And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient.
— 2 Timothy 2:24
Have you ever found yourself in a predicament where you were trying to help someone who resisted you, spoke disrespectfully to you, and just flat out acted ugly? In that instant, did you find your blood boiling, your temperature rising, and your emotions agitated? Were you so angry that you felt like you would detonate? Be honest! Did you feel tempted to fly into a rage, lecture the ingrate derogatorily for his attitude, or even slap him right across the face?
It’s natural to feel exasperated when someone you are trying to help doesn’t respond appropriately to the assistance you are offering. But yielding to your own emotions and getting in the flesh won’t make the situation any better. In fact, it will only make the situation worse! So hold your tongue, stay seated in your chair, and keep your head on straight when you find yourself in a situation like this!
Many years ago, Denise and I had one particular employee who was extremely gifted — but he was one of the most difficult people to work with I’ve ever met in my life. This man was rude, insubordinate, critical of others, and regularly late to work. On the other hand, he was very talented and produced great results in his job. One day I wanted to fire him; the next day, I wanted to reward him. It was such an emotional mixture! How I wished this employee would just calm down, talk nicely to people, and learn how to get along with others!
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From time to time, I had to sit down and talk to this man about his attitude. But dealing with him was so excruciatingly laborious. I dreaded those moments when I knew I had to sit down to talk to him. Here I was, trying to help this employee — but rather than receive correction graciously and thank me for trying to take him to a higher level, he would argue, debate, or try to turn the conversation around and point his finger at other people. It simply exasperated me, yet I knew that God wanted me to work with and teach this man; therefore, I had to remain self-controlled and not allow myself to get caught up in the flesh and knock him flat!
Have you ever felt this way before? Can you remember a time when you tried to help your child, but your child’s response was belligerent and unreceptive to you? Or can you recall a time when you worked with a fellow employee whose attitude toward the boss was so bad that he or she deserved to be fired for it? Or perhaps you can remember someone at church who had a critical attitude toward the pastor and got involved in ugly backbiting and gossip. I hope it wasn’t you!
When Timothy was serving as pastor of the Ephesian church, he had some insubordinate people in church leadership positions. Apparently he had written to Paul about this problem, because when Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, he addressed the problem, telling Timothy what kind of attitude he needed to maintain when dealing with people who had bad attitudes. Paul said, “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient” (2 Timothy 2:24).
The word “strive” is the Greek word machomai, and it means to quarrel, dispute, argue, or to get into strife or contention with someone else. At first, this Greek word was used to picture armed combatants who exchanged blows with deadly weapons. Later, it came to denote men who fought hand to hand — striking, punching, wrangling, and rolling on the ground as they slugged it out with each other. But by the time of the New Testament when Paul used the word machomai in this verse, it depicted people who were at odds with each other bickering, squabbling, and slugging it out — not with swords or fists, but with their words. So Paul urges Timothy (and all of us) not to allow ourselves to get dragged into a war of words when we are trying to correct people who have bad attitudes.
Next, Paul tells us that we must be “gentle.” This is the Greek word epios, which means to be mild-mannered, kind, temperate, calm, or gentle. We find this word used by Paul in First Thessalonians 2:7, where he reminds the Thessalonians of how he had behaved among them. He writes, “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children.”
It is important that we see how Paul uses the word epios in the context of caring for little children. This suggests that now Paul is telling Timothy to realize that he is dealing with immature people whom he must treat like children. Parents are to teach and discipline their children without “flying off the handle” every time their children are rude or disrespectful. Now Timothy must assume this kind of parental, correcting, teaching role in the way he deals with these who are acting inappropriately in his church.
When people behave disrespectfully toward their boss, their department director, their pastor, or their parents, they are demonstrating that they are not smart and certainly not mature. When you see this, it should send up a red flag before you to let you know the maturity level you are dealing with in the lives of these individuals. Even if they are called to the ministry; even if they have been to Bible school; even if they have been members of your church for a long time — the fact that they would act disrespectfully toward authority reveals that these people are still young in terms of maturity.
You should thank God that this came to light. Had you moved these individuals upward into a higher place of visibility while they were still at this deficient level of maturity, it would have been a big problem for you later. But now you can see that they’re not ready for a higher place of responsibility. You can also visibly discern the areas in which you need to help them so they can maximize their potential in the Lord.
Second Timothy 2:24 could be translated to read:
“And the servant of the Lord must not get caught up in a war of words — wrangling, wrestling, bickering, squabbling, arguing, and verbally slugging it out with his contenders. Instead, he must be calm, steady, temperate, kind, and gentle in the way he responds.…”
So when you try to bring correction into someone’s life who is under your authority and that person doesn’t initially respond the way he should, don’t let it ruffle your feathers or throw you into a state of exasperation. Certainly you shouldn’t allow yourself to get so caught up in emotions that you descend to their level and start acting just like them!
This is a time for you to “put on your parent-teacher hat.” Lovingly deal with that person like a child or a young person who needs to be taught how to respond to authority and who needs guidance and correction from someone who loves him.
And what should you do if you get stirred up and enter into the fray of flesh, allowing yourself to get entrenched in a war of words? Thank God that your own level of maturity has been exposed! Not only does that other person need to grow, but this situation has revealed a flaw in your own character, drawing attention to an obvious area in your own life that needs attention, correction, and a higher level of maturity. So as you pray for that other person to grow, don’t forget to include yourself on your prayer list!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, please help me to be calm, kind, and gentle when I find it necessary to correct people who are under my care. Forgive me for any time that I’ve allowed myself to become angry and exasperated and for those times when I have said things I shouldn’t have allowed myself to speak. Help me act like a real leader, taking a parental-teacher role. I know I am called to help take people to a higher level in their work, their attitudes, and their lives. So help me to be more like You in the way I deal with people who are under my authority and care. As I learn to bring correction to others the way You bring correction into MY life, I will become a good example and the kind of leader You have called me to be.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I have the mind of Christ for every situation I face in life. When it is necessary for me to speak correction to a member of my team, I speak with compassion and love from my heart. I desire the best for every person whom God has placed under my authority and care. Therefore, when I deal with these individuals, I approach them from a standpoint of how I can best help them grow, help them develop, and help them become all God has called them to be. I don’t get angry, frustrated, or exasperated if they get upset; instead, I remain calm, kind, and gentle as I deal with the people whom God has entrusted to my care.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. As you read this today, did your mind drift back to a past situation when you had to correct someone who didn’t respond in the right way to your correction? If so, how did you react to that person’s wrong response?
2. Can you think of a time when someone in authority over you tried to correct you, but you responded in an insubordinate and closed-hearted manner, making it difficult for that person to correct you?
3. As you reflect on times in the past when you’ve had to correct someone, what do you think you could do differently to help people more easily receive your correction in the future? Is there anything in your style of bringing correction that should be changed so people don’t feel intimidated but rather feel embraced and loved by what you are telling them?