For an Informed Love of God
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Grant Repentance (2 Tim 2:25)
Paul tells Timothy that he must stay away from senseless controversies, not be quarrelsome but rather kind, patiently enduring evil. Paul is thinking specifically of how Timothy should deal with the false teachers at Ephesus, men that I have argued in my commentary are the Ephesian church leadership.
Paul follows up with this statement. “God may perhaps grant (δώῃ) them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Tim 2:25-26). Paul had already warned him that church leadership must be above reproach else they might fall into the power of Satan (1 Tim 3:6-7). It would appear that this had in fact happened in the Ephesian church, and that the wolves among the flock predicted in Acts 20:29-30 were in fact within the current leadership.
The phrase “granted them repentance” always struck me as a somewhat strange expression. Don’t we repent when we come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, see our error, and repent? Perhaps, some of the time; but it appears that the Ephesian church leadership had gone considerably beyond this point. The only repentance they were going to experience was if God gave it to them. What does this mean?
δώῃ is a subjunctive form of διδωμι, but it does not necessarily give us a clue as to whether nor not Paul believes they will repent. They might, but Paul has no assurance this will in fact happen. And as usual, Paul exhorts Timothy to do what he can and not worry about what he has no control over.
The only related phrases I could find were in Acts 5:31 and 11:18, but here the topic is conversion. The overall meaning, of course, is clear. God is sovereign over all, even our evil hearts. But what specifically does Paul mean?
διδωμι has a wide range of meaning, but it is always related to “giving.” Perhaps the closest to our passage in BDAG is “grant, allow.” So repentance is a gift, but how so?
My conclusion is that there is a road that leads from a gentle heart open to the convicting working of God’s Spirit, to patterns of sin, to the hard heart in which God gives people over to their sin (Rom 1:24,26, 28).
Earlier on in one’s journey, we are sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit and repent easily. But as we continue to neglect the voice of the Spirit, as we insist on our sin, as we establish patterns of unrepentance, those patterns become more and more entrenched. Eventually, because we are so familiar with our patterns of behavior, we don’t even see the patterns and feel totally justified in how we live.
The best example of this I know is anger. When we first respond with anger, we feel its power, and it should frighten us. But as we continue to let the sun go down on the anger, we become more comfortable with is. And eventually we are so used to responding in anger that we don’t even notice it and feel totally justified in how we treat others.
Patterns are strong. It is why the alcoholic keeps drinking, the gambler keeps gambling, the abusive husband keeps hitting, and the abused wife keeps going back. We are comfortable in our patterns, even when those patterns are patterns of pain. And so angry men continue to get angrier, falling prey to Satan’s traps, and heart’s are hardened to the point that they no longer feel the convicting promptings of the Spirit.
To these people — and the Ephesians elders in particular — Paul tells Timothy that he must patiently and kindly endure their evil, because their sovereign Lord may (or may not) choose to break through their patterns and hardheartedness and give them what they can never come to on their own — repentance for their obvious sins.
May God grant to all of us a clear vision of our sinful patterns and his power for us to step out of the comfortable sin every one of us can find himself in.