2 Timothy 2:14 …charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.
In Paul’s last letter recorded in Scripture told Timothy some hard truths, which were difficult to hear. But it wasn’t drive-by spite or courage at a distance. He loved the elect of God (2 Timothy 2:10) and loved them too much to lie or flatter. He was going to speak profitable words, and to borrow a phrase from Baxter, he wrote as a dying man writing to dying men. Paul charges Timothy to charge the church to watch their mouth.
The church is not to strive about words to no profit. Meaningless, useless, war of words, about words. Words are important. Douglas Wilson says the battle of our time is the battle over the dictionary. Some in our culture are trying to redefine reality by changing the meaning of words. False preachers do the same. They redefine theological terms such as justification, elect, or even resurrection. Words are important and that’s not what Paul addresses. He is addressing the far too often experienced fight about shades of meaning that have no answer. Fights with no profit. There is no end in the struggle other than to defeat your opponent and win. Win what? The argument? Congratulations. The end of the argument isn’t when someone wins, because once the shooting of words is over and the smoke clears, you see you’ve destroyed the hearers.
One thing, most people don’t consider the collateral damage in such wars. You might be fighting with just one other person, but it never stays with just one person. Yes, you showed the preacher! You really proved yourself right. And you did it in front of his kids who get bitter about the church that hurts their dad so often. Yes, you really won that argument about what type of fruit Adam ate in the garden and put Brother Jones in his place. But you also made half the church dread coming because they know they are going to have to be in the middle of a war. Paul was no snowflake. Take 15 minutes this week and read 2 Timothy and notice how many specific people Paul calls out. He wasn’t afraid of a fight or an argument — when they had a purpose, when they brought glory to God or protected God’s sheep. Paul called out Peter to his face, and said he didn’t put up with a false gospel, even for an hour. Why? The the “truth of the gospel might remain” with the churches (Galatians 2:5). Doctrinal precision, defining our terms is a crucial, profitable exercise. A shepherd can’t expect wolves to play nice with the sheep. Sheep are not aggressive animals. Usually. A ram can get a little feisty and so do ewes with lambs. God’s people are not aggressive. Usually. Brothers and sisters can get a little feisty. The Bible says to stop.