The Church and False Preaching
2 Timothy 2:14 – 3:9
The Church and False Preaching
Will it do what?
Charles Spurgeon was a well-known preacher in London in the 19th Century. His church building seated 5000 people, with standing room for another thousand, and Spurgeon would preach at several services each week, and then copies of the transcript could be bought afterwards for penny!
But Spurgeon also had other staff who preached in the church, and it was his pattern to get these assistants to preach firstly to him in his office, before they preached to the congregation. And on one occasion, a young assistant pastor preached his sermon to Spurgeon in his office one morning, and when he finished, there was long silence. The young man looked up and eventually broke the awkward silence, asking asked Spurgeon, “Will it do?”
Another long silence before Spurgeon replied, “Will it do what?”!
Will it do what?!
It’s not a bad question, is it?
And it’s a question we want to ask ourselves, as we spend this time in the Apostle Paul’s letter to his young colleague Timothy.
What will reading, and reflecting on, and thinking about this passage do?
What will it do to us?
What will it do for us?
Well, I’ll tell you what I think it will do,
What I pray it will do for us.
My prayer for us today, is that this part of God’s Word, will teach us how to live for Christ in the face of false teaching and ungodly living.
When we read it a moment ago, I’m sure you thought, “Timothy’s situation and experience doesn’t sound all that different to our situation and experience.”
And so as Timothy is prepared and equipped to be a faithful Christian in his context, we too can be prepared and equipped to live for Christ today, and if you’re here today and you’re not a Christian, but you’re interested in finding out about Christian things, this will give you some idea of what to expect, in the Christian life.
But when we talk about ungodliness, and people who want to distort the Christian message, I don’t want us to imagine that any Christian who might have a different opinion about some aspect of the faith is a false teacher. It’s important to remember that.
There are plenty of Christians who think differently about things.
But we can do ministry together,
We can ask God to grow their ministry.
That’s fine and appropriate.
Not every difference is a matter of false teaching.
But also, I don’t want us to get into a ghetto mentality. I find that Christians very easily fall into this;,
“The whole world’s against us”,
It’s as if every decision our parliament makes is the end of the world as we know it, so we just kind of retreat into our bunkers.
The experience of most of God’s people for most of history has been living counter-culturally in a society that doesn’t really welcome them. Our experience has been the exception rather than the norm, and God has still been able to grow his kingdom, even when life was hard for the church.
But also, retreating into our Christian bunkers,
What is kind of ministry can we do if we’re doing that?
How can we be light in the world, heralds of the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation if we’re locked away in our Christian commune
The only thing you can do when you’re huddled down in your bunker is throw grenades! which is sometimes what Christian people resort to, but it’s rarely very helpful, is it?
So the reality check in 2 Timothy 2 and 3, is that Timothy was surrounded by ungodliness and false-teaching, but still able, 2 verse 21, to be useful to the Master, and prepared to do any good work,
And that’s what I pray this passage will do, for us.
False teaching ruins people (2:14 – 18)
So why does this matter?
Why is false-teaching and ungodliness a problem?
Well, because it ruins people.
Verse 14, Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.
And then verse 16, Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly
People can be ruined, by words.
And what I think is really fascinating, perhaps even surprising here, is that Paul hasn’t even got onto heresy and false teaching yet.
He’s talking quarrelling and chatter.
And yet he says, all this leads to his, fully-fledged heresy.
You might have noticed that when we read it.
So, verse 16 we’re talking about godless chatter,
That leads to ungodliness,
Then verse 17, people who indulge in it, their teaching will spread like gangrene,
Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,
And now we’re into fully-fledged false teaching and heresy;, they have departed from the truth.
See I don’t think anyone, I don’t think Hymenaeus and Philetus, woke up one morning and said, “let’s be false teachers! We need to come up with a false message!”
I had a quick look this week at some websites for Bible colleges, not one of them said, “If you want to be a false teacher, we’re the place to get trained!”
But arguments over words,
Always wanting to be right, if left unchecked,
That quarrelsome attitude, that desire to always be right, means that truth becomes less important,
And people become less important.
If your concern is to win an argument, rather than to care for a brother or sister,
Or if you’re convinced you are right, and so you’re deaf to a word of correction, that’s dangerous ground.
If you are open to others speaking to you, offering correction, but only others from your group, who see the world exactly like you do,
Who prefer church exactly the way you do,
Who think about their faith in the same kind of terms as you do, and you’re not willing to listen to anyone else who has a different perspective, or a different preference,
Then there is a very real danger, that you will, verse 18, depart from the truth.
When people hear your name, what comes to their mind?
Do they think of someone who argues, and quarrels,
Can’t help but correct,
Always wants to be right?
Continually butts in to set the record straight.
Does everybody know what your pet peeve is, because you take every opportunity to tell people?
We should consider ourselves warned before God, about quarrelling about words.
Naturally, Paul’s not saying, that words don’t matter, that we shouldn’t be careful with our words.
Look down at verse 17, where Paul speaks about some people who are using words that they shouldn’t be, 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene.
Now, to say, “don’t quarrel over words”, is not to say “words don’t matter!” Clearly words do matter, and what Hymenaeus and Philetus are saying is not truthful.
Remember “Post-truth” was the Oxford Dictionary’s “word of the year” last year? Well Hymenaeus and Philetus were there first. They were trying to pass off something that wasn’t true, as if it was.
And look at the outcome:, they destroy people’s faith.
If you’re someone who teaches here in our church family,
Teaches Kids’ Church,
Or Youth Group,
Or Young Adults,
Or in a Bible Study,
Or 1 to 1,
If you’re a parent teaching your children, please notice this. And let me say I’m paying attention to this as much as anybody!
These men teach falsehood, and the result is, they destroy people’s faith, verse 18.
Wrong teaching, can lead to people’s faith being undermined,
To them losing their confidence in the Word of God,
To clinging to promises that God has never made,
Or doubting the promises that God has made.
Teaching what’s not true, will destroy people’s faith.
And so for those of us who teach others, this is a serious warning isn’t it?
If the message that you teach has the capacity to destroy someone’s faith, you want to make sure you get it right.
You see the example there, Hymenaeus and Philetus, say that the resurrection has already taken place, not meaning the resurrection of Jesus has already taken place, because, that has, that’s a verifiable fact of history! No, they mean that the resurrection of Jesus’ followers, has already taken place.
See, some in the first century AD taught that the resurrection that Jesus promised his followers, was not a real, physical resurrection, but some kind of spiritual resurrection, were you stay in your old body, but you get a new sense of life and energy.
And you might have heard leaders in the Anglican church in Adelaide say these same sorts of things;, that Jesus himself wasn’t physically raised from the dead, he just “rose in the hearts of his followers”, and that kind of thing.
And so if Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t a real physical resurrection, just some psychological experience his friends had, then there’s no real resurrection promised to you or me
Which, of course means is, this is as good as it gets!
If my promised resurrection is merely spiritual and inward,
If it’s not a real body, but just this one charged up a bit,
And if it’s already happened, and not something I look forward to,
Then what can I look forward to?
This is as good as it gets.
If there’s no real, physical resurrection still to come,
Then you’re not going to get a body that doesn’t wear out,
You’re never going to be free from illness,
You’ll never again see those you love who have died, because, if there’s no resurrection still to come, there’s no hope beyond the grave.
And so you can absolutely see, can’t you, how that kind of teaching could destroy someone’s faith.
We might be tempted to think that the difference between a physical resurrection and a spiritual resurrection,
Whether it’s happened already, or whether it’s still to come, it doesn’t really sound that important!
But we really only need to scratch the surface, to see how devastating false teaching can be.
If you teach others, then you need to, verse 15, Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
False teaching destroys people’s faith.
The word for ruin there in verse 14 is the Greek word “katastrophe.” That’s a good choice of word, isn’t it?
We ought to be desperately concerned, for those who listen.
Always needing to be right,
Arguing over words, leads to a situation where winning becomes more important than being truthful, and then false teaching spreads, and ruins lives.
So what do we do?
Well, when I used to coach basketball, sometimes I’d say to my teams, “The best defence is a good offence”, and that’s something that applies here!
Not that to defend the Christian message you need to be offen-sive, that seems to be how some Christians have taken it!
But that little saying means the best way to defend is to be pro-active!
The NIV Bible has a paragraph heading at the top, “Dealing with false teachers”, so how do we, deal with false teachers?
Well it was right back at the very beginning. Keep reminding God’s people of these things.
Part of Timothy’s response to false teaching, is to remind everyone, especially those he’s appointed as teachers in chapter 2, remind them of everything that Paul has said in the first part of his letter.
Teach the gospel.
There are other Timothy has to do, as we’ll see, But let’s understand this as a foundation.
Teach the gospel.
How to be encouraged when you encounter false teaching (2:19 & 3:1 - 5)
I remember the first time that I was aware of this kind of false teaching.
I was a Ministry Apprentice, and I met someone who had been told that they were free to pursue a particular pattern of behaviour with a clear conscience, because of course, false teaching nearly always panders to the sinful desires we already have.
And so this uni student, with their predilection confirmed, happily walked away from God.
Then later I worked in churches where the leaders would teach falsehood, again, pandering to people’s worst inclinations,
You can live however you want,
You can believe whatever you want,
There is no future judgment,
You have no need for Jesus, and the people you know certainly have no need for Jesus.
It hurt and shocked me every time I heard these things,
And I know others here have felt the same way. It can be terribly unsettling.
But there’s no need for us to be anxious.
Paul gives us great encouragement here. I mean, he’s about to say some pretty sobering things, 3 verse 1, But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money,
boastful, proud, abusive,
disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal and so on,
But there’s no need to be alarmed. See verse 19, Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”
There may be some who have wandered, but God’s foundation, the church, stands firm.
See the encouragement of these 2 seals, that Paul imagines are stamped on God’s people, is that even if we are surprised and confused about who really is a truthful follower of Jesus and who is not, God is not confused. The Lord knows those who are his, a reference to Numbers 16:5
God is not going to get confused between those who really are his people, and those who aren’t.
God’s not going to back the wrong horse so to speak,
And naturally if The Lord knows those who are his, therefore, he also knows who is just playing along, playing a game.
And if they hear this message, The Lord knows those who are his, that’s a warning for them.
They might have fooled people,
But they’re not going to fool God.
Let that be an encouragement to you, the next time the so called Christian expert our media goes to, denies the basics of the Christian message.
I was looking at the University of Adelaide Media page the other day. If the media are looking for an expert to comment on some news story, you can type in what topic you’re looking for, and you’ll get a list of all the university staff with expertise in that area.
And I found myself wishing there was a list like that for Christians to speak to the media, because when I hear a Christian so-called expert on the radio, speaking on some issue, I don’t know about you, but more often than not, by the end of it, they haven’t actually said anything recognisably Christian at all, and so I’m left wondering, are they really?
Well, God’s not, left wondering.
And this phrase, The Lord knows those who are his, became a saying that Christian people would say to themselves and to each other, as an encouragement, when they faced the challenge of dealing with false teaching, and when there were competing claims to truth.
The Lord knows those who are his,
It’s like that saying made famous by the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it's not alright, then it's not the end.”
It’s like that, but better! It’s not just a hope that things will get better, but the assurance that you’re known by God,
And that God knows those who are building on the foundation of his church, and who is not.
But actually, although only God knows the true state of someone’s heart, we’re not in the dark completely.
See it there, it’s an echo of Isaiah 52:11 “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”
Hymenaeus and Philetus, they haven’t turned away from wickedness, have they?
Verse 4 of chapter 3, the treacherous, the rash, the conceited, those who love pleasure, they haven’t turned away from wickedness, have they?
The men, verse 6, who worm their way into homes, they’ve met some women who are burdened by their own sin, and will grab hold of any message they’re told, those leaders haven’t turned away from wickedness, have they?
In all those TV detective shows, they say “DNA doesn’t lie.”
Well here’s a kind of DNA, that is absolutely reliable.
Those who are truly God’s people, will live a life that reflects their new DNA, their new family identity.
If false teachers really were followers of Jesus, they’d have turned their backs on wickedness,
They wouldn’t be abusing others for the sake of power and position,
They wouldn’t be destroying the faith of God’s people, with the spreading of their false message.
Those who abandon the truth of the gospel, also abandon God’s pattern for life.
If you’ve said, “this bit of the Bible’s not true”, and “that bit doesn’t matter”, “you don’t need to believe that part”, then you’re already most of the way to saying, “I don’t need to follow this bit”, or “I don’t need to obey Jesus’ teaching in this area of my life.”
Have nothing to do with false teaching and ungodliness (v 20 – 21)
But it’s not too late for those in the church in Ephesus, or for anyone we know, to turn away from doing wrong.
Paul illustrates this with the different kinds of crockery in a large house, literally a great house, so we’re talking Downton Abbey, OK?
And perhaps your house has this, some are for special purposes, what the old translations called noble purposes, that is, the good dinner set, and some for common use, the plastic Ikea cups you give to the children.
But while in a house, both those 2 are useful, you don’t really want to serve your toddler their fish fingers on the Royal Doulton tea set, and you’d probably try to avoid giving your honoured guests the coloured Ikea stuff!
But Paul’s point is not that both are useful, but that one has more honour than the other. And I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Royal Doulton or Ikea, is the one that has more honour!
He’s not describing Timothy’s dining table, but Timothy’s church.
In fact he’s describing any church that has within it, people who want to advance another gospel, different to that which has been passed down to us from the Apostles.
So he could be describing our church. We are not immune from this.
Paul warns us of a church where some serve for noble purposes, for good, God-honouring outcomes, and some serve for selfish, shameful outcomes.
And we’re told to cleanse ourselves from those who serve for selfish and shameful reasons, in order to serve God.
In 1 and 2 Timothy, there are lots of instructions to Timothy, and we apply some of those instructions to those who serve us in leadership here.
There are some instructions to those who teach,
But here’s an instruction for every one of Christ’s people, for every member of the church:, verse 21
Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.
We cannot leave theology, and truth, and the responsibility for discerning and preserving what’s right and helpful, to those who lead and teach.
Each one of us, must separate ourselves from the message of false teaching, and the ungodliness which accompanies it.
This means that it’s not OK, just to read those books that some of your Christian friends might be reading,
If you’re home during the day, or up late at night, when you flick on the TV to those Christian teachers who have their own shows, you might need to keep on flicking! Don’t submit yourself to their message.
When you go to the Christian bookshop, or you look online, don’t just go to “best-sellers” or what’s popular, but ask “what is going to be helpful to me, to make me holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.
I don’t think we often imagine the connection, between what we listen to, and our usefulness to Christ,
Or between what we read, and our usefulness to Christ,
Or between our godliness, and our usefulness to Christ.
But here it is in black and white:, We can be use-less to the Master because of what we’ve allowed to influence us.
Don’t be polluted.
How to be useful for Christ (2:22 – 26)
Paul then turns his attention back to Timothy, as a teacher, useful to the Master, and the kind of life he ought to have.
And sometimes we understand things most clearly, when we see them in contrast to something else.
So Monday this week when it was really hot in the evening, the air-conditioning in our home was broken, so we were all laying inside, mostly in the dark, trying not to move, and thinking it was pretty hot!
But then when we actually ventured outside, we realised it wasn’t very hot inside at all! It was quite mild compared to the 34 degrees out in the sun, so we’d hurry back in.
The contrast helped us understand the reality much better.
The contrast here, between the pattern for Timothy’s life, and the behaviour that he, and we, will see in the lives of those who reject the truth, helps us see more clearly, what the life of those who would teach God’s people must be like.
So this is good stuff to be looking at the week before we commission our leaders for their ministry among us! But even if you don’t have a formal leadership role here,
If you want to support and encourage your leaders, as God tells us to,
If you are committed to seeing people becoming disciples of Jesus in our region and growing to Christian maturity,
If you want to be on board with what God is doing in this place,
Here’s your invitation,
Here’s how to be useful to the Master.
Verse 22, Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace
You don’t just have to be young, to need to flee from evil.
I’m turning 40 this year, and I can remember what I was like as a youth! I think I was probably impatient,
Quite likely ambitious,
Pretty sure of myself,
Less interested in what others had to say.
Whatever evil desires you’ve been tempted by, and you know better than anybody else what they are for you, Flee from them.
It’s interesting that last week we saw that great foundation, the grace of God that is in Christ Jesus,
We started with God’s work, and then thought about our work.
We get the same kind of transition here. God’s work: God’s solid foundation stands firm verse 19, God has established his church,
He has drawn people to himself,
He has sealed them, branded them with his identity,
That’s all God’s work. Nothing about coming into God’s family is our work, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t work, at all, does it?
We just saw that all God’s people are to separate themselves from false teaching and ungodliness,
And here again, the focus widens to include every single one of us.
See, Timothy is to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart
those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart will all be pursuing righteousness, faith, love and peace,
None of us get let off the hook.
It’s not the leaders lifted up as an example for the rest of the church, but the church held up as a reminder for the leaders;, “this is what the Christian life looks like.”
Isn’t that good?!
None of us can say, “The shape of my life doesn’t matter because I’m just an ‘ordinary’ Christian,
I don’t need to flee sin because I’m still a teenager,
None of us are old enough to say, “I’ve done my time serving, and living for God, now I’m in my retirement, I can indulge my heart however I want.”
This is for all of us.
And then we swing back to those who lead and teach.
Verse 25, Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses, and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
Words do matter, we aren’t free to let people continue to teach what isn’t true.
Now, this is rarely fun.
On 2 occasions in my life, I have tried to gently instruct, leaders outside our church who teach a false gospel.
On one occasion I did it privately with the Christian leader involved, and nobody knew I was doing it except out Leadership Team and 2 other staff in the Trinity Network.
On the other occasion I did it publicly in an Open Letter, because of the public nature of that person’s ministry.
It was awful.
I hated it,
I lost sleep over it,
It made me feel sick to the stomach for weeks.
But I don’t have a choice, do I?
I hope I was gentle, and I think my motive really was that God would grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth
Please pray for your leaders here at TMB, for me, for those who serve in different ways here, that, where necessary, we will offer this gentle correction.
Pray that we will be gentle,
That we won’t act out of jealousy, or pride,
That our hope will be that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
And notice, yet again, the sovereignty of God working in parallel with people’s decisions and will.
How does God correct people who are caught in the trap of falsehood?
(1) Through the gentle instruction of by Christian people,
(2) By God himself granting them repentance,
(3) And, verse 26, the person themselves coming to their senses and escaping from the trap of the devil.
If you serve in leadership among us, or if you are just committed to seeing people come to Jesus and grow as his disciples, you need to be prepared to do this.
False teaching and ungodliness will not ultimately triumph (3:6 – 9)
And so jump down with me to the very last line in this section, which is a word of encouragement for all of us.
These men in Ephesus who exploit women weighed down with sins, we don’t know what that refers to specifically, but perhaps there were some women in the city who were burdened with guilt because of what their lives had looked like before they came Christ, whatever the case, there were men who took advantage of that, they figured they’d found soft targets in this women, and it certainly looked like their influence had no end.
Jannes and Jambres were 2 names from Jewish, urban legend, really. They were supposedly magicians in the court of Pharaoh, who were legendary for their opposition Moses, and to the truth.
That’s what these false teachers look like to those in Ephesus.
They look like major players. But Paul says, they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.
Those who pursue evil,
It can look like they’ve got the upper hand, like they’ll go from strength to strength,
And especially when those people are leaders in churches or denominations, we can think, there’s really nothing we can do,
And we don’t really ever expect anything to change.
But even though their teaching and influence spreads like gangrene, their purposes won’t ultimately be achieved.
Jesus died on the cross defeating evil, making an end of sin.
Those who continue in them, will ultimately be exposed and come to nothing.
Supposedly it was Abraham Lincoln who said “you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”!
Well, Paul said it first. Ultimately the folly of false teachers will become apparent.
Henry Gunther was an American soldier in World War 1.
He hated the war,
Hated the fighting that he was involved in on the Western Front,
And, totally despondent, one morning he took his rifle and charged towards the German machine guns. The Germans actually tried to wave him off, but when he got too close, they fired a short burst, dropping him to the ground and killing him.
It was 10:59 AM, on November 11, 1918, seconds before the Armistice came into effect.
Henry Gunther was the last soldier to be killed before the end of that great war.
What a terrible tragedy it would be, for Timothy, for those in Ephesus, for people at TMB, to lose heart, or even worse, to give up on the Christian life,
To lose confidence in the gospel,
When the end is in sight, and so certain.