Oh the importance of the spoken and written Word! It is significant that the gospel of John introduces us to the Lord Jesus Christ in these words - “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (Jn. 1:1). The Lord Jesus Christ is the Word (logos) of God. By sending Jesus, the eternal God communicated His word to us. In fact He is the first and He is the final Word (Hebrew 1:1-3). And Jesus by His Holy Spirit instructed His apostles to pass on His Word from generation to generation (2 Tim 2:2).That is why we Christians are the people of the Book. “This is the Revelation from God of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that soon must take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the Word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ..” (Revelation 1:1)
Last time we saw that the word of truth was passed on in ‘trustworthy sayings’ (2:11-13): “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot deny himself” (2:11-13). These are of central and cardinal importance for every Christian. They are truth statements. They are absolute truths to live by.
That is why Paul says in 2:14, “Timothy, keep reminding them of these things – these important words.” But as soon as he has stressed the importance that these important words must be brought to the congregation at Ephesus, he launches into a lengthy discussion concerning the subversive, undermining noise that (i) words and (ii) actions can have. Actions form an important consideration of our text today, and it has often been said, “actions speak louder than words!”
So, in context, Paul wants the church at Ephesus to know that a negative use of words must be avoided at all costs in the congregation, and he wants Timothy to know that actions and words must befit that of “one approved, a worker who need not be ashamed” (2:15), it must match that of “the Lord’s servant” (2:24) in order to fulfill his calling. The testimony of the true Word is severely undermined when Christian congregations and Christian pastors sinfully misrepresent the Word of God in their words and in their actions.
1. “TIMOTHY, TELL THE CONGREGATION TO WATCH THEIR WORDS!”
Charge the congregation not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers (2:14). He repeats this essentially in 2:23. Now, don't misunderstand Paul. He isn't saying you shouldn't fight about words. In all times in history important battles have been fought over meanings of words and of the importance of certain words in the place of our Christian vocabulary. There are important words that are being twisted and redefined by heretics. Words and concepts like justification and sanctification and heaven and hell, and the gospel and even the person and work of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit – words and meanings of words like these are constantly redefined, reinterpreted and misplaced. We must hold on to the biblical (in- context) meaning of such words. The Holy Spirit isn’t an influence from God or an ‘ it’ ; Jesus is not a created being or an angel; the gospel is not a social programme; heaven and hell are not fictitious, but real places; Both, sanctification and justification are because of God’s primary initiative, and never of our (or the church’s) doing. We are responsible for the outworking of that which has been worked into us.
What we are talking about here in our text is a way of talking about words and of arguing about words that actually doesn't edify, that doesn't in the end promote true clarity which leads to godliness. Paul is thinking about people who simply want to be controversial. You know them. They ask questions, but they are not interested in the answer–they simply want you to hear how clever they are! They do not think of doctrines as primarily true or false, but merely as something academic, and to argue over, merely for arguments sake. Such people often have attended some form of theological training and therefore they think themselves to be wise. At best they have learned to quarrel about words, getting lost in the details, having forgotten (or perhaps having never learned) the importance of absorbing the true Word in its totality, which is the Truth as it is in Jesus. Jesus does not preoccupy their thinking and vocabulary, and so they have become dry wells. They have sold their books soon after leaving seminary. Beware of them! Guard yourselves against such people, for use their tongues to destroy the faith of those who listen. Paul says that the unguarded tongue “ruins those who listen.”
David was aware of this problem. In Psalm 141 he prays, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” Solomon gives many helpful insights into the destructive use of the tongue - “rash words are like sword thrusts” (Prov.12:18); “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” (Prov. 13:3) “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge…” (Prov.17:27). That is the mark of a wise man.
And so Paul continues to counsel Timothy in 2:16-18, “Avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.”
Can you see how the unguarded tongue progresses to irreverent babble leading people into more and more ungodliness? Paul says that this kind of talk has an effect like gangrene in the body. Gangrene is when part of your body tissue dies. This occurs because the tissue is not getting enough blood from your circulatory system. And so drastic action needs to take place. Body parts, toes, legs have to be amputated to stop gangrene from infecting the rest of the body.
People with an irreverent way of talking, and coarse joking, and those that undermine the confidence of young believers in the gospel through false doctrine or emphasis, can cause real damage. We have had people like this in the history of our own church who have led people astray. Paul even resorts to name calling here. He gives examples. Hymenaeus and Philetus were presumably well known personalities in church circles. They had started well, but now they have swerved from the truth. They were teaching false doctrine and in so doing they were now upsetting the faith of some. They taught something concerning the resurrection that did not resonate with the testimony of Scripture. Their error started harmlessly… quarrelling about words. They began by indulging in speculative, irreverent babble, and one is tempted to overlook this , but there comes a time when it is right to tell people to stop it, and to warn them before God.
Do not be guilty of quarrelling about words in the Bible. Do not engage in godless, irreverent babble about the Bible, particularly if you know little. If you speak, let your speaking about the Bible be plain, in context, and for the purpose of building others up (Eph. 4:29). This does not mean that you cannot name things for what they are. Jesus said that Herod was a fox, and that the Pharisees were a brood of vipers. To those who defiled the temple, He told them that they had made the house of God a den of robbers. Understand that that was said on account of righteous anger. God’s glory was offended. When that happens you too must speak, but watch it lest you become sinfully angry in the process.
2. TIMOTHY, BE A MODEL OF GODLY WORDS AND ACTIONS
Timothy needed to remind and charge his congregation not to quarrel over words. But that was not all that Paul said to Timothy. He had something to say about his personal demeanor as a pastor, for actions speak louder than words.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth “ (2:15).
Do your best to present yourself to God. The God who saves you calls you to obedience. That is how Paul always works out his great doctrines. He begins with the great work of God in salvation and then he tells us, this is how you apply it. The turning point of his letter to the Romans is found in Chapter 12:1ff. “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God, because of all these glorious mercies you have received from him.” ALL OF YOU…. hands, feet, mind, mouth. EVERYTHING! You present your whole body to him. It is no longer your own. You were bought at a price. You were rescued from everlasting hell and the terrible judgement of God, and now you owe Him your life.
Present yourself to God as one approved by God. God is the one who has made it possible for you to present yourself to him. Your name is known in heaven. You have been justified by his grace; you are washed; you are sanctified, and you are approved.
Present yourself to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed. You are a worker. No sluggard - you are working unashamedly, working in God’s field, often sacrificially, and bearing the scars of your labour.
Present yourself to God as one who correctly handles the word of truth. You cut straight (orthotomeo) the word of truth. The underlying idea is not to get side-tracked in useless and unimportant things. Pastors are to focus on the main things, and to rightly interpret the Bible with a view to seeing the whole of the Bible as the word of God. This is what Hymenaeus and Philetus did not do. They wandered away from the truth. They were not talking straight. Paul is saying, “Timothy, tell it to them straight. Aim for their minds and consciences and affections and wills. Be accurate, plain and simple. You are not in the ministry to make friends but to make disciples of Jesus Christ. “ That is an unashamed Christian worker, someone who tells it straight.
Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith and love, peace … do not be quarrelsome … but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness…. (2:22). Here is further amplification of the nature and deportment of a gospel minister, and you will see again and again that speech and action is critical. It helps to clarify the gospel (see 2:25). It helps people to come to their senses and so escape from the snare of the devil after being captured by him to do his will (2:26).
Isn't it interesting, that one of the great concerns of the apostle Paul, just before he dies, is to say to Timothy,
- Make sure that your people are trained not to subvert the gospel through subversive speech.
- Make sure that you preach and live out accurately the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
On a human level this is our responsibility, our contribution, and God's expectation of us. May the gospel flourish in our churches !