The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
A couple of very important observations about the truth revealed in this text are in order. First, the people who are in error, who are in opposition to the truth of God are described as in the “snare of the devil.” They are in serious trouble, being held captive by Satan to do his will. Second, God, being sovereign must grant them repentance. Repentance is not something they are free to engage in themselves, being held captive by Satan to do his will. If they are free, why does Paul refer to them as being help captive? If they can simply repent, why does Paul say “if perhaps God may grant them repentance?” Finally, God has ordained the method outlined in this verse as at least one means by which people that are held captive by Satan may be granted repentance and subsequently, their freedom. What is that means you ask? It is the truth delivered and the method by which it is delivered that the Lord Himself has ordained that His slave use in order to accomplish that end.
The first characteristic that stands out is the prohibition against being of a quarrelsome disposition. The servant of the Lord MUST not have a propensity to fight, verbally or otherwise. God forbids it.
First: quarrelsome behavior is strictly forbidden. “de” is the contrasting conjunction used to begin the sentence. Actually in the Greek it is a post-positive. At any rate, contrasting false teachers, the servant of Christ must not be quarrelsome. What does this word mean? Since we are commanded to NOT to do, perhaps it would be a good idea to find out. This word appears four times in the NT.
John 6:52 - Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us flesh to eat?”
Acts 7:26 - On the following day he appeared to them as they were fighting together, and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying, “Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?”
James 4:2 - You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.
Every time this word appears in the NT, it means to engage in combat, either physical or verbal. It appears 24 times in the LXX and only once is it not used to depict fighting, contending or struggling of some sort. BDAG says it means to engage in physical combat, to engage in heated dispute, without use of weapons, fight quarrel, dispute. According to Louw-Nida, the word carries the idea to clash severely, either physical or non-physical, but clearly intensive and bitter, to clash severely. Kittel points out that this word is never used in the NT to refer to the Christian warfare. All MACHESTHAI is rejected as inconsistent for the Christian. The Hebrew word for quarrel is RB, and the range of meanings is somewhat broader: judge, argue, complain, increase, reprimanded, strive, dispute, quarrel, plead, and contend. On the negative side, the servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome.
On the positive side, there are four things he is commanded to do. 1) be kind to all; 2) be able to teach; 3) patient when wronged; 4) gently correcting those in opposition.
First, be kind to all. The word HEMIOS Is a hapex legomenon and it means to be kind or gentle. Paul says we were gentle among you as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. (1 Thess. 2:7) That is the picture. The servant of the Lord must passionately defend orthodoxy against all enemies, but without being a fighter. As Paul wrote about the overseer, he said that an over must not be a PLEKTES, a pugnacious person, bully, something that is contrary to a generally recognized standard. The servant of the Lord must NOT be quarrelsome, but must BE kind. See the contrast?
Second, the Lord’s servant must be able to teach. The context demonstrates a style of teaching that is the opposite of fighting and strife, and that is consistent with being kind. An ability to teach and influence as a servant of the Lord is essential. Derisive methods and pugnacious rhetoric laced with insults about people rather than statements of fact about biblically revealed truth made in love with the goal of change in mind are two completely different things. The former is condemned by God while the latter is His command.
Third, patient when wronged. The idea here is gentle forbearance. Your whole goal is to witness repentance and transformation. You will not accomplish that by calling people that disagree with you stupid or morons. You provide skeptics with all the ammunition they need to accuse all Christians of being unloving hypocrites. No one can defend your behavior to the skeptic if this is how you choose to conduct yourself. Paul says we are to be patient when we are wronged, not if we are wronged. One gets the sense that Christians will suffer poor treatment, the only question is when.
Finally, he is to gently correct those who oppose. Not with harsh and insulting words. Be kind. Be patient. Be gentle with those who may attack you. Focus on truth, not them. The word for gentle is PRAOTES and it means not being overly impressed with a sense of one’s own self-importance. This gentleness is an inward grace. It begins with a right understanding of what we are before a holy God. Once we understand that, it is much easier for us to be gentle with one another. How could I adopt a condescending attitude toward others when I know myself to be a sinner? That is the idea.
In addition to this, we have instructions from Paul regarding the use of foul language or any language that is not edifying to the hearer. We have pastors like Perry Noble and Mark Driscoll and others actually swearing in the pulpit. Perry Noble actually played the song, “Highway to Hell” during an Easter service with the goal of upsetting “religious” people. Mark Driscoll has long been known for his cussing and swearing. There is an internet apologist at Tekton Apologetics (tectonics.org) who justifies calling people stupid, idiots, and morons in his apologetic method. He makes use of Social-Science Criticism, the honor/shame value of Mediterranean cultures couple with his view that Jesus engaged in the challenge/riposte style of debate that was popular in His culture to justify name-calling. He contends that Scriptures like the one above and the ones below do not apply to public debate. Well, nothing in any of these Scriptures indicates that there is ever a time when they would not apply. But that is another post for another time.
Eph. 4:29 says, Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to the those who hear.
The word SAPROS means of such poor quality as to be of little value. The idea is that this language is harmful as opposed to words or language that is good for edification. You can say things that build people up or you can say things that can tear them down. Paul is saying NEVER use words to cut and tear down. Sometimes words of truth do cut. They convict us of sin. That is not the same thing. Paul is talking about motives that are specifically designed to hurt. They are not geared toward confronting actual sin with the hope of producing sorrow that leads to repentance. I once had a pastor say to me that I say things “to cut” people. He was wrong! I say things to confront people with sin, especially if they have already been confronted and refuse to repent. I have been confronted with sin over the years. I know what it is like. We are all sinners. So there is a difference between fighting and slandering people with unwholesome words and confronting people with unrepentant sinful behavior. As Hoehner puts it, “Since PAS is before an anarthrous substantive, it means, “every, each” word that comes from the mouth is to be wholesome. SAPROS is actually used to describe rotten wood, withered flowers, and rancid fish. I don’t know about you, but I cannot think of anything worse than rancid fish! On the flip side, your goal is edification of your fellow brothers and sisters. You cannot accomplish that by calling people stupid or referring to them as morons when they disagree with you. That is how a cult leader behaves. He bullies and intimidates people. He uses his position of power and privilege to manipulate others to do his bidding. Those who are good at this will have others thinking they are taking a stand for the kingdom! Of course, the lack of critical thinking skills makes it all the more easy for these hirelings to do their work.
Detractors will often cite Matt. 21, 23, and Gal. 5:12 as justification for this their audacious and insulting behavior. I will provide a very brief response to this approach.
Jesus cleanses the Temple in Matt. 21:12-13, driving out the money-changers because of the corruption. People who engage in abusive and insulting speech refer to this passage to say, Jesus did it, so can I. As God with full right and authority to do so, Jesus cleansed His temple. We are not God and we do NOT have the authority as individuals to purge the church. Jesus did a number of things we cannot and should not even try to do.
In Matt. 23, Jesus pronounces numerous woes on the Scribes and Pharisees, calling them all sorts of names. First, these were oppressive, religious hypocrites who were experts in the law, and experts at perverting it. Second, Jesus was fulfilling His role as prophet and in His prophetic voice he pronounced the judgment of God on the religious hypocrites of His day. Finally, to say that this exchange fits the challenge/riposte style of the culture is a serious stretch. This fits into the category of a prophetic rebuke by God of the religious leaders of Israel. One has to look no further than the OT prophets to see the same style employed there.
Gal. 5:12 is a very interesting verse that many have misunderstood in my opinion. Paul uses the Greek word APOKOPTO, which means to cut off, or castrate. Those who employ the insult rhetoric refer to this verse to justify their tactics as well. In response, Paul was not addressing the ones that were troubling the Galatians, but the Galatians themselves. He was saying this about them, not to them. Secondly, self-castration works if indeed we should interpret the verb as a middle-voice verb. While the prevailing view does exactly this, not all scholars agree. Some take this verb to be in the passive voice. In that case it would mean that Paul was wishing that “they would be cut off” as opposed to cutting themselves off. Even if we take the verb as a middle voice verb, the end hope really is the same. What was Paul hoping for in this case? Did Paul really desire to see these men castrate themselves? What good would that do? Would that solve the problem? I cannot see how self-castration would solve the problem in and of itself. So what was he getting at? Paul was getting at Deut. 23:1, which says, “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the LORD.” It seems that the end-result is the same; these men would be cut off from the community. That is the desire of Paul. He wanted them cut off and excluded from troubling the Galatian believers any longer. At a minimum, one should not build a model on a verse such as this one because there is more than one interpretation of Paul in this case.
It does not follow that the existence of challenge/riposte in Jesus’ culture necessarily means he engaged in it. Moreover, there is nothing to preclude that Jesus may have engaged in riposte while making slight to significant modifications to the practice. The existence of a practice in a culture must first be subjected to the Christian ethic. The mere presence of a cultural practice does not itself mean that Christ adopted it. It was a cultural practice for Jewish men to marry. Jesus went against that practice. Some cultural practices were, in and of themselves, evil and violations of the law of God. Divorce is one of them. How did that culture view divorce? Did Jesus adopt His culture’s views on divorce? I think not! I am not seeking to naively dismiss riposte or Social-Science Criticism here. I am saying that it is somewhat naïve and uncritical for anyone to assume that such criticism ipso facto has a place in hermeneutics. In addition, I am saying that to assume Jesus adopted every practice of his culture just because it was a practice of his culture is extremely naïve. Perhaps it is possible to read cultural practices into the text where they actually did not exist. Yes, I think that is quite possible. Finally, even if insult rhetoric is valid from a NT perspective (and I do not see how it could be), it seems to me that it would best be reserved only for the most antagonistic of skeptics and not to those who are more open to civil dialogue. Additionally, it seems especially inappropriate for dialogue within the Christian community.