“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” II Timothy 2:24-26
Paul’s epistles to Timothy, as well as to the young man, the preacher Titus, are referred to generally as Pastoral Epistles. They are called that primarily because they are ecclesiastical in nature, instructing the man of God about what it means to be a preacher, a pastor, and giving instruction on the New Testament church. These three epistles form a very important part of the New Testament.
I Timothy deals with the subject of behavior–behavior in the ministry. The key verse there is in Chapter 3, verse 15, “…that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God,” The book of Titus deals with the pattern of the ministry. The key verse there is in Chapter 2, verse 7, “In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works:”. And 2 Timothy deals with endurance in the ministry. In Chapter 4, verse 5 the Bible says, “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”
Of these three pastoral epistles, 2 Timothy is undoubtedly the most personal. In Chapter 1, Paul writes to Timothy and speaks of the cornerstone of the ministry, reminding him of his salvation, his holy calling and how he was prepared for the ministry. In Chapter 3, he deals with the challenges to the ministry, speaking about the perilous times and false teachers, but also mentioning the profitable Scriptures. Chapter 4 is well known as Paul’s charge to the minister.
As we look here in Chapter 2, we find this chapter is dealing with the conduct of the ministry. In order to teach Timothy the things that he wants to get across, the apostle uses a number of illustrations. He uses some words that explain the different aspects of serving God and being a preacher. He speaks to Timothy as a son, as a soldier, as a striving athlete, as a steward or a husbandman, as a student, as a storage vessel, as a suppliant. Lastly in the chapter, he refers to him as a servant of God. Tonight I want to focus on that last directive of Paul to Timothy as he speaks about the servant of the Lord, there in verse 24 and to the end of the chapter, which is our text.
The Role of the Preacher
This is given in the context of a preacher. Timothy is a man of God. He is a preacher. He is being trained by Paul and others, and is being raised up in the ministry. We are aware that this is the last letter that Paul would probably be writing. He writes it to his beloved son in Christ and he addresses him as a servant of the Lord. Though it is addressed to a preacher, it does have a wider application to anyone who serves the Lord in any capacity. These Scriptures in our text speak about how you and I are to conduct ourselves as servants of the Lord. I use the title Ruling with Grace because the Bible teaches us that pastors, in particular, are rulers. The Bible uses a number of words to explain the office of a pastor. The word pastor itself means “a shepherd,” and as shepherds we are to feed the sheep. The Bible also refers to us as bishops, and as bishops we are to take heed to the flock, look out for the flock, and protect it. Then, as elders, we are to lead the flock. The Bible speaks about elders in the sense of ruling in 1 Timothy 5:17, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour,” In the book of Hebrews, which is addressed to the members of a church, the Bible says that we as members of a New Testament church are to obey them that have the rule over us. And the Bible says that we are to remember them that have the rule over us. So, in speaking of pastors, and I want you to understand this, that the Bible says that a Pastor is a ruler. He is a ruler in the church. 1 Peter, chapter 5, says to the pastors of a church, to take the oversight thereof. It is well established in the Bible that this is the role of a Pastor, to be a ruler.
Actually, pastors rule in two arenas, not only in the church, but also in their home. In the qualifications of a pastor found in 1 Timothy 3:4-5, the Bible says that a pastor must be “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” There is a key relationship established in the Bible between a preacher’s home and his ministry in the church. A pastor is to rule in his home. He is to rule his children. He is to rule and lead that home just as he is to rule in a church.
How Are We to Rule?
The question I want to ask is very simple: How? How are we to rule? How are we to rule as fathers? How are we to rule as pastors or in other capacities of service? And the answer is, with grace. The Bible says in our text, “the servant of the Lord must not strive;” It doesn’t say the servant of the Lord should not strive, it says he “must not strive.” That’s hard for some of us. “Must not strive.” If you think of the qualifications that are given for a Pastor, and there are 22 listed in the Pastoral Epistles, a pastor must be no striker. That word striker means that he would use physical or verbal abuse. Maybe you’ve heard of pastors that have done that. Maybe not so much physical these days, but definitely there have been instances where there has been verbal abuse that has been lashed out at other people. When we preach, we must never preach at people. We may preach to them, but if you come into the pulpit with certain people in your crosshairs and you are preaching at them, you are in danger of becoming a striker.
The Bible says a pastor must not be a brawler. That means someone who is quarrelsome, someone who is looking for a fight, who has an uncontrolled tongue. In the book of Titus, he is not to be self-willed. He cannot be self-pleasing. He cannot be self-seeking, or self-opinionated. Pastors sometimes can have an attitude: it’s my way or the highway. The Bible says we are not to be self-willed, we are to be in the will of God, and we are to be mindful of God’s will. The Bible says he is not to be soon angry. So when the Scripture says a servant of the Lord “must not strive,” I believe it’s encompassing these qualifications that are given of a man of God if he is to be suitable for the service of the Lord. We are servants of God. In fact, 1 Peter 5, which I mentioned before, is addressed to elders or pastors, and the Bible says, “feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.”
A pastor is not to be a lord, he is not to be someone who is just shouting out commandments and giving orders, but he is to lead by example. His life is how he leads, and the Bible says we are servants of the Lord. When I think of that, as it says the servant of the Lord, we find that our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the example. In Matthew 20 we have James and John with their mother, who are two men who are position seekers. They are thinking down the road to when the Lord comes in His kingdom glory and establishes His kingdom on the earth, but they wanted to be on the right hand and the left hand. The instruction that Jesus gave to the disciples, who were very upset about that, is for our benefit. He said in verse 25, “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you:” Jesus teaches us that the Christian ministry is unlike any other kind of ministry there is, or any other kind of work. We are not a corporation where we have a managing director and an executive director and all of those things. We are not to follow the model of the business world. We are not a military organization. We are not the Salvation Army. We are Baptists, and have a different kind of leadership, a totally different style of leadership. And here it is. Jesus said, “But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;” (a servant) “And whosever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28. Those are the words of the Chief Shepherd, the Head Pastor, if you will. The Great Shepherd. He said that we are to be servants in our leadership.
That is why he said “the servant of the Lord must not strive.” And yes, Jesus was very patient with his disciples, with His church. As James and John, their answer was indeed to bring fire down from Heaven. And if we’re not careful, we can bring fire down from the pulpit that will do more damage to people rather than help people. The servant of the Lord must not strive. I would say that our example as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, is Jesus Himself. The Lord Jesus Christ, the One who was, and is, full of grace and truth. You see, truth is absolute. Truth is unyielding. You cannot fudge truth. You cannot modify truth, it is either black or white. That is the nature of truth. But grace has to do with the application of that truth; how we preach it, how we instruct people, how we guide people. That is where we need the grace. The Lord Jesus Christ was full of grace and truth. In fact, in Luke 4 the enemies of Christ had sent spies out to Him and they came back and the Bible says in Luke 4:22 “And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.” In fact, the psalmist, who I believe was writing of Jesus Christ in Psalm 45:2 said, “Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips:” And oh, how it must have been that the Lord Jesus Christ spoke with grace. Even when He was threatened, even when He was reviled, even when He was being set-up, fully knowing the minds and what was going on in the hearts of men, grace flowed from His lips.
I am emphasizing speech because as preachers, more than anything else, we are men of words. We are given to prayer and the ministry of the Word, so as preachers, we preach. We preach several times a week and sometimes several hours a week. We counsel with people, we use our words. We exhort and we admonish one another with words. According to Scripture, all of our words are to be spoken as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the servant of the Lord must not strive.
I want to think about ruling by grace. How are we to pastor? How are we to serve God in grace? From our text I want to look at three things: First of all, I want to look at the attributes of ruling by grace, then the aggravations of ruling by grace, and then the assurance that the Lord gives to ruling by grace.
When I was very young in the ministry, I was given some advice that has stuck with me. It was very simple and not very profound advice, but has helped me in this area. I was told by an older pastor that your people will follow you almost anywhere if they know that you love them. Now I am not talking about saying I love you, but knowing that you love them. I think that has a lot to do with ruling by grace, whether it’s in our homes with our children, or in our church with the flock that is placed in our care. Someone put it this way, and I think it probably would fit in at this point, that rules without a relationship produce rebellion. You can have a lot of rules and a lot of truth.You can be very adamant about those things and just press those upon people. But if there is no relationship established there, you may still lose their hearts. And so it is in a church as well. I believe that we can lay down the law, but we better have grace that goes with that truth.
The Attributes of Gracious Ruling
The servant of the Lord must not strive. The Bible gives us four expressions here about what it means to rule graciously. First of all, be gentle unto all men. Secondly, apt to teach. Thirdly, patient, and in verse 25, in meekness instructing. So here are four attributes to being a gracious ruler or a gracious servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I learned a lesson many years ago, back in Australia, which is a country known for its sheep, that if you want to move a flock of sheep from one area to another, you don’t drive them. If you try to drive sheep as you would cattle, you will have a number of them keel over dead. Sheep have to be lead and you have to be gentle with them. I remember on a hot Saturday, going out with a farmer and driving sheep and I kept wondering, why are we stopping all the time? Well, the sheep needed a rest. I learned a lesson that day in dealing with people and in dealing with church members–you cannot drive them, you have to lead them. You cannot make them do anything. Well, you can make them do it, but not in the right spirit. You cannot make them, but you must take them. Same with our children. You can order them to do things, but it’s much better if they want to do it.
So, as Pastors, we’ve got to be gentle. Now what does that mean? It doesn’t sound very manly, does it? Paul was a man who knew how to speak and knew how to be blunt. There is nothing wrong with that, but when he dealt with people, he showed a lot of grace. Here he is rehearsing to the church in Thessalonica–what it was like and how he dealt with them–as he came with his other evangelists there and began to preach and a church was established. In 1 Thessalonians 2:3-5 he said “For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness:” So, what he’s saying here is when I preach I use plain words. There was no subterfuge. There are no hidden words here, I was very plain with you. I believe that is a good way to deal with people, give them the truth as plainly and as simply as we possibly can.
In verse 6 of 1 Thessalonians 2, he said he didn’t impose these things on them. He said, “Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.” In other words, he didn’t pull rank on them. He didn’t say well, fellows, I’m an apostle, I can tell you anything and you have to do it. We don’t need to pull rank. If we’re pulling rank on people, there’s something wrong with our persuasive powers. That is not the way to go. But notice the words of grace, in verses 7 and 8, “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.” We were gentle. And I’ll tell you the secret of being gentle is, as Paul said, giving our souls. If your heart and soul is not in the ministry, then you shouldn’t be in the ministry. If you are living for yourself, then you are not going to live for others. And Paul here is teaching us what it means to be gentle. The Bible says we are to be gentle to all men.
Apt to Teach
Perhaps we ought to use less telling and more showin, taking the Word of God and showing people. Let the Bible do the talking. I find this a fault with myself. I’m always lecturing people. I’ve done it so much, it comes second nature. Instead of me saying, “Why don’t you look here in the Bible and you figure out what it’s saying. Then tell me and I’ll help you,” I just want to give them the answer all the time. That is not always smart; we should be showing people biblical reasons as to why, rather than just telling them to do something. And that is what the Bible means here, being apt to teach. It says a pastor is a teacher and we should always be communicating God’s truth to men and women.
We have much difficulty in being patient these days. We do live in a society that is very, very instant. We wish that we could be like some other groups that just add a few drops of water and you’ve got instant Christian, but it doesn’t work that way. As the Bible says in James 5:7, “Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it,” We need to learn to be patient with our children. If we are fathers and we are leading them and training them, we’ve got to practice patience, as children take time to develop. If we become impatient with them and we become demanding with them, we’re going to harm them. We’re not going to see the results that we want. Disciplining takes time; raising children takes time.
“In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves;” The word meekness has somewhat of a negative connotation today, as though we are being apologetic about our ministry. We should not be apologetic at all, for we preach the Word of the living God. That word meekness really means “strength that is under submission to God.” It may be easier sometimes to wield the rod, to lash out and make people do things. We go to the book of Proverbs when it comes to child-raising and we see all those verses about the rod. That’s how we do it. But Proverbs 29:15 says “The rod and reproof give wisdom:” Paul said to the church at Corinth that was giving him a lot of trouble, in 1 Corinthians 4:21 “What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” Paul was simply getting across that a man that is meek is under the control of the Spirit of God, conveying the Word of God.
Those are the attributes that God is instructing us in today. The servant of the Lord must not strive. He is to be gentle, he is to be apt to teach, patient and meek. We think of how the Lord pastored the first church and how gracious and patient He was with those church members, Peter especially. I was thinking as I was trying to recall any Scripture where Jesus was rough on His men, where He was demanding on them or impatient or ill with them, and I didn’t find any instance of that. I found an instance where He upbraided them for their lack of faith and He rebuked Peter for his lack of faith, but other than that, He did not exhibit all of those crushing qualities that so many people want to use today. In fact, Paul, when he was writing to the church at Corinth, said “I beseech you”–I beg you–by the meekness and the gentleness of Christ. Paul could have easily said, “I’m an apostle. You were built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, so just do it.” But he said “I beseech you.” I beg you brethren, by the meekness and gentleness of Jesus Christ. The attributes of gracious ruling are given to us in the example of our Savior.
The Aggravations to Gracious Ruling
Our text says, “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men,” All men. Verse 25 reads, “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves;” Have you ever had people in your church who oppose themselves? They’re opposing themselves by struggling with the flesh. They want to serve God, but the flesh wants to serve self, and there is that conflict that goes on in people’s lives. The Bible says we are not to get frustrated with them, but in meekness we are to instruct them. We are to help them and to lead them to victory because the Bible promises victory in Christ. But there are those that oppose themselves. They have real problems with self, real problems with the flesh.
Verse 26 talks about another group of people who are taken “out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” I don’t suppose you have any of those in your church–people who just seem to go off the deep end, and you think that they’re on the right path and doing things right, have some things worked out in their life, and then suddenly they’ve fallen back into their old life again? They are taken captive by Satan. Again, we can easily write them off and say, “Well, I guess they were never saved,” or “They never would have worked out anyway. Good riddance to them, backdoor revival.” The Bible does not say that. It says that we are to work with them that perhaps they will get right. Kind of an interesting view of the ministry, isn’t it?
There are a few other things that we’ll find probably in every church that is represented in 1 Thessalonians 5. In verse 14, the Bible says, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly,” Those that don’t want to be ruled, don’t want to do what they’re told to do, and don’t want to submit to the authority of the church. They’re always bucking. The Bible says they need to be warned. The Bible says, “comfort the feebleminded.” The feebleminded are always making wrong decisions in life. The Bible says we are to work with them, to comfort them with Scripture, not just to pat them on the back and say, “There there, it will be fine.” The Bible talks about the comfort of the Scriptures, and we are to give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. That’s what it means to comfort them.
Verse 14 says “support the weak.” This could be the new convert who has just been saved. We wonder, why don’t they dress right, why don’t they do things like a Christian should do? Well, they’re learning those things, and the Bible says we need to work with them. We need to support them. A new baby coming into this world is very vulnerable if he doesn’t have parents who will support him, cradle him, hold him, feed him, change him. A baby is helpless by himself. A new babe in Christ is no different. Spiritually that person needs our help and support.
It’s interesting that 1 Thessalonians 5 reads “be patient toward all men.” These things don’t happen overnight. There are aggravations when it comes to graciously ruling our families and our church because things don’t always go right. Someone said the ministry would be fun if it wasn’t for people. That is true. But we’re not in it for the fun. People will disappoint you. People will hurt you. People will use you. People will desert you. And people will even disparage you. The ministry is a struggle. Raising children for the Lord is a struggle. It doesn’t come easily. I like what Paul said to the church at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 12:15. I believe this is the key, “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” If you’re not going to give your life to the ministry and to the people that God has placed under your care, if you’re not going to live for your children to give them everything, it’s not going to work. There are going to be aggravations. Every day, we preachers deal with that phone call or that meeting with someone, where we wonder what have they done now. Problems come, but God gives us the solution.
The Assurance for Gracious Ruling
Having said what I’ve said, there may be someone saying, “I don’t want the job.” But gentlemen, we have a calling. And the gifts and calling of God are without repentance; God doesn’t change His mind. That calling is a holy calling. As fathers, we are called to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. That is a calling. As pastors, we are called to teach the Word of God for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry and for the edifying of the body of Christ. That is our calling. Here’s the encouragement: if we’re faithful in doing what we’re called to do, then God is faithful to do what only He will do. You see it here in the text, 2 Timothy 2:25, “if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;” I find that a very liberating statement, that it is not up to me to convince people, it is up to me to give them the Word of God. It’s up to me to preach truth and to give that truth to them in the way that I’m supposed to, but God is the One who is going to change the heart. God is the One who is going to move. We have God on our side! As we are patiently laboring and working with people and going through the ups and downs of their lives, it is God that we are looking to. God is going to work in their lives. Only God can change the hearts of people. I’m glad for the assurance today that it’s not dependent on me. I need to be faithful in doing what God has called me to do. You need to be faithful and do what God has called you to do, and He will do the rest.
The Bible says, the servant of the Lord must not strive. How are we to lead? How are we to rule? With grace. We follow the example of Christ. The Bible tells us that when Jesus came into this world, He emptied Himself. He was full of grace and truth. I would say, if we want to be full of grace and truth, as far as is humanly possible, we must empty ourselves.
1 Peter 5:2-4 is addressed to the preachers, the elders, and the pastors of the church. “Feed the flock of God…Neither as being lords over God’s heritage,…a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” But I want you to look at verses 5-6, because it’s talking about how we get grace. There’s only one way to get grace–“Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another,” That’s the secret: submitting one to another. The Bible says, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” James 4:6
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:” I Peter 5:6. God gives us the grace to be the men of God that we need to be. Only God can give that grace, but until we empty ourselves, we’ll never be full. We need to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. May God bless the preaching of His Word to our hearts.