Fleeing Quarrels and Correcting Opponents

2 Timothy 2:22-26—

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.

God’s word warns us that some controversies are foolish and ignorant. They breed quarrels. We have been freed from sin and death—we ought not to be quarrelsome but kind to everyone. Instead of looking for a fight we ought to flee these sorts of vain disputations.

Does this mean that we should not correct our opponents?

To the contrary, in the same passage where Paul warns against foolish controversies he also commands Timothy (and us) to correct his opponents with gentleness. Correction of false doctrine is commanded, and so is gentleness.

It isn’t arrogant to correct our opponents, gently. God may grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth and escape the snare of the Devil. Without correcting them, this would not happen. The implication is that it must be done gently for God to grant it to them. Note that God is sovereign in this transaction—he “grants” repentance. We are called to trust that God blesses his own means of grace.

What happens if we do not correct gently?

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

If we do not correct gently, it is probably because of pride and a lack of long-suffering. We leave ourselves wide open for temptation. Instead of running toward temptation, we ought to flee it and pray for protection from it (Matthew 6:13).

We need to return our eyes again to the cross, remembering that we were once enemies of Christ, dead in our sins. Our pride and short-suffering wranglings are not in keeping with the gospel . . . what do we have that we have not been given (1 Corinthians 4:7)? We might be correct in our argument, but if sin motivates our hearts rather than “faith working through love," it is worthless (Galatians 5:6; 1 Corinthians 13:3).

So let us flee foolish controversies. But when we must correct an opponent, let us do it gently, “by faith working through love,” in order that God might grant repentance.