Whose Spirit do we have? We know that we have the Holy Spirit if we are born again (see John 3:6), but how does that look? Do we reflect the spirit of Paul, or the spirit of Jonah?
Jonah, chapters 1-4; 2 Timothy, chapter 2
The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish.
Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.
Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.
Our readings for today reveal a stark contrast in dealing with people who are away from God. God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach, and Jonah runs the other way. On the other hand, Paul encourages Timothy to gently instruct those who oppose the truth, in the hope that somehow they will come to know the truth and be set free from slavery to sin.
Whenever we think of Jonah, we think of the great fish that swallowed him. But what put him in the middle of the sea in the first place? To put it simply, his rebellion against God. God called him to go preach to the people of Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, the “bully” of the Middle East in the eighth century. The Assyrians conquered the nations around them, resettling people to other lands and moving others into the places they defeated. For Jonah to go to Nineveh would be like an American missionary going to Tehran.
But Jonah was a prophet. God had called him to declare God’s message – not just when he liked the assignment but whenever God told him to go. But Jonah hated the Assyrians so much that instead of going to Nineveh, he tried to flee to Tarshish. While no one knows for sure where “Tarshish” was, it is commonly believed to be far from Israel, lying to the west across the Mediterranean Sea. In other words, Tarshish was the opposite direction from Nineveh. Nineveh was north and east of Israel; Tarshish was west.
We know that Jonah hated the Assyrians for a couple of reasons. First, he was willing to abandon his calling and run in the opposite direction when God called him to go to Nineveh. Second, after his encounter with the great fish, he went to Nineveh. However, when the people repented and God relented, Jonah lamented! “This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: ‘Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen” (Jonah 4:1-3).
In contrast to Jonah’s attitude, Paul urges Timothy: “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with different people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth” (verses 24-25).
I hope we understand that’s the attitude God wants us to have! But we should also remember that before he met Christ, Paul’s spirit would have been much more like Jonah’s. Paul was ready to hunt down Christians because he thought they opposed the Jewish faith. Jonah was perfectly willing for God to strike down the people of Nineveh, but he wasn’t happy when God relented.
So when Paul instructs Timothy in this passage, he instructs us as well. He’s not just saying that pastors or missionaries should act this way. His teaching is for anyone who is a servant of the Lord. And if we’re following Jesus, that includes us!
All followers of Jesus would say, “We have Jesus’ spirit! We have the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised and God sent!” But it’s a much more practical consideration to ask whether we look more like Paul or Jonah.
We’d like to think that we have Paul’s spirit. But how much of this can we honestly say about ourselves? Don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Unfortunately, much of the discussion that emanates from the Church these days looks a lot like foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.
Are we more interested in “being right” than “doing right”? Do we want to win arguments – or elections – or do we want to point people to the truth? Are we patient with difficult people? Is our teaching gentle enough that God can work through us to draw people to himself? We need to remember that other people are not “the enemy.” The enemy is the devil, who holds them captive to do whatever he wants.
Father, thank you for reminding us to pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Help us to be patient with everyone. Guard our hearts so we don’t get drawn into “foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.” Remind us of your great mercy and grace to us, that we may be “kind to everyone…and patient with difficult people.” Help us to reflect the Spirit of Christ to everyone we meet. Amen.
Written by: OchriO