The church has always been plagued by propagators of false doctrines. Paul consistently had to combat it in his day, as did the other Apostles. Paul’s second letter to Timothy deals with the characteristics of two different kinds of ministers – I will refer to them as teachers, but it could properly apply to any of the ministers.
The Model Teacher – 2 Timothy 2:15
Firstly, let’s look at the model teacher portrayed in 2 Timothy 2:15 “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” This oft quoted verse has many important points for every believer, but especially for the minister.
- Study. The minister has to be a student of God’s Word. Notice, I said “of God’s Word.” Our primary study is not Psychology or Sociology, but it is God’s inspired Word.
- To show ourselves approved unto God. God approves of certain things and he also disproves of things. It is an incorrect assumption to think that anything goes with God. This is why we must study, we must find out what pleases the Lord. What does the Word of God reveal in regards to what he likes and dislikes? Once we know what he likes, then we want to do it. A good teacher is one who studies, but also one who obeys and puts into practice what he has learned in his own life before he bothers to teach others – this is where his authority comes from.
- A workman. I get a kick out of the people who think that pastors do not do anything. There was a story I heard of a little boy whose father was a pastor, he commented that his dad was a pastor so he only had to work on Sundays. That is comical, but it illustrates the misconception that many people have in their minds. Ministers have to work hard, and one of the main things they need to work hard in is studying. Solomon said “much study is a weariness to the flesh” (Ecc 12:12 KJV). Those who teach must work hard at studying and preparing their lessons. They have to wait upon God and get their doctrines from the throne of God. It is not an easy task, but the rewards are great.
- Needeth not to be ashamed. Those who labor in the Word of God will not be ashamed. There is something so beautiful about the one who has tasted of the Hidden Manna, and has “bought the truth.” When these men stand behind the pulpit and begin to expound on the hidden mysteries of the Word of God your spirit salivates with the sweetness of it. These men will not be ashamed in due time. They may be hidden in the corner right now, but the time will come when the Lord will elevate those who have labored in this manner (i.e. Isa 30:20).
- Rightly dividing the Word of Truth. This little statement is not readily understood by many. To explain it I like to use the illustration of the old balancing beam scales. In olden times when someone wanted to weigh some barley or wheat they would put the product that they wanted on the one side of the scale and it would tip in its favor. To discover the weight of the product they would add lead weights on the other side of the beam and one weight at a time the beam would begin to balance itself out. Finally once it was perfectly balanced you could see how much the lead weight was on the one side, and that is how much the product on the opposing side would weigh. In other words both sides would weigh the same amount. Paul is using this same illustration to describe how a minister must present the truth of God’s Word. It is like cutting a cake right down the middle, so the left side is exactly the same size as the right side. Applying it to scripture – we cannot just take what one or two verses have to say about a particular subject and build a grandiose doctrine out of that. No, we must take what all of God’s inspired, revealed, Word has to say about a subject and explain both sides. This is how we have good, sound, balanced, doctrine in the church. Error creeps into the church when a minister takes only part of what God’s word says about a subject and focuses on that. This is imbalance and we must be careful about it. One example, that is so readily available today – some ministers focus on the blessings and prosperity of following the Lord Jesus. They take certain promises that are mentioned in scripture and build their case on those few things. However, they often times are not balancing out the message. The Word of God also talks about the fellowship of His sufferings; it warns us about the dangers of riches, and the love of money. It is important to have balance in our teachings, because truth taken to an extreme can become error.
The Wicked Teacher – 2 Timothy 3:1-9
Paul also warns about another type of teacher that would be especially prevalent in the last Days. I believe the last days are upon us, and these warnings apply to us. In 2 Timothy 3 we are introduced to a breed of evil teachers who “are lovers of themselves, covetous … proud … unholy … lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…they have a form of godliness but deny its power,” and many other negative characteristics. I want to zero in on verses 7 and 8 and make a contrast with the model teacher delineated above. It says they are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” It says they “resist the truth” and are “disapproved concerning the faith” (NKJV).
- Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. It is interesting to me that both of these types of teachers are studying diligently and yet the wicked stand in stark contrast to those who “study to show themselves approved unto God.” How can it be that someone can learn and study constantly but still not come to the knowledge of the truth? The answer is simple and yet so profound – understanding is not merely a function of the intellect but it is a gift from God (i.e. Ecc 2:26), and God takes into account:
- Our motive for learning – Some of the greatest minds today have some of the most preposterous fairy tales. It is not the purpose of this article to write an apologetic about Creation science vs. evolution, however, even a child recognizes the “fairy tale” sound of the theories of evolution; yet, the most celebrated PhD’s of our time are promoting this. Many people’s motives for learning and studying are that they might find a loophole in God’s Word to justify a certain action or sin in their life. As the first few verses of chapter three establish, there are issues in their hearts that are not right. Contrasted with the “model teacher” in chapter two who studies that he might know what God approves of and what he does not.
- Our manner of life – God is not a fool, and he does not put up with people making Him look like one forever. He does blind people who do not want to live according to his ways. Wicked works will bring confusion and darkness into our minds. This is why we must practice what we preach. Consider Colossians 1:21 and Dan 12:10 “None of the wicked shall understand.” “… You who were once alienated in your minds by wicked works.” It is so important to seek out what manner of life the Lord approves of and do it.
- Resist the Truth. It is a sad thing when men and women are presented with the truth, but they resist it. This is the problem with the false teacher – they are not actually interested in the truth. They are not after what is right and true, they are studying to find a way around their issues – like their love for money. Instead of letting the truth change them, they want to hide the truth, or “change the truth of God for a lie” excusing them of their evil (in their minds) (Rom 1:28). These men will oppose those who propagate the truth because it condemns them in their lifestyle. They become like those in Romans 1:18 who “hold the truth in unrighteousness.” The word “hold” literally means to “suppress or hold down,” that means that they purposefully and willfully try to keep the truth from being known.
- Disapproved Concerning the Faith. The end result is that these men are not approved by God. What a sad eulogy. Those who study to find ways around God’s holy standard, who “[relax] the least of His commandments and teach others so” will stand disapproved and “least in the kingdom” (if they are in the kingdom) (Matt 5:19).
- Having a Form of Godliness but denying its power. They deny the power of God to live victoriously over sin. They make grace an excuse or a covering for sin instead of God’s power and strength to live above it. When God said “be holy as I am holy” he meant what he said (1 Pet 1:16).
The importance of balance
Ministers of God must be able to balance the truth of God’s Word. When there are wrong motives or unchecked areas in our heart it is easy to find scriptures that justify what we do. It is easy to take an element of truth to an extreme because it tickles our ears, or lines our pockets, but doesn’t deal with the issues in our own heart. Let the double edged sword circumcise our hearts before we use it to do surgery on those who hear us.