Fostering the Good Fight

… continued from PART 1: Festering the Argumentative Spirit …

 

One of my kids declared once that they wanted to be a famous movie star. I said, “Okay, how could you make that happen.” Their response was, ”Well, maybe I could do something funny, get discovered, and then they’d put me in a film.” I said, “Well or, maybe you should prepare yourself to be a great actor so that when you get discovered you’ll be ready to act, ready for the opportunity.” They said, “You mean like practice and learning?” I said, “yes, like practicing and learning the craft of acting.” That’s when my child said, “that sounds like a lot of work. Can I go watch Netflix instead?”

I spent twenty years in ministry, preaching, teaching, walking with people through Scripture, studying the languages, making mistakes, learning from most of them, finding creative ways to connect people with the words of the Bible, through it all trying to be attentive personally to walking closely with Jesus. When a publishing company invited me to help them put together a Bible geared to help young people find Jesus in its pages, I was ready to be used for a good work. I really believe it wasn’t because of anything special about me, but it did have something to do with the fact that I was ready to respond. I didn’t rush or force the chance. I believe God wanted to let me be a part of that project. And I was ready.

Readiness comes from participating with God’s purpose in all the little occasions. It’s about all of those unseen moments in life. It’s about all those boring times. It’s about all of those daily interactions with others. It’s about an honest examination when we discover we weren’t ready and we missed the opportunity for honorable use.

How many times have I not been in the right practice of my life and missed the chance to care for someone around me, or to help them find truth? How many times have I entered into an argument, foolishly, and because of what I said or because of my attitude, I made myself unfit for service or made myself oblivious to the distraction and damage I was causing?

When Paul tells Timothy to avoid foolish arguments, he also advises Timothy to be “ready” to be used by God to do good.  In 2 Timothy 2:21 and 23, Paul says: 

“If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be READY for the Master to use you for every good work… Don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.”

In Paul’s larger appeal to Timothy in chapter 2:20, he uses an everyday metaphor about utensils. He says that in a wealthy home there are all kinds of utensils used for different reasons on different occasions. In other words, “keep yourself ready because God is going to call upon you. He created you with unique purpose and there will be times when you will be used to glorify God or to lead others to truth or to care or to speak life or to be kind and patient and forgiving and offering hope. So be ready!”

In the intense climate of our contemporary, argumentative culture, the lesson for us is a simple one: If we keep pure, we can be used for pure things. That makes common sense. Paul’s instruction is not a heavy handed comment. Neither is it a guilt-driven one. It is not, “hey, if you’re good enough and impress God, then God will use you.” Not even close.

It reminds me of a parent telling their kid, “Don’t fill your stomach with junk food before dinner or else you won’t have room for dinner.”

It also reminds me of some other obvious truths:

  • If you want to play golf, don’t wreck your hands in a fist fight.
  • If you want to drive your car for a long time, get the oil changed.
  • If you cut corners in life you can’t get the true thing.
  • If you soil soil your clothes and then go to the prom.
  • If you act like a grump don’t expect people to like you.
  • If you engage in foolish arguments don’t expect people to hear the truth.

So, Paul says to Timothy, “If you keep yourself pure, Timothy, then you will be ready for God to use you in the right way. If your life is clean, then you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.”

 

WITTY FAITH

In my classes at Crown, I call this sort of “readiness” a “witty” faith. When someone has “wit” they have a readiness to them. “Witty” humor is a fast-response, unexpectedly quirky and intelligent humor that takes people off-guard and brings a freeing smile. A witty faith is like that. It’s ready. It’s responsive. It’s alert, attentive and surprising. A witty faith catches people off-guard, gives an encounter with Jesus that helps people come to their senses and lead them to freedom.

Jesus was witty. Someone would try to trap him in a foolish argument, and he would respond with a question that would disrupt their agenda. Remember how the woman at the well tried to distract Jesus with a debate about which mountain they should be worshipping upon. Jesus simply led her back to himself by using the illustration of living water that would quench her thirst forever.

In John chapter 8, a religious mob throws in front of him a woman who was caught sinning. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law says to execute her. What do you say?” (Do you see how they’re trying to ensnare Jesus? Is he going to go against the law?) They were trying to trap Jesus into saying something they could use against him… (Does that sound like modern political arguments to any of you?), but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. (Do you see how he didn’t engage in their foolish argument?) They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away, one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.

That note is interesting to me… that the oldest slipped away first. It’s as if they realized immediately that Jesus wasn’t going to play these reindeer games. But the youngest hot heads, you almost get this picture that they didn’t want to lose this argument. They wanted to take down Jesus. They thought they had him.

In his instruction about readiness in the face of an argumentative spirit, Paul says to Timothy in verse 22: Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.” He follows this up with the immediate reminder: “Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.”

When verse 22 is taken out of context, it sounds like Paul is telling Timothy not to lust. That’s not a bad message at all, especially for our day, but can we set aside our sick-obsession with sexual sin just for a few minutes and realize that there are also other sins to wrestle out of our lives. And, in this passage, an arrogant, ignorant, foolish argumentative attitude is one of those serious sins. The youthful lust, this desire (epithumia is the Greek word that Paul uses here) is about a childish, hot-headed, brash ignorant and arrogant selfish desire.

If you are older today, I want to challenge you not to ignore the call to maturity in this passage. If you are setting an example of an argumentative spirit, pursue righteous living instead.

And if you are younger today, I want to put courage in you to notice the call to maturity in this passage. Pursue fidelity to Christ. Be ready. Don’t wrap yourself in warped arguments. All of us, as followers of Jesus, are to avoid that foolish, immature, drive within each of us to win the argument at the expense of relationship, or to prove our point at the expense of the other person’s ego, or to demand our way while demeaning the value of others.

This wouldn’t have been easy for Timothy. There were disrupters in his community that were trying to undermine Paul, while he languished in prison and tried to undo the church’s faith in Jesus. Notice that Paul isn’t urging Timothy to be soft, he’s urging Timothy to not bother engaging in their foolish fights. Paul doesn’t say Timothy should avoid arguments. He says to “avoid foolish arguments”. In our day, that could mean that we shouldn’t get caught up in ridiculously opinionated discussions on social media, or be warped by hyper-sensationalized news or hyperventilating politics or be sucked into the vacuum of narrow-minded religious quarrels.

There are, however, times to fight. The fighting spirit, not the argumentative spirit, is a fire that should be stoked within Timothy, and, as followers of Jesus, within us. When Paul instructs Timothy to be kind, he is not indicating that Timothy should be timid. In chapter 1, verses 6-7 he says to Timothy: “For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” If there are harmful behaviors, step in. If someone is hurting someone else, step in. If there is false truth being taught that leads people astray, step in.

So, the Bible teaches us to avoid foolish arguments:

  • In Genesis 13:8 Abraham urged his nephew Lot, “Let’s not get involved in a foolish argument with each other.”
  • Proverbs 15:18 says, “A hot-tempered person starts fights;
    a cool-tempered person stops them.
  • Proverbs 17:14 says, “Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate,
    so stop before a dispute breaks out.
  • Proverbs 20:3 says, “Avoiding a fight is a mark of honor;
    only fools insist on quarreling.

And the Bible teaches us to fight the Good fight:

  • 2 Timothy 4:2 – “Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.
  • 2 Timothy 4:3 – “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.
  • 2 Timothy 4:5 – But you should keep a clear mind in every situation… Work at telling others the Good News…
  • 2 Timothy 4:7 – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.

So the last thought here is this: Fight. But don’t be foolish in this world when you do. In our bad-fighting world, fight the good fight as a utensil in the hands of the Lord, not as a tool of Satan. 

Paul says in verse 25-26,

“Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.”

Look. So much of what we fight against is temporary and narrow, pertaining only to our current circumstances. Think bigger. Think on things from God’s perspective.

Followers of Jesus fight differently than the world fights. The enemy loves to stir up discord and division. It feeds off of it. Followers of Jesus don’t fight with the same weapons. Where despair and doom are spoken, we speak hope. Where panic creeps, we stand without fear.

Our God is not Panicking! In other words, our God is not a king of panic. That’s Satan’s role.  That’s the devil’s trap. Panic is why Satan stirs foolish arguments. His goal is to distract you from your mission. You serve a Savior who works to bring people to their senses.

Yes, there is a tremendous amount of wasteful dispute in this world. But don’t let yourself be caught up by that spirit of quarrel. Jesus is the King who provides an unexpected, witty message of life and hope through the patient love of the Cross and Resurrection.

God sees the larger scope of history, and he is not surprised by the quarrels we face. He never will say, “Uh oh… I don’t really know what to do here… I better yell louder so I can prove my point.” Instead, our Savior gently instructs each of us. His Spirit changes our hearts so that we learn the truth. He helps us come to our senses so that we can be who he created us to be. We have a Savior who doesn’t foolishly argue with us, but who fights for us. May our approach to this world, to our families, to our congregation, to our brothers and sisters in Christ, mirror the heart of our Savior.

Photo credit: Johann Siemens at Unsplash
This is available as a sermon from Parkside Church on April 8, 2018: LISTEN

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