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The Faithful Servant (2 Timothy 2:14–26)
Supporting Idea: Paul gave practical instructions on how the true servant of Jesus Christ will live. He warned about activities which sabotage our efforts to live a life worthy of God’s calling, especially those things which prove divisive. Paul always presented two clear choices without any neutral options. We either choose Christ’s way, or we fall into the devices of Satan.
2:14. As a minister of the gospel, Timothy must remind all those in the church about the instructions and warnings Paul had delivered to him. Pastors are to keep reminding their congregations of the truth of Scripture, the nature of God, and the demands of holy living. This task is never complete.
Paul then set up some contrasts. He focused first on the false teachers and those who followed them. Then he turned to the good workman of God.
As for the false teachers, Timothy was to warn them before God against quarreling about words. He was to call God as his witness against these troublesome people and their ideas. These teachers argued about words and built enormous theological systems upon them. They fought over small points of interpretation. Not only did they devote themselves to words and esoteric ramblings; they were contentious in their manner. Paul’s judgment of such petty obsessions: it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.
Not only the teachers but also those who listened to their foolishness were brought to spiritual ruin. Their debates pulled others into their pointless discussions. People were deluded, thinking it was true spirituality. In fact, their word games came from pride.
2:15. Timothy, by contrast, must do his best to present [himself] to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed. Timothy, and all who follow Christ, are to consecrate themselves to God, working diligently for his approval. The teacher whom God approves has no need of shame in his presence.
God bestows his approval on the one who exhibits truth, love, and godliness in daily living, and who correctly handles the word of truth. The false teachers were mishandling God’s words, using them for their own benefit. Timothy was commissioned to handle the words of God correctly. All preaching should present the truth clearly, cutting through erroneous ideas or inaccurate opinions.
The pastor or teacher must acquaint himself thoroughly with Scripture. He should familiarize himself with historical information and the context of the passage, especially when trying to reach back through the centuries to gain an accurate understanding of God’s revelation.
2:16. Paul again issued a warning: Avoid godless chatter. Paul was not referring to backyard chats or little conversation groups that met over tea. The phrase “godless chatter” describes the empty babbling of false teachers. Their doctrines may have been quite organized and intricate, but Paul labeled them “chatter” because they were without substance.
In addition, their teachings did not promote the life and practices which God approves. Paul declared that those who indulged in such chatter would become more and more ungodly. In vivid contrast to God’s truth, which results in godliness, the false teachings degenerate into greater ungodliness.
2:17–18. But these false teachers and their philosophies were not pitiful little people to be ignored. They were causing great harm to those whom they influenced: Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Just as the teaching they followed was rotten, so its foul and corrupt nature infected more aid more people. In contrast, truth is always life producing, creating wholeness and health. Paul gave two examples of leaders who abandoned the faith and whose spurious teachings brought destructive results: Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth.
Other than this mention by Paul, these two men pass unknown in history. But because their names were known to Timothy, they were probably leaders within the Ephesian church. Yet, they wandered away. This describes a slow drifting from the truth. These men did not make a dramatic break from the Christian faith and run after strange philosophies. They slowly shifted their thinking, toyed with new ideas, held to what they liked and discarded what was unappealing. After a time, they had denied the faith.
Paul highlighted one main point of their false teaching: they say that the resurrection has already taken place. This supposition, rampant among the false teachers, taught that the fullness of salvation had come. Consequently, there was no future bodily resurrection, for the true resurrection was spiritual. This led to the practice of discounting anything connected with physical life making daily obligations and concerns for holy living irrelevant. Spiritualizing the resurrection diminished the sacrifice of Christ, removed the necessity of enduring hardship, and promoted immoral living. In this way, they destroy the faith of some.
2:19. It would seem gloomy indeed if Paul had stopped with the description of the growing influence of these false teachers. But he sounded a loud note of hope and courage as he wrote, Nevertheless. God’s solid foundation stands firm.
Despite what people may say or do, God’s work of salvation through Christ and his work of the church as established by the apostles and ministers of the gospel continues to stand firm. If the gates of hell will not overcome the church (Matt. 16:18), neither will the apostasy of some, the destructive teaching of others, or the militant arm of Rome. God has established the church, built on Jesus Christ “as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). Proof of the church’s endurance rests upon the guarantee made by God himself, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his.”
Paul took this quote from Numbers 16:5. It came out of the story of Korah’s rebellion and God’s affirmation of Moses’ leadership. Paul drew from across the centuries, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, confirming God’s changeless character and sovereign rule.
Only God knows the inward working of the heart, but everyone who confesses the name of the Lord will evidence increasing godliness—they must turn away from wickedness. Both inward and outward change are necessary components of a true believer in Jesus Christ. Timothy and others might have difficulty discerning the faithful from the faithless, but God cannot be fooled. He knows those who belong to him.
2:20–21. Paul drew another word picture to illustrate the distinctions between the true believer and the false follower. He took his imagery from his readers’ understanding of an ordinary house. Such a house would have a variety of utensils and wares, some of gold and silver, and others of wood and clay. Correspondingly, the gold and silver are for noble purposes, while the wood and clay are reserved for ignoble use. Basically, a person does not use china cups to feed the dog.
Jesus foretold the same truth. The church is a mixed group, some true to their Lord, others impostors (Matt. 13:24–30). Though God knows who belongs to him and though true disciples demonstrate a life reflective of his holiness, scattered among them are unbelievers who deny the truth by their doctrine and their lives. These are the wood and clay within God’s earthly house. Their presence should not disturb or discourage those who are faithful.
Paul emphasized that each believer bears the responsibility of service to God: If a man cleanses himself from the latter (false teachings and wickedness), he will serve noble purposes. God can use only clean or holy vessels. This parallels the Jewish tradition of cleansing vessels for temple use or for religious ceremonies and holidays. God cannot bestow his glory upon anything evil or tainted. The Christian life demands unswerving obedience and allegiance to Christ. It places responsibility upon each believer to maintain a pure, unpolluted life. Such a person is holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.
2:22. The bottom line is that each person chooses whether he will befit for God’s use. This sobering thought brought Paul to this urgent plea: Flee the evil desires of youth.
In the first century, the term youth was not confined to the teenage years. In fact, only two phases of life were recognized—youth and old age. Many interpreters believe Timothy was in his late thirties or even in his forties when Paul wrote to him. Perhaps “young” people experience greater temptations toward certain sins which diminish with age, such as haughty independence and selfish ambition. Those seriously committed to Christ must flee anything that smacks of evil or anything that would interfere with faithfulness to God.
Fleeing provides only half the equation, however. As we flee from evil, we must pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. Christianity does not consist merely of prohibitions, but of positive and powerful actions.
Righteousness, faith, love, peace—these are common words, easily tossed around in Christian conversation, but they are the essence of the gospel.
Righteousness means to live uprightly, doing good as empowered by God. Faith rests on trust in God’s revelation and character; it consists of a genuine relationship with God.
Love consists of self sacrifice, living for the good of others with caring actions. Peace demonstrates itself through harmonious relations with God and others.
These qualities are normative for those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Believers look to God and depend upon him in all of life. People who have authentic faith are cleansed within. Paul encouraged Timothy to join with other true believers in persisting in his commitment to righteousness.
2:23. Paul issued another command: Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments. Paul had the false teachers and their followers in mind. Their dogmas lacked common sense (foolish) and were established upon ignorance (stupid). These bogus leaders and their followers were motivated by selfishness. Such inner drives always degenerate into petty quarrels and divisiveness.
2:24. Paul declared, And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel. Selfish attitudes and manners are inconsistent with the nature of God and the disposition of his followers, especially his leaders. Unfortunately, infighting and positioning for power often characterize churches. Perhaps we have become too accustomed to this blatant disobedience, viewing it as an inevitable component of modern church life.
But pastors and lay leaders who bicker, creating factions within the church, are wrong. Instead, the church leader must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Kindness presupposes a peaceable attitude. Such a mindset speaks and acts in goodness. This does not mean spineless acquiescence to popular opinion or to those who may oppose us. Kindness must remain firmly rooted in truth.
Paul required that the Christian leader be able to teach, not resentful. Though truth can seem harsh, carrying with it conviction or judgment of sin, it must be delivered with compassion and kindness because God always works for the restoration or repentance of the sinner. Pastors and leaders must model this understanding and care.
2:25–26. If a leader’s heart is pure, humbled before God’s grace, he can then gently instruct those who err, in the hope that God will grant them repentance. God’s earnest desire to draw all people into loving relationship with himself should motivate the pastor to deal kindly with those who oppose him.
Four players participate in this crucial drama for the human soul: the teacher, the unbeliever, God, and Satan.
The Christian teacher not only proclaims truth; he models godliness and kindness as well. As God’s representative, he personifies God and his ways. He also recognizes that the battle for human souls takes place on two fronts—the mind and the heart. Unbelievers do not think clearly in matters of the soul or spirit; they need to come to their senses. This is why the teacher must feed the minds of unbelievers, leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
The unbeliever must remain open and responsive. He must choose to come to his senses. Each person stands responsible before God for his acceptance or rejection of God’s truth as found in Jesus Christ.
Beyond the human sphere, God and Satan enter man’s spiritual struggle. Those who refuse God’s truth come under the influence of the devil who has taken them captive to do his will. Satan traps people into his service through clever arguments, fear, and appeals to selfish pride and ambition. Christians should exercise a healthy awareness of the participation of Satan in the thinking of unbelievers. Contending for truth involves contending with spiritual powers; we must not be so naive as to think we confront on purely human terms.
But God remains faithful. He also contends for human souls and minds. As a measure of his grace, he grants repentance. God is sovereign over the universe and all created beings. We should never become overwhelmed at Satan’s methods or power. Satan and God are not equals.
As believers, our responsibility is to speak God’s truth, live out his nature, and pray earnestly for the salvation of those who continue in Satan’s grip. We ask him, by virtue of his authority, to grant a change of heart to those who are estranged from his truth and love.