Monday, January 13, 2014

Correctly Handling the Word of Truth – 2 Tim 2:14-19

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." (NIV)
Quarreling about Words
When does standing up for a correct biblical exegesis of a passage turn into quarreling about words?
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. (Rom 14:1ESV)
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3 ESV)
It is hard to balance these two commands. Some new believers come to faith in Jesus and bring along some very weird ideas from the world. I remember some of the things I thought about as a new believer. I would speak eloquently about my misunderstanding of God’s omniscience and mature believers would just nod their head and then go back to the passage we were studying. Finally, an older man brought me a copy of Truths that Transform[1] and got me straighten out somewhat. Quarreling with a new believer accomplishes little. Patient instruction works wonders.
Others who have been Christians a long time get distracted by hyper attention to specific passages. They latch on to a verse that either condemns some particular sin or endorses a particular Christian discipline. They are certain that this is the primary reason that the Church is ineffective today. They contend that all we have to do is get back to what the Bible says about this one topic and all of our problems would be solved. Sometimes they take the passage out of context, other times, they are correct in identifying a problem but neglect other problems that are just as serious or maybe even more so. Some can keep harping about it for years. Other eventually move on to another topic but with the same intensity. Quarreling with older believers accomplishes little when they have their mind made up and may even consider that you are suffering from the problem and need to repent.
I hope you will let me know if I do any of this. It is only by God’s grace that we can encourage and redirect these back to the Bible and a balance that only He can provide.
Then there are those who are deadly inaccurate in their exegesis. We must contend with them because their belief will lead other astray. Paul even had to name two people who were doing this. When he says that it ruins people and some have wondered away from the faith, just think of all those who have been excited over predictions of the date of Jesus’ return. Some lose faith. Others turn into cults. Some wise up and get back to the Bible and godly living.
Correctly handling the Word of Truth is characteristic of a good workman. Those who quarrel or are involved with godless chatter usually fail in this area.
Unashamed Workman
Paul says that we need to do our best to present ourselves to God if we want to be unashamed workmen. The King James Version said to study. The key is to be approved by God. It doesn’t really matter if others think we are good workers or not. If God thinks we are, then we can hold our heads high and not be ashamed.
I think a lot about what I write. I often think about how others will react to it. I wonder if it is too stern or sounds if I’m compromising to avoid conflict. Many different things go through my head. But the one that I should be considering above all is God. Does He approve of what I write? One aspect of His approval would certainly be accuracy. I shouldn’t say anything in my writing that is contrary to His Word. That’s where study must be applied.
Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Col 4:5-6 NASU)
I also have to consider how God wants me to write. If I’m always ticking people off, I need to look at how I say things. If people are ticked off because I’m accurately exposing a sinful lifestyle, it may be exactly what God wants. However if they are ticked because I’ve done it without grace, then I’m the problem.
I look at this verse and see instruction on how to approach my writing. Grace would be always pointing out God’s love and willingness through Jesus’ death on the cross to forgive whatever sin a person has. Salt is making sure that the sin is clear. Salt in a wound causes pain but grace is like an ointment that sooths the pain. Jesus faced the same problem when He dealt with people. He handled it two distinct ways.
Jesus was gracious to the woman at the well. He spoke respectfully to her, but didn’t hesitate to point out her sinful lifestyle. She responded in belief and even brought many others to Jesus (John 4:7-30). The rich young ruler was also gently convicted of sin but didn’t repent (Matt 19:16-20). On the other hand, Jesus also spoke very harshly to those who were hardened in their opposition to Him even calling them a brood of vipers (Matt 12:34, 23:33).
We need wisdom when it comes to our interaction with unbelievers. What we say is just as important as how we day it. There may be time when we need to be blunt but they are probably few and far between.
Godless Chatter
What is godless chatter? Other versions translate it as irreverent babble (ESV), worldly and empty chatter (NASU), profane and idle babblings (NKJV), worthless, foolish talk (NLT), profane and vain babblings (KJV). I don’t think Paul is talking about the weather or why your favorite team is or isn’t in the playoffs. While God is seldom the subject of these things, the context of these verses implies that godless chatter is much more serious than that.
The first reason that it is very serious is that people who indulge in it become more ungodly. If it were only the weather, then they would have to go beyond simply talking about it but developing their theology around it. Perhaps people who say they know that a hurricane is God’s retribution are in this category, but not most people.
The second reason is that their teaching spreads like gangrene. It spreads like dying flesh. People who are simply idle in their conversations aren’t usually teaching anything, much less something that can cause death to someone’s faith.
Third, the example that Paul gives is a specific doctrine about the resurrection that they came up with as they wandered from the truth. It is a doctrine that destroys the faith of others.
I once met a person who claimed that sin and evil in the world was somehow tied to the positive and negative spin of atoms. When he told me his theory, it was at a gathering of Christians for an open house or some other similar function. He wasn’t teaching a course or anything formal. It was just godless chatter at a party. I wonder how many other destructive heresies have started in the same way. I politely questioned him to determine if I had heard correctly then just nodded as he explained it. He admitted he didn’t talk to many people about it because he didn’t want to appear weird. I was thankful that he wasn’t spreading it but I did wonder why he told me. I never heard him speak of it again. However, I can see how a more influential person could start a cult with something like that. That is certainly godless chatter.
I asked a friend what he thought was godless chatter. He was reading a book about the underground church in Romania. He explained that a Romanian who escaped persecution and came to the west was shocked at the western church because we are ignoring the plight of persecuted Christians around the world. That lead me to think about the preaching in many churches.
I picked up a book at the local Christian bookstore to see why so many people thought one of the current popular mega church preachers was so great. I read a few pages and saw encouraging stories of successfully overcoming problems and positive thinking and behavior. Was any of it wrong? No, it was very nice. But it could be construed as godless chatter because there was nothing in the pages that I read that based the positive thinking or overcoming problems on faith in Jesus, study and application of God’s Word, or persevering through trials.
While I can’t say that this teacher is becoming more ungodly, his teaching continues to draw many in and therefore away for a more accurate application of God’s Word that will sustain us through difficult times. Others who teach similar doctrines have eventually succumbed to temptations and fallen from their lofty ministerial positions.
This positive thinking and prosperity teaching is like gangrene because it is spread through the church with TV and books. It spreads well beyond a local congregation. It is like gangrene because it destroys the faith of many. When people try all the positive thinking principles and ignore what the Bible has to say about persevering in trials, they feel cheated or guilty when they don’t get the same results as their mentor. Often, they give up on Christianity all together or withdraw into seclusion, not trusting anyone.
Solid foundation
I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. (John 10:14 KJV)
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (Matt 7:15 KJV)
Jesus is depicted in many ways in the Bible. He is the Rock, our Foundation upon which we build if we are working and doing His will. He is the Good Shepherd who guides us. He is the Vine and we are the branches. They all depend on one thing, and that is that Jesus knows us. If He doesn’t know us, then we are nothing other than wolves in sheep’s clothing.
We may say we know the Lord, but the true test is if He knows us. Jesus taught this very clearly. Whether people are trying to get to heaven by their own good deeds and character or by some other means than knowing and being known by Jesus, they will be sorely disappointed when Jesus tells them they can’t enter into eternity with Him (Luke 13:24-28). Jesus gave us many promises so that we can know that He knows us. If we have heard Jesus and believe God sent Him we can be assured that we have eternal life (John 5:24, 1 John 5:13). Jesus promises us that if we love Him, we will keep His Word and proof that we don’t really know Him is disobedience. When we obey and love Jesus, He promised that both He and the Father will come make their home in us (John 14:21-24)!
I talked to a couple of young men the other day. After going through the Four Spiritual Laws[2] with them, they assured me that they knew Jesus and that Jesus was in their hearts. I wasn’t convinced that they knew Jesus or that Jesus knew them. So I asked if the Jesus they had in their hearts was the brother of Satan, a created being. Oh, yes they replied. Satan’s brother lived in them. Where do you think they will be at the judgment? Do you think Jesus, who is God incarnate, not a created being but eternally God, will say He know these two? We have to be careful as false prophets abound.
Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. (1 John 3:7 NKJV)
Finally, anyone who claims to know Jesus should be working at living a godly life. Paul says that we need to depart from wickedness. This is an ongoing job, it takes a decision to get moving in the right direction, but it is a process of developing a holy life. In John, the key word is practice. We all sin at times, but the person who has continual sin in his life should re-examine his commitment to Jesus. Does he really know Jesus and does Jesus know him?
We need to remember that this is the second criteria of knowing if your foundation is solid or not. Many people live exemplary lives but fail the first test of knowing Jesus. The two young men I mentioned above had it together outwardly, but since they missed the first test, then the second isn’t going to matter.
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? - unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Cor 13:5 RSV)
If someone thinks he knows Jesus but is living a sinful life then he has failed both tests because a sinful life is evidence that Jesus doesn’t really know him. If we are to examine ourselves to see if we are standing on God’s firm Foundation, then we need to pass both tests. Thankfully, a life time of failing can be turned around in a moment with true repentance and trust in Jesus for salvation.

[1] Kennedy, D. James. Truths That Transform. Old Tappan, NJ: F. H. Revell, 1974. Print.
[2] Bright, Bill. Four Spiritual Laws: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1965

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