I put a sledgehammer through my basement wall. Then I pounded a pry-bar through the studs and clawed the nails out. It was all to gut my basement last winter. I was re-doing a section of the basement myself. I saved some money by not hiring someone, and the end-product was a room much more pleasant than what was there initially. The sledge hammer and the pry-bar got the gutting job done.
This weekend I installed a new light fixture atop my staircase. The project required rewiring a circuit and installing some new switches along with hanging the fixture. At least a few times, I fancied using a pry-bar and a sledgehammer. My fancy was not because I thought they’d get the job done, but because I was about done with the job. What I mean is I was so irritated when at first the circuit shorted that I pictured slamming a hammer through the ceiling and calling down anathema on the entire task. Alas, I persevered with some needle-nose pliers and a few screwdrivers to get the job done. This morning, the light did what lights are supposed to do: the light lit up the room. I’m glad I decided not to demonstrate my prowess in sledgehammer usage in arranging the light fixture. Thankfully, I stuck with the pliers and screwdriver.
In the same way I’m thankful I didn’t use the pliers and screwdriver to gut the basement. I could have. Slowly but surely, I could have picked it apart. I likely would have been more quiet in the process, and may even have made less of a mess. But the sledge hammer and the pry-bar were much more efficient. They allowed me to get the job done, and get back to caring for my family.
Not every job requires a sledgehammer. Many jobs require needle nose pliers. But just because that’s so it doesn’t mean some jobs don’t require sledgehammers. Wisdom is knowing when to drop the hammer and when to open the pliers. The same is true with truth.
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Truth communicated is the apple. The way it’s communicated is the setting. The fitting truth spoken the fitting way at the fitting time is fittingly beautiful. This applies in all areas, but here I want to specifically focus on the area of working through doctrinal error. I am noticing a trend that I hope to speak into. The trend is to employ one tool for all projects, and then assume that others who use other tools should only be using your one tool. Some men savour their theological sledgehammers, and others savour their needle nose pliers. But the LORD God hath given us both.
I offer two hypothetical examples. Let’s say a popular evangelical pastor starts espousing Arminianism from his pulpit. The brother in question is a really good brother. He’s a stalwart. He’s typically sound in what he says, but, obviously, on this I think the brother is off. But then some other men go after him with a sledgehammer. They should have used pliers, or even a ball peen hammer would have been better. Really they should have used pliers. Instead, they masterfully displayed their inability to fix a light fixture with a sledgehammer. Sad. That’s my first hypothetical example. For my second example, let’s say a not-so-evangelical pastor decides to affirm sodomite-marriage, and finds a crafty way to inventively justify his position Scripturally. Then an evangelical pastor emerges to handle the turn-coat with a set of pliers. They were the type of pliers you’d use to fix nano chips, not the type you’d use to fix an electrical transformer box. He figured the tiny little pliers were a really nice display of love to the erring “brother.” But the the aftermath is that a whole bunch of people got taken by the lies. One man carried a sledgehammer to a plier fight. And so two men engaged in two different battles arming themselves with the wrong weapons. They should have exchanged battles or traded weapons.
Those are my two example. Now I’m moving onto some more generalizations I’m observing. One guy brings apples of dynamite in a setting of titanium. The other guy has apples of candyfloss in a setting of waffle cone. And each man only uses the same tool each time. And it gets worse. Mr. TNT calls Mr. Candy cowardly. And Mr. Candy calls Mr. TNT contentious. Yet, I think it gets even worse. Mr. TNT is so irked with Mr. Candy’s passivity that to him everyone who doesn’t always only use the sledgehammer becomes a Mr. Candy coward. And Mr. Candy is so concerned about Mr. TNT’s anger issues that anyone who ever resorts to the sledgehammer is a Mr. TNT contender. So you have two men who can only use their respective favourite weapons, and each man only sees the other man when another man uses a few different weapons in different contexts. To Mr. TNT, either you only use the sledgehammer or you’re cowardly. To Mr. Candy, either you only use the needle nose pliers or you’re contentious. They fail to realize that some people effectively mix candy floss with titanium, and others have learned to serve the powerful combination of dynamite and waffle cone. Some jobs require different tools. Some jobs require a few tools. Some jobs require mixed concoctions.
In the Scriptures we have a different picture. For example, Jesus warns that “whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22). And then Jesus calls the religious leaders “blind fools” (Matthew 23:17). In Galatians, Paul calls down the anathema of God upon those who deny the Gospel (Galatians 1:9), labels the Galatians as “foolish” (Galatians 3:1), and tells the circumcision party to “emasculate themselves” (Galatians 5:12). Then he closes the letter by saying, “if anyone is caught in transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). Paul tells young Timothy to correct “his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:25), and then he tells Titus to silence false teachers and to rebuke them sharply (Titus 1:11-13). The best pastors know which tool to use, when to use it, and how to use it. They use all the tools over time, but they don’t use all the tools every time. Sometimes you need a sledgehammer. Sometimes you need a screwdriver. Sometimes you need a tape measure. And all the time you need wisdom.
Screwdrivers and pliers can gut a basement, but you waste a lot of time and more important jobs don’t get done. The family suffers over the long-term as you exhaust yourself picking it into pieces when you should be beating it into dust. And sledgehammers might be useful for installing a light fixture, but only if you want to rip out the ceiling first. The family suffers over the long-term because you make an unnecessary mess and exhaust yourself hanging a new drywall ceiling, when you could have just connected a few wires.
Sometimes you need to patiently walk an erring brother back to the truth. Other times you need to call down the anathema of God on a false-teacher. Calling down the anathema of God on an erring brother creates an unnecessarily catastrophic mess which takes longer to repair, and most importantly it’s not Christlike. Slowly walking a false-teacher to the truth distracts you from more important jobs like the proper care of your actual family, and most importantly it’s not Christlike either. Sometimes you need a screwdriver. Sometimes you need a sledgehammer. Sometimes you need a tape measure. And all the time you need wisdom. Having a toolbox is a necessary thing for any handyman. But the best handymen know what combinations of tools to use in the box.