It is almost time for the SBC, at which it is normal for speakers to make derogatory remarks about bloggers. It always gets me a little angry and defensive when they do, but the fact is that we have, through the years, earned our bad reputation, haven’t we? It is easy to say that it’s just a few of those bad eggs out there, the extreme blogs that traffic in derogation and character assassination, but if we are honest, most of us have more than a few moments in blogging (often in commenting) that we would like to have back. I give discernment bloggers a hard time, but I know that I have the quarrelsome, obstinate, theologically-picayune tendencies that I often decry in some of the more intransigent blogs of that sort. I am glad that blogging and other social media did not exist when I was in my 20s and 30s – I’d have sullied my name in a way I likely could never have recovered from. I did enough damage at times in my 50s!
I have been studying 2 Timothy recently, in preparation for a sermon series I am beginning this Sunday. I noticed something as I read Paul’s communications with Timothy that set my old mind a’ spinnin’ – Paul gave Timothy admonition after admonition not to get bogged down in silly arguments over minor issues. He tells him to preach the word and to confront error, to correctly handle the word. But he also warns him, over and over, not to pushed into sideline issues, minor things.
Why? Why did Paul say that to him? Repeatedly?
I operate from the idea that there are no accidents in Scripture. Many believe, for instance, that the early deacons were the church’s “finance team” because Paul gave instructions to them about not being greedy for gain and being relentlessly honest. If Paul gave Timothy repeated instructions about being argumentative and getting sidetracked by minor issues, there had to be a reason. In fact, just about every time he calls him to stand for truth he also warns him against being quarrelsome in some form.
There are two reasons that I can think of that Paul might have done this – perhaps you have others.
- There were a lot of argumentative men (and perhaps women) in the church of Ephesus where Timothy was serving. He was going to interact with these people and Paul was warning him not to get drawn into their pettiness, their molehills-made-into-mountains. This is certainly true. Paul names several of them in the two letters to Timothy, so we know that they existed.
- Is it also possible that Timothy had an argumentative side? Did he have a tendency to get sidetracked and drawn into apologetics and polemics and forget the work of the gospel? Is it possible that he had a tendency to become argumentative, major on minors, and become a bit of a jerk?
In other words, was he “one of us” – a blustery blogger at heart.
In discussing this with friends, some have pointed out that Paul also admonished him against being timid, in 2 Timothy 1. We have a spirit of power, love, and sound mind, not of timidity. They theorize that Timothy may have had a tendency to be reluctant in confronting error. That is evidence against my working theory, but it is also possible for someone to be both timid and argumentative. A person can shy away from arguments but once engaged in them become angry, belligerent, and argumentative. I look at a person like that in the mirror every morning.
So, I don’t know. It’s a theory. An idea. I can’t prove it and I guess you can’t disprove it. But I can say this. If there is a book of the Bible we bloggers and social media users need to inculcate into our lives, it is 2 Timothy. You can read some of Paul’s instructions to Timothy below. As we stand for truth we must also be gentle, loving, avoid quarrels, petty arguments that sidetrack us from what is important. Paul’s second letter to Timothy is a powerful word to all of us who engage on blogs, Facebook and other public forums.
Addendum: Paul’s Instructions to Timothy on Being Quarrelsome
Here are some of Paul’s admonitions to Timothy.
1 Timothy 1:3-7 As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach false doctrine 4 or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith. 5 Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. 6 Some have departed from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on. (Scriptures from CSB)
Clearly, in this passage, Paul was focused on those who taught false doctrine. Timothy was to confront them, but he was to keep his goal as “love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” There seems to be a little bit of a warning there.
1 Timothy 3:3 not an excessive drinker, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy.
Paul makes it clear that not being quarrelsome is a necessary character quality for pastoral or elder leadership in the church. Oops.
1 Timothy 4:6-7 If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of the faith and the good teaching that you have followed. 7 But have nothing to do with pointless and silly myths. Rather, train yourself in godliness.
This is one of the clearest passages striking the balance. Timothy is charged to point out the truth to those in his care, to lead them in the ways of God. But he is warned against getting sidetracked into “pointless and silly myths.” We must focus on godly character, not arcane doctrinal arguments.
1 Timothy 6:20-21 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding irreverent and empty speech and contradictions from what is falsely called knowledge. 21 By professing it, some people have departed from the faith.
Again, Timothy is warned to guard the truth while avoiding irreverent, empty speech and false knowledge, which leads people away from truth.
2 Timothy 2:15-19 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to fight about words. This is useless and leads to the ruin of those who listen. 15 Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. 16 Avoid irreverent and empty speech, since those who engage in it will produce even more godlessness, 17 and their teaching will spread like gangrene. Hymenaeus and Philetus are among them. 18 They have departed from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and are ruining the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, bearing this inscription: The Lord knows those who are his, and let everyone who calls on the name of the Lord turn away from wickedness.
Again, here, the dual goals are clear. Stand for truth and oppose error – a leader in the church must do that. Shepherds protect the sheep from the wolves. But he is also (again) instructed to avoid irreverent and empty speech.
Here’s what I noticed. Just about every time Paul warned Timothy to stand for truth he also warned him NOT to be argumentative or sidelined on to minor issues. Over and over again.
2 Timothy 2:22-26 Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, because you know that they breed quarrels. 24 The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, 25 instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. 26 Then they may come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
Pursue righteousness and reject foolish and ignorant disputes – how many of our blog wars qualify there? Again, being quarrelsome is not an option for a man of God, but gently teaching those we oppose, with gentleness, is commanded.
This theory will forever remain a theory. The truth is clear, of course. Stand for truth without becoming sidetracked by silly issues or becoming argumentative in spirit. But I still wonder deep inside if Timothy had the spirit of the blogger within.