Young men often romanticize the ministry. I know I did. I was in another denomination when the Lord called me to the ministry. A committee met with me and one of the men asked a straightforward question, “Why have you sought our endorsement?” My answer was quick and Biblical. I said, “Woe unto me if I do not preach the Gospel!” I loved that text from the ninth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, but I also loved second Timothy and Paul’s charge to preach the word in season and out of season. A minister and even an aspiring minister loves those texts.
The fact is men who sense God’s call to the ministry ought to desire to preach the word. In fact, God’s word should be a fire in their bones, and they ought to be weary of holding it in (Jer. 20:9). But preaching is not the only pastoral duty. The preacher is also to be a shepherd. In II Timothy 2:16-22, Paul is dealing with some hard cases and in verses 23-26 he speaks about the kind of pastor needed in such situations.
But before we go on to examine verses 23-26, I want us to notice the way in which Paul addresses Timothy. He calls him the Lord’s servant. Surely this moniker reminds us of the Suffering Servant in the book of Isaiah. In fact, Matthew 12:18ff quotes from Isaiah 42, the first Servant Song, which says that the Servant will not quarrel. Not surprisingly, in second Timothy chapter two, Paul writes, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome…” The ministry of the Suffering Servant is a paradigm for the minister of the Gospel. Now, with that in mind let’s look at verses 23-26.
The Fishing Hole
Because Jesus calls the minister to be a fisher of men, I am going to use that imagery to think through this text. So, let’s first ponder what the fisherman is doing. In order to fish, the fisherman must go to a fishing hole. Perhaps it also goes without saying that when he arrives at the hole he is to fish and not swim. In other words, the minister is to fish men out of quarrels and not swim with them in their quarrels. Earlier in verse 22, Paul reminded Timothy to pursue peace “along with those who call on the name of the Lord from a pure heart.” The Lord’s servant presides over the pond of peace. So, how can a man in pursuit of peace be quarrelsome? In fact, he is to have nothing to do with these things for a very simple reason. Quarrels breed quarrels.
In verses 24-25, we read about the character of the fisherman or the Lord’s servant and we discover something striking. Not only is he not quarrelsome but he is to be kind to everyone. The word could well mean that the Lord’s servant is to be gentle toward all. Now, gentleness is something that many men in an increasingly feminized church fear. But we shouldn’t fear an attribute that characterized our Lord (Matthew 11:29). Paul, emulating the Lord, described himself to the Thessalonians as gentle (I Thess. 2:7).
If we are gentle, we will not be quarrelsome but apt to teach. Surely, this is a benefit because quarrels escalate but teaching explains. What is more, a gentle word turns away wrath and a pleasant word is health to the bones. Now, this is easier said than done. It is easier to reload your firearm without someone shooting at you and so it is easier to teach when someone is not quarreling with you. But the peaceful man need not become a pugilist in order to deal with a pugilist. A gentle man is sufficient even to deal with a difficult man.
Of course, this is why the Lord’s servant must also be able to patiently endure evil. He must be able to weather the storm. He must be able to bear up under the bad behavior of the one needing instruction. This will surely try and test the Lord’s servant but why shouldn’t the Lord’s servant experience the humiliation of his Lord, the Suffering Servant? Is the servant better than the Master? What is more, it is from this posture that the minister will be in a position “to correct his opponents with gentleness.”
Verses 25-26 remind us of some important truth, truth that is motivating. First, we do not labor alone. In fact, our labors are ancillary. We are instruments in the hand of the Redeemer. He alone is the one who may grant repentance to the erring through the use of ministerial labors. We must never forget this. Repentance is a gift from the Lord and it turns men to the truth. But second, there is motivation to be gentle when we understand that difficult people are caught in the snare of the devil and they are being used to accomplish his will. This does not excuse the sinner, but it should motivate us to compassion. We ought to remind ourselves of Spurgeon’s simple dictum, “For there but by the grace of God go I.”
Yes, the ministry is wonderful. I love preaching God’s word. It continues to be a delight to me because I know that I am doing something that will bear fruit for all eternity. However, preaching is not the only pastoral duty. The church also needs shepherds. She needs men who like their Lord, are awakened by the Lord God morning by morning that they might hear as those who are taught and that they might know how to sustain with a word the one who is weary and the one who is erring (Isaiah 50:4).