“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.”
These verses convey some very important truths:
- · The repentance of those who are in opposition depends greatly on the gentleness, the ability to teach, the patience and the humility of the servant of the Lord. I say, “Depends greatly” because the expression “if God perhaps” (“sometime” or “peradventure”)… points out how difficult it is to see such people repent and know the truth. So, we are urged even towards the most unworthy to exercise meekness. Since the conversion of a man is granted by God, we must work toward that end in the hope that those in opposition or who disagree may be eventually changed by the power of God! We must not lose hope!
- · This means that, irrespective of his gentle (meek), patient, humble etc. behaviour, the servant of God cannot guarantee the conversion to God of those who are in opposition, who resist, deny or contradict the truth. IF GOD will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth: This means that it is God who opens the eyes of their understanding, works conviction in the spirit and induces men to repent of their errors, sins, confess their mistakes and embrace the truth. And though it is not certain that God will grant repentance to such opposers, we are encouraged to continue to do our duty and try to overcome evil with good (Rom.12:21).
- · There are sincere “opposers” who have different opinions or are simply in error, in ignorance or weakness. Sincere opposers, such as Saul of Tarsus, “… may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2Tim.2:26). God can cast down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ and punish all disobedience when our obedience is fulfilled (2Cor.10:5-6). In other words, when we say from the depths of our heart, “Yes, Lord, what do you want me to do?” or “Yes, Lord, do it in me”.
- · There are perverse and/or satanic opposers who have bad intentions and are of bad faith. You cannot convince someone who does not want to be convinced, who does not want to face the truth. You cannot convince “…those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa.5:20). You cannot convince those who are inventors of excuses for their sins or failures, those who camouflage the truth…, and those who do not accept their responsibilities! “If a wise man contendeth with a fool, whether he rage or laugh, he hath no rest.” (Pr.29:9 Darby; Mat.11:37 and Luke 7:32). We should not forget the case of Agrippa who said to Paul, “…You almost persuade me to become a Christian” (Act.26:28) or that of Felix who, seized by fear, as Paul reasoned, said, Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you… who meanwhile also hoped that money would be given him by Paul that he might release him and who, therefore, sent for him more often and conversed with him (Act.24:25-26). If we do our duty according to the above-mentioned instructions, we remove the pretexts of those who look for pretexts in order to excuse themselves. On the other hand, God may use our good behaviour to help the fiercest opposers or those who live in error to come to their senses, in due course, and escape the snare of the devil… We must “plant and water” but unless God intervenes there can be no change and no increase (1Cor.3:7).
The above statement is crystal clear! There are, however, some erroneous interpretations which are worth noting. Does the expression “gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition” mean:
- · That the man of God must be so gentle, so sweet, as to become like “glue”…? Was our Lord Jesus or Peter or Paul always gentle to those who were in opposition?
- · That the man of God should be as “patient” as to tolerate everything? Should he be so patient as to never get angry (without sinning) and his heart never to be filled with holy indignation? Or, that he should tolerate indefinitely a divisive or heretic man? The man of God is ordered after the first and second admonition to abstain, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned? (Tit.3:10-11)
- · That the man of God should be as “humble” as to never reprove, rebuke, exhort and correct those who sin or walk disorderly?
Truth is painful! Those who are of good faith and of good will, in spite of deceiving appearances, will be saved by the truth and those who are of bad faith and bad will, will harden their heart. Anyway, let us remember that we must not strive, especially about words. Although repentance and salvation belong to God, the servants of the Lord are called to do their duty: tell “the truth in love” in such a way as to facilitate the conversion, in due time, of those who disagree or are in opposition. We must be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, the way God means it and not according to our human mentality. God knows the reason, the “when” and the “how” of their eventual repentance, conversion and deliverance.
Let us examine, now, the expression: “…if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth”. We have a similar expression in the following verses whose meaning is, however, identical:
- · “Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” (Ac.5:31);
- · “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” (Ac.11:18).
The above-mentioned verses tell us that it is God who gives or grants repentance; repentance which leads: a) to the knowledge of the truth [επίγνωσις (epignosis)= full knowledge of the truth]; b) to forgiveness of sins; and c) to life, respectively. So great “par excellence” is the importance of repentance!!! It would be superfluous to mention a series of other verses that show the importance of repentance for our salvation. The verses we are examining have, however, challenged my spirit in the past: ‘If it is God who gives repentance why, then, does He command us throughout the Bible to repent? If it is God who gives us repentance – and repentance is truly a gift – why does God put the responsibility on us? If it is God who gives repentance, under what conditions does God give repentance? Does He give it arbitrarily? Is He a respecter of persons? Does He permit that someone goes to Hell without reason?’ By no means, because the Bible says that God is just and that there in no unrighteousness in Him! Then, what is the answer? This is a question that doesn’t have an easy answer… Let me share, however, with you my thoughts and my conclusions:
Let us begin with certain facts or principles:
- · “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.” (Ro.7:18);
- · “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” (Ro.8:7).
- · “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps.51:10 AV).
Conclusion: Flesh or the carnal mind cannot produce repentance! We cannot repent. So, repentance is God’s gift. Then it is God who gives repentance that leads to full knowledge of the truth, to our turning away from our wickedness and to our turning towards God. The result of this procedure is the escape of men from the snare of the Devil.
- · “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!” (ye did not will: according to the Greek and the YLT versions) (Luke 13:34);
- · “For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.” (Act.28:27);
- · “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mat.16:24 AV).
a) God respects man’s will and does not save him by force, and
b) IF man opens his eyes and his ears, then it is God who saves him from the sickness of sin!
- · “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” (Pr.4:23)
- · “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (Joh.3:19-20)
Conclusion: Everything that has to do with our spiritual destiny depends on the choices of our heart.
- · “…Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin.” (Eze.18:30);
- · “…Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mrk.1:15);
- · “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3, 5);
- · “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,” (Act.3:19);
- · “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Act.17:30);
- · “…repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place––unless you repent.” (Rev.2:5);
- · “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent”. (Rev.3:19);
There are many other verses which speak about our obligation to repent.
God commands men, unbelievers and believers, to repent and to keep repenting. If not, they will reap the consequences… If we combine the afore-mentioned principles, we conclude that, if we choose sincerely to see, listen and desire with all our heart God’s truth and consent saying, “Yes, Lord”, the Lord Jesus will give us a repenting spirit, will forgive our sin, will deliver us from the power of sin, will justify us, will sanctify us, will give us wisdom, will give us His Holy Spirit, will give us, in one word, “salvation”! It is our obedience to the truth that purifies our hearts (1Pet.1:22). THE RESPONSIBILITY IS, THEREFORE, ON US! Listen, please «And those are they that were sown upon the good ground; such as hear the word, and accept it, and bear fruit, thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and a hundredfold.» (Mark 4:20). God will not accept His Word for our own account and will not repent for our own account! This is supported also by the following verse: “Faithful is he that calleth you, (in accepting His Word, that is, by faith and repentance), who also will do it (He will enable us to repent – to mourn for our sins – and to produce fruit worthy of repentance)” (1Thes.5:24 and Lu.3:8). As soon as we do or part, He will do His: He will be made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption (1Cor.1:30). To God belongs the glory. Alleluia!
Let us not, however, forget that it is not repentance that saves us but it is the Lord Jesus that saves us. Repentance is just a pre-requisite, the necessary precursor so that man may have the experience of God’s grace! Anyway, God’s commandment is “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Act.20:21). God does not pay attention basically to our works but to the choices of our heart, to the motives of our hearts: “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.” (Pr.23:26), says the Lord.
The Bible says that, «Truly God is good… to such as are of a clean heart.» (Ps.73:1). But who are those with a pure heart? Those who are sinless? Of course not, but those who truly repent! Those whose good is but to draw near to God and have put their trust in the Lord GOD, that they may declare all His works (Ps.73:28). Yes, they that do not pollute themselves with: the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1Jo.2:16).
You and I, where are we? If Jesus Christ has our heart, He has everything of us: He has our thoughts, our desires, our acts, our goods, our time, our money! Yes Lord, let it be so!
And a last thought: Every time man repents of his sins and shortcomings, he facilitates his own “pruning” so that he may bring fruit, more fruit… (John 15:2). God cannot “prune” us if we resist Him, but if we embrace His words and say “Yes, Lord”, sincerely and wholeheartedly, then He can prune us and make us produce works worthy of repentance. Amen and amen!