“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.”
2 Timothy 2:24-26 ESV
Which unbeliever have you been praying for lately?
While I don’t doubt that you have been praying for them, what if there’s something missing?
What if your actions towards the people in your path directly influence their chance at repentance?
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
“Oh please, Gina. God’s going to save who He’s going to save. And people will have to make up their own mind. I can pray that God softens someone’s heart. That’s all I can do.”
Sorry, you’re not going to like this. But I disagree.
As we study this text, I encourage you to imagine we are referring to an unbelieving coworker, friend, or family member who has been the subject of many of your prayers.
Let’s break down this passage backwards, starting at the end; because at the end, we see the goal: “they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
What enables one to come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil? A knowledge of the truth. A divine hand flipping the switch, causing spiritual light to flood unseen eyes.
Suddenly, she knows that she knows that God is real, and that He is good. She knows that something supernatural has shifted her perspective. Now, the same narrative she’s always told ourselves no longer brings comfort, but conviction. She needs to get out, but she doesn’t know how.
In walks repentance – the hope of true change.
Who birthed this hope? God. According to the passage, God grants repentance! God is the one that turns on the light. And once He does, what naturally follows is a divine reordering of her understanding of right and wrong.
What part does the unbeliever play? She must simply make a conscious choice to accept that God knows better than she does, to believe that the blood of Jesus is enough to cleanse her and protect her, and to choose to let His spirit and His word define her reality.
Let’s move on.
Question: How do you learn that you’re wrong about something?
Answer: Someone corrects you.
Who corrects the unbeliever in this passage? God?
The Lord’s servant. You. Me. Us.
Do we correct them immediately? Hm, look again. Before we correct, we must patiently endure evil.
This one hit me straight in the heart. The moment my friend told me she was ready to come to church with me was the moment I foolishly believed my work was done. And like most things in life, once we’ve resolved that we’ve come to the end of something, only to then learn that we haven’t, we have significantly less patience for it than we once did.
We need to patiently endure evil.
The moment your friend admits that she’s ready to come to church does not mean your work is finished – it means your work has just begun; for it is also the moment that the enemy steps up his game. Forget not, my friends, that we fight not against flesh and blood.
In other words, you are not fighting against your unbelieving friend; even though it may feel like that sometimes. You fight against the evil that is surrounding her from all sides. How do you fight against it? By patiently enduring it. Patiently endure the overflow of the effects of sin in her life. Patiently endure the complaining, the misunderstanding of the way the world works, the refusal to see her sin for what it is – sin.
Once she’s earned your trust, you may begin gently correcting her.
How else do you fight against it? By teaching!
The Holy Spirit gets all the credit for this. Listen, if God is not doing a current work in your life, you can’t teach. Who is our teacher? The Holy Spirit. You must be attentive to the Holy Spirit’s voice in order to teach the person in front of you. Your ability to teach is contingent upon your ability to hear the voice of the Lord.
Teach her the gospel. Teach her the love and commandments of Christ. Teach her what it looks like to give sacrificially, to worship unashamedly, to cast all your burdens on the Lord. She can’t know unless someone teaches her.
But first and foremost, before all else? Be kind.
Have you, somewhere along the way, lost sight of kindness? Has your cynicism with today’s hostile society caused a quarrelsome spirit to dwell within you? Have you forgotten that kindness is the entryway to evangelism?
Conversation cannot begin without kindness, trust cannot be built apart from kindness, patience cannot stand without kindness. The Church cannot exist without kindness.
Now, for the difficult question we’ve all been waiting for:
If we do not walk in kindness, if we do not teach, if we do not patiently endure evil, if we do not correct our opponents with gentleness, will God still grant them repentance?
Maybe. Who knows.
What we do know is that the word of God is always right and true and worthy of following; and that we shouldn’t rush to create caveats around the unchanging nature of an uncreated God. Whether God needs us to do all this other stuff isn’t the question.
The question is simply this: Will we simply obey?
If we walk in kindness, if we teach our unbelievers how to walk in a manner worthy of the calling of our lives, if we patiently endure the effects of evil, and if we correct our opponents with gentleness, can we believe that God may perhaps grant them repentance – a chance to believe that they don’t need to continue to live the lies they’ve always lived? Can we believe that God may give our unbelieving friends a chance to breathe in the air of the gospel?
What do you say? Wanna give it a shot?
Good. Let’s get to work.