|Volume 18 Number 2 February 2016
Striving about Words
T. Pierce Brown (deceased)
Paul gives an admonition to Timothy that has special application for us today. In 2 Timothy 2:14 he said, “Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers.” Often when we find persons striving about words, we find that the statement in Jude 1:10 applies. “But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves.” By this we mean that very often when there is this sort of strife, those on one or both sides of the controversy speak evil of the other person, not understanding what he is saying, but assuming he means what he does not mean. It seems reasonably certain that the statement of 1 Timothy 1:7 applies to them. “Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.” Let us try to give some illustrations that may help us to see and to correct this problem.
Suppose a person says, “The United States only has one ambassador to Germany.” Another person says, “Every American soldier in Germany can be an ambassador of good will to the Germans.” It should be easy to see that two persons could argue and fuss about that, although most of us can see that there is nothing about which to fuss, for they are using the word “ambassador” in a different sense. It is our strong conviction that many brethren have so misused 2 Corinthians 5:20. “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” It should be evident to a careful student that when Paul uses “we” he is talking about the apostles as especially appointed ambassadors, and he is not talking about Christians in general. An extended study of “presbeuomen” and a realization that when he contrasts “we” and “ye” he is not contrasting Christians with sinners, but differentiating between the apostles and other Christians might help us to see that. However, just as an American soldier may be “an” ambassador to another country, although he is not “the” ambassador, so every Christian may be an “ambassador” even if we should not use 2 Corinthians 5:20 to prove it.
One may say of a career soldier that for twenty-four hours of every day he is serving his country as a soldier. He is doing what he does in the service of his country, for he is “in the service” all the time. If this soldier kills an enemy in wartime, he is doing this in the service of his country, and may be rewarded for it with a medal. If he had killed that same person in peacetime, although he is still “in the service of his country,” his killing was not “for his country” and the expression, “in the service of” has a different meaning. Even if his act was a lawful act, such as going to a movie, or having a date with his girlfriend, he is not doing that “in service for his country.” We could properly say that he did not go to the movie “as a soldier,” but he went simply “as a person.”
If we begin to argue that since he is a career soldier everything he does, he does “as a soldier,” we may not realize that we are using the expression in two different senses, and striving about words to no profit. One time when we say “as a soldier” we mean that he is acting on behalf of his government, doing what he does for his government. The next time when we say “as a soldier” we mean that “while he was a soldier” for the action is unrelated to his responsibility “as a soldier.”
The same kind of error in word usage may be found in our talking about our being in the army of the Lord or soldiers of the cross. Everything we do is done as a soldier of the cross, for we never cease to be one. It is now our career. As Paul said in Ephesians 4:1, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.” Yet, when a person plays golf, kisses his wife or helps an elderly person across the street, although he does that “in the service” of God, for he is never out of the service, he does not do it for God. It is not directed to God. One may call it “worship,” “for the glory of God,” “a living sacrifice” or whatever he wants to call it, but if he does not distinguish between what is directed to God as worship, sacrifice or service and what is merely done while in the service of God, he may be in danger of “striving about words of no profit” and even “subverting the hearers” in some cases.
To summarize the thought, one might say, “All we do in word or deed” is to be done in the service of God and for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), but we should always try to make clear the distinction between what God has ordained as “worship” directed to Him and something done in His service such as washing the saint’s feet or greeting one’s wife (or some other person) with a holy kiss.