We should be clear that mean-spirited, ungentle behaviour does not match the biblical idiom for how we ought to treat our opponents. Certainly, Paul warns his congregations with strong words. Yet as a general pattern, when he advised direct interaction with opponents, he instructs us to be gentle. The reason for our strong language against opponents seems mainly for the benefit of the flock who need the warning. But the kind of speech we use in direct conversation with opponents seems to be gentleness.
Paul writes to Timothy, encouraging him and explaining how Timothy ought to defend his flock against false teachers (2 Tim 2:14–19). Two particularly troublesome men, Hymenaeus and Philetus, had wrongly claimed that the resurrection already happened (2 Tim 2:18).
His advice to Timothy, however, is somewhat counter-cultural for us today. Paul tells Timothy to pursue virtue, gentleness, and patience so that God may grant Timothy’s opponents repentance.
Paul’s Advice to Timothy
Here is what Paul says:
“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.
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” (2 Tim 2:22–26).