2 Timothy 2.23-24 (NKJV)
Forcing the Situation
I write this from my parents’ home, where I’ve spent the past few days. Last evening, I cooked dinner for the family: Mom, Dad, my brother and his two sons. My sister-in-law, true to form, had gone to stand by a friend in crisis. Had she been with us, perhaps this story would have ended differently. I laid out beef tenderloin and all kinds of fancy fixings. The kids looked at it and asked their grandmother for reheated chicken fingers and hash browns instead. While she rallied to meet their requests, I followed her into the kitchen and (not so subtly, I admit) implied she would have knocked us halfway into next week had my brother or I ever come to the table—especially as guests—and asked for something other than what we saw. “I get your point,” Mom said. “Now here’s mine: they’re kids—grand kids.” (Two words.)
This morning, I realize I pressed my case longer, harder than I should have. Truth be told, they are grand kids: smart, loving, and tender toward godly things. They’ve grown up with a gay uncle who’s spoiled them rotten. Why wouldn’t they assume they get what they want when I’m around? Did it cross my mind they’d prefer hamburgers? Yes. Did I think it crazy to imagine they’d get all excited about a roast? Yes. Did I anticipate a “foolish and ignorant dispute”? Yes. Were they wrong? Probably. Was I wrong? Definitely. I tried to force a situation, knowing it would likely generate strife. I got so wrapped up in proving a point I ignored what I already knew.
Knowing Your Audience
Knowing your audience is the crucial factor in successfully bearing gentleness, the second “useful” fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-23). As Paul teaches Timothy, when we get entangled in foolish arguments and situations—in some cases, even going so far as to create them—we kill opportunities for gentleness to thrive. The suggestion is that merely entering into quarrels thwarts gentleness. “A servant of the Lord must be gentle to all,” Paul says. In today’s vernacular: “Everyone gets the kid-glove treatment.” And here’s why: as well as we know our audience, we can never fully know it. What’s tolerable to us may be insufferable them, and vice versa. Presumption never works to anyone’s advantage. “The brutal truth” may be true, but its brutality defuses its power; the truth gets lost in the pain. An argument that can’t be won gently can’t be won, regardless how much more correct one side is than the other.
Not on the List
Paul’s list of the Spirit’s fruits is interesting for what’s not on the list. To refresh, he itemizes the fruits of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Hmmm. Truth is not on the list. Righteousness is not on the list. Holiness is not on the list. Knowledge is not on the list. In other words, the Spirit doesn’t bear fruit that encourages us to exert authority over one another. They’re the fruits of our flesh—our personalities’ drive to prove we’re better, stronger, more correct, etc., etc., etc. That’s why Paul tells Timothy to avoid foolish and ignorant disputes that generate strife. That’s why gentleness is essential in all we do—a useful fruit that spreads the seeds of God’s Spirit. Proving we’re right usually ends in proving we lack wisdom and character. Gentleness sets aside proving we’re right so we can prove who we are—followers of Jesus, people who love God and our neighbors without condition, people who accept and forgive without the asking.
We'd do well to follow this fellow around, just to keep Peter's wisdom before us...