The Unashamed Christian
2Timothy 2: 14-26

Rev. Bryn MacPhail

The other day I came across a story that, I hope, will give clarity to what Timothy was feeling when Paul wrote him this letter. It was Sunday morning, and Mrs. Jones was wondering why her son hadn't gotten up for church. So Mrs. Jones went into her son's bedroom and insisted that he get up. Her son quickly replied that he didn't have any intention of going to church. To this, his mother replied, 'Bob, you are 38 years old! Now get out of bed and go to church!'.
'I don't like church', Bob complained. 'The people are demanding, they're critical, opinionated, fickle, hypocritical, and gossipy . . . Give me one good reason why I should go.'
'I'll give you one good reason why you should go--Bob, you are their minister!'.

Timothy was worn down. He had grown tired of holding his ground against people who opposed him. He was tired from all the quarreling with the false teachers in Ephesus. Paul was writing Timothy to advise him how to minister in the midst of these quarrels. Paul advises Timothy not to back down to these false teachers, but rather to "charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers "(2:14).

Paul is insisting that Timothy, as God's representative to the people of Ephesus, put an end to these harmful discussions. We must be clear about the nature of these harmful discussions. Paul is not confronting gossip here. Paul is not confronting discussions about how to spend the church's money. Paul is not confronting discussions about which musical instruments are suitable for Sunday worship. Paul is confronting harmful discussions that have to do with doctrine . Paul is most concerned about the doctrine that is being propagated by certain teachers to "the ruin ", Paul says, "of the hearers ".

Paul's message to Timothy strikes me as being a message that is very relevant to today's church. We live in a society that cherishes individual beliefs. A statement that begins with the phrase, 'I believe' has become a sacred statement that no one is allowed to question. Yet, here we have Paul insisting that Timothy call into question, and correct, the erroneous beliefs and false teaching of others.

Is Paul out of line here? Is Paul being narrow-minded, believing that he has a monopoly on truth? I don't think he is. Paul realizes, first of all, the conflicting opinions cause quarrels, and erroneous opinions can harm a community of faith. In verse 14, Paul says that the beliefs of the false teachers "leads to the ruin of the hearers ". In verse 17, Paul compares the effect of erroneous doctrine with the "spread " of "gangrene ". In verse 18, Paul talks about how the erroneous doctrine of the false teachers has "upset the faith of some ".

Not only is a plurality of views harmful to a Christian community, but it is also illogical. The light cannot be both 'on' and 'off'--it is one or the other. A surface cannot be both wet and dry. Paul is not being close-minded in his counsel to Timothy, he is being consistent. In the face of error, Christians must be willing to stand for biblical correctness even when it crosses swords with political correctness .

Paul mentions how Hymenaeus and Philetus "have gone away from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place "(2:18). While the exact content of this heresy is not known, the response Paul calls for is clear--Paul wants Timothy diffuse the damage that has been done by these false teachers.

Paul tells Timothy, in verse 15, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth ". In this one verse, Paul provides Timothy with 3 exhortations for combating the harmful doctrines of the false teachers. But before we look at these exhortations, it is important that we identify how Paul's exhortations to Timothy will be helpful to us.

The reality is that we face false teaching everyday. The most obvious place to start is your TV set. It is very rare that one can find a television show that doesn't propagate a belief that contradicts the Bible. Watch any sitcom and the obvious example that comes to mind is the acceptance of illicit sex. Watch most movies these days and you will hear not only vulgar language, but also, the Lord's name is regularly being profaned. Watch a TV talk show and you will notice how often deception is one of the main themes.

Where else do we face false teaching? You name it. You can find false teaching in the home, in the workplace, and on the golf course. False teaching is not always as evident as vulgarity and blatant lies. False teaching can come from your co-worker who gently states that he believes that 'all religions are equally valid'(remember folks, the light cannot be both 'on' and 'off'). False teaching can come from the 8 year old child who says, 'I don't believe there is a God'. False teaching can come from a University professor who insists that 'heaven and hell are the inventions of a mythical generation'. And to be fair, false teaching can come from the televangelist who promises, 'health, wealth, & prosperity' to every Christian.

Timothy's context is, by no means, unique. I suspect that, in our age of technology, we face far more false teaching than Timothy ever did. For this reason, Paul's counsel to Timothy in verse 15 is vital to our well-being as a Christian.

Paul's first exhortation to Timothy, and to us, is that our first responsibility is to God . It is God's approval that matters most. You may seek the approval of your spouse, you may seek the approval of your boss, you may seek the approval of your friends, but your first priority must be God's approval.

Timothy, like any minister, probably wanted to be liked by his congregation. Timothy's desire for human approval, however, could have gotten in the way of his ministry. So Paul reminds him that being "approved to God " is what ultimately matters.

The second exhortation Paul gives to Timothy, and to us, is that we must not be ashamed of God's Word . When Paul says in verse 15 that we are to be "a worker who does not need to be ashamed ", we need to go back to chapter one to see what Paul is referring to. We might think Paul is telling Timothy to work hard so that he doesn't have to be ashamed of his work, but looking back to chapter one, verse 8, we see Paul's exhortation to Timothy: "do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord ".

Being ashamed of God's Word is a genuine temptation for today's Christians. Scientists tell us that many of the miracles described in the Bible are impossibilities. Liberal scholars discount the Virgin Birth and bodily Resurrection of Christ. Historians assure us that no document that has come together the way the Bible has can be considered completely accurate.

We must keep in mind that false teachers are not all con artists and criminals. Rather, they are often ordinary people who dress in suits, teach in Universities, and write books. The false teacher can be your neighbour, your co-worker, and even your close friend. Against the assault from today's false teachers, we must heed Paul's counsel to Timothy, "do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord "(1:8).

The third exhortation Paul gives to Timothy, and to us, is that we must learn to handle accurately God's Word . Being able to "handle accurately " God's Word is vital to combating false teaching. How can we recognize error if we do not know what the truth looks like? This is precisely the dilemma we face today. So few people have any knowledge of Scripture that they simply cannot recognize false teaching.

Imagine that you move to a foreign country to work in a financial institution where part of your job is to be on guard against counterfeit bills. You will have great difficulty, of course, because you scarcely know what the genuine currency should look like. To succeed in your job, you would have to resolve to study the genuine currency. So it is with Scripture--unless we are diligent in our study of Scripture, we will struggle to recognize false teaching .

Notice, however, that Paul's exhortation to Timothy is not simply 'be diligent in studying God's Word'. Paul's does not give Timothy an exhortation to start more mid-week Bible studies. Paul's exhortation is that we "handle accurately the word of truth ". The Greek literally translates "cut straight the word of truth ". What is normally a carpentry phrase, is employed by Paul to describe our approach to God's Word.

Thinking about the carpentry metaphor, I was reminded of the recent occasion when Allie and I were working on a project that involved sawing some wood. Allie took hold of the saw, and worked furiously at cutting the wood. After watching the saw jump from the groove in the wood for the second time, I gently(and somewhat jokingly) reminded Allie that 'a saw is not a toy' and that it must be handled carefully. The same can be said with reading Scripture--it must never be read flippantly or in a hurried manner, but slowly and carefully.

Just like Timothy, false teaching is all around us. At Bible study this past Thursday, I told the group that the reason we even need to have a Bible study is because we ALL hold wrong beliefs. Because we have spent more time watching TV, reading the newspaper, and talking on the phone, than we have reading Scripture, the inevitable result is that we have appropriated incorrect beliefs about God and about humanity.

Error is indeed inevitable, but like the soldier, like the athlete in competition, and like the hard-working farmer, every Christian must resolve to minimize doctrinal error. If we do not believe rightly we will be incapable of living rightly .

Paul's 3 exhortations are a good place to start. We must first recognize that our first responsibility is to God . It is His approval which we must seek above all else. Secondly, we must never be ashamed of God's Word . As the Psalmist has said, God's Word "is a lamp to (our) feet, and a light to (our) path "(Ps. 119:105). Thirdly, we must learn to handle accurately handle God's Word . The Bible is no ordinary book. It has the power to change lives for eternity. And when misused, the Bible can be twisted in a way so that it upsets the faith of others(2:18). In order for God's Word to be your delight(Ps. 119:92), you must learn to interpret it correctly.

It would be a tragedy to view these 3 exhortations as simply 3 more things for you to do in your busy week. The way to survive your busy week is to do these things. The way to enjoy your week is to do these things. And, most importantly, the way to enjoy God is to do these things.

Put God first; do not be ashamed of His Word; and handle God's Word accurately and you will be satisfied in Him. This is what we are here for--God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him . Amen.