The Lord’s Servant

The Lord’s Servant

“The Lord’s Servant”
(2 Timothy 2:23-26)
Series: Faithful to the Finish Line (2 Timothy)

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson

I invite you to take your Bibles and turn to 2 Timothy chapter 2 (page 801; YouVersion).

If you’re visiting with us we are in a short series of messages, going verse-by-verse through this short letter of Paul’s to a young man named Timothy. Paul is writing a letter to Timothy because he is separated from him, some 1200 miles west of him, writing from a dark and lonely prison in Rome Italy. Paul is imprisoned for his faith in Christ, suffering persecution for his beliefs, imprisoned around the year AD 65 and he writes this letter to Timothy who is a pastor at the church in Ephesus.

The main theme of the letter is faithfulness. Our preaching series is entitled, “Faithful to the Finish Line.” As followers of Jesus Christ we all would like to say with Paul at the end of our days that we have been faithful to our Lord. We’d like to say with Paul as he writes near the conclusion of the last chapter, “…the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:6-7).” We want to be faithful in running our race for Jesus, faithful to the finish line.

So we’re now at the mid-point of the letter, picking up at the end of chapter 2. Last week we read in chapter 2, verse 20 where Paul challenges us to think of ourselves as a vessel of gold and silver in God’s house, a vessel of honor. Because of Jesus Christ, God’s people are precious to Him and He wants to use us for His glory so we will seek to purify ourselves from dishonorable behavior and flee youthful lusts we’ll pursue righteous behavior, things like faith, love, and peace (verse 22) and we’ll do this along with “those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart,” that is, the church. So we talked about the importance of church connection and membership in the body of Christ.

Then Paul continues this call for godly, Christlike behavior in verses 23 to the end of the chapter.

Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.

23 But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife.
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.


Much of what we’ll do this week will fall under two main categories: our words and our ways, what we say and how we act; our speech and our behavior; the overall way we carry ourselves as Christians, interacting with one another and interacting with the world, with non-believers—setting a good example for others.

Mark Twain said, “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” Hard to argue with someone who is living a Christlike life! We are always being watched and listened to and people are being influenced by our actions—whether it is our family members, our children, or grandchildren, co-workers, people at school or at the store, people are watching us and drawing conclusions about our lives.

Kind of scary. I nearly always think of Keith Green’s challenge to Christians: “Every Christian lives in such a way as to either draw people closer to Jesus or to push people further away from Him.”

These last four verses in chapter 2, verses 23-26, help us live in such a way as to draw people closer to Jesus—people we talk to within the church and without the church, people in our family, people in our church family, people everywhere.

Paul is writing to Timothy about his being “a servant of the Lord,” you see that in verse 24? “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel,” and so forth? A servant of the Lord. So Paul is writing a personal letter to Timothy about his pastoring the church in Ephesus. Passages such as this are exceedingly helpful to pastors in that they are written primarily to them. Pastors are greatly benefited by the study of these passages that speak to the behavior of the Christian minister.

At the same time, God’s Word has a number of implications and applications. So while this passage is written primarily with pastors in mind it would be wrong for us to then skip over it because we are not pastors. Certainly we read the text and ask whether what we are reading is being lived out in the life of the pastors we know—but we may also find points of application in our own lives, too.

I agree with Ligon Duncan who suggests that these verses are not exclusively applied to pastors, but will apply to all growing disciples. Growing disciples. Are you a growing disciple? Do you wish this week to be drawn closer to Jesus? And do you wish for others to be drawn closer to Jesus because of your behavior? Then you too will find these verses helpful insofar as we are all, to some degree, servants of the Lord. Number one:

Watch Your Words (23)

Nearly any time I am challenged to watch my words I recall the helpful little poem I first read many years ago, a poem that warns about our words: “If you your lips would keep from slips (like a slip of the tongue)… “If you your lips would keep from slips, five things observe with care: to whom you speak, of whom you speak, and how, and when, and where.”

Not bad, huh? “If you your lips would keep from slips, five things observe with care: to whom you speak, of whom you speak, and how, and when, and where.”

23 But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife.

I like the NIV here, the New International Version. It reads:

NIV, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.”

Now that may be true for many kinds of arguments, but is especially true of “foolish and ignorant” or, “foolish and stupid” arguments. They generate strife or produce quarrels.

The word “foolish” there in the original is the word from which we get “moron.” That may help some of us understand just how silly or senseless these disputes can be.

But specifically what moronic arguments does Paul have in mind? What is Paul thinking about as he writes verse 23? This command harkens back to what Paul had written earlier, remember this? Up there in verse 14, “Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers.”

Paul is concerned that Christians not argue over things that produce ungodly contention instead of godly character. Disputes over “foolish and ignorant” things, again the NIV, “foolish and stupid arguments.” Meaningless discussions that ultimately do little to build anyone up, but do more to bring people down, silly discussions that push people further from Christ rather than drawing people closer to Christ.

So Paul is not talking about avoiding all arguments. In the strictest sense of the term, to argue, is simply to present facts to support a truth claim. The Gospel itself, for example, is controversial for those who refuse to follow it. Someone says they don’t believe in Jesus or the Bible and you are having a discussion about these things, presenting facts, information, truth, and that’s a conversation that requires careful thinking and careful speaking. We don’t avoid those kinds of conversations. Those conversations are part and parcel of sharing the Gospel, evangelism, and missions.

And to be sure there is a place for theological quandaries, spiritual truths that are mysterious to us or evoke other questions. Things like the timing of Christ’s return. Exactly when will it take place? Or, whether Jesus actually could have sinned. He didn’t, of course, never once. But could He have sinned? Was it possible for Him to have sinned? Scholars have written dissertations on this!

Or what of the mysterious work of God’s election? What is the best system of God’s saving work? Is one a Calvinist, or an Arminian, or one who defends Amyraldism and so on. It’s been my experience that most people who preach against one of these systems actually knows very little about the system they are trying to refute.
Charles Spurgeon referred to these types of folks as those who, “went about with theological revolvers in their ecclesiastical trousers.”

These are discussions that are good to have in a theology group among friends, loving brothers and sisters, where we extend great latitude to one another, and enjoy the way we learn from one another. The atmosphere is warm and the spirit is sweet.

What Paul has in mind here in verse 23 is rather the senseless discussions and quarreling over things that really do not deserve our time, energy, or attention. Foolish debates that don’t matter much in the Kingdom of God. Senseless arguments.

Fringe stuff like the silly DaVinci Code nonsense from a few years back, suggesting Jesus was married and had a daughter. Remember that? So the person next to Jesus in Leonardo DaVinci’s famous painting of “The Last Supper” is not the beloved disciple John, but Mary Magdalene. Apparently, then, DaVinci forgot to include John in his painting. Not the 12 disciples. Just 11 and Mary Magdalene. Poor John was left out of the masterpiece! “Foolish and ignorant disputes,” based on shoddy historical work and the manipulation of facts. Moronic stuff.

Don’t get pulled into senseless debates over that kind of thing. Keep the focus on the Gospel. Keep the focus on things that matter for eternity. And as you do, watch your words. Secondly:

Watch Your Ways [24-26]

Watch your behavior. Verse 24:

24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient,

So don’t be quarrelsome, but—and here’s the positive aspect of our behavior: “be gentle to all, able to teach, patient. Watch your ways. And here’s the first sub-point under the second heading:

Be a Gentle Teacher (24)

Again, Paul has Timothy as pastor teacher primarily in mind here. Not all of God’s children have the gift of teaching—that is, the spiritual gift of teaching that was used in the church, a teaching ministry. Not every one has that spiritual gift. Not everyone is gifted to teach the Bible publicly or to teach a Sunday school class.

At the same time, however, every single one of us is a teacher of some kind, right? Parents and grandparents, for example, teach their children and grandchildren.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7, “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way,” and so on.

So, in the sense that every one of us is a servant of the Lord, we are all teachers, as well. The phrase “able to teach” there in verse 24 is sandwiched between two character qualities: “Be gentle to all, able to teach, patient.”

Teachers cannot ram truth down people: “Arrgh! told you do thus and such!!” No, gentle, patient.

It’s hard to be angry with someone who you know loves you, right?! Again, the immediate sense is to avoid needless arguments and quarrels with those who are in opposition.

I was listening to Alistair Begg one of my favorite preachers. He was talking about his mentor friend and retired pastor Dick Lucas. And Dick Lucas had this way about him where, when folks approached him to argue about something he had said or failed to say, he would just reply, “Thank you, that is helpful.” Or, “Thank you for that insight.” Gentle. Patient. Not quarrelsome. Not necessarily agreeing with the insight, but just thanking another for sharing it. Wise.

Watch your ways—as a gentle teacher. Secondly: as a careful admonisher.

Be a Careful Admonisher (25)

Teaching includes admonishment. Warning. Rebuke. Reprimand. But we are not to just yell out a warning without any care for how it is received. Be a careful admonisher. Paul writes the way in which we are to admonish or warn others there in verse 25, first two words, “in humility.”

25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,

“in humility.” Or again “with gentleness.” The spirit is similar to Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”

If there are those who believe something false about the Christian faith, you don’t want to go over to them and bang them over the head with the Bible. Like, “Arggh! What’s the matter with you, you silly fool?!!”

No, this is someone who is going the wrong way and you you go over to them like a parent or a grandparent to a little one, you stand beside them, and you gently turn them the right way.

Gentleness. It’s one of the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness…(Galatians 5:22-23)”

It’s also like Peter’s exhortation in 1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;”

25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,

It’s not about winning arguments, but winning souls. Let me say that again and then I’ll invite you to say it with me. Hear it again: “It’s not about winning arguments, it’s about winning souls.” Now say that with me: “It’s not about winning arguments, it’s about winning souls.”

Loving people to Jesus. Leading them to the one who delivers them, who liberates them. So be a gentle teacher, a careful admonisher, and thirdly:

Be a Faithful Liberator (26)

Liberating people from false teaching and leading them to the truth. Verses 25 and 26 go together:

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.

One of the things these verses emphasizes is the sovereignty of God in granting repentance to know the truth. See that again there in verse 25?

25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,

The New Living Translation puts it this way:

25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.

When we share the Gospel through preaching, and teaching, and evangelism, and missions, we must always be praying for God to open up the hearts of our hearers. We cannot argue anyone into the kingdom of God. Remember it’s not about winning arguments, but about winning souls. God does His work through the message of truth we share. But He must open hearts. He opens the heart and gives sight to the blind.

Paul writes of this truth in 2 Corinthians 4 where he describes unbelievers as those, “whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them (2 Corinthians 4:4).”

God grants repentance—a change of heart, mind, and direction—that we may know the truth and embrace the truth.

So Paul seems to have in mind lost people here in verses 25 and 26, lost people who need to be liberated from the power of the enemy, from Satan.

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.

Coming to theirs senses pictures a man sobering up after a drunken stupor. When God opens our hearts to receive the truth, we walk out of darkness and into the light. We were blind and now we see. We were drunk with the worlds ways and held captive by Satan, but have now been “sobered” by the truth and freed from the devil, liberated to serve the Lord in gladness.

So I stress again the importance of praying as we share the Gospel and teach the Gospel—Sunday school teachers, do you pray for your class members? Do you pray as you teach? Leaders of Bible study, Christians who speak for Jesus at home and in the marketplace, do you pray for the people with whom you are sharing the truth? Pray that God would grant them a change of heart and mind and direction that they may know the truth and escape the snare of the devil.

You want folks to “know the truth” so you must lovingly, patiently, and gently, “teach the truth.” Teach the Gospel. Stay focused on the message of salvation when talking with unbelievers.

Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. Don’t get pulled into a senseless discussion about lesser things, don’t focus on things like whether Jesus is a Republican or a Democrat or a Libertarian. Stay focused on the message of truth, the message of salvation when talking with unbelievers. Their greatest need is not that you win an argument, but that they come to know the truth.

Let’s pray.


Watch our words and our ways…

“The Lord’s Servant”…
Jesus is the greater Lord’s Servant

Isaiah 53:7:

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.

But teaching in both life and death:
Isaiah 53:12:

He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

“Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I am weaker and more sinful than I ever before believed, but, through you, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope. I thank you for paying my debt, bearing my punishment and offering forgiveness. I turn from my sin and receive you as Savior.

Watch your Words…

Psalm 141:3, Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.”

Watch your Ways…

It’s not about winning arguments, but winning souls.

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