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Traditional – The Good Fight: Honey or Vinegar | Rev. Mike Holly

Scripture Reference – 2 Timothy 2:23-26 (NRSV): Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. This is the Word of God for the people of God. Amen.

Before I get into my sermon, I wanted to stop and say thank you to this congregation. My aunt passed away last week and I was able to depart last Thursday and go to South Carolina. Her funeral was yesterday. I was able to participate in the service at the Episcopal Church where she was a member. About 10:00, we went to the graveside and I came home to my church family.

But I want to thank you for the ways in which you’ve reached out to me and shared your condolences and care. I really appreciate that. I was talking about teachers and my aunt was a lifelong teacher. I was joking with someone earlier that even at Christmas, when our family would get together, she would be trying to teach us something on our holiday break.

She was someone who is devoted to teaching and investing in the lives of underprivileged children, underserved communities, pouring her heart into into that if we remembered her well. But it got me thinking about teachers. Teachers who have made a difference in our lives are usually the ones that have opened our minds in some way to see the world in a very different way.

Teachers that maybe, maybe didn’t make a great impact on our lives are ones that we didn’t really care for or we felt didn’t really care about us and were just trying to hammer information into our heads.
And maybe we really even stopped really caring about that subject because of that one teacher. I had a teacher in chemistry. I taught chemistry to in high school and a chemistry teacher that I both loved
and that I was frustrated by.

I loved our teacher in chemistry, too, because she was really easy to get off the subject. We could ask random questions and she would spend 10 to 15 minutes trying to answer them. I remember one day where we got her to draw the chemical composition of Tylenol on the chalkboard, and it took about 15 minutes for that whole conversation to go through.

Now, I was frustrated because the kind of teaching that went on in that class was not something that really helped me grow. Our teacher would dictate the notes to us in including periods, commas, etc. She dictated punctuation to us as well. Now, the good thing about this was that about half the tests were open note tests. So if you paid attention and you wrote everything down, you had the answers to the tests.

But the problem with that was is that I wasn’t really retaining information. It was just simply going through my head into my hand, through my pencil, into my notebook. And it was other classes that were more conversational. There were other classes that really helped transform the way I saw the world or experienced education because of the ways in which the teachers designed the lessons to help us really understand and and really sort of impact or, you know, write that information into our minds and into our hearts so that we could grow up and be people that could thrive.

It made me think of the movie Dead Poets Society. You may remember this movie. It had Robin Williams, the late Robin Williams as a teacher of English at a private school, and this was his job to help make poetry interesting to teenage boys. That was his impossible task, and he did so with such enthusiasm and humor that only Robin Williams could have pulled off.

But he also did it by helping them understand the world around them. He took them outside of the classroom. He asked them to think through the ways that they were conforming to the world and maybe not being as unique. And what I love about this is that he really seemed to care about his students and wanted them to care about what he cared about.

He would not pressure you into loving what he was passionate about, but he would share his passion with you, hoping that maybe it might sort of inspire you. And there were students that were inspired who came to love that teacher. Mr. Keating was his name. They came to love him and care for him. And when he was fired, they ended up standing on desks.

You may remember the end of the movie where they stood on the desk and they said, Captain, my captain. They were standing up for their teacher. That helped sort of open their and to the world. And yet, if you notice in the rest of the movie, he still cares for and is working to help the other students who don’t like him so much to help them see he never gives up on them.

He cares about each of his students genuinely and equally. Some of the students didn’t stand up on the desk at the end of the movie because they were afraid of being expelled, but some of them really just did not connect with him and that was okay. But at least they knew, hopefully, that he cared about them and he was trying to share his passion with them.

I think there’s something that we can learn from this because imagine what kind of impact your life may have if you can change for the better. Someone’s perspective. If you can change for the better, someone’s attitude or the way they think. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could make an impact like that, especially as Christians? Could we somehow make an impact in someone’s life that they see things from God’s perspective instead of their own?

That comes to part of what we’re talking about. And second, Timothy. Today in second Timothy Paul is talking to Timothy. He is a young man called to be a preacher. And it’s clear that he has the gifts to do this. And it’s clear that his faith has come from his family. He has been taught by his grandmother and his mother to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

And Paul is trying to help Timothy understand how he should lead his life to make an impact on others. And so part of what we have to do when we read first Timothy and second Timothy is to remember that these these passages are ultimately pointed at preachers. So I’m preaching today, but Paul’s probably talking mainly to me and to Maggie, but in a way also to you as well.

And because of this, the longer that you are a Christian, the more a teacher you become. The longer that you’re a Christian, the more responsibility you have to live and embody the way of Jesus and teach people by the way you live and the way you act. It’s your responsibility as you learn and grow. You don’t get off the hook just because you didn’t go through ordination to become a pastor.

All of us have a responsibility to live the way that Paul is telling Timothy, especially as we grow in our lives. You may remember the words attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary, use words. So in a way, what Paul is telling Timothy is that there is a way that you act.

There’s a way that you treat people that impacts the kind of teacher, the kind of preacher that you will become. Because the ultimate goal is not to win an argument. The goal is to form people who will follow Jesus, not to get them to believe exactly what you believe, to get them to love God, to love Scripture, to follow Jesus, and to continue growing in a relationship with him over time.

But it’s hard to change somebodies perspective, isn’t it? We become, especially as we age from young age into our young years and young adult years and etc., We start to sort of get very comfortable in the way we see the world and don’t want to change the way we live. And this is something that I’ve seen in people who are not Christian.

One of the things that we teach as we’re expressing the gospel to people is that we all are sinners and we need God’s grace. We need God’s grace. And yet, if you can’t convince somebody that they’re a sinner, they’ll never understand why they need God in the first place. I’m fine without God. Right. But if we help people see the perspective that their lives are not the way they should be because of sin, then we’ve got a chance to help them understand why they desperately need God’s love and grace in their lives.

And thankfully, God offers to everyone. So changing somebody’s perspective is essential and helping them understand why they need God in the first place. And when we’re talking about helping people understand what we want them to understand, how we communicate it and how we treat them while we’re communicating, it becomes critical. Now, I know we’re in a highly charged time in this world, especially in this country, fearful of what’s happening overseas.

And yet one of the things I’ve noticed and this is not new, this is something that’s been going on for while, is that almost every time that you turn on the news, someone and any channel someone is giving passionate arguments for their side of things. Right. Passionate, articulate. Sometimes arguments for what they believe. And then all of a sudden they’ll say a phrase that I’ve started to hear more in the past decade than I ever had before.

And that phrase is wake up, wake up. You know, somebody will say, wake up. The science is clear. Or they might say, wake up. The other side is destroying things. And I want to say, first of all, that when we say wake up, it hopefully comes from a place of of care and compassion, because wake up is like a sounding an alarm.

Right. The idea that something’s not right and we need to address it quickly and earnestly. Now, when it’s overused, though, and you’re using it in a condescending tone, what you’re saying to someone is, is that they are somehow sloppily indifferent or they are delusional and don’t know what they’re talking about. And in a way, you’re belittling them and their viewpoint.

And I don’t know about your experience, but when I have been told that I was delusional, that happens a couple of times every now and then. You know, you’re delusional. You don’t know what you’re doing. It really doesn’t make me want to join their side of things. It doesn’t want me or it doesn’t make me want to see things from their perspective.

It’s very aggressive. It’s it’s accusation. And in a way, what we end up doing is building up barriers when we belittle people and their viewpoints. And I don’t think that Paul is on the same page with that in terms of teaching Christianity to people. Turning people into Christians does not start with belittling them, but to show them how they need God.

And so that’s where I think Paul is trying to help Timothy understand that you can’t go around being a part of arguments and disagree, moments that end up sort of, in a way, creating walls between you and them, because the goal is to have influence over them, to have trust between the two of you so that you are willing to listen to one another’s views.

And if we cannot gain influence over their lives, then why are they going to listen to us in the first place? So the way to gain influence this is clear and Paul is showing it to us. Paul says to Timothy: Be kind. Notice that Paul doesn’t say, just don’t talk about religion, politics, etc. at Thanksgiving. He doesn’t say that.

If you read over again, he says, correct people in gentleness. Did you notice that? He says, Teach people, by the way, that you carefully embody the way of Jesus. Teach people by the way you care for them,
still teach them don’t don’t back away from your views, but do so gently expressing your views and how they came to be that way.

Paul does this and he’s trying to help Timothy understand it. Start with gentleness, start with kindness, love people and help them come to see things the way you see things. The opposite approach of this is what Pastor Ray Stedman from California calls shooting from the lip. Do you get it? Shooting from the lip instead of shooting from the hip?

Shooting from the lip means that you are trying to get an argument. You’re throwing argumentative bombs into conversations. You are trying to go the other person into arguing with you. Shooting from the lip does not actually help win an argument. Instead, what we’re trying to do is to help people again find ways to connect and see things from your perspective.

Walk in your Shoes. Paul is telling Timothy that if he’s going to be effective at changing people’s hearts and minds, he’s got to love and care for them as he does. And that’s not easy. There are a couple of quotes that I want to share with you that come from some Christian thinkers and writers that I think would help us understand what is the ultimate goal?

The ultimate goal is to help people understand the truth in the Bible. And the reading that we have for today from Second Timothy Chapter two, it says So that they’ve come to know the truth. The actual way to translate that is to have them come to their senses. That sounds a lot like wake up, doesn’t it? It’s come to your senses.

So how do you help people come to their senses? By doing what Paul is telling Timothy. As the Lord’s servants, we have a responsibility to develop relationships where we become positive and godly influences. This is what Ray Stedman I mentioned before says about that. He says, The Lord’s servant must not be argumentative, pejorative, or a belligerent type of person who is ready to come out with guns blazing.

The Lord’s servant is not out to win arguments. He is not out to squash the opposition or silence dissent by overbearing, heavy handed approaches. Rather, he is there to encourage discussion and examination. He does not put down opponents or resort to name calling or a diatribe. He is not argumentative, not contentious. So in a sense, what Stedman is saying is that if we’re going to help people understand the Christian way of life, the Christian gospel of a God who lays down his life for all of us, arguments and squashing opponents are not going to achieve that.

Instead, acting as if Jesus would act and helping them understand the truth behind the gospel is the way forward. It is not going to be through heavy handed, argumentative ways. And this, friends, is right back to what can work in our marriages, in our homes, in our relationships with coworkers or neighbors. The same thing applies. The more argumentative we are, the greater the divide that we create between one another.

I was doing some pastoral counseling once with a couple, and it’s Master’s week, so this is a little applicable. But there was a family. They were not in debt. Okay. But they well, he was spending a lot of money on golf clubs. He thought that by buying a new club, he would improve his golf game. And the way that the nobody in the room was a part of this.

By the way, this is years ago. And the wife was upset. They were not saving enough. They were not in debt, but they were not saving enough for college and for retirement. And so she really didn’t take Paul’s advice at first. She said to him, you know, if you took golf lessons, maybe your game would get better than buying a new club every six months.

That was not fun to be a part of. But after a few weeks, everything changed because in their relationship, they started talking about the future and what kind of future they wanted to have together. And she said something very, I think, amazing in this conversation. She said, Can you imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have to worry and stress about loans for our children in college?

That we saved up enough, enough money now that we didn’t have to worry about that or that that we were able to save enough money in the future that we didn’t have to worry about retirement. You could go play golf anywhere you wanted to. He really liked that. She drew a picture of a positive future that helped him see how he might be able to change and change his perspective instead of criticizing him at first.

By caring for people and wanting the best for them, we have a shot. We have a shot at influencing them. You know, the old saying goes that you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. So first of all, who in their right mind wants to attract flies? But let’s say it. Let’s say we want to let’s say that somebody who is not a follower of Jesus, we want to attract them to the church.

We’re not going to do it with vinegar. We’re not going to do it with sour, argumentative faces and attitudes. We’re going to attract more people with honey. We attract people by the way we treat them and treat them as if they matter to God. And the rest is all influence, not holding back Truth, but holding truth with an open heart.

That’s the kind of thing that Paul is telling to Timothy. Have the truth, but give it with an open heart. Here’s a way that William Barclay, a commentator on the New Testament, says it. He says, Here is the test. If at the end of a talk between two people, we are closer to one another and God then all went well.

But if we have erected barriers between one another and left God more distant, then all is not well. The aim of all Christian discussion and of all Christian action is to bring a man nearer to his fellows and to God. So what we’re talking about is are we doing a good job with arguments and anger, getting people closer together and closer to God?

And the answer, Paul says, is no. But the way that we do this is by loving them, caring for them, serving them, and helping them to find the truth that we see and know, and to find their hope in God.

We attract more flies with honey than we do with vinegar. Our friends in this world are looking for hope and for truth and they’ll find it when we show them that they matter to the God who chose us, who called
us, who redeems us, who saves us, and who blesses us to be the kind of
people that can make a difference.

I want to imagine. I want you to imagine for a moment just thinking through the past month. There’s a note section on the back of your bulletin. Think about a time where maybe you lost your temper. Maybe you yelled. Maybe you argued. Maybe you did the things that Paul says we shouldn’t be doing. How could it have gone better?

How could you have shown more grace and care for that person? Not just not be angry and argumentative? How could you have actually used influence your influence to help them see things from your perspective? I guarantee you that if we practice that more often, we will see more blessed lives. One of them will be our own With the more people that are around us and that call us friends, let’s pray.

Most holy and loving God, we give thanks for this word. Even though it
is challenging. It is so difficult to live this way. And yet your son
is our example. He is our compass point. Help us to live a life in
harmony with him. That is, we hold the truth with open hearts. We
might seek to influence others not to fight, but to guide, not to
argue, but to help people see that we might all wake up to your truth
and love in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.