There is an extremely disturbing “game” in the news. It’s called knockout. The object is to sucker punch an unsuspecting stranger and knock him or her out with one punch. This game ranks right up there with the teen who shot a jogger because he was “bored.”
A similar, albeit less physically violent, practice exists in the evangelical world. Spiritual swashbucklers engage the heathen with a thrust of “the Bible says” or parry of “Scripture states.”
It is true that God places in our hands “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17), but He also instructs us in its use. We find four parameters for the wielding of God’s Word, two given by Paul and two by Peter.
After assuring us that all Scripture comes from the mouth of God Himself and is sufficient for the exercise of God’s purposes in ministry, Paul shows Timothy how to bring it to bear. Against the opposition of those who reject sound doctrine, instead “to suit their own desires… and gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear, who “turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths,” Paul urges Timothy to “preach the Word” and “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 3:16-4:5).
Paul mentions two measures for the ministry of the Word to the wayward: “great patience and careful instruction” (4:2). Patience helps us to “keep our head in all situations” and to “endure hardship” (4:5). Rather than twisting arms or overwhelming with argumentation, it leaves room for the Spirit whose Word it is. It is the Spirit’s job to convince, convict and convert sinners, not ours. Patience eschews eloquence of speech and manipulative methods, deferring to the Spirit’s power in exposing the wisdom of God.
The second measure Paul mentions is careful instruction. But what to teach? The proverb says that it is folly and shame to give an answer before listening (Prov. 18:13). Listening knows where to scratch. It searches for the itch prompted by the Holy Spirit. It brings the sword to bear in surgical fashion.
Not only does it listen, instruction looks to administer the Word of God to do just the apostle has said it does—teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness. It looks to mold a person’s understanding to conform to God’s Word. Whether that Word will be palatable depends of the spiritual taste buds given by the Spirit.
Careful instruction is laced with patience, dispensing the Word not from a fire hose but from the flow of the garden hose amenable to quenching thirst. It looks not to win but to woo as the wisdom of God is spread before the one we engage.
The other two parameters come to us from the pen of Peter when he directs us to be ready to give a defense of our hope (1 Peter 3:14-18). After orienting us to the lordship of Christ that is to constrain our hearts and compel our lives (v. 15), Peter calls us to witness by our lives and our lips. We are to live righteous lives that reflect the lordship of Christ. As the Lord gives us opportunity, we want to bear verbal witness to our hope bound up in Christ, “who died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous” to restore sinners to relationship with God (v. 18). In giving this verbal witness, Peter cautions us to do so “with gentleness and respect” (v. 15).
Gentleness is the opposite of Bible bashing. It is sensitive, attentive and solicitous. It doesn’t seek to manhandle but to handle God’s Word with accuracy and authenticity, knowing God Himself is at work through it. Such gentleness, however, does not equivocate. It adheres to the revealed truth of God’s Word with temperate tenacity.
Respect leads us not to talk at someone but to talk with that person in our conversation for Christ. It doesn’t view someone as the object of our witness. Rather, it is winsome and engaging. It sees others as image bearers of God and interacts with them as reasonable beings in need of the same grace that caught us up in its sovereign torrent.
The easiest way to remember these four parameters for wielding the sword of the Spirit is with the acronym GRIP. Gentleness, Respect, Instruction, and Patience.
Perhaps Bible bashing is not the problem for the evangelical church today. Maybe the challenge is Bible blushing, where believers shy away from asserting the truth of God’s Word. Regardless, when we do speak it must be in humble reliance on the Holy Spirit, firmly gripping the hilt of His sword with patience, instruction, gentleness and respect.