‘Keep reminding them of these things.’ That’s how today’s passage begins. The word ‘them’ is not in the original Greek text, but it’s safe to assume that Paul is referring to the believers in Ephesus, where Timothy was ministering. And what did Paul want Timothy to remind the people about? Well, presumably Timothy was to remind them of the trustworthy saying which Paul had just mentioned in his letter and which we studied last week. So, let me remind you of it. Paul wrote that if we died with Christ, we will also live with him. And if we endure, we will also reign with him. So, do you remember what I said about these things? Whenever we first believed, our old life of unbelief and rebellion died. It came to an end. And we began a new life of faith and obedience and we received the hope of everlasting life in God’s presence. And if we persevere in the faith, enduring all things for the sake of Christ, we know that we will reign with Christ in the new heavens and earth. And so, whatever we now have to endure now will be worth it, because of the glory that awaits us in the future.
And then, if we disown Christ, he will also disown us. And that’s a very serious warning, isn’t it? And it’s directed to the person who knows about Christ. Perhaps this person was brought up in the church and has heard the good news of Jesus Christ who gave up his life for sinners to bring us to God. But there comes a time in this person’s life when he decides that this is not for me. He decides he wants nothing to do with Christ the Saviour. He decides he does not want Christ as his Saviour. And so, this person disowns the Saviour. In that case, the Lord will disown him when the day of judgment comes, saying about him, ‘I never knew him’. And that person who disowned the Saviour will be sent away to be punished for all that he has done wrong. It’s a very serious warning; and therefore anyone who has ever disowned the Lord Jesus like that needs to repent immediately and turn back to God, who is always willing to pardon anyone who comes humbly to him, confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness.
And in the final part of the trustworthy saying, Paul said that if we are faithless, he will remain faithful. Though we are often faithless, or unfaithful, and we stumble and fall into sin, and we disobey the Lord, and we doubt him, nevertheless he remains faithful to us and to his promise to forgive us for the sake of Christ. The God who does not change remains committed to his people; and his love for his people is never-ending.
So, remind the people of these things, Paul says to Timothy. And warn them before God against quarrelling over words, which is of no value and only ruins those who listen. Quarrelling over words. The word Paul uses could be translated ‘battling over words’ or ‘fighting over words’. And he mentions this kind of thing in two other places in today’s passage. Look at verse 16 where he says, ‘Avoid godless chatter’, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Look now at verse 23 where he says, ‘Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.’ Quarrelling over words. Godless chatter. Foolish and stupid arguments. Do you know who he’s got in his mind when he says those things? He’s got in mind the false teachers who have come to Ephesus. Back in Acts 20, when Paul was leaving Ephesus, he warned the elders of the church that savage wolves will come among them and they will not spare God’s flock. He was referring to the way false teachers will come after Paul had gone and they will ruin the church with their false teaching. So watch out for them. And in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he warned Timothy about the false teachers who had arrived in Ephesus just as Paul said they would. And Paul warns Timothy about the false teachers again in this second letter. Watch out for those false teachers who will quarrel with you over words and who will drag you and everyone else into godless chatter and into foolish and stupid arguments. So, watch out for them, Timothy.
And that’s really what today’s passage is all about. It’s about the false teachers and what Timothy needs to do about them. Once again, I’ll not go through the passage verse by verse. Instead I’ll start with what Paul says about the false teachers. Then we’ll look at the things Timothy mustn’t do. And then we’ll look at the things Timothy should do.
The false teachers
And so, let’s start with the false teachers. Turn with me to verses 16 to 18 where Paul refers to ‘godless chatter’. This is the kind of thing the false teachers used to indulge in. The word for ‘chatter’ means empty talk. So it’s fruitless and a waste of time. And it’s godless. That is, it’s lacking in Christian content. And instead of helping people to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, it only leads to greater ungodliness. Instead of bringing people closer to God, it sends them further and further away from God. And so, that’s what the teaching of false teachers leads to: not to godliness, but to ungodliness.
And their teaching is like gangrene. Do you see that in verse 17? Their teaching is like gangrene because of the way it spreads like an infection from person to person and because of the damage it does. Do you remember how Paul referred previously to ‘sound teaching’? He was referring to healthy teaching, teaching which is good for us, because it produces spiritual health in us. Well, the teaching of the false teachers is the opposite. It isn’t good for us, because it produces spiritual death by leading us away from Christ the Saviour.
And Paul mentions these two false teachers by name. We don’t know anything about Philetus, but Paul referred to Hymenaeus in 1 Timothy 1 as someone who had shipwrecked his faith. Presumably he once professed faith in Christ, but something happened in this man’s life and he gave up the truth faith and he was now teaching things which were false. Or, as Paul says about both of them in verse 18, they have wandered away from the truth. And sadly this kind of thing still happens today; and I know of Christians authors whose first books were sound. That is, they were books which were good for you, because they helped people to understand the faith better and they helped people grow as believers. But something happened and their later books were no longer sound books. That is, they were no longer good for us, but they were bad for us, because the authors had wandered from the truth and they were leading others away from the truth by the things they were now writing.
And Paul gives an example in verse 18 of the kind of thing that the false teachers in Ephesus were now teaching. They were saying the resurrection has already taken place. In one sense, the resurrection has already taken place, because Christ has been raised from the dead. But presumably they were talking about our resurrection; and instead of teaching what the apostles taught — which is that our bodies will be raised when Christ returns — they were saying that we have already been raised. We don’t really know what they were saying or why they said it, but perhaps they meant we have been raised spiritually and that’s the only kind of resurrection there is, when what the apostles taught is that our bodies will be raised when Christ comes again. And look at the result of their false teaching at the end of verse 18. Paul says they destroy the faith of some. Instead of building up believers, false teachers only tear down; and they destroy the faith of those who listen to them.
I was listening to another preacher who asked the question what is the greatest danger to the church today? And he listed some of the things we typically think about and worry about. He mentioned, of course, the persecution of believers around the world. He also mentioned the spread of secularism and unbelief. He mentioned issues like sexuality and gender and evolution and things like that. And there are other dangers and they all come from outside the church. And while these are dangerous to the church, nevertheless the church has always faced those kinds of things and has survived them all. But the greatest danger to the church today and in every generation is the danger which comes from false teachers within the church. It comes from those in the church who have wandered away from the truth; and they lead others away from the truth by the things they teach. And by doing so, they destroy the faith of many. That’s the danger we’re up against. And it’s what Timothy was up against.
So, that’s the false teachers. What are the things Timothy should not do, but must avoid? In verse 16 Paul commands Timothy to avoid the false teachers’ godless chatter. Shun it. Have nothing to do with their empty, Christless talk. And then, related to that, in verse 23 Paul commands Timothy to have nothing to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because they produce quarrels. I wonder, have you ever found yourself in a foolish and stupid argument? It might have been an argument about Christian doctrine, but even so, it was foolish and stupid. You know it was foolish and stupid, because it ended in a quarrel. So, instead of fighting for the truth, we were just fighting. Arguing. This is what people say about Twitter, isn’t it? You can’t debate anything on Twitter, because it quickly degenerates into a quarrel or a flamewar and people are insulting one another and calling each other names. But Paul tells Timothy in verse 24 that ‘the Lord’s servant must not quarrel.’
So, avoid their godless chatter and their foolish and stupid arguments. Then, in verse 20, Paul uses the image of a large house with articles of silver and gold and wood and clay, some of which are used for noble purposes and some of which are used for ignoble purposes. When he refers to articles, he’s referring to containers or bowls. So, think of a big house and some containers are placed on display and they’re filled with fruit, perhaps, for the guests to eat. But some containers are kept away from public view and they’re used for lowly tasks, like washing dishes and carrying waste. And Paul uses this image to refer to true preachers and false teachers. The containers for noble purposes represent true preachers; and the containers for ignoble purposes represent the false teachers. And it’s a very fitting image, isn’t it? It’s fitting because true preachers hold something valuable, something precious. They hold the gospel, which brings joy and peace and life to all who hear and believe it. But the false teachers are like the other kind of container, because they hold something worthless. In fact, they hold something worse than worthless. They hold within themselves a message which only corrupts and defiles and poisons those who hear and believe it. And, according to verse 21, a preacher like Timothy needs to cleanse himself from the latter. That is, he’s to cleanse himself from the false teachers and their wicked influence. Separate yourself from their corrupting ideas. Remove their influence from your life completely.
And then Paul tells Timothy to flee the evil desires of youth. That’s in verse 22. When we see the word ‘desires’ we often think of sexual desires, but the word means more than that. Those of us who are no longer young can think back to when we were young and we now cringe when we think of the stupid things we said and did and the way we behaved when we were younger. And we did those stupid and foolish things because we were often motived by selfish desires or by a desire to show off and to put others down and to exalt ourselves. When we’re young, that desire to prove we’re better than others is strong. We can be arrogant and stubborn. Not everyone has those desires, but many of us had them when we were young. And I can certainly remember conversations I had in college with some of my fellow students who did not believe what I believed. And regrettably, instead of trying to win them to the truth, I was only trying to beat them in an argument and prove that I knew more than them. And so, it’s not surprising that Paul tells Timothy to flee the evil desires of youth. Wisdom and grace are needed to deal with the false teachers and those who have been influenced by them.
So, avoid godless chatter and have nothing to do with foolish and stupid arguments. Cleanse yourself from the evil influence of the false teachers. And flee the evil desires of youth. So, those are some of the things Timothy must avoid. But what must he do? It begins in verse 15 with being a good workman. That is, he tells Timothy to do his 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 God.
Whatever job a person has, there are certain tools they need to have and to master. Hairdressers and barbers have scissors. Office workers have computers and finance people have spreadsheets and calculators. Doctors have their stethoscopes. Teachers have their whiteboards and their pupils have their pens. Chefs have their knives. And so on. What’s the preacher’s tool? Well, it’s the word of truth, the message of the Bible. That’s my tool and every day I pick it up and use it. And it was Timothy’s tool as well: the message of the Bible about Jesus Christ who is God the Son who became one of us and who gave up his life in our place to pay for our sins before rising again, triumphant over the grave. And here’s Paul telling Timothy that he needs to be a workman who handles the word of truth correctly. The word Paul uses and which is translated ‘handle correctly’ means to cut straight. So, think of a dressmaker who has to cut a straight line through some fabric. Or think of engineers who have to cut a straight road through the countryside. Or think of a farmer who has to cut a straight furrow through the field. They know what they’re doing and they’re able to handle their tools and machines correctly. And the result is a straight line. And Timothy must do his best to make sure that he handles the word of truth correctly so that what he teaches is straight and true and accurate and he doesn’t deviate from the truth.
And so, he should do his best. That is, he should spare no effort. He must work hard to understand the word of truth and to teach it well. And in that way, he will be able to present himself before God as an approved worker who does need to be ashamed, because he’s been faithful to his calling to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. That’s something he’s to do.
What’s next? Turn with me to verse 22. He’s to flee the evil desires of youth. We’ve already thought about that. But then, as well as fleeing one thing, he’s to pursue four other things. He’s to pursue righteousness so that he’ll always aim to do what’s right. He’s to pursue faith so that he’s always trusting in God and his promises. He’s to pursue love so that he’ll try to love everyone around him. And he’s to pursue peace so that he’ll try to live at peace with everyone. So, preachers like Timothy must pursue all of those things. They’re to strive after these things. They’re to go after these things. They’re to make an effort to get these things. And by referring to all those who call on the name of the Lord, he’s saying that this is the kind of thing every believer should pursue. Whether a believer is a preacher or not, every believer should pursue these things. Always treat people, even your opponents, in the right way, and never the wrong way. That means, you’re to keep loving them, even your enemies; and you’re to try to live at peace with them as far as it depends on you. And you’re to keep trusting in the Lord to make everything right in his own good time.
And that brings me to the last thing Timothy is to do, which we find in verses 24 to 26. Preachers like Timothy must be kind to everyone and they must be able to teach and they must not be resentful. And when somebody opposes him — whether it’s one of the false teachers, or someone in the congregation who opposes him — what’s he to do? He’s to instruct them gently. So, preachers like Timothy are to instruct their opponents about the truth. But they must always do it with gentleness, displaying the lamb-like gentleness of the Lord Jesus. Do you remember the picture of Christ which we find in Isaiah 42? He will not shout or cry out or raise his voice in the street. A bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. It’s a picture of gentleness. And that’s what every preacher must be like. And as they instruct their opponents gently, the preacher is hoping that God will give his opponents repentance so that they’ll turn from error and come back to the truth of God’s word; and that they’ll come to their senses, because what the opponents don’t understand, but what Paul understands, is that the Devil has hoodwinked them. He’s deceived them. And he’s trapped them. They do not realise it, but the opponents — and Paul is referring to the false teachers, isn’t he? — are only doing what the Devil wants, which is to wreck the church and to destroy the faith of believers by the things they’re saying. And so, Timothy and preachers like him must instruct them gently, hoping that God will have mercy on them and deliver them from Satan’s snare and bring them back to a knowledge of the truth.
False teachers can do a lot of damage to the church. But though these they can do a lot of damage, the church itself will not topple. That’s because God’s solid foundation stands firm. Do you see that in verse 19? He means that the church is built on a firm foundation, so that it will withstand all kinds of troubles and crises. And the firm foundation under the church has two seals inscribed on it. One says: ‘The Lord knows those who are his’. The second one says: ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.’
These quotation come from the story of Korah’s rebellion. Do you know the story? It’s found in Numbers 16. Moses and Aaron were leading the people through the wilderness. Korah was a Levite, which meant he helped Aaron and the other priests in the tabernacle. And it was an important role. But Korah wanted more. He wanted to become a priest like Aaron. In other words, he wanted to become a leader among God’s people, just as the false teachers wanted to be leaders among God’s people in Ephesus. And so, Korah and others with him started a rebellion in the camp. And in a kind of showdown, Moses warned Korah that the Lord knows those who are his. He knows his people: those who belong to him; and those who do not belong to him. And when all the people had gathered to settle the matter between Moses and Aaron and Korah, Moses called on the people to separate themselves from Korah, because God was coming to punish Korah and all those who sided with him in his rebellion. And, do you remember what happened? The Lord caused the earth to open up under Korah and those with him and they went down alive into the grave.
Paul is referring to that story here to make the point that everything is under God’s control. The church has a firm foundation and will remain standing. And when the time is right God will deal with the false teachers in his own way. And until he does, God’s faithful people — people like you — must have nothing to do with them, but you must separate yourself from them. And the best way to protect yourself from the false teachers is by listening to the word of truth which God has given us for our good. The God who loved us and who sent his Son to die for us has also given us his word so that we might know him; and he’s given us preachers to teach us his word. And God uses the reading and preaching of his word to convince and convert sinners to faith in Christ and to build up believers in faith and love.