2 Timothy 2:25&26 “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”
Many Christians’ most unforgettable memories are of the opposition that they’ve encountered on the Way. Dan Walker’s father, Austin, called me this past week, and during a long chat he told me that in the last few days Dan is feeling pretty shattered. All the attacks on his Christian faith during the past two weeks that he’s had to endure seem to have finally got through to him. But the BBC have stuck by Dan. They want him, and in spite of all the calumny Dan begins his prestigious new job on the BBC morning TV show tomorrow. I have never seen it but if I remember I’ll have a glance at it and pray for him in the morning.
The verses before us are about the Christian response to opposition. Paul never forgot what it cost him to follow Christ. He could remember how many times he had been lashed and been beaten with rods, how many times he’d been shipwrecked and all the perils he had been in. In the whole Bible, in both testaments, we see Christian leaders who’d been set apart by God being opposed and criticized and threatened. Then in the 2,000 years of the history of the church its missionaries and reformers, its defenders and evangelists have all faced opposition. When our Lord Jesus himself was the son of a carpenter, making window frames, gates, doors, and tables he was a favourite son of everyone in Nazareth. We are told that he grew in favour with the people of the village. Women complemented Mary on having such a wonderful son. And if he’d remained there as the village carpenter eventually he’d have had a big funeral and left many happy memories.
What a loss that would have been to the world. But a time came when he had to say good-bye to his parents and brothers and sisters and to his vocation and village friends. He walked away from the carpenter’s bench to be baptized by John the Baptist. After 40 days and nights in the wilderness he emerged to begin his public preaching, confronting his fellow countrymen with their sins, and calling upon them to repent. He began making his great claims that he was going to judge the world, that he existed eternally, before Abraham, that no one could come to the Father except through him, that he and his Father were one. Immediately there was intense opposition. His family opposed him; when he spoke of laying down his life his disciples opposed him; the Pharisees and the Sadducees opposed him, the Gentile leaders opposed him, both Herod and Pilate. His life consisted of constant opposition, and when he spoke to his disciples he told them that that was going to characterize their lives too. “Blessed are you when men oppose you,” he told them. There was no escape from it if they took up their cross and denied themselves and followed Jesus.
Jesus was not talking about the inevitable reaction that shouting at people for half an hour produces – you want to shout right back at the preacher! Or the consequences of foolish and personal attacks on people, but there’s going to be opposition when his disciples tell people the claims of Christ, when they inform them of their sin and their need of repentance, that there is a heaven to gain and a hell to avoid. There must either be belief and repentance, or there will be opposition. When we preach a gospel that says we can never earn salvation by what we do, that all the doing that God demands from us has been done by the Lord Christ, that deliverance from hell and acceptance by God depends on what Jesus Christ has achieved for us, in our place, that salvation is by grace and all we can do is entrust ourselves to him, and ask him to save us, then the natural man will find that appalling. “I never asked Jesus Christ to die for me,” Polly Toynbee scornfully said, just like that student who shouted out to John Stott – when as a fellow student John had explained to him God’s way of salvation – “Horrible! Horrible! Horrible!”
The book of Acts describes the opposition that immediately was faced by the apostles. The letters are also full of accounts of the suffering that comes from being faithful to the Lord Christ. But what is fascinating in our text is what Paul, from his vast experience of opposition, tells Timothy and ourselves as to what our response to opposition must be. So what is Paul’s advice?
- REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE, THE SLAVE OF GOD.
Let’s go back to the preceding verse, “And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (v.24). Many of you know what is the Greek word for ‘servant’. It is doulos. It is the name of the Operation Mobilization ship that travels the world visiting and helping Christians and local churches. The word means ‘servant’ or ‘slave’; the two words are interchangeable. Do you see how this passage gives us another picture of the Christian life? We have just been reminded by the apostle that we exist in a big house and in all its wings and rooms there are all kinds of religious opinions and practices and we are there, warning and pleading and defending and evangelizing and breaking our hearts at what is going on in this house of ours! But now in our text the image changes and we are being told that we are also bond-slaves of Jesus Christ – while moving about in this house! We are not the Master of the house. We are not the primates and heads of this house. All we do there we do as slaves of Jesus Christ. Slaves don’t quarrel with their masters. Remember that a slave had no rights. He had nothing of his own. He had no choices of his own, and no property of his own, and no hours that he could call his own, no vacations of his own. He belonged to his lord and he did not quarrel with what the lord told him to do. And that exactly is our status. As the eyes of a maid are on the face of her mistress and the eyes of a slave are on the face of his master so our eyes are on the face of our Lord Jesus Christ. What are his wishes? It is our pleasant duty to fulfil them. We are meeting opposition, very clever arguments, and we are out of our depth, and we are there exactly because God has put us there. Then we look to the face of our Master! We do not address vagueness! Jesus is before us, and we’re saying to him in our hearts, “Now help me Lord! What do I say Lord?” And we find that in our emptiness and impotence that the Lord is listening and he fills our minds. Women in their early 20s were able to answer the leaders of the inquisition, teenage boys were given grace to speak and silence their adversaries even though they knew that they were to be burned at the stake. John Bunyan’s pregnant wife eloquently pleaded with old judges for her husband’s freedom. God helps men and women, young and old to speak gently.
They were able to do this because the Spirit of the Lord Jesus was on them and with them and in them. What is he called by the prophet Isaiah? He is given this very title that Paul uses here, he is the supreme “servant of the Lord.” And the prophet tells us that he is so gentle that a bruised reed he can’t break, and a smoking flax he can’t quench (Is. 42:3). When he came in the flesh then Jesus invited people to come to him promising he would give even notorious sinners who came to him rest, that his yoke was easy and his burden was light. To encourage them he described himself as being “meek and lowly of heart.” Only the meekest of men would permit a women to kneel before him and wet his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Only a meek man would receive a baby from its mother and pray for it, and then another baby, and another, and another. We can handle so many babies and that is it. The greatest sermon that was ever preached was preached on a mountainside by the Lord Jesus and it began with the words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” And at the end of his life when they’d driven nails through his hands and feet he prays for their forgiveness and pleads their ignorance to his Father. Was he not the meekest and gentlest of all mankind? He’s a gentle Saviour! He’s a meek Saviour!
So in our text, in the context of the opposition that every Christian meets, the Holy Spirit is telling us, “the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (v.24). Dan Walker and his wife must not quarrel, but be kind to everyone and not resentful and able to tell people his beliefs. We are only the slaves of the Lord, and so there is no place for pomp and pride and position in our lives. What an oxymoron, a pompous slave! We are the ones responsible for washing and drying the feet of the people in the big house, and waiting on them. The greatest of us is the best possible kind of servant. Be “kind to everyone” says the Holy Spirit in our text (v.24), “not resentful” (v.24) God adds. What a servant to have in your home! Derek Swann would worship at a certain church and he was struck by how the pastor would always address the Lord at the beginning of the service as “Kind and loving God.” One day Derek asked him the reason for this and the man told him that in his previous church there were tensions and outspoken men and women, some quite young, who argued fiercely – no surrender – so that it became impossible for him to remain there. That spirit was so different from the grace of a loving God, and the preacher was so conscious of this that when he came into God’s presence on behalf of the next congregation he inadvertently reminded them that they were bowing before a kind God. Then you see what is next?
- YOU MUST GENTLY INSTRUCT YOUR OPPONENT.
This is not a boxing match. Gentleness comes from the Spirit of the New Testament. In one place Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He wanted them to grow up, to grow in grace, and this is how he addressed them – it’s a wonderful example of gentle boldness; “Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ – who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you.” (2 Cors. 10:1). Do you realize that gentleness requires humility; you are not a know-it-all. Gentleness is the meek and lowly attitude of wanting to help other people instead of showing your superiority over them. Gentleness flows from a spirit of real love for the individual – having true, outgoing concern for their well-being. We are to be gentle even in our thoughts for them –no plotting in our minds – and our words to them, and our actions – they are all pervasive with gentleness. But we are bold too. That is the challenge, being bold without sinning. Look at Jesus! What boldness! Making a whip and driving the money-changers out of the temple, but what gentleness! What a lot we have to learn! What progress in grace we need to make. Were you gentle in that church members’ meeting? Or in that officers’ meeting? Think of this holy combination of being outspoken – but never at the expense of gentleness. Think of how it is needed in the Youth Club. There are surly rebellious teenagers, and they don’t want to keep the rules, but the rules make the meeting, and if they constantly break them they are not allowed to attend, and yet you have to be gentle with them. What wisdom you need to be approachable and sweet and yet to be righteous too.
Gentleness is no option for the Christian. It is a command like one of the ten commandments. Philippians 4:5 tells us to “let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” Christ is there in the gathering where you and others are debating, and the temperature is rising. The Lord has all the power in the universe, yet he has been so gentle to you smoking flaxes – all through your lives. We must learn to be like him. When he puts us in a place of leadership then we’re not to use it selfishly or cruelly. Christ was gentle to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). “Does no one condemn you?” “No one” “Then go and sin no more.” The Lord did not make a whip and drive her away. He did not symbolically pick up and cast the first stone at her to magnify the Old Testament law. He magnified its grace while remaining righteous. We’re to say, “You did sin, yes, but don’t sin like this again.”
We gently instruct those who oppose us because we’ve experienced God being overwhelmingly gentle with us. Gentleness shows the world that the way of violent encounters and raised voices and quarrels isn’t the better way. God wants us to be ruled by a gentle spirit. Gentleness is powerful. It changes men’s lives. Well then, how has it been with you? You know you have the Spirit of God by producing the fruit of the Spirit. The word is in the singular, not ‘fruits’ but ‘fruit.’ It is one compound fruit. You cannot be selective and say, for example, “I have joy,” or “At least I have faithfulness.” You have to have gentleness too and all the fruit. Every Christian. So were you gentle in the situations you faced this past week? If not, why not? Were your rationalizations for raising your voice proud, self-justifying words? Are you more at home with a whip cleansing the temple than on your knees washing feet? Do you exhibit the same gentleness to others that God exhibits to you every day? Do people describe you as gentle? When they write a big card with all their greetings thanking you for fifty years of faithfulness in the church how often is the noun ‘gentleness’ written on that card? Are you gentle when you encourage a convicted Christian to “sin no more”?
How can we show more gentleness? We need to know it and do it, don’t we? Gentleness is not a weak virtue is it? You notice that Paul doesn’t tell Timothy that the way you confront those who oppose you is to act like a wimp! Being gentle is not behaving like a milksop. Gentleness requires self-control, wisdom, thoughtfulness, tact and concern. How do we stay above the ethos of the harsh, cruel and angry Wales in which we live? We’re not going to live like that. I think that one way you grow in gentleness is to apologize soon after your rants and emotional outbursts. Apologize to your children for those outbursts. I know we’re all fallen human beings; we’re all trying to keep a lid on powerful emotions, some more successfully than others. There are times when we all lose our cool, but gentle people are sensitive people and discerning men and women. They realize how the things they’ve said could have affected others and they’ll apologize. They’ll seek to make amends; they’ll pray for more self-control that will prevent such outbursts in the future. They will remind themselves of God’s gentleness towards them. Would you want to be on the receiving end of your own “gentleness”? How would we want the holy God to be correcting us or to be pointing something out to us? Wouldn’t we want him gently to show us a better way of behaving? Many times, probably we wouldn’t. There is little that is sadder than people who’ve been greatly humbled by God who yet apparently haven’t learned from it. They can still be belligerent.
Well, how gentle are you? For example: when we see or hear someone doing or saying something wrong, do you get your club out to bash some heads? Or, instead, is your ‘notebook out’ – not to give them 100 lines, “I must become more gentle” but with ideas you don’t want to forget in addressing yourself of how to help people like that overcome that error? Get that picture in your head and it will make you aware of your lack of gentleness and need to grow in that grace. “How can I help that person? Maybe I can visit them . . . give them some flowers . . . remember their birthday.” Get the notebook out, not the club. Then see the glorious consequences of being gentle . . .
- YOU’LL MEET MORE AND MORE REPENTING SINNERS.
Do you see the connection? Paul says, “in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (v.25). You gently discuss the gospel and present the claims of Christ. You never stop doing this, and you do so in hope of a change! We have good news for the land that is the power of God unto salvation. That message cannot be improved. Tell it like it is! But while it is unimprovable we messengers can certainly be improved! And one way is by becoming increasingly gentle! Is there something heavenly about our manner? Where’s the meekness as we instruct them? The meek, and the meek alone, will inherit the earth!
What is the end of all our evangelism? It is not merely a decision, though we want decisions, but decisions that are motivated by repentance. The word ‘repentance,’ literally means, a change of mind, a change of thinking, a change of evaluation, a change of standards, a change that is a turn-around. A preacher made a mistake when he said that repentance was like ‘a 360 degree turn.’ Then people are going the same way. He meant a 180 degree turn, with a new view of God, a new view of the plight of man, a new view of the way to heaven through the cross of Christ. A new life of following Jesus Christ. That is repentance. Again, like gentleness, it is not an option. The Saviour himself on the hill of ascension said that “repentance and forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). I am a man under obligation today to be doing what Jesus told us to do just before he returned to heaven. You must repent and turn from sin to the Saviour. Then you must constantly repent over you lack of gentleness. Repentance displays a change of heart, a new heart’s reaction to truth. Repentance is saying, “I have sinned against my heavenly Father; I must ask him to forgive me through Christ.” Repentance is genuine when the inner changes lead to essential outer changes like gentleness and being poor in spirit and mourning for our sin, and particularly from our text, that we say about the gospel, that it is true. “We know the truth!” We are led to the knowledge of the truth.
But what is significant and fresh in our text is this, that real lasting repentance is a gift of God. Doesn’t it say that very clearly before us? Does it say this anywhere else? The comparison of all kinds of Christianity to a “large house” occurs only in the previous verse, and it would be unwise to build a doctrine of the church on a single verse. So I am asking if we meet the fact that it is God who gives the grace of saving repentance anywhere else in Scripture? Indeed we do! For example, Peter says in Acts 5:31, “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” It is through the man at God’s right hand, who he is and what he has done, that God can give repentance to all for whom Jesus died and for whom he was exalted. Then a little later Peter preached to the Gentiles in the home of Cornelius the Roman Centurion and everyone in the audience was affected. They turned from their unbelief and put their hope and trust in Jesus Christ. When the news reached Jerusalem what did the Christians say? They didn’t say that they were glad that those Gentiles had shown such common sense and had chosen Jesus. “What a good choice they had made!” No. This is what they said, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). They were totally God-centred in their reasoning about this very significant advance in the spread of the gospel. God had done it! He had given them repentance. Or again in the letter to the Romans Paul explains what has brought the members of the congregation in Rome to becoming repentant Christians, “God’s kindness leads you towards repentance” (Roms. 2:4). He had been this kind – so as to give them a complete change of direction! He had turned their lives right around. God had done that! You couldn’t be much kinder than that! Or again what the Lord Jesus himself said about the gift of turning men from sin to Christ, he said that no man could come to him unless that man was drawn to Christ by the Father (Jn. 6:65).
So repentance is a gift of God. It is the result of the new heart that God gives. Repentance is the one side of the gold coin of salvation that God gives, and we know that Paul tells the Ephesians that on the other side of the gold coin from glory is faith, “By grace we are saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God.” You know that, that on one side of this golden coin from heaven that is in the money box of your soul there is saving faith, and on the other side of the coin is saving repentance, and you can’t separate them, or choose just one. You can’t demand from the bank clerk that you want a pound coin without the picture of the Queen’s head on it – though you don’t mind one with the shield on the other side. You have to have both sides! So there are two essential aspects to salvation. You must have them both, a new repenting mind and new trust, and God gives them both. So today you must start asking God to give you repentance and give you faith, saving repentance and saving faith are gifts from God
I have read that in Romania some evangelicals are known as ‘Repenters.’ They have derived this name from a public commitment they’ve made in placing great emphasis on repentance in their ministries. This stress on turning from sin to righteousness has really impacted church life in that country, and it has led to quite an effective outreach to the lost. I guess there might be also a taint of legalism with such an emphasis, but Romanian Christians are displaying a zeal for such a good work as repentance. I am told that if 200 Romanian evangelical Christians come to church on Sunday morning, 200 will also be there Sunday evenings, and 200 will also be at the mid-week prayer meeting. These ‘repenters’ are so committed to reaching the lost that they may stand for hours in the aisles or even outdoors in extremely cold weather during meetings so that seats can be given to people inquiring after the faith.
God blesses the message of repentance, but what we’re seeing in our text is that that is particularly so when the biblical demand for repentance is mixed with gentleness. That is a mighty combination. Is it being sounded out in our land today? Will it continue to be sounded out in this church in the years to come? The picture we get from this text of personal evangelism is this, that you are gently pleading with someone that they turn from their unbelief and they confess their sin to God, and then, because you know that repentance is a gift from God you are at the same time praying to him – the most loving and sympathetic being in the whole world – that he will give them repentance. He knows your anguish, how you would long to see these people turning because he himself has cried to them “Turn! Turn! Why will you die?” He would have stretched his covering wings over them and protected them from death, but they wouldn’t come to him. He wept; he has tasted his own salty tears, and he sees your tears when you weep over those who harden their hearts against your gentle entreaties. He will give repentance to a countless number of unbelievers won’t he – to a company more that anyone can number, won’t he? Hasn’t he? So why not to the one you bring before him in prayer? “Lord give my loved one repentance.” Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling – through you!
- THE GREAT END OF GENTLY PLEADING FOR REPENTANCE IS DELIVERANCE.
You see that they are two fold, “that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (v.26). What is the result of true evangelical repentance?
i] That you come to your senses. When you read the trial and the killing of Jesus you shake your head and think, “Those men lost their senses.” They were determined to crucify the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount. They were intent on killing the man who told the parable of the prodigal son. They hatched a plot to kill by crucifixion the loveliest and best of men. They bribed men to lie in the witness box about someone who had healed thousands of people, saving them from pain and death, someone who has raised the dead, someone who was obeyed by winds and waves and fish and trees and water and bread and demons. They were determined slowly to torture to death this young man. They had let leave of their senses. There was no reason to act like that! They demand his crucifixion, and as he died they went to Golgotha and they made fun of him, mocking him as he hung by nails on a cross. They were religious leaders and moral men! There was no rational for such wicked actions. Have we not seen this irrational inexcusable wickedness in the public square in the past years? I don’t mean in the ayatollahs, and the suicide bombers killing themselves and twenty total strangers, and the beheadings, and the cutting off of thieves hand. That happens elsewhere. But I am overwhelemed at what happens in Wales. The most blameless of beings, unborn children, are killed, thousands of them, every day, here and all over the world. Two men live together and they are considered to be married because of homosexual activity! What madness! The BBC employs men as the stars of young people’s programmes and these men seduce and rape scores of girls some as young as 8 years of age, and the British Broadcasting Corporation does nothing about it for years, until the chief criminal dies, although they knew of all the rumours and complaints about these men and even the boasts of such a man. The BBC, supported by our money has promoted the culture of permissiveness and looked the other way when children on its premises have been hurt by that culture. Madness! Men have let leave of their senses. They are maddened by sin. But it is when they see the Lord Jesus for what he is, that sanity returns. They look at such past actions in a new light, with true horror, and they cry to God for mercy in heart-felt repentance and for the rest of their lives they live humbly and modestly and wisely. They start to think straight! They come to their senses! And what else is the fruit of repentance?
ii] That you escape from the entrapment of the devil. Can you believe this, that you went to a church on a Sunday in 2016 and the preacher told you that if you weren’t believing in Jesus Christ you were not a free man at all, that you were a captive of the devil. You were of your father, the devil. You were under the influence of the god of this world, the spirit who now is at work in you and in all the children of disobedience. You can hardly believe your ears. I seem a 21st century man, with degrees and a measure of articulate fluency, and yet I am believing and promoting faith in these things, and wanting you to believe it. Aren’t you offended by what you’ve heard?
But let me tell you to you that I lived through the second World War and through the killing of millions of men and women and children and even people with learning difficulties, and the killing was done not by savages but by people who came from the nations of Goethe and Handel and Mozart and Bach. The horrors those men and women perpetrated were certainly due to the irrationality and madness of sin, but the fact of it embracing so many nations of the world like Russia and Japan, and the wickedness being everywhere, suggests a cosmic co-ordination that owed its power and malevolence to what the Bible calls the Prince of the power of the air, God of this world, the spirit that now is at work in men and women as they disobey God. So, I tell you earnestly, that that spirit is at work in you. If you are serious about the diagnosis Scripture gives to the plight of man then you’d better take this on board and into your scheme of reckoning, that all men and women need to “escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (v.26).
You are in that trap now, and one sign that that is true is that you are saying to yourself that this is all hokum and nonsense, that there is no such being as the devil and that you are a free man. Jesus believed in the devil and had to resist the temptations of the devil. If you are so free then why are you a captive to lust and to pride and to vanity and to greed and to self-pity and to unbelief and to many other sins? You’re in a trap! You are doing the will of your father the devil. You’re not a free man until the Lord releases you and that release comes when you face up to what you are and what you do, and you repent, turning from your sin, and looking to the Son of God to become your Saviour. Plead with him to give you the truth. Plead with him to give you true repentance. Many millions have done this and he has answered each one. No one has asked in vain!
28th March 2016 GEOFF THOMAS