The Lord’s Servant
2 Timothy 2:14–19
Confronting false teaching is not easy, particularly for a young minister. But it is necessary, as the apostle Paul explained to his protégé Timothy when he left the young man in charge of the church in Ephesus to go to Macedonia.
Timothy was to correct problems caused by false teachers, whom Paul called “savage wolves.” They were spreading deceitful doctrines and destroying the faith of some (cf. Acts 20:28–31). Timothy was to stop these people from teaching fables, Jewish legends, and fictitious interpretations of Old Testament genealogies and Mosaic Law (1 Tim. 1:3–7).
Although young, Timothy was well qualified to lead the church, having been trained by Paul, his spiritual father. In 2 Timothy 2:14–19, Paul urged Timothy to be strong, endure persecution, and remain faithful to the things he had been taught and the ministry to which he was called.
Deal With Deception
Paul told Timothy to remind the Ephesian church to maintain sound doctrine: “Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers” (v. 14).
The phrase these things refers to facts Paul mentioned in verses 11–13. That is, God will never deny salvation to those who die believing in Christ (Rom. 8:16–17). But people who once professed faith then denied Christ will be denied by Christ before God the Father (1 Jn. 2:19, 23).
It also refers to “striving [battling] about words.” Not only did Timothy need to deal with false doctrines, but he also had to deal with a battle over the meaning of words. The word for “strive” is used only here in the New Testament and conveys the idea of quibbling, disputing, quarreling, or fighting. Paul said such word battles have “no profit” (2 Tim. 2:14) or useful purpose. They edify no one. In fact, they result in “the ruin [subversion] of the hearers” (v. 14).
The Greek word for “subvert” [katastrophe] is the root of the English word catastrophe and conveys the idea of turning people upside down the way soil is overturned in a field being plowed. Verbal battles discourage and depress believers and can overturn someone’s faith. Utterly useless, they can irreversibly damage lives. Paul said we are to shun such senseless struggles for the sake of spiritual soundness.
Paul commanded Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (v. 15). Timothy was to set an example for the church to follow. The word diligent (Greek, spouidazo) does not mean “study,” as translated in the King James Version. It means to be eager and zealous in showing oneself an approved workman for God.
Three things are involved in becoming the Lord’s approved servants:
1. We must strive to please God, not people. Timothy would only obtain the boldness and power to rebuke false teachers if he pleased God and discerned and implemented God’s will.
2. We must study Scripture seriously, “rightly dividing the word of truth.” The word dividing (Greek, orthotomeo) means to “cut straight.” It was used of stonemasons; farmers plowing fields; and possibly tentmakers, who needed to cut material straight so the pieces fit together evenly.
Thus, we are to handle Scripture accurately, clearly, and unambiguously. Bible teachers must never manipulate God’s Word to fit their own theologies, as did the false teachers in Ephesus. All teachers of God’s Word need a thorough knowledge of Scripture and the ability to communicate the text accurately and coherently in the power of the Holy Spirit.
They must be workmen, or laborers, who need not be ashamed. The word worker does not refer to skill but, rather, to the strenuous toil demanded of a ministering servant. Paul was thinking of the time when all believers will give an account to God at the judgment seat of Christ for their work on Earth (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10). If we are faithful laborers, we will not be put to shame. In another context, Paul made it clear stewards are required to be faithful (1 Cor. 4:2). Our consistent, diligent study of God’s Word is critical and mandatory if we are to be approved by God. Scripture tells us how to live and serve the Lord.
3. We must avoid ungodly chatter with false teachers: “But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness” (2 Tim. 2:16). The word shun means to avoid dialogue or conversation with false teachers because their talk constitutes “profane babblings” [unholy talk] that leads to more ungodliness. Dialoguing with them gives them greater acceptance—which they do not deserve—and encourages them to spread their poison.
Timothy was to confront them and resist their empty talk that dishonors God. Heresies mutate the truth of Scripture and can devastate a believer’s faith and the local church (cf. 1 Tim. 6:20; Ti. 3:9).
Paul provided a chilling illustration: “And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:17–18). False teaching courses through a congregation like cancer or gangrene (Greek, gaggraina), a bacterium that enters a wound and, if not treated, spreads quickly and results in death. This is a fitting illustration of the deadliness of false teaching.
Hymenaeus and Philetus were false teachers in Ephesus whom Paul ejected from the church, turning them over to Satan to learn not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20). They were spreading the erroneous teaching “that the resurrection is already past” (2 Tim. 2:18).
They probably were claiming there is no future, bodily resurrection. This notion came from Greek philosophy promoted by the Gnostics, who taught the body is evil and only the spirit is immortal. Gnostics claimed that, when a person was born again, it was a spiritual experience exclusively and the only resurrection a person would have. This teaching made Christ’s resurrection symbolic and fictitious. The teaching was a major heresy because Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead is the key proof of the Christian faith.
Jesus prophesied His resurrection and appeared to His disciples for 40 days in His resurrected body. Paul taught in detail on Christ’s resurrection and emphasized that our bodily resurrection is based on Christ’s resurrection (1 Cor. 15:12–23). The apostle made it extremely clear all believers will be raised bodily from the dead (vv. 42–44; 1 Th. 4:15–18).
Hymenaeus’s and Philetus’s teaching overthrew (literally, turned upside down) the faith of some (2 Tim. 2:18). If false teaching goes uncorrected, it undermines Christianity and eventually splits or wreaks havoc on the church.
However, the church’s foundation does not endure merely because false teachers are removed: “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity’” (v. 19).
The word nevertheless projects a strong contrast, assuring Timothy spurious teaching will never destroy the true church of Christ. The “solid foundation of God stands.” No matter what false teaching or doctrinal error attacks Christ’s church, the church is inviolable.
The word stands indicates the church’s foundation stood in the past and will do so in the future. Christ alone is the church’s foundation; no other can be laid (1 Cor. 3:11). Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18; cf. Eph. 2:19–22; 1 Tim. 3:15).
God has placed His “seal,” or sign of ownership, on His church (2 Tim. 2:19). That is, “The Lord knows those who are His” (v. 19). In eternity past, God foreknew the elect and guaranteed their salvation would be secure forever (cf. Jn. 10:27–28).
Furthermore, our personal purity is a sign of God’s ownership: “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Tim. 2:19). This is not a suggestion, but a command. We are ordered to depart from sin and strive for sanctified lives of purity. By so doing, our faith and commitment demonstrate the true church of Christ still stands strong. And it will stand forever.
Even in times of difficulty, God has not forgotten His servants. Let’s live in a way that glorifies Him.