2 Timothy 2:14-18 “Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarrelling 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.”
There are truths that need to be constantly brought by the church to the world.  The living God created the heavens and the earth.  We are a fallen race and so there is none righteous, no not one.  God has provided a Saviour in his Son Jesus Christ and desires all men and women to turn from their unbelief and entrust themselves entirely to him. But there are also truths of which every preacher needs to keep reminding Christians. “If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (vv.11-13). I have a divine constraint to keep reminding you of these blessed truths. For Paul they are of central and cardinal importance for every Christian. “Keep reminding your congregation in Ephesus about them,” Paul tells Timothy, but they are also costly truths, and radical truths, and so very often we religious people pay them mere lip service. There is no heart obedience; there is only a form of godliness. How tragic! Here are realities that can transform your life, but they are marginalized by you and not understood and not applied to daily living, and so they don’t help you. But keep reminding the people of them. It may be irksome but it is necessary. Do it as freshly as you can. I must creep up on you in a sermon and suddenly show you the implications of a passage for their destinies. Don’t think, “I’ve told you about this before.” Think of the first three gospels, how they repeat the teaching of Jesus. John’s gospel is different, but God determined that there would be many repetitions in Matthew, Mark and Luke, because we need to be reminded of them.
I had poor teachers in my junior school. I had a mind like a sponge, but little was poured into it. Then I remember in grammar school one morning sitting next to the wall that separated our class from the room next door and I could hear there their teacher. He was in the middle of an English lesson while we were having ‘silent reading.’ He proceeded to read to the class next door Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, ‘The Bells.’ I could memorize the first verse while he was reading it to those boys: “Hear the sledges with their bells, silver bells, what a world of merriment their melody foretells. How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle in the icy air of night . . .” What I might have learned if I’d had teachers who repeated great truths of science and history and literature and music and the Bible to me as a youth. “Timothy, keep reminding them of these Christian truths.” The Latin writer Seneca would be teaching a class containing 200 students, and he would ask some of them to recite one line of poetry, and then he would continue the rest of the poem after hearing that one line, or he would introduce the lines that preceded it. Every time Seneca did it with every line! It is said that he could actually repeat all those lines backwards! Again it is claimed that the theologian Thomas Aquinas could remember everything that his teachers had ever taught him. “Timothy, keep reminding your congregation of all that is at stake.” The formidable Susannah Wesley was telling a servant girl what she had to do but the girl was slow-witted and Mrs. Wesley had to repeat and repeat it. One of the Wesley children was quite exasperated and said to her, “Mother, you told Mary to do that 20 times!” “Yes, but if I had told her 19 times it still wouldn’t have been done!” Keep reminding them of these things!
So what is Timothy to teach his congregation, and then Paul explains how is Timothy to fulfil his calling. So that is how we are going to approach our passage, that first there is misbehaviour that a Christian church must avoid at all costs, and then there are standards that Timothy must keep.
- TIMOTHY IS TO EXHORT THE CONGREGATION ABOUT QUARRELING ABOUT WORDS, AND GODLESS CHATTER.
Once, it seems to me, whenever you visited the doctor, he’d invariably say to you, “Put out your tongue,” and looking at your tongue he could apparently judge the state of your liver, or kidneys or general health. The tongue is our barometer, our thermometer, our identity card, and as this is true physically so too are our words and speech spiritually. It is possible to tell by our words the state of our hearts and what we are feeding our hearts. The tongue is set in a slippery place; it can easily let things slip out and create great damage. There was a certain Greek philosopher and he would say, “Say something so that I can see you!”
In most evangelical congregations it is not our actions that show our spiritual condition but our words. Sharp words, painful words, unwise words, belligerent self-confident words, or they can be godly, loving, patient, wise words. So Paul writes to young Timothy and he says to him, “Speak to your church and say to it, ‘Before God, I warn you about quarrelling about words, and about godless chatter.’” There were word wars and ungodly chatter in gospel churches in revival times in the first century, and we are not to be surprised if they are with us still. When church members get angry with one another, and frustrated, and jealous, then they descend to that sort of thing. It is valueless, says Paul. It is useless, but worse than that, “it only ruins those who listen.” It pulls people down. You think of those characters in Pilgrim’s Progress like Mr. Worldly Wiseman, and Mr. Talkative. They are not tough and violent men; their only weapon is their tongues, but what damage they do. They have what James, the brother of our Lord, calls, an unbridled tongue. A bit is put in a horse’s mouth, and by the bridle and bit that horse is directed and controlled. You get a great Shire horse, eight feet high, immensely strong, and yet he can be controlled by a small piece of metal, six inches long, in his mouth. What damage a runaway horse can do on a road, a horse without a bridle. He can cause cars to crash and he can get killed. The unbridled tongue, “ruins those who listen.” Where do so many sins start? With the tongue! Bank robbers meet and plan to break into a high security bank and they talk together for weeks before they do it. When a man wants to seduce a woman he uses his tongue to make her laugh and flatter her. When men wanted to kill the Lord Jesus Christ then they used their tongues, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” We dishonour our mothers and fathers by our tongues. Children covet with their tongues as they pull on Mom’s apron and they cry, “Gimme! Gimme! Please Mommy, please, please.” It is all godless chatter.
Do you know this? Are you aware of your need to bridle your tongue? King David knew it. In Psalm 141 he prays, “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Remember how he seduced Bathsheba? With his lips. Remember the way he sent out the order that her husband should be abandoned and killed? With his lips. The King knew later how he needed to keep watch over the door of his lips and guard his mouth because of the crimes his words had caused. David was a soldier. He was expressing himself as a military man. A watchman (or a sentry) was a soldier who was on guard on the walls. One of his tasks was to take heed that any wanted man, like Paul being hunted in Damascus, should escape from the city. So the mouth is like the gate of the city making sure that none of the follies that dwell in our hearts escape. “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; Keep watch over the door of my lips.”
Are you with me? Then let’s name the four soldiers who must be on duty watching the door of our lips. First, there is Verity, in other words, Truth. Verity always asks whether the words you are going to say about someone are true, not distorted words, not exaggerated words, not deceitful words. If they are not wholly true then back into your mind they go, never to come out again. Second, there is the next sentry, and his name is Charity, in other words, Love. He says, “Halt! Does the mouth wish to speak because charity requires it? If you are going to criticize another then it has to be spoken in truth, yes, but in love particularly. If not then the watchman, Charity, will not let you blurt it out. Thirdly, the next sentry marches up, and his name is Necessity. He interrogates the tongue too, and he says, “Is it really necessary that this should be said? Must it come out of your mind so that these vocables are heard and repeated? If you don’t go in the name of necessity then turn back.” The fourth and final sentry arrives, and he is called Wisdom, and soldier Wisdom interrogates you as to whether it wouldn’t be better if you said those things a few hours, or days, or weeks later, or months later. Only if our words can meet the demands of these four watchmen, Truth, Love, Necessity and Wisdom may we speak. So we pray, “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; Keep watch over the door of my lips.”
Perhaps you are now getting convicted by the Word. May it be so! When the Holy Spirit comes he convicts, and how we need the Holy Spirit in our Sabbath meetings, convicting me and you that you have spoken foolishly and rashly and hurtfully, and you know that one of the reasons you have done so is because you have not prayed with importunity for God to set a guard over your mouth. Perhaps it is true for you that you have not, because you ask not. There is a simple but very significant word of Solomon’s. He says, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint,” (Proverbs 17:27). That is the mark of a wise man. Be restrained, be miserly with your words. Imagine that you would have to pay 10 pounds for every wrong word you spoke. How soon would your bank account be empty? But what blessing would be ours is we made sure that God’s sentries were on guard of our lips all the time.
Let me use this crude illustration. Here is a man who loves garlic and eats it in large quantities and then comes to church, and afterwards he comes right up to you and talks right into your face, and you almost faint with the odour! So one day somebody tells him never to eat garlic sandwiches for tea on Sundays again because no one wants to talk with him because of his stinky breath, and people are complaining. He never dreamed that that was happening, and subsequently he is very restrained. He keeps himself to himself. He just says a few words at a distance and slips out. He overcompensates because of his shame. What a sad way to learn to be quiet!
What does Paul tell Timothy? “Warn them before God against quarrelling about words” (v.14). Do you go to a church where you never hear warnings in the sermon? Then you are not attending a New Testament church. Why are there so many warnings in the Bible? We know that one reason they are there is to awaken concern in unbelievers, because God does not want them to perish in hell. But it was to his disciples that Jesus said, “Remember Lot’s wife.” Why are church members to be warned? To strengthen their resistance against remaining sin. The warnings of the Word are traffic signs on the narrow way that leads to heaven. The Highway Code is not for non-drivers but for those who drive, and drive each day. See the traffic signs! They are cautioning of zig-zag bends ahead, and traffic lights, and stop signs, and warnings of floods ahead and so on Wise motorists are glad they are there. They help us; so the warnings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (‘Don’t pray and give and fast like the Pharisees’) are there to keep us on the road to heaven. If you don’t take notice of these warnings then you’re not caring about your soul. It is the unsaved who are careless.
If you have a friend who fails to bridle his tongue you should challenge that friendship. If you are thinking about marrying a person but he or she doesn’t bridle his tongue then marriage to such a person is impossible. If there is an election for an officer in the church and that man does not bridle his tongue then he cannot stand for office. Let us display our love when we hear of someone who quarrels about words and is guilty of godless chatter. Let us find holy courage and address them in love. We don’t want the ears of listening Christians to become wheely bins in which we can dump our proud words and critical attitudes and abusive language and our meddling in others’ business, because what enters the ears will enter the heart. Paul tells Timothy here, “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly” (v.16). Now do you see the progress in our text? Look! It starts with an unbridled tongue, and then it progresses to godless chatter, and then it results in people becoming more and more ungodly. But things get worse still, Paul says that these ideas spread like gangrene. Men wander from the truth, they even deny the resurrection of the body, and finally the faith of some is destroyed. “I’ll name names,” says Paul. “I’m talking about those heretics Hymenaeus and Philetus who started so well and ended so ill! Men who teach a spiritual resurrection but repudiate the physical resurrection.” Damnable error starts apparently harmlessly, chattering godlessly and quarrelling about words, but it ends in the place of woe. Warn them before God to strike at the first risings of sin. When you taste the sweetness of bad-mouthing somebody it is time to act! John Calvin comments on these words, “Since the contagion is so destructive we must attack it early, and not wait until it’s gathered strength by progress, for then there’ll be no time to give assistance.”
This is the law of God and we are thankful for it because it is the schoolmaster that takes us to Christ. The Lord Jesus was never guilty of quarreling about words and godless chatter. His yea was yea, and his nay was nay. He spoke plainly and directly. He never tried to be clever or superior. He never bore false witness. He told his hearers what he said to them was true and he was the truth. He was never namby pamby and smooth talking and lovey-dovey. He said that Herod was a fox, and that the Pharisees were a nest of vipers. He spoke in a manly and righteous way. In all the ways we fail to speak straight and true he never failed. He fulfilled all righteousness in his speech, and that is the righteousness that God imputes to all who believe. Why should God let you into heaven? Because of the righteous language and words of the Word who was with God and was God. That is the only way. And when he died on the cross he bore divine judgment for the way I have failed to bridle my tongue and keep a watch over my words. For my false witness, and my proud words, for my boasting and cowardly silences, for my complaints, for speaking the truth but maliciously to a wrong end, for my doubtful expressions, for my lies and slander, for telling tales, for whispering, for my mocking, and my rash and harsh words, for speaking too highly of ourselves or others, for speaking too meanly of ourselves and others, for aggravating small faults, for excusing our sins, for raising false rumours, for receiving evil reports, for stopping our ears against a just defence, and for rejoicing in the disgrace of others. How many have we hurt by our words? But the judgment of hell – that such sins deserve -Jesus bore in his own body on the cross. The curse that comes upon all such bad language fell on the blameless Lamb of God. We are saved by him, and soon we will go to that place where the words are all loving and joyful and peaceful and gentle and patient and good and trusting and meek. We will never hurt another person again by our sinful words! Don’t you see that by your lips you will be condemned, but also by your lips you will be justified if you have said from your heart, “Father I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am not worthy to enter your heaven, but Jesus my Lord and Saviour and Head is holy and blameless, and he has entered heaven on my behalf. He has opened the way for me to get there. Accept me and cleanse my tongue for Jesus’ sake.” Then Paul turns to Timothy, the man of God and this is what he says.
- TIMOTHY, PRESENT YOURSELF TO GOD, UNASHAMED.
“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” (v.15). Let’s break that up and see what Timothy and ourselves are being commanded by the Holy Spirit to do.
i] You are one who presents himself to God. You did this in the first place in a definitive way when you first became a Christian. You hand yourself over to God. You put yourself under the control of God, in his service, to do his will. From now on you belong to Jesus Christ. You live under his Lordship. He is your master. “Here I am, most blessed Son of God.” As Francis Ridley Havergal expresses presenting herself to God . . .
“Oh use me Lord, use even me, just as thou wilt and when and where.
Until Thy blessed face I see, Thy rest, Thy joy, Thy glory share.”
Or in that mighty hymn of Philip Doddridge this is the voice of discipleship;
“My gracious Lord, I own Thy right to every service I can pay
And call it my supreme delight to hear Thy dictates and obey.”
This is a crucial theme of the apostle Paul. In the letter to the Romans there is a great turning point at the beginning of chapter 12. For eleven chapters we have had a mighty exposition of the way of salvation, and having completed that the apostle turns to the implications of this salvation for our daily living. Theology leads to morality, and how does Paul address these Christians? It is this same word, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice to God, because of all these glorious mercies you have received from him.” You present your hands to God to work for him, and your feet to walk and run for him, and you present your mind to God to think and reason for him, and your affections to be warm and yet also to weep for him, and your voice to speak for him, and your eyes to see the needs of men and women who are without him. You present your body to him. It is no longer your own. It is a sacrifice and you have made it a living sacrifice offered to God. So at the start of each week you go to the house of God and you worship him and seek help to work for him for another week and to get energy and strength to take up your cross and deny yourself and follow him. Then at the start of every day you get up and offer yourself to God anew. “Let every hour of this day be lived to your glory and everything I do be done with all my might to please you.” These are the implications of presenting yourself to God.
Then you do this diligently, or zealously. The word of the famous Authorized Version translation is ‘Study’ – ‘study to show thyself approved unto God,’ but the word has nothing to do with academic effort. It means being earnest and serious minded about this. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not a hobby that you take up when you feel like it. The N.I.V. translates it, “Do your best,” but that is not a very exciting translation is it? A bit flat; a bit of a cliché. Paul is talking about being in earnest about this; you’ve had a summons from the King and you’ve responded to that honour by going to his royal palace and there you present yourself to him. Why should someone as powerful as him send for you? “If I can do anything for your majesty then command me.” There is a serious awareness of the honour of the relationship.
ii] You present yourself to God as one approved by God. In other words God is the one who has made it possible for you to present yourself to him. He is the door – the only door and the only way – into God’s presence and he is the one who has given you the invitation and the right to come and speak to him. The armed guards on duty at the door have been told to welcome you, and so have the policemen. “Let this person in as an approved visitor.” They will not turn you away. Your name is known in heaven. You have been justified by his grace; you are washed; you are sanctified, and you are welcome. The doors are open and you will be escorted into his presence. Jesus Christ has bought this divine approval of God by his blood. Like the soldier Paul has referred to earlier in verse 4 (whose supreme concern is to please the one who has approved of him as a new recruit) then you can say, “I am approved by God because I’m in Christ. My name is written on his heart. He loved me and gave himself for me. He came to heaven to prepare for me a place there, and when I see him I shall be like him. I shall see Jesus Christ as he is now.”
iii] You present yourself to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed. Who are these whom God approves of? Are they like the stars getting their Oscars in Hollywood, glamorous women and handsome men with millions in the bank? Not many. Are they like the scientists and politicians who are rewarded at the annual Nobel prize ceremony, brilliant men and women with the highest academic qualifications and IQs? Not many. Are they like the sportsmen who stand on a plinth and receive medals as their national anthems are played? Not many. They are in fact workmen who haven’t even changed from their workmen’s clothes. They are like farm labourers, and miners, and those who work at the blast furnaces in the steel mills, and shop assistants, and road sweepers, and fishermen, and navies, and refuse collectors, and traffic wardens, and nurses, and teachers – men and women occupied in all weathers, working at necessary and unglamorous work. What did the Lord Jesus say? That as the fields were white to the harvest and yet there were so few labourers to bring in the harvest then we were to pray to the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth workmen into the harvest, men and women who were in love with work, whose meat and drink was to labour for the Lord, who’d got weary and worn working for the Lord. What do you find when you read the lives of the men who have attempted great things for God and expected great things from God? One thing that characterized everyone of them? They were all workmen, Luther with his preaching and organizational labours and his 90 volumes of lectures, reviews and sermons, John Calvin with almost as much output, John Bunyan, John Owen, George Whitefield and John Wesley with their tireless preaching, William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Spurgeon, Warfield, Lloyd-Jones (I have seven feet of shelving on which are books written only by him), Keith Underhill. How those men laboured for the Lord! There will be no sluggards entering the kingdom of heaven, but only labourers unashamed of their rough calloused hands, and lined faces and blue scars, and other marks on their bodies, and their simple trust in everything the Lord Jesus said and did.
iv] You present yourself to God as one who correctly handles the word of truth. You cut straight the word of truth. The Greek word orthotomeo doesn’t mean ‘to divide rightly’ which is the AV translation. It means literally ‘to cut straight.’ Orthodoxy is soundness in doctrine; you’ve got your Christian teaching straight, and orthorpraxis is straight upright living. Orthodontia is getting straight teeth, correcting abnormalities. You know what orthopaedics is, curing deformities in the bones. But this word in the Greek, orthotomeo is the only place in the New Testament where you find this word but it is also found twice in the Greek Old Testament in the book of Proverbs. The proverb is to the effect that God will make straight your paths (Proverbs 3:6). Or also in Proverbs 11:5 “The righteousness of the blameless makes a straight way.” This is what Hymenaeus and Philetus did not do. They wandered . . . they wandered away from the truth. They said talk of resurrection is simply symbolic and it means new spiritual life. They were not talking straight.
Paul is saying, “Timothy, tell it to them straight. Go straight to the word of God and then take that word of truth straight to your hearers. Aim for their minds and consciences and affections and wills. Be accurate on the one hand, and plain and simple on the other. You are not in the ministry to make friends and buddies but to make disciples of Jesus Christ saving people from hell. Be straight with a congregation. What has God said? What does it mean? When that is ascertained there is nothing more to do but to obey and worship.” That is an unashamed Christian worker, someone who tells it straight.
14th February 2016 GEOFF THOMAS