2 Timothy 2:14 “Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.”
“Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.” (NLT)
Arguments and debates however justified, reflects a misplacement of divine priorities and a departure from the true spirit of the faith. No matter how genuine the arguments, and how superior the winning polemic, it is an abuse of the grace of God to use the divine oracles to score intellectual points. It undermines the power of salvation (the divine rescue that could snatch the heretic from his error). It bypasses the heart where the gospel can really transform us, and preoccupies the mind with biblical theories that are emptied of divine inspiration (2 Corinthians 3:6).
“Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6
YOUR LIFE FIRST
So, while the two opposing sides (persons) in a major scriptural argument, may be truly saved, they unknowingly turn their audience, who are gullibly taking sides, (while their eternal destiny may still be in doubt), into twofold children of hell. (Please refer to opening scripture to get the basis for this conclusion.) The life we live, the LORD Christ that we express, through our meekness and patience is more important than winning an argument. Although we must confront error and even correct it, the spirit with which we approach it can make all the difference for all who will hear us (or read). This is so critical for us so as to make for a soft landing on the side of those we are correcting and to keep ourselves from the deceit of spiritual superiority.
Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”
We must choose whom we will believe; whether it is ourselves or the LORD?
The true test of the correctness of doctrine is not in the superior intelligence that claims victory but in the superior diligence to maintain the “…unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3). Paul was speaking to Titus and he said, “In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity” (Titus 2:7).
Again, we are pursuing the divine order in dealing with errors and false teachings. The first thing here is that Titus must not lose sight of his own life. In the bid to correct others, he must not now produce the works of the flesh (in anger, name calling, rage etc) rather than the fruit of the Spirit. So, it was as if Paul was saying to not allow the incorrigibility of false teachers to break the pattern of good works (behaviours) that the LORD was already working out in Him. All these deal with his own life and it is God’s priority. You are God’s priority!
AND THEN YOUR DOCTRINE
Then, the Holy Spirit comes to doctrine, that is, teaching. Even in teaching, we are told to show uncorruptness, gravity and sincerity. Three quick points! Uncorruptness: we must never compromise on the truth. Then, gravity is the manner of approach, the way the correction comes out. This deals with the balance of the truth with love (Ephesians 4:15). This is the capacity to rebuke yet not accuse or malign. And then, there is sincerity. If gravity is the balance of the truth with love, sincerity is the application of that same balance to our own lives.
So, you see there is this emphasis on our own lives first. The LORD already knows that if we speak the truth in an argumentative way, we cannot get any spiritual work done. There can be no recovery of those who are in error, and there is a feast of intellectual fireworks for the supporters, who are aided to fight possibly to their own ruins.
Although the mouths of false teachers and deceivers must be stopped (Titus 1:10-11), and they must even be rebuked sharply (v. 13), we must understand that it is for a purpose, and our eyes must be fixed on that purpose. It is because these people, whether they know it or not, are *subverting whole houses (groups and institutions).
(*Subvert: to overturn or overthrow from the foundation, ruin, to pervert or corrupt – Merriam Webster). The damage being done by such people is of eternal significance! And they must be sharply rebuked. The rebuke is sharp so as to make them sound in the faith (v13) so that the perversion might be stopped and they themselves might be rescued.
THE ORDER OF DOCTRINE
1. Teach the truth to all saints
2. Confront those (clearly) in error and correct them
In verse 9 of Titus 1, Paul shows the right teaching response to error. “By holding on to the trustworthy word just as we teach it, overseers can help people by using true teaching, and they can show those who are against the true teaching that they are wrong.” (Titus 1:9 NCV). Look at the divine order again. First things must always be first. And the first thing here is to teach the truth to all saints. That will be the right basis to now proceed to the next side of teaching, which is correcting those who are wrong. It’s like the two wings of a bird that helps it to take off and even balance once airborne.
The kind of utterance required to keep us from mere intellectual arguments with people (that only makes the hearers more lost), comes as we focus on teaching those who are not yet confused, the whole counsel of God, as the Spirit helps us. This is what will give us the spiritual credentials and inner capacity to tackle doctrinal errors, without turning the whole thing to a mere intellectual entertainment (to those who are still far from the kingdom) or even an all-out polemical war (with false teachers).
SEVEN FINAL THOUGHTS
2 Timothy 2:23-26
 But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.  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.
1. Avoid questions that can only lead to strife (v.23).
2. It is taken for granted that it is not in your nature to strive with others (v.24).
3. The anointing within you is not for cheap arguments; it is for the transformation of lives (vv. 23-24).
4. Gentleness means you will never fight back even when you are being personally attacked (v.24).
5. While we must instruct those who are clearly wrong, it is the LORD that we must plead with to bring them to repentance (v. 25)
6. Our real enemy in every doctrinal error is not really the person in error, it is the devil (v. 26)
7. Once we get personal with people in error, we have lost the battle to the enemy. Hence, we should overlook every offence because we are convinced that the right person to deal with is the devil (v.26)
1 Timothy 6:4, 2 Timothy 2:23, James 1:16, Titus 3:9
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are from the King James Version.
Picture credit: AMen