2 Timothy 2:22–26 (22) So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (23) Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. (24) And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, (25) correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, (26) and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
When I was about ten years old, I had a friend that was being picked on relentlessly by a group of neighborhood “tough guys.” In one particular episode, my friend and I were going door to door, clipboards in hand, taking a survey (for what I can’t remember). We were walking to the next house on our list when one of those tough guys rode by us on his bike and spit on my friend!
I wasn’t a violent kid, but in that moment, I became as such, so rather than ignoring the aggression, I ran after the bully, caught up to him, and slammed my clipboard into his head. In that moment, that moment when confrontation found me, I ran headlong into it.
Fast forward a few decades
You may have heard the phrase, “I would have come to bed but someone was wrong on the internet!” It wasn’t on the internet, but someone was wrong…at work, and he was truly wrong. It was over a particular truth of scripture, so correction was appropriate, but in that moment, no, those moments, those many moments, spanning many, many months, confrontation again found me (or more honestly, I found confrontation.)
And like before, I ran headlong into it, but this time, it wasn’t for the sake of my friend, it was for the sake of my God (or so I kept telling myself) I pushed on, even after it was obvious that the confrontation had moved well beyond “me correcting error” and had morphed into “I want to be right”, well past “fruitful” and into “quarrelsome.”
“Beating a dead horse” might have been a better phrase to use.
In both cases, confrontation was justified and necessary. But in both of those cases, my specific reaction was unjustified — the first was wrought in anger, the second was wrought in pride.
So, why bring this up now?
Let’s look around. We don’t need to look far to see something on the news, in your neighborhood, on the other side of the world, at work, at home, anywhere really, that could become (or has become) a confrontation for you. As ambassadors of Jesus, we are called to handle confrontation with God’s grace and led by His Spirit, either when it finds us or when we find it.
Being a Christian not only doesn’t free you from confrontation, it often attracts it! You may often find yourself in situations where a confrontation is unavoidable, and many times it will be because of your faith in the One whom the world hates —they hated Him, and they’ll hate you too. And they may confront you the same way they confronted Him; by doubting Him, by calling Him crazy, by trying to find fault in Him, by falsely accusing Him, by rejecting His message, and by assaulting His messengers.
But you won’t just be confronted by a world that hates you. You’ll also be confronted by brothers and sisters who love you, and they’ll confront you the same way He confronts you; by calling you to repentance, by calling out sin in your life, by calling you to holiness, by confronting you with the light of God’s Word in the darkness of your sin.
With that in mind, we must ask some important questions:
- How should we confront others?
- When should we confront others?
- Why should we confront others?
- How should we respond when we are confronted?
In the passage above, Paul tells Timothy (and us) something about confrontation —a very important something. Paul starts, not by telling Timothy when to engage, but when not to engage. Paul is not instructing us to avoid confrontation altogether, but rather to avoid a specific type of confrontation — foolish and ignorant controversies. Why? Because they breed quarrels. Oh, the opportunities for foolish, ignorant, and quarrelsome confrontation!
Paul, in writing to the Galatians, also details some of the character traits that abound in these types of quarrels — anger, pride, jealousy, hatred, revenge, strife. These are sure ways to drive any confrontation right off the road and over the cliff, or into a brick wall, or to sleeping on the couch.
Considering that, what is most often your heart posture when you are in a confrontation? How would the other person answer that question about you? Have you become too good at justifying your response?
And yet, sometimes a confrontation is necessary. What do we do when it shouldn’t be (or can’t be) avoided?
Only after telling Timothy when not to engage does he move on to describing when and how we should, and of course, this involves our hearts, again. First and foremost, he calls us to remember who we are and whose we are — “servants of the Lord.” Only then does he address the “how” — we are not to be quarrelsome, but kind, able to teach, and to patiently endure evil.
Paul wants to make sure Timothy has the right motive and heart posture prior to even thinking about engaging in a conflict. He wants Timothy to be prepared to enter confrontation rightly. Next, he addresses the “why” of confrontation — we are to “correct our opponents with gentleness.” Paul describes these traits to the Galatians as well — engaging with kindness, patience, and gentleness.
Next comes the “when”. Confronting should not be to win an argument, or to demonstrate our knowledge, or to gain points with our peers. Rather, he tells Timothy to be “able to teach” so you can “correct your opponents.” But correction is only the first part. Paul puts the icing on the cake (and the nail in the coffin of our pride) in verse 26 — confrontation is for your opponent’s righteousness, to rescue them from the devil — it is for them not you!
We can summarize with the following questions
When should I avoid confrontation? When it’s fruitless and quarrelsome. How should I confront someone when it’s necessary? With kindness, patience, and gentleness. When should I confront someone? When they need to be corrected. Why should I confront someone? To correct them so they can escape the snare of the devil.
How does your heart posture compare to that understanding of confrontation?
So, now, how are we to respond when we are confronted? Given those truths about how we are to confront others, would you expect the truth of how we are to respond when being confronted to be much different? Paul tells Timothy to “patiently endure evil” and Peter echoes this as well when he says “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (2 Peter 3:15b)
First, no matter who confronts us, we are to honor Christ the Lord as holy. (1 Peter 3:15a)Next, we must realize who is confronting us. If we are being unjustly confronted, we are to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in us with gentleness and respect. We can answer the false charges, but we must be gentle, and we must be able to answer with a good conscience. We must endure the evil with patience.
If, however, we are being confronted by a brother or sister in love, we must understand that they are confronting us in the spirit that Paul instructs us to confront others — they are confronting us because they think we need correcting.
Proverbs 12:1 (1) Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. (ESV)
When we do need correcting, no matter who confronts us or the spirit in which the confrontation is given, we are called to receive the correction and repent in humility. If we refuse to be corrected, we are, to use biblical language, “stupid.”
It seems that every confrontation is an opportunity to apply the gospel, and we should always be looking for the gospel, not looking to “be right” or to “win”, but to correct in gentleness, to give a reason for the hope in us, and when corrected, to respond with repentance in humility.
Confrontation, while sometimes uncomfortable, is often necessary. If we don’t know how to handle confrontation, we can retreat into conflict avoidance, become self-righteous, and miss opportunities to call others to righteousness, to correct error, and ultimately, to speak the hope of the gospel into a situation that only the gospel can resolve. There is a time and a place for confrontation, but as Christians, we must approach confrontation with holiness, righteousness, humility, gentleness, and boldness and confidence in the gospel.
The world confronts to subdue and kill, and when confronted, it lashes out in self-righteous indignation and does not receive correction. The Christian confronts to convict in righteousness and to restore in love, and when confronted, humbly respond with gentleness and respect, and repentance and humility if necessary.
Let us be a people who live out these truths, looking to Jesus’ example and walking by the Spirit as we act as his ambassadors in our world.