Structure For Success, Part Two

A Study of 2 Timothy 2:14-26

Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. 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.”

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 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.

The recent General Assembly closed this past week with the usual amount of controversy. Rev. Cindy Rigby preached a sermon on the theme of this year’s Assembly, “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” As if to emphasize every problem the PC(USA) has, Rev. Rigby made this astonishing comment, which is baffling to say the least.

“God isn’t very specific about what it is that we should do”

What a curious statement for a minister of the Word to make. Perhaps her Bible doesn’t have the Great Commission in it. Or the book of Acts. Or this group of verses which is just a small part of Paul’s theology of Ecclesiology.

Far from God “not being very specific about what…we should do,” the truth is, God was very specific about what both individual believers should do and the Body of Christ should do as they seek to live lives that glorify God. In doing so, success is guaranteed. As we are obedient to God’s will for our lives and for our church, we will move into the mainstream of His will and experience success like we could never have imagined.

1. First piece of advice: seek the Lord’s approval and know His Word, verses 14, 15

As Paul gives guidelines to the young preacher Timothy, his first bit of advice and instruction involves advice for Timothy the preacher to pass along to “reliable men” and to the people under his charge. Paul challenges Timothy to be “an approved workman” who is to “keep on reminding” believers of all the things Paul dealt with in the previous verses.

  • Don’t quarrel over words. In other words, God’s people are to stick to the essentials and defend them. Arguing over mere words is a waste of time; it is of no value. How bad is fighting over empty words or philosophies? Paul says it “ruins” people. That’s a serious consequence: the Greek word for “ruin” is katastrophe, from which we get our word catastrophe.
  • Know the Word. Rather than wasting time endlessly debating useless words, believers should put forth an effort to know the Word of God. Paul says to Timothy to “do your best,” which the Greek word spoudason, suggests that a person “make haste” and should be “zealous.”

There is a parallel verse in 1 Timothy 6:3-5 which is helpful understanding such “word quibbling”:

If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

Far from getting sidetracked into endless arguments, Timothy must give a powerful personal example to leaders within the church and without. Hendriksen and Kistemaker make this astute observation:

Timothy must exert every effort so to conduct himself that even now before the bar of God’s judgment he stands approved.

Notice that Timothy will stand approved before God if he reaches two conditions:

a workman who has nothing to be ashamed of,
rightly dividing the word of truth

To “rightly divide with word of truth” is a very interesting phrase in the Greek. The word is orthotomounata and is found only here in the whole New Testament. It really means “holding a straight course.” Elsewhere in ancient secular writings, the word has been used to describe “a plowman who drives a straight furrow.” The meaning here, then, becomes very clear, especially in the Dutch Bible, where the phrase looks like this:

He who cuts the Word of God straight

Of course, this means handling the Bible in a proper, straightforward manner. This is so much more preferable to the useless words we should all avoid.

2. Second piece of advice: steer clear of false teaching, verses 16-18

The proper handling of God’s Word means that we must reject whatever teaching is in opposition to it. And so Paul continues his admonition against godless “chatter.” Lock paraphrases the phrase like this:

But to all these irreligious and frivolous hair-splittings give a wide birth.

Believers are to avoid getting caught up in “profane empty chatter.” It seems like Paul is overstating his case, but verse 17 is all-important:

Their teaching will spread like gangrene.

Getting caught up in discussions and debates that are best avoided will lead one deeper and deeper into more serious heresies. It all starts with seemingly unimportant discussions over seemingly trivial matters. But all the devil needs is a foothold.

Paul lists a couple of false teachers by name, and without going into detail, their false teaching involved the notion that the resurrection had already happened. Of course, it’s a silly teaching to those of us grounded in our faith, but to those with a weaker faith, their false teaching caused them to doubt their faith. What’s worse is that these two false teachers professed to be Christians! And they claim to know more than they really do. But, as if to give credence to the phrase “little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” we read this:

They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (1 Tim. 1:7)

The question that comes to mind is, How can people believe such blatantly false teaching? Christians want to believe the best in people, and these false teachers were subverting the faith of some by their clever words. Ralph Earl suggests this:

They were evidently explaining the resurrection in a spiritual sense, equating it with regeneration, on the new birth. 1 Corinthians 15 is Paul’s extended answer to this false teaching, which was propagated by some at Corinth.

It’s easy to see how the truth can be manipulated by some to the detriment of others. Little wonder Paul warned Timothy to stay clear of all useless chatter! If it infects the hearer, it can spread through the body of their faith, like gangrene or cancer.

3. Third piece of advice: a word of encouragement, verse 19

Despite the seriousness of false teaching and the terrible consequences of dabbling in it, nothing can destroy the true Church of Jesus Christ. In spite of the subversion, the “solid foundation of God stands firm.” What does Paul mean by “solid foundation?” Given the context, Paul probably has in mind the solid foundation of God’s Word and the doctrines it contains. No false teacher is strong enough in himself to tear down what God has built up. Jesus Himself declared that not even the “gates of Hell” can quash the Church.

4. Fourth piece of advice: be kind and don’t argue, verses 22-26

Timothy, despite his youth, must be mature and avoid the pitfalls of youth. Even though he was probably in his early 30’s Timothy must continue to flee youthful lusts. The verb is in the present tense, meaning it must be continuous action. But fleeing from sin isn’t enough. Timothy must “flee to” something positive. Paul lists four things worth pursuing: righteousness, faith, love and peace. When one is busy striving for those things, avoiding what should be avoided will be easy.

Verse 23 is a powerful verse. Timothy is told to have nothing to do with “foolish and stupid arguments.” “Foolish” refers to the nerves, being dull or sluggish, and to the mind, being slow. “Stupid” means “uninstructed” or “ignorant.” “Arguments” is from a word that refers to “questions” or “debates.” Of these things, Paul advises Timothy simply to refuse involvement with. Again, Earl’s insight is priceless:

Such questions will be brought before you: refuse to even discuss them. Sometimes the wise pastor has to do this. Why? Because “they produce quarrels” and tend to divide the church and so destroy it.

But what do you do with a troublesome person who wants to argue? While this is addressed to Timothy as a pastor, this is good advice for all strong believers. Every believer must NOT quarrel with such a troublesome person, but rather he must be “kind” to him. The word also means “gentle.” And, with God’s grace, the believer needs to be willing to be patient with and instruct the erring person.

Conclusion

This is the “structure for success” as Paul outlines for the individual believer. If the believer could follow Paul’s teachings, they would experience success in their daily Christian walk and witness. But, as a final note. Verses 25 and 26 are worth considering as a summation for being obedient to the Word:

Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 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.

Even a troublemaker, while his empty words need to avoided, he himself should be approached and “gently instructed.” This really means that the troublemaker needs to be taught “in meekness” by those who have the knowledge. The reason for this is not so Timothy or the pastor can be proven right, but so that the person in the wrong may find correction and that they may “return to soberness” (that’s the thought of the Greek behind “come to their senses”). And it is knowledge that will change the person’s heart. Nobody needs to be “given up on” until the Lord indicates it’s time to do so.

What an awesome responsibility the mature believer has. He must avoid useless arguments, immerse himself in the Word, and gently confront the argumentative person and try to persuade them with knowledge of the Word. This is the structure for success.

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