But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:23-26)People who oppose God are not the enemy. The enemy is the one who has snared them and taken them prisoner to do his bidding. Deceived people are unaware of the truth about God and most of them do not know that they are actually serving Satan. The Bible is quite clear that any who are opposed to God cannot be convinced by argument, pushy impatience, or even a brash confidence. This is not the way of God, even though many Christians, including me, have tried it.
These verses are also instruction for helping believers who are ensnared by false teaching. They need to repent (turn from their sin and error to right thinking and truth). They need to think soberly, soundly. Only by coming to their senses and thinking the way God thinks, can anyone escape the devil’s trap.
Two other passages come to mind. One is from the Old Testament when the people of God were attempting to rebuild their temple. Some compare the temple to the Christian life or to the gospel message. Whether or not that is a good application, there is a principle in these verses. The prophet Zechariah spoke to God about the rebuilding process and this is what God said:
So he answered and said to me: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)God is not into force. His Spirit can do amazing things, including softening hard hearts and changing a person’s thinking. Whenever someone is opposed to God, I need to remember that. I cannot ‘make’ them think differently.
A New Testament passage is more direct. Overlooking the ancient city of Corinth was a hill 1,857 feet high. On top of it was a fortress. Paul used that imagery as an illustration of the spiritual warfare he waged. He said,
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)Paul describes how he destroys strongholds, casts down lies and brings all inner arguments, thoughts, and plans into obedience. He made sure that any opposing ideas and rationalizations were put out of his heart and that all his perceptions and intentions were obedient to his Lord and Savior.
Paul knew, and I know it too, that my actions reveal my thoughts. I must not cling to thoughts that fail to conform to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Like Paul, I cannot walk according to the flesh or my worldly desires. I must conquer my old sin nature through the power of the Holy Spirit.
These verses also allude to spiritual warfare. In fighting the lies of Satan, I cannot rely on human methods. Debate, argument and reasoning do not work. My weapon is prayer and my fighting resource is God. He alone knows the human heart and He alone knows how to change a person. The Holy Spirit can melt all resistance and bring all thoughts captive so a person’s only desire is to follow Jesus. I cannot do it.
The point of all this is that not only am I unable, but that He does not do this the way I would do it. He uses techniques and strategies that are beyond my ability. As Ephesians 3:20-21 says, He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, and He does it so that He is glorified in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.
In spiritual battles, my biggest responsibility and biggest challenge is to trust and obey Him — even when He calls for methods that don’t seem to make sense.