Don’t Be All Nice!

2 Timothy 2:24-26 – And a sevant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him; to do his will.

Once I received a call to help distribute New Testaments to convention goers in Tel Aviv. By God’s grace, “we” were able to distribute a couple hundred New Testaments (at least twice that many the previous night) before the professional anti-missionaries arrived. Still, before the pros got on the scene, we had a number of “negative” encounters with people who were angry about our activities.

One encounter, in particular, was with one of the civilian security guards. He was screaming all the usual things at one of the members of our group: “Get out of here with your foreign stuff! This is the Holy Land, land of the Jews not Christians. What you’re doing is illegal. I’m going to call the police.”

I usually learn something on these outings and God was generous to me once again. As I watched this encounter between “our guy” and the angry, armed-guard I noted a few things:

First, “our guy” spoke to the angry man in Hebrew, but the angry man always responded in English. Not because he couldn’t speak Hebrew, but rather to try to persuade the on-lookers that “our guy” was bringing a foreign religion to the Jewish people. This was a mostly unsuccessful, but interesting tactic for sure.

Second, “our guy” never raised his voice or tried to compete with the angry man. He simply smiled and spoke very calmly, responding to each of his complaints. The fact that “our guy” was calm and polite eventually caused the angry man to snap: In desperation, and apparently referring to 2 Tim 2:24, he shouted, “Don’t be all nice!!” “Our guy” simply smiled and walked a few steps away from the angry man.

If those who are vocally (sometimes physically) opposing our efforts are not professionals, they generally give up in frustration if we don’t engage them in loud arguments. Smiling really seems to take the air out of their sails.

At the same event mentioned above, I had a military security guard opposing me. He, too, was frustrated that I never got heated up. After about 20 minutes of unsuccessfully trying to persuade me, he moved to others from our group. He was supposed to be providing security for this event, but he spent about an hour trying to convince us how wrong we were for handing out New Testaments. Finally, in frustration he went and sat in the shade and pouted. Now that was a cute site: a soldier armed with an M16, sitting and pouting like a small child. His spirits lifted, though, when the “professionals” arrived.

Interestingly, it is not uncommon for bystanders who don’t agree with our message to defend our actions. What an interesting sight to see: unbelievers loudly arguing our case with those who oppose us. It seems that the more we smile and stay calm in the midst of being shouted at, the more unbelievers come to our defense.

We are to correct our opponents in a spirit of humility (2 Tim 2:25). Clearly, this is easier said than done. The flesh, my flesh, screams for the opportunity to send a zinger back at people who are saying all manner of filthy things against me and Jesus. (Grammatically the order of “me and Jesus” is wrong, I know, but I wanted to be accurate in portraying how the flesh sees things: ME first.) However, God desires, even demands that we respond to our opponents in humility.

The answer to this dilemma is found in Galatians 5:16-17: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”

Our objective in humbly correcting our opponents is to see them repent (2 Tim 2:25-26). Please note, however, that it is not us who brings them to repentance, but God who grants repentance. This is God’s work and he desires to use humble tools to accomplish His work. The emphasis should not be on our labor/efforts, but on God’s grace in bringing a sinner to repentance. Often, however, during large outreach efforts, one can hear “our guys” standing around conversing about the labor instead of God’s grace. Perhaps this is a sign that we are not as humble as we should be.

We must keep in mind that the “bad guys” are ensnared by the devil and are being held captive by him to do his will (2 Tim 2:26). And he clearly hates the distribution of God’s word/truth in any form. This is a spiritual battle.

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