PAUL'S SECOND LETTER TO TIMOTHY
Refutation of Heretical Teachers
2 Timothy 2:14-3:13
NATURE OF HERETICAL TEACHINGS (2:14-19)
Starting in 2:14 and running through 3:17, Paul deals with the issue of the false teachers plaguing the churches in Asia (the westernmost part of Turkey). Unfortunately for Timothy, he is facing a 2-pronged attack from Satan: from the Roman government in its persecution of Christians and from heretical teachers in the churches in Asia. He really needs to step up to the plate and be the pastor this church needs.
Characteristics of the Heretical Teachings
He begins by noting some of the characteristics of the teachings of the heretical teachers by telling Timothy to avoid their practices. Apparently these heretical teachers focused on "words" (2:14). "foolish and worldly speculations" (2:16), and taught that the resurrection of Christians has already taken place (2:18).
Focusing on "words" first excuses Christians from doing serious extensive Bible study. I've seen Christians do a serious word study on the word "grace" and yet fail to come away with some of the essential qualities of grace. For example, they come up with phrases like "undeserved favor." That's good; however, it falls far short of encompassing the main ingredients of the Bible's view of grace. For example, grace that does not transform a person is not NT grace. How do I know this? From an in-depth study of Romans and Galatians in passages where grace is implied but not necessarily mentioned. Second, when we do these kinds of studies, we can inject into them the content we desire to put into them or the content we already believe. The result is that we are reading into Scripture and not reading things out of Scripture. We can pose ourselves as being serious scholars of the Word and yet when it is all said and done, we have not taught the Word; we've only used the Word to promote what we already believe. (If you think this is not possible, look at the way Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses manipulate the Bible to promote their unchristian teachings.)
Instead of sticking with what the Bible clearly teaches, some wish to delve "deeper" into the Bible by trying to find hidden meanings. The problem is that such an approach normally borders on speculation. I've heard about preachers teaching whole sermons on the different levels in heaven. Now what part of the Bible did they get that from? To be sure, Jewish writings delve deeply into this subject and Paul briefly mentiois a third heaven (2 Cor. 9: ); however, Jewish writings apart from Scripture are not necessarily from God. Moreover, if the Bible lightly touches upon a matter, we should probably show restraint in dealing with that matter. The same applies with angels and the hierarchy within the realm of angels. The Bible mentions such topics but only briefly. We need to go deeply into Scripture without going "beyond" Scripture. Extrabiblical writings are good only if they deepen our understanding of Scripture.
One specific heresy promoted by these teachers was that the resurrection had already taken place. By this they probably meant one of 2 things: (1) the Holy Spirit raising us from the dead spiritually when we get saved is the only resurrection we will ever experience (that is, there will be no physical resurrection when Christ returns), or (2) Christ's bodily resurrection is the only resurrection that will ever occur. Paul though will state in much greater detail in 1 Cor. 15 that the Christian is so linked with Christ that if the Christian is not raised physically from the dead, then Christ has not been raised physically from the dead (1 Cor. 15:13).
Results of Heretical Teachings
The result of focusing on words and on speculations was the furthering of ungodliness. Such people thought that they were advancing divine knowledge, while in fact they were promoting ungodliness. How? When I focus on things other than the things of God, I do not tend to the spiritual element within me. It goes neglected. The result is that I am not spiritually prepared for the day and for the crises which will come my way. Being unprepared means I will not respond in a godly manner. Also, when I focus on knowledge for knowledge sake, I become puffed up, prideful (1 Cor. 8:1), an ungodly trait. Some of the most puffed up people in the world have been Christian scholars. If Christian scholarship does not lead me to true humility and love for God and others, then I have misused Christian scholarship.
Timothy's Appropriate Response
Timothy, on the other hand, is to be a workman who is not ashamed because he is handling accurately the Word of Truth. The clause "handling accurately" has behind it the idea of someone plowing in the field. Whereas some farmers may plough crooked rows, this farmer ploughs in only a straight line. In the same way, Timothy is not to be crooked in his handling of the Scripture. He is not to water it down: "Jesus will understand if you deny Him because He only wants you to have a wonderful life"; or "Just as long as gays are in a committed lifestyle, they can marry." This past Sunday B.F. "handled accurately the word of truth" when he defined marriage as that between heterosexual couples. Although we may lose popularity because we don't compromise in the essentials, the result is that when we handle accurately God's Word people will then hear the truth and be able to respond positively to it resulting in their experiencing eternal life.
One of the saddest things I ever saw happened at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For over 80 years each student studying to be a minister had to learn Greek and Hebrew in order to get their M.Div. That's changed now. You can now get a degree without having to learn the biblical languages. With all due respect, that is horrible. If this book is God's Word, then I had better know it. I might never become a Greek or Hebrew scholar; however, I have the responsibility to study it to the best of my abilities. When I was taking NT Greek with Dr. MacGorman, he addressed the class because it was grumbling over the fact it had to learn about accents, Greek trivia. His response was classic: "Accents are trivia, but trivia makes for perfection, and perfection is no trivia when you're dealing with the Word of God."
Teachers, including SS teachers, need to take all of this to heart. Too often teachers, including some SS teachers, do not put in the time and effort necessary to understand really what the passage they're teaching means. They may say, "Oh, well, we can't really understand all that the Bible says." While there is an element of truth to that statement, the flip side is also true: "We know primarily what the Bible does say and mean." We just need to be willing to put in the time and effort, be willing to accept what it says, and then pray to the Lord for help to deliver what He does tell us. James' words, "Let not many of you become teachers" (James 3:1), take on special significance when looked at in this light.
CHOICE BETWEEN BEING A VALUABLE VESSEL OR EARTHY VESSEL (2:20-21)
Too many times people act like it doesn't matter what they believe. They just don't want people to get their feathers all ruffled. Well, it does matter what we believe and what we teach--for our own sakes it matters. The way we handle God's Word determines what kind of vessels we are in God's household, the church.
The truth is that we are all vessels in God's church (His household)--mature Christians, immature Christians, carnal Christians, non-Christians. Some though are vessels of great value which God pulls out for special occasions, for special friends and guests. Others though are no better than for use on just ordinary mundane days; they may be nothing more than bedpans in God's house. A person in the church who may be a non-Christian and a troublemaker can still be used by God. The sad thing is this: whereas the golden vessel gets to enjoy the benefits of being used by God, the earthen or wooden vessel does not get to enjoy those benefits. The thing that determines which kind of vessel we are is the way we handle God's word.
APPROPRIATE RESPONSE TO HERETICAL TEACHERS (2:22-26)
In dealing with heretical teachers, God's servant first is to flee from youthful lusts. By "youthful lusts" Paul does not necessarily mean "sexual" lusts. The word translated "lusts" can also means desires or passion. The person controlled by these youthful lusts is out of control. His anger is out of control; his determination to have his own way is out of control; his readiness to jump in and fight at the drop of the hat is out of control. When we are faced with heresy, it is so easy for us to attack. That is not the way to respond. A loving, cooled, measured response is the only appropriate way
Next, God's servant is to avoid foolish and ignorant speculations; he is not to be quarrelsome. There comes a point when certain people have no desire to learn the truth. They've already settled on their opinion and all they want to do is argue in order to force their views upon others. A fundamentalist in the community I was serving kept trying to undermine certain teachings I was giving. That person would have loved to have engaged in a debate. I never gave him the pleasure because that is not the way God operates. A serious seeking of the truth is encouraged; debating just to debate should really be discouraged. You are just wasting precious time on a foolish person when you could have spent that same time on helping somebody who does want to know the truth.
On the other hand, the Lord's servant must be kind, able to teach, patient when wronged. He doesn't berate those who are heretical. Whenever you resort to sarcasm, you've lost the issue. Sarcasm is the last resort of a debater whenever he cannot rationally defend his point. I think it is funny whenever somebody tells me or says about me, "We'll all wave to Carey as the rest of us are being raptured" (their theology first is skewered because they are actually saying that believing a certain view about the rapture is what gets you raptured). When they say this though, they show that they can't defend their point of view from the Bible. If Christians should not be sarcastic, how much more ministers? Rather they are to be kind, respectful, able to discuss the issues, and patient when wronged.
Notice something here. Paul expects the ministers to be able to help their people during times of heretical onslaughts. Too many ministers just want to preach, teach, visit the sick, go on outings, etc. The only reason they want a degree from a seminary is that they might get a church, not that they can learn. That would be OK if we lived in an ideal world in which our beliefs were never challenged; however, the flock we minister to is faced with different heresies out in the world. The minister has the responsibility to be able to help his flock through these heresies.
Next, Paul urges Timothy to correct with gentleness those in opposition. Most of us have only focused on the word "gentleness" without focusing on the command "correct those in opposition." What we should do should be done in gentleness; however, we are to do this. In the present age of toleration, we have failed to correct those in opposition to God's truth. There is legitimate room for dialogue and debate on many issues; the parameters are not as strict as some would make them. Yet there are parameters. Some things flat out contradict Christianity. Some Christians even promote these things. Bernie Thompson has really served as a type of Christian herald when he says that G. W. Bush has sinned by equating the Allah of Islam with the Father of Jesus Christ. Bush and a host of other Christians are flat out wrong when they make this statement. We need to imitate Bernie's example though who not only spoke out against Bush's statement but then went right on ahead and prayed a positive prayer for the President.
The purpose of correcting the heretical teachers is that "they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil . . ." The purpose is not to browbeat these people. It is to redeem them. It's been really sad to see what has happened among Southern Baptists in the past 20 years. Instead of treating rightly people who might have been wrong theologically, we have tarred and feathered them--all in the name of Jesus. In Jesus' name we have acted in ways Jesus Himself would have never acted.
DESCRIPTION OF THE FALSE TEACHERS (3:1-5)
The Last Days
Paul first informs Timothy that he should not be surprised at the presence of these false teachers because their presence is another indication that they are living in the last days. Paul along with the rest of the NT writers believed that we are living in the last days. Their view of history was this: first you had creation; second, the Fall of Man; third, the coming of the Christ; fourth, the last days which started with the coming of the Christ and which will end with the coming of the last day; fifth, the last day in which God's people will suffer great tribulation until Christ returns and reigns upon the earth; and sixth, the new age in which God Himself will descend to live with us on a radically transformed earth.
The last days is that period of time starting with the ascension of Christ until the beginning of the Great Tribulation. All we are waiting for now before Christ returns is the launching of the Great Tribulation. Jesus describes these last days as a time of persecution, of wars, of rumors of wars, of false prophets and false messiahs (Matt. 24: ). For Paul the presence of these heretical teachers is just another indication that we live in the last days. For this reason Timothy should neither be surprised at their presence nor intimidated by them. Peter says the same: "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you . . . " (1 Pet. 4:12).
Too often we as Christians are surprised at the presence of troubles in our lives. We have been fortunate not to have suffered persecution; however, that has not been the normal lot of Christians for the past 2000 years. Recently when the SA group was in London, we worshipped at Metropolitan Tabernacle where Charles Spurgeon had conducted his historic ministry. Spurgeon chose that site for his church because that is the site Baptists had earlier been martyred. John Bunyan languised 14 years in a Bedford prison in England during the late 1600's because of his Baptist beliefs. We tend to glorify people unworthy of such glory. Martin Luther was responsible for the death of 1000's of people who had been affected by his own doctrine. He urged the Lutheran princes to slaughter the peasants in the name of God because they were disturbers of the order (the order which kept him safe). It is no telling how many Christians were slaughtered during the Spanish Inquisition and by the holy wars of the 1600's in France and the Holy Roman Empire. Now these mentioned were those slaughtered by Christians. These do not take into account the number of Christians persecuted by non-Christians. We have no way of reckoning the number of Christians martyred during the 20th century by the Stalinist and Maoist regimes of the Soviet Union and Red China. Lack of persecution should surprise us, not the presence of persecution.
Characteristics of the Heretical Teachers
What kind of men are these heretical teachers? Their primary characteristic is that they are "lovers of self." When it is all said and done, it is all about them. Now notice that Paul is speaking about religious leaders here. Simply because somebody stands behind the pulpit does not mean he is a man of God. I was talking with a fellow minister the other day about a situation a certain church found itself in. He could not believe the way the ministers had acted and were continuing to act. I told him that in 27 years of ministry I have found out that for many people, including ministers, it is all about them. They do love Jesus; however, when push comes to shove, it is all about them.
Loving self takes on different forms. First, some of these who focus on self crave materialism ("lovers of money"). Others crave fame ("boastful, arrogant, revilers"). Have you ever been in someone else's presence in which all they do is talk about themselves? They may claim that they are just trying to create conversation, but that's just a ruse. How do you know if somebody is promoting themselves or is really concerned about you? By the way you feel after you leave their presence. When you leave that person's presence, are you just so impressed with that person or do you feel affirmed, appreciated, or even loved? Revilers: these are so insecure about themselves that they have to tear down others in order to feel better about themselves. It's the attitude Daniel Melnick the great empresario of the New York stage expressed: "It's not enough for me to succeed; you must fail."
These are disobedient to parents, ungrateful (they believe they deserve everything good that comes their way), and unholy. Irreconcilable: they refuse to forgive others who have wronged them and asked for their forgiveness. The first pastor I served under told me that he had some people in his church who had either been cold to him or had refused to speak to him for years. Jesus warns us though that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others. Malicious gossips, without self control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous (traitors), reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
Paul sums up the main problem with these false teachers: "holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power." They have all the trappings of a religious person; however, they lack genuine spiritual power. By genuine spiritual power Paul refers to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. God is not impressed with how smart we are, how good we look, how many people follow us, etc. He is impressed if the Holy Spirit is operating in and through you to transform the lives of people. Are people repenting because of the ministry God has entrusted to you? Are people acting more like Christ because of the Spirit working through you? Are people being saved because of the Spirit drawing people to Jesus through you? You can wax eloquent with words; however, that does not impress Paul or God. Rather Paul states: "I shall not find out the words of those who are arrogant but their power; for the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power" (1 Cor. 4:19-20).
VICTIMS OF THE FALSE TEACHERS (3:6-7)
Paul in the previous section claimed that these false teachers did not have genuine spiritual power which transformed the lives of others. This is not to say that they didn't have any power at all; in fact they did. They had the power to enslave weak-minded people. Now the false teachers didn't just come right out and say what their agenda was. When Paul says that they "entered" these households, he is using the image of an animal "worming" or "ferreting" its way into the person's house. If they just came right out and said what their agenda was, nobody would listen to them, much less let them into their house. Instead they have to come under false pretenses--claiming that they "care" for these people or that they just want to help people draw closer to Jesus, while all along they are trying to lure those people into a relationship in which they are enslaved to the false teachers. Some church members can be so fixated on a minister that they will excuse or even justify the actions of that minister even when those actions are inexcusable.
Paul next focuses on the people the false teachers victimize: "weak women, weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (Although Paul mentions women, these traits are not the exclusive property of women; even men can exhibit these traits.) The primary problem with these people is that they have not dealt with sin in their lives: "weighed down with sin." Instead of confessing their sins before Christ and receiving His forgiveness, they have tried to cover their sins by engaging in "religious" activities, in this case, Bible study. Although they are always learning, they never come to the knowledge of the truth. (The word "knowledge" here has behind it the idea of experience. Although they know the truths of God's Word, they have not experienced those truths, that is, these truths have not changed their lives.) These people can be some of the most emotional people in the church. Yet their emotion is superficial, definitely not heart-felt and sincere.
ULTIMATE FATE OF THE FALSE TEACHERS (3:8-9)
Paul then compares these heretical teachers with the 2 Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses--Jannes and Jambres. Although these 2 names are not found in the OT, Jewish tradition claimed that these were the 2 names of the Egyptian magicians who at first duplicated Moses' miracles and yet were later to be found to be frauds. One point of comparison between the 2 groups is that both at least started out knowing that what they were teaching was wrong. The Egyptian magicians knew that they could not turn the Nile River into blood, nor could they force frogs on a massive scale to invade Egypt. So the false teachers in Paul's day knew that they were teaching heresy. Knowledge is never a matter of the intellect; it's a matter of the heart (John 3:19).
Another point of comparison is that the false teachers will experience the same fate the Egyptian magicians experienced. The Egyptian magicians could fake it some of the time but not all of the time. They could turn a little water into blood and even case a few hypnotized snakes to act like sticks; however, they could not duplicate the miracle---------. When this happened, they were proved to be the frauds they had been all along. Give false teachers time. Time will show who is false and who is true.
TIMOTHY'S RESPONSE TO THE FALSE TEACHERS--up to this point (3:10-13)
Unlike the heretical teachers, Timothy had followed Paul's "teaching [true teaching as opposed to the heresy of the false teachers], conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, sufferings . . ." In listing these different areas in which Timothy followed him, Paul is basically saying, "You used to imitate me." The question facing Timothy is that since he once followed Paul, why would he stop imitating him now?
It can't be that Timothy had never seen Paul suffer persecution before. Paul reminds Timothy that he had either heard of or seen Paul persecuted during his first missionary journey at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. At Lystra Paul had even been stoned to the point that those stoning him thought that they had killed him. In fact the Greek in Acts 14: implies that Paul in fact did and that he sprang to his feet because he had been resurrected (resuscitated miraculously by God).
Timothy was probably hesitating Paul at this point because he probably had never thought that the persecution would get this bad. It was one thing to be persecuted by a bunch of fanatical Jews because of some trumped-up charges; it was quite another to be a prisoner of the state standing trial on the charge of treason. Maybe God was not behind Paul in this setting? (At least Timothy could have soothed his guilty conscience with this excuse.)
Paul made 2 observations regarding his persecutions. First, God had always delivered him out of his persecutions. The implication is that if God had always delivered him out of his persecutions, then He was not going to fail him now. The deliverance may be different this time, it may even be better than previous deliverances (deliverance into the throne room of heaven), yet God was nevertheless still going to deliver him.
Second, Timothy and all other Christians should expect suffering. We are grateful that we live in a Christian society in which we do not suffer persecution. Yet I wonder how many of us escape persecution because we live in a Christian society or because we really don't promote Jesus the way Paul did? How many of us speak about Jesus to our friends OUTSIDE the church? How many of us speak about Jesus even to our friends WITHIN the church? We speak about God and the Lord; yet do we speak about Jesus? I read recently an article interviewing people in Hollywood. The actress who plays Ray's wife on Everybody Loves Raymond said that you can talk about God all day long in Hollywood. People are completely OK with that. It's when you speak about Jesus that Hollywood gets all rankled. Speak about Jesus more often and see what kind of response you get.