THINK—prompts to think before you speak:
T—Is it true?
H—Is it helpful?
I—Is it inspiring?
N—Is it necessary?
K—Is it kind?
We could similarly think before engaging in online discussions.
Frankly, those who write or post to amass a following, not only know that controversial subjects are the best way to do that—but 90 percent of what they stir up is unnecessary in that it’s not reaching people with the gospel or truly edifying the saved. Some will even say how they used to have certain convictions but have grown past that, while expressly trying to draw in those who still do hold those convictions to agree with them.
We all grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), and growth necessitates change. But for me, I want that change to be God transforming me to be more like His Son—not a change of doctrine or ministry conviction. Some of the changes I’m seeing promoted through “foolish and unlearned questions,” however, is very much a change of moorings. It begins with changes in affiliation and philosophy and, left unchecked, will become a change in doctrine. Proverbs 24:21 warns us, “Meddle not with them that are given to change.”
A focus on grace and a focus on the gospel should compel us to do two things more fervently: love Christ and preach the gospel. At the end of the day, we won’t give an account for other men’s ministries (Romans 14:10) or for the slightly-skewed statements our brothers posted online and we let slip through without answering.
But we will give an account for people all around us who we never even once tried to engage with the gospel message.
My plea is simple: let’s stay gospel focused. Let the term “gospel focus” be more than a catchy phrase. Let’s stay involved in soulwinning. Let’s sow the gospel with compassion in a lost world. Pursuing a disgruntled Christian to a lower standard is easy and fleshly. Having God’s power to witness is vital and needed.