During my Bible reading the other day, I came across 2 Timothy 2:24: “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient . . .”
This verse wasn’t written directly to parents, but it certainly has plenty of application for us! Paul was writing to Timothy who was leading a local church, and these words of wisdom were meant for him. But the four instructions found in this verse—one negative, three positive—are ones that all parents would do well to heed—myself included!
The first instruction—and the only negative one—tells us that “the servant of the Lord must not strive.”
It can be easy to strive with our children—especially some of them! My interactions with one of our sons in particular can easily stray into arguing. He’s generally not meaning to be disrespectful, but he’s young and hasn’t learned yet that he doesn’t have to say everything that’s on his mind. In moments of training and instruction, he’s prone to keep talking about and explaining (and often rationalizing!) whatever just happened. Frankly, it can sometimes (okay, often!) get a bit exasperating, and I can find myself slipping into an argument instead of avoiding one. We’re not shouting at each other, but the intensity level is a notch or two higher than it ought to be. I’m guessing you can relate.
That’s not God’s plan for dealing with our relationships. Paul says clearly in this verse that the servant of the Lord must not strive. (Other verses speak about living peaceably, which is largely the same thing.) We’re not to be argumentative and engage in verbal brawls. Discussions are fine, but our goal should be to avoid letting a discussion turn into an argument.
This leads directly to the second instruction, which is a contrast with the first: “but be gentle unto all men.”
The context here indicates that striving and gentleness are on opposite ends of the relational spectrum. If we’re striving, we’re not being gentle; if we’re being gentle, we’re not striving.
It’s easy to let gentleness slip when we’re in the midst of correcting or instructing our children. Practicing gentleness means we won’t deal with our children in harshness or anger. I believe gentleness is a quality in our spirit that emanates from a heart of love for our child and a genuine concern and interest in their wellbeing.
Of course, being gentle with our children doesn’t mean we’re not firm. It doesn’t mean we don’t have rules and standards and administer consequences when those standards are violated. But gentleness does mean that even in the midst of our teaching and discipline, we’re going to demonstrate love rather than anger, kindness rather than harshness.
The next instruction tells us that we should be “apt to teach.” Clearly this is an important one for parents! As I’ve written before, children need to be taught pretty much everything—from who God is, to how to tie their shoes, and everything in between.
There are many things we know it’s our responsibility to teach our children. When they’re small, we teach them how to dress themselves, how to brush their teeth, how to use the bathroom, and many other simple life skills. If we don’t teach them these things, who will?
Unfortunately, we sometimes don’t take our children’s spiritual training as seriously as we do those simple skills. We’re more willing to delegate that to someone else. But God wants us—not someone else—to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to our children’s spiritual education. We need to be “apt to teach” in this area above all others.
As we look at this verse, it’s interesting the way Paul’s four instructions fit together. We’re not supposed to strive; instead, we should be gentle. We’re supposed to teach, and there’s no doubt that gentle teaching is better than harsh instruction. We’re supposed to be patient, because without patience, there’s no way we’ll fulfill the other three commands. Put together, these instructions define an attitude or spirit of genuine love as applied to those under our charge.
If you’re like me, you probably find yourself struggling in some of these areas. The good news is that God wants to help us be the parents He’s called us to be. Let’s not forget to ask for His help!
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