By Sewell Hall
David’s instruction to Joab (2 Samuel 18:5) to deal gently with an opposing military leader seems strange. This was not the way he dealt with Goliath; or with the cities of the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites (1 Samuel 27:8-9); or with the kings and generals of the Philistines, the Moabites, the Ammonites and the Syrians (2 Samuel 8-10). Indeed, Christians sometime find difficulty explaining some of the imprecatory Psalms of David, such as Psalm 109 in which he prays concerning an enemy that his days may be few, his wife a widow, his children fatherless beggars, and his property seized by creditors with none to extend mercy.
Why, then, the appeal for gentleness? The answer lies in the identity of the enemy. The young man was Absalom, David’s son. And when word came that Absalom had been slain, “the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, 0 my son Absalom! my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, 0 Absalom, my son, my son” (2 Samuel 18:33).
What a difference it makes when a young man is “my son!” I can understand David’s appeal for gentleness. I have a son -one of the rich blessings of God. As he encounters “perils of the city” preaching the gospel to the Spanish-speaking people of New York, I often am reminded of Solomon’s words: “A wise son maketh a glad father” (Proverbs 10:1).
Suppose that on one of those all-too-rare occasions when I hear him preach in English, I hear some teaching which I consider to be error. What would you expect of me? Can you believe that I would go to other preachers reporting his error before I spoke to him? Would you expect me to accuse him of accepting all of the false doctrines that may have been associated with his erroneous position in the past, or all of the logical consequences that I might draw from what he has said? Would I immediately conclude that “he is one of them rather than one of us, ” challenge him to a public debate or rush into print to warn the brotherhood? You would question my love for him if I did so.
Love, of course, would demand that I discuss with my son any apparent error in his teaching. I would be concerned, however, about how I approached him. I would first determine if he actually believed what he said; if not, that would end the matter. But if so, I might then point out some of the consequences of his teaching and suggest that he restudy the matter, considering any additional Scriptures I might offer. I would not press him for an immediate defense so as to avoid having him commit himself too quickly to his teaching; I would rather propose that we both study it further and discuss it at a later time.
If Paul wrote to a young preacher suggesting that he “rebuke not an older man, but exhort him as a father” (1 Timothy 5:1), is it not in order that older preachers should deal with all younger preachers and younger Christians as they would with their own sons? Some young men who start on a course of error cannot be saved regardless of approach, but it is possible for us to be so eager to “save the brotherhood” that we sacrifice some young men who could be rescued by the kind of gentle dealing practiced by Aquila and Priscilla who, hearing Apollos teach error, “took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).
Remember young John Mark. Paul may have been right in believing that the journey which he and Barnabas planned would be jeopardized by a young man who had shown some instability in the past (Acts 15:36-41). But that young man needed a friend and aren’t we glad that Barnabas was there to deal gently with him? Otherwise, we might not have that useful little book that bears his name and reveals so much about Jesus.
The fact is that gentleness is appropriate in dealing with anyone who is in error, whether young or old. “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” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
Let me make an appeal for all young preachers, but especially for one who goes by the name of Gardner Hall. If some godly “soldier of the cross” hears him preach something that is erroneous, I have two requests. First, take him aside and explain to him the way of God more accurately. Second, please “deal gently for my sake with the young man” – he is my son. (Reprinted from Christianity Magazine [Oct. 19871, p. 293).
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 4, p. 112
February 18, 1988