This week, we’ve seen that the second chapter of 2 Timothy is all about loyalty. And we asked the question, what does it mean for us to be loyal to God? Yesterday, Paul told us to work hard (but in a focused way) and be prepared to sufffer. Today, he gives us two more ways to be loyal.
Avoid rival loyalties (like the false teachers)
Being loyal to God will mean avoiding rival loyalties. We’ve already seen Paul’s positive example we’re to follow. But a little later on in chapter two (we’ve skipped a few verses – we’ll come back to them on Monday), he brings up a negative example: false teachers in Ephesus who were seducing people away from the true gospel. Encouraging people to be dis-loyal to God.
Firstly, he tells Timothy to keep reminding God’s people of all he’s said thus far:2 Timothy 2:14-16 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. 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.
Don’t get caught up in what the false teachers are going on about:2:16-17 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 departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.
Now we’re not sure precisely what the false teaching was. Paul doesn’t spell it out. From other references in Paul’s letters, the “godless chatter” seems to involve philosophical speculation, a popular Greek pastime. The false teachers were tapping into the Greeks’ desire to play status games through philosophical debate. To prove their own importance through academic argument.
And it involved the idea of the resurrection having already taken place. ‘Cause to Greeks, the idea of a bodily resurrection in the future was crazy. Their whole worldview was about escaping this physical existence and becoming a purely spiritual being. So these teachers reinterpreted Christian doctrine to suit themselves. The resurrection was a spiritual awakening you could have now, not a physical, future hope.
In both aspects, it was all about preaching what people want to hear, rather than the truth of the gospel. A case of what Paul goes on to say in chapter 4:4:3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
Loyalty to God means loyalty to his truth. Even if it’s unpopular. Especially when it’s unpopular.
Now for us, it might not be issues surrounding the resurrection and Greek philosophy. It might be other distortions of Biblical truth that we need to stand firm against. Ones that play to the prejudices of our own society. We’ll talk more about those next week when we get to chapter four. But think of “gospels” that are all about material wealth and physical health in this life, or that airbrush out anything supernatural, or that sound just like the humanist philosophies of our age. (We’re not that much different from the ancient Greeks after all.)
Don’t be seduced by rival loyalties. That twist the truth to make it more palatable. More acceptable to the world around us. Because it’s idolatry. It’s false teaching. And, as Paul says, it can “destroy the faith of some.”
Be obedient (like… the good silverware?)
In contrast, Paul tells us to be obedient. To keep ourselves pure, so that we’re fit for God’s service. Just like the good silverware. (I think Paul’s scratching for analogies at this point, but let’s go with him on this one.)2:20 In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use.
Or more literally in the Greek: some for honourable use and some for dishonourable use. Do you get the distinction, or do I need to spell it out? You don’t use the good china as your chamber pot, OK? You don’t use your salad servers to pick up after the dog’s been in the garden. At least not when you’re wife’s looking. Different things for different purposes.
And Paul, here, says we have a choice in what kind of household article we are:2:21 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.
Loyalty, ultimately, is displayed in obedience. In purifying ourselves from the lure of the world; from the distortions of the truth we spoke of earlier. In doing everything we can to put ourselves at God’s disposal. To use us how he wants.
And that’s not to be seen as the “downside” of the salvation deal. Get out of Hell free, and then be stuck doing whatever God tells us. It’s actually part of the upside. Being used by God to do his work of recreating his world. To do honourable work.
So to summarise, Paul draws these two points together: cleanse yourself from that which pollutes, and avoid getting sidetracked by rival loyalties:2 Timothy 2:22-23 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.
Sometimes arguments between rival philosophers were known to get heated, and occasionally violent. So Paul warns Timothy not just to avoid the false teaching itself, but not to behave like them either2 Timothy 2:24-26 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, 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.
So there we have it. Loyalty to God, says Paul in chapter two, is to work hard in his service; to be prepared to suffer; to shun rival loyalties; and to purify yourself for service. Sounds a bit daunting, doesn’t it? And what happens when we fail? That’s where we’ll double-back to verses 11-13, on Monday…
To think about
What rival loyalties are you tempted by?
What kind of vessel are you in the house of God?