Timothy should remind those he teaches that they should suffer and serve Jesus, and should not waste time on pointless arguments about irrelevant beliefs that only harm and mislead other believers. Paul tells Timothy to root himself in truth, which pleases God. He names specific men who are spreading untrue messages among the believers; Paul says avoid these men, but rest confidently in God, for He knows who belongs to Him.
Paul desires for Timothy to live his life on earth with this perspective firmly in view. He wants Timothy to never forget that the true prize of life comes through faithful obedience to God, and suffering the same sufferings of rejection by the world that Jesus suffered. But Paul also desires that Timothy continue to teach those under his influence this same perspective. Paul admonishes Timothy to Remind them of these things. The “these things” refers back to the prior verses in this chapter, which might be summed up by saying “the true prize of life comes through faithful obedience to Christ.”
Paul further admonishes Timothy to solemnly charge those whom he teaches in the presence of God not to wrangle about words. Paul wants Timothy to continue to focus on the main point, to focus on the things that we know. We know that suffering rejection by the world due to obedience to Christ is eternally profitable. The rewards from faithful obedience is the thing we can take with us to heaven, that will endure forever. But arguing about words is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. If we get distracted from the main point, it leads us to focus on “being right” rather than being faithful. This leads to the ruin of the hearers. In the context of this letter, that ruin would be to lose the reward of the reign of Christ, that comes through the obedience to Christ.
Timothy spoke to people in the presence of God, which means Timothy taught the people in a setting of group worship. Scripture tells us that where two or three are gathered in the name of Christ, He is there with them in their midst (Matthew 18:20).
The group setting appears to have been interactive, as it would allow people the opportunity to wrangle. This is consistent with the picture of group worship that emerges from 1 Corinthians 14, where Paul admonishes the church at Corinth to add more order in their service, and allow only one person at a time to speak. It is likely the group worship took place in people’s homes, as is often noted in Paul’s letters (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philippians 1:2).
In exercising his role of teaching, Timothy is a workman for God. He is exercising his gifting on behalf of the Body of Christ. Harkening back to his primary point to exhort Timothy to persist in being faithful, that he might receive the great reward of sharing the reign of Christ, Paul exhorts Timothy to Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. As a workman for Jesus, Timothy needs to accurately handle the word of truth when he teaches the believers in Ephesus. He needs to be diligent to handle God’s word carefully, and focus on the main points, in order to present himself approved before God at the judgement seat of Christ. Again Paul is exhorting Timothy to live “this day” for “that day”—the Day of the Judgement.
Timothy has co-authored books of the Bible with Paul. He has been on mission with Paul. He is a minister of the gospel. And yet Paul is admonishing him to continue being faithful in order that he might have his deeds be approved by Christ at the judgement. Christ is not looking to reward those who run half a race. He is looking to reward those who endure to the end of the race. As Paul emphasized in verse 12, it is “if we endure we will reign with Him.”
Paul provides a contrast for Timothy, and reminds him that the alternative to being approved is to be ashamed at the judgement seat of Christ. Why would a child of God be ashamed in the presence of God? For the same reason any child would be ashamed in the presence of their parent. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul presents a picture of the judgement seat of Christ like a forge. The picture is that each believer will have all their deeds tossed on to the flaming fire of the forge. The fire (of judgement) will determine which deeds are enduring, like gold, silver, or precious stones. These all represent materials that are improved by fire. They are refined and become purer, a greater treasure. The deeds that are not enduring are like wood, hay, and straw. They flame up. They don’t last. Paul sums up his picture of the judgment seat of Christ in 1 Corinthians, saying:
“If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
(1 Corinthians 3:14-15)
The phrase “suffer loss” applies to any one of us watching the deeds we did on earth go up in flames after being placed on the forge of judgement. At that point we will realize that we invested our time and resources in the things of the world, things that were self-seeking, things that were temporal rather than eternal. When we “suffer loss” we would expect to be ashamed. God gave us a great stewardship, and we failed to exercise it well, and we will have to face that fully, with all our self-rationalizations burned away.
However, we “receive a reward” for the things we did on earth that do endure. Things that are done out of love and obedience to Christ. Things that advance what is true, and right. Things that benefit others, and advance their welfare. This is how we are approved workman who do not need to be ashamed. In Timothy’s case, since he has stewardship of the gift and opportunity to be a teacher, Paul specifically admonishes him that he can avoid being ashamed by accurately handling the word of truth.
It is encouraging that a primary example Jesus used of a deed that will be rewarded in heaven is giving someone a cup of water in Jesus’s name (Matthew 10:42: Mark 9:41). It seems that the things that will be deemed great in heaven will have seemed trivial here on earth.
The reason Timothy is supposed to accurately handle the word of truth is in order for those under his teaching to learn to live that word, and gain the same benefit of learning to suffer with Christ in advancing His kingdom and enduring rejection from the world. If Paul were writing to someone whose stewardship is something other than being a teacher, he might choose to say “effectively living” the word of truth.
Paul wants Timothy to be accurately handling the word of truth. Accordingly, Paul desires that Timothy avoid worldly and empty chatter. The term empty chatter carries the sense of “empty sounding.” It is talk without a way to contribute to life in a manner that is beneficial. The word of truth is all about how to benefit ourselves and others. It leads us to discover what is best for us. The kind of talk that is empty and useless should be avoided because it will lead to further ungodliness. The empty chatter could certainly be claimed to be the truth, and offered in competition with the actual word of truth. We will soon find this is the case with two specific men whom Paul names.
The key principle here is that talk precedes action. We think, or talk, then we do. Our thoughts and words drive our actions. So we should make sure we think and speak in ways that align with our life’s mission.
That thoughts or words lead to deeds is a principle found throughout scripture. An example is Deuteronomy 30:11-14, a passage that Paul quotes in Romans 10. The passage ends with “the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.” The idea is “speak, believe in your heart, then take action.” Our words, or thoughts, shape what is in our hearts. It is out of our hearts that we make choices, which determine our actions. Accordingly, it is exceedingly important to take care to dwell on things consistent with the word of truth. In chapter 4, Paul will recommend some specific things to focus our thoughts upon.
Focusing on the right thoughts leads to a life of deeds that will be approved by Jesus. We should do this rather than engage in worldly and empty chatter that will lead to further ungodliness.
The sort of empty chatter that leads to ungodliness is talk that will spread like gangrene. The word translated gangrene is quite literal, from the Greek “gangraina.” Gangrene is a disease that spreads and attacks the entire body unless stopped by treatment. In ancient days, amputation was a common treatment. This might have been held in mind by Paul, encouraging Timothy to sever contact with people when they speak in such a way.
Paul then names two specific perpetrators of empty chatter, saying Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus. These two are not the only ones, as they are among those who speak in such a way. However, they are apparently noteworthy, as they are called out specifically. Paul describes Hymenaeus and Philetus as men who have gone astray from the truth. This section began with Paul encouraging Timothy to avoid being ashamed before Christ by accurately handling the word of truth. Part of accurately handling the word of truth is to avoid people that spread empty chatter. This helps us protect our thoughts and words, so that we might have proper actions.
Paul then notes the useless, unprofitable talk being spread by these two, that Paul described as empty chatter. Hymenaeus and Philetus are going around saying that the resurrection has already taken place. Paul does not expound on this odd-sounding philosophy. Perhaps by saying that the resurrection has already taken place, these two are saying that “all our desires are ok, so do whatever you like,” to justify wicked and ungodly behavior. Or perhaps they are claiming some divine appointment to be able to command others. Whatever they are claiming, Paul notes that they upset the faith of some. One negative effect of their empty chatter is that they are knocking people off following the “word of truth.”
Nevertheless, in spite of the false talk being spread by this group, the firm foundation of God stands. False ideas never overthrow the truth. The truth is always true. And the “word of truth” is always true, regardless of what people might say. It might be that these false teachers’ claim that the resurrection has already taken place comes from the Bible. Which might be part of the reason Paul admonished Timothy to “accurately” handle “the word of truth.” Clearly it is not true that the resurrection has already taken place.
Paul says that the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, then follows this assertion with two different statements that describe the seal. A seal in the ancient world was an imprint that showed identity and authorship. From context, the firm foundation of God is the word of truth. The truth stands, even in the presence of false teaching. The seal that shows what is true, contrasting to what is false, is twofold.
- 1. The Lord knows those who are His,” and,
- “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.”
The first of these two aspects of the seal of the firm foundation of God, is that The Lord knows those who are His. This likely speaks of the Gift of God to give eternal life to all who have enough faith to look on Jesus, hoping to be delivered from the poison of sin (John 3:14-15). How can we know whether someone had that faith? We might not be able to tell, and are told not to judge (Matthew 7:1). But God knows those who are His.
This connects with the A/A’, “Gift” portion of the chiasm in verses 11-13. “If we die with Him, we will live with Him” and “If we are faithless, He is faithful, He cannot deny Himself.” That means some people who are His might be faithless. And some who have the appearance of righteousness might be quite evil. God knows the heart. For us, appearances can be deceiving.
As Jesus explained in the parable of the wheat and tares, it is not always obvious who are the sons of the wicked one. It is not up to us to decide who belongs to the Lord. The Lord knows those who are His.
The second aspect of the seal of the firm foundation of God is the B/B’ “Prize” part of the chiasm from verses 11-13. Paul says that everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness. In order to be a faithful servant, an approved “workman” requires one to abstain from wickedness. It is not enough to just name the name of the Lord. God wants those who will be His faithful bond-servants to abstain from wickedness. To add deeds in keeping with words of truth.
Naming the name of the Lord and abstaining from wickedness is a verse about the prize believers can win for being faithful servants. No human can become a child of God by sufficiently abstaining from wickedness. As Paul wrote:
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”
This verse from Romans makes clear that everyone is sinful, and the only way for anyone to be justified in the presence of God is by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ.
To become a child of God only requires enough faith to look upon Jesus, hoping to be delivered from the poison of sin (John 3:14-15). Abstaining from wickedness is not sufficient to justify us in the presence of God.
However, once believers are born again, they can gain or lose a reward of inheritance through faithful obedience (Colossians 3:23; Romans 8:17:b). The reward for faithfulness occurs both in the age to come as well as in this current life. In Galatians, Paul speaks at length about the basic choice believers in Christ have, to follow their flesh (with the negative consequences that attend bearing the fruits of the flesh) or follow the Spirit (with the positive consequences that attend bearing the fruit of the Spirit) (Galatians 5:16-25).
With respect to rewards in the age to come, Paul made clear earlier in this chapter that if we endure in faithful living, we will be rewarded by reigning with Christ, and if we do not endure we will not get that reward (2 Timothy 2:12). Believers can choose wickedness, with substantial adverse spiritual consequences, or they can choose the name of the Lord and to abstain from wickedness, with incredible positive spiritual consequences.
We never need to fret that someone is “getting away with something;” that never is the case.
As Hebrews states:
“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”
We are told not to judge (Matthew 7:1). But that does not mean there will not be judgement; there will. It means God is the judge. He will bring all things to right.
The “word of truth” Paul admonished Timothy to handle well (2 Timothy 2:15) connects with this admonition to Timothy to keep his eye on the true end of any believer’s life on earth, which is the judgement seat of Christ. When all the deeds we have done during our lives are evaluated, and our stewardship is judged, we hope to be found to be an approved “workman” rather than being “ashamed” (2 Timothy 2:15). We hope to “endure” in good deeds, and gain the reward of the inheritance to “reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12).
14 Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.”
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