2 Timothy 2:24-26
24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient,
25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,
26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.
As we get older, we sometimes marvel at the stupid things we did in our youth. We are surprised we ever thought something was fun, or ever believed some of the silly things we followed. If nothing else, age teaches us to be a little more self-critical. Of course, the problem is that we quite often are not self-critical enough. We note some things as not worth doing again--"Learned THAT lesson!"--but we still hold on to some things that, if we were a little more discerning, if we were a little more dedicated to self-improvement, we would stop right away. When we come to Christ, we become even more self-aware, and that is when we REALLY start to shed the ways of our youth. We find we get better and better at leaving the old self behind and truly putting on the new creations we are in Christ. And being in Christ, being guided by the Holy Spirit, we can see that many of those old behaviors and beliefs are not simply the result of youthful stupidity but the result of yielding to the wiles of Satan. Examining my own life, I can see that I had handed the core of my life over to the devil, and he kept me in darkness for a very long time. And then when I found Jesus, it was as if I were waking up for the first time, and like the Prodigal Son, I looked up from the hog pen and remembered my true home. (Luke 15:15-19) I came to my senses and shook off the dirt and started walking home.
On my way home, as the dirt and mug and dung fell from me, I could almost name each piece. There was Pride, the feeling of being my own god that had kept me from repentance. There was Lust, the service to my flesh that had kept me from service to God. There was Greed, the grasping at things that had filled my life so much that I never simply accepted the gift of God's grace. There was Shame, the chain that had kept me shackled to the depths of sin. There was Falsehood, the lies and deceit that had become so normal for me that I even I believed the lies I told. There was Fantasy, that deceitful wench who lured me into believing that the pig slop was actually a glorious banquet. Each piece fell away, dried and cracked and still stinking to high heaven, and as each dropped to the earth, I felt lighter and better able to walk the way I had chosen. I knew that there was still a lot of dirt lingering in the nooks and crannies of my life, but as I drew closer to Jesus, I felt like a hose was blasting away at my skin.
And so when I read the verses above last night, I felt like I was seeing myself there. Not as the "servant of the Lord" in verse 24, but as "those who are in opposition" in verse 25. I was the one who had opposed God. I was the one who was unrepentant. I was the one who did not know the truth. I was the one who was once unaware of my own plight. I was the one ensnared by the devil through yielding to temptation. I was the one taken captive by the ruler of this world. I was the one thinking I was doing my own will but actually doing the will of Satan.
And then a very gentle teacher came into my life. He did not quarrel with me. He was forbearing with my ignorance and prideful opposition. He was able to teach me, able to open my eyes, able to give me the gospel so that I would be aware of who I was and where I had spent so much of my life. My hindsight went beyond 20/20, so that I was able to examine my life and throw off the dirt that had hidden the image of God in which I was made. And now I thank God not only for that teacher but also for the repentance He has granted me.
When we reach out to others to try fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples, we must remember Paul's words here to Timothy. We must be gentle and patient and able to teach. And we must remember that those to whom we are reaching out were once like us:
•They are people who currently oppose the things of God. Sometimes they oppose God's will and His Word through simple ignorance, but most often they oppose Him because they have been lured by society into accepting sinful behavior as "normal." Our task then becomes to show them the truth of God's Word, the truth of the gospel, so that they can see things for themselves.
•They are people who are unrepentant. Most sinners are so used to their sin, so full of pride, and so desiring of the partial happiness they receive in sin, they see no reason to repent. I spent decades without seeing why I needed to repent. Our goal should be to show them the gospel of Christ, which has the ultimate "pay-off" for repentance: salvation and eternal life. (Romans 10:8-10)
•They are people who do not know the truth. They have been fed earthly philosophies for so long that, especially in our modern age, they see truth as fluid and changing. For many today, there are many "truths"--and our churches are unfortunately filled with people who accept the Truth that is Christ with one hand while holding on to the unfruitful "truths" of the world with the other. We need to be sure they understand that Jesus is THE way, THE truth, and THE life, and that no one comes to the Father but through Him. (John 14:6)
•They are people unaware of the depths of their depravity. As Paul wrote, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) People wallow in their guilt, their pain, their oppression, their darkness, without ever being aware of how they got there and how they can get out. They see only the four walls of their prison and think that is the only world they will ever know--or ever want to know. But Jesus shows a new way, a way of truth and light, of repentance and faith, of salvation from our old lives and resurrection into new. Jesus gives us the chance to be born again as a new man! (2 Corinthians 5:14-17)
•They are people ensnared by the devil. This is the hardest lesson to learn and to teach, that we are not just victims of our own desires and sins, but that the devil is real and he is trying to trap us and enslave us. The world teaches us that evil is a human concoction, that there is no devil. "We are quite capable of doing evil to each other without Satan's help, thank you very much!" But the Bible teaches us that Satan IS real, just as real as our Lord Jesus Christ. And that very real devil, that accuser of the brethren, that roaring lion is lurking around our hearts waiting to pounce on our slightest weakness. And so we are trapped as in a fowler's snare, our wings wrapped up in Satan's net of deceit and temptation and guilt and sin. Getting a bird out of a fowler's net requires patience and gentleness--just like teaching a sinner to repent and believe.
•They are people held captive by the devil to do his will. They think they are doing their own thing. They think their actions are their own. They think that they can leave the sin of their lives all on their own. They think that by simply having more money, more sex, more drugs, more toys, more friends, more youth, they can finally rise above their lot in life. And yet they still remain in the cell Satan has designed for them, still remain shackled to the twin chains of depravity and lies. In the midst of their own imprisonment, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns, and they broke not only their own chains but also the prison doors and chains of ALL the prisoners there. (Acts 16:25-26) Our task is to join in that prayer and singing, join in that rejoicing in the Lord that sets ALL people free.
1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;
4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope.
5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
We were once all enemies of God, opposing Him both consciously and unconsciously. "But God..." (Oh how I do LOVE that phrase!) But God was gentle and patient and able to teach us, and He sent teachers into our lives to guide us and show us the way to Jesus. And this Jesus then led us the rest of the way to His Father, washing us clean on the way. The mud of the swine, the seed pod banquet, the dung and death which cast a pallor over our lives, the chains of unbelief and deceit and pride and lust and all of our sins--these are all gone.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (my emphasis)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW CREATION; old things have passed away; behold, ALL things have become new.
We can look back at our lives and wonder how we were ever so stupid as to believe and do the things that we did. And now that we are in Christ, we look with new eyes at our sin and depravity, and we wonder how we ever got so low. But the true good news of the gospel is not that we are sinners but that we are redeemed from sin through faith in Jesus Christ. The true good news is we were slaves under Satan, we were ignorant and unrepentant, we were proud and lustful, and we opposed God...
Ephesians 2:4-7 (my emphasis)
4 BUT GOD, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
If God can be so merciful and gentle and patient with us, then we as teachers of His gospel must be that way, too. Let us remember the lowly place where we started and the heights to which the Lord has raised us, and remember that we would not have escaped death nor found life if not for the exceeding riches of God's grace. Let us tell our stories, teach the gospel, and remember that despite our hindsight about our own lives, we still are not perfect but are being perfected in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Philippians 3:12-16) We must not quarrel, we must be patient and gentle, and we must be ready and able to teach--all while knowing that we were once the very ones who needed that teaching ourselves.
Holy Lord God, I look back at my life, and I cannot mistake Your grace. Were it not for Your abundant mercy, I would have fallen deeper still, would have dug a deeper pit, would have stayed trapped in my own quagmire of filth and death. But You ARE merciful, You ARE loving, and You ARE longsuffering toward us sinners. Father, teach me that patience, that mercy, that love. And, precious Lord, please enable me to teach all that is in Your Word, so that others may also know the riches of Your grace. Amen.