Rules of engagement? What’s he talking about? The mildly funny TV show on CBS? The 2000 American film starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson? The set of rules that “determine when, where, and how force shall be used…[and] are both general and specific…”? (Yep – both general and specific…). If you guessed the last one, you’re right. I haven’t even see the TV show or the movie…
Today’s study was actually titled Rules for Contention, which goes along with what we’ve been studying – our need to contend for the faith. In Jude 3, the author states “I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith…” We looked at what contending was, and we determined that we must stand up for truth, because if we don’t, lies will get spread in its place. Then, we talked about fighting fair and we looked at the Biblical characteristics of a leader in the church. To summarize all of this, we could say that we must contend for the faith – we must spread the truth of God’s Word throughout the world – but we shouldn’t be contentious. We must oppose those who are wrong and who are spreading lies, but we must not be quick tempered or violent. In other words, we must engage the enemy, but there are rules.
Paul wrote to Timothy about setting up teachers and leaders in the church in 2 Timothy 2:14-26:
Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
Throughout this passage, Paul warns Timothy about being contentious:
- Quarreling about words (v. 14) – useless arguing over things that have been said
- Godless chatter (v. 16) – talking continuously about ungodly things
- Foolish and stupid arguments (v. 23) – arguing about things you know nothing about (NASB translates “foolish and ignorant speculations”)
- “the Lord’s servant must not quarrel” (v. 24)
So how can we contend for the faith without becoming contentious?
First, we must know Scripture back and forth. Paul tells Timothy in v. 15 to be one who “correctly handles the word of truth,” and also says in v. 24 that he must be “able to teach.” If we know the Word of God, we can easily use it to refute Satan’s lies. That’s what Jesus did when he was tempted by Satan’s lies in the wilderness (see Matthew 4:1-11). And even better, we can let Scripture speak for itself. When we feel like it is us that is being attacked, we are more likely to be contentious, but when we stick to God’s Word and allow it to speak for itself, we give ourselves space to remain calm and focus on what really matters – the truth.
Second, we must remember to keep a Christ-like attitude. Paul told Timothy to “be kind to everyone” (v. 24) and to “gently instruct” (v. 25). And he tells him to “pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” These characteristics are spiritual fruit that come from abiding/remaining in Jesus (see John 15:1-17). If we love others as Jesus loves them, we will keep an attitude that deflects contentious actions and instead kindly and gently opposes those in the wrong. Because what really matters is that they “come to their senses” and to repentance and a relationship with Christ – not that they be proved wrong and sent home with their tail between their legs.