I’m not saying anything new if I point out that the public square of our day is increasingly marked by raging rhetoric and canceling culture. Make your point, make it loud, make it rude, and then shut the door. Goodwill debate valued less and less. Instead, what too often gains applause are drop the mic moments followed by walking off the stage.
But while it may not be a new observation, it’s one that I think we need to constantly be aware of. Because the world has a way of rubbing off on us. That’s why John in his first epistle, is emphatic that we’re not to love the world or the things in it (1Jn. 2:15). We are not to take our cue from the ways of the world or model the world’s approach to matters of public discourse and debate. For, at the heart of the world’s ways are “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life.” And that, says John, “is not from the Father” (1Jn. 2:16).
So, how should a believer engage in the public square, in debate and discourse? Like a slave, says Paul this morning. Like the Lord’s servant.
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
(2Timothy 2:24-26 ESV)
You gotta feel for Timothy. Sent in to contend for the faith (1Tim. 1:3-4). Urged to “fan into flame” his gift (2Tim. 1:6). Told not to succumb to a spirit of fear, but to walk in power (1:7), wage war as soldier (2:3-4) and compete as an athlete (2:5). And yet, amidst such zeal, fervency, and holy determination, to keep his cool.
To not be argumentative, but to be friendly, good-natured and easy to talk to. When things start getting heated and the rhetoric starts getting personal, to forbear and not take offense at the ills and wrongs directed toward him. But also, not shutting down or walking way. Instead, hanging in there with meekness and mildness presenting the truth, holding forth the word, contending for the faith.
How’s that possible? Well, it helps if we’re able to remember that it’s God who in His kindness reveals truth and grants repentance. We’re not called to win the debate. We’re called to represent the truth.
But, as I chew on it a bit more, it REALLY HELPS if I remember that I am just the Lord’s servant. That’s “servant” not as in a server or deacon, but “servant” as in a slave, a bondman, a man or woman of servile condition. I’ve given myself up to Another’s will. Devoted to His cause, jealous for His reputation, disregarding my own interests or need to justify myself.
If I see myself as but a bondservant, shouldn’t humility follow? I’m thinkin’ . . .
To be sure, I should have conviction. I am to contend with courage. But I must not be quarrelsome. Because I’m the Lord’s servant.
Only by His grace. Only as all I want is for Him to receive glory.