Apostle Paul: Passionate Discipleship
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Sermon on the Mount
9. Fit for the Master's Use (2 Timothy 2:20-3:14a)by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Gold bowl, Greek, Archaic Period, 7th century BC. Inscription: "The sons of Kypselos dedicated (this bowl) from Heraclea" (a ruling family of Corinth). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Larger image.
22 Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23 Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
3:1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God -- 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. 6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth -- men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. 10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings -- what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Timothy 2:20-26; 3:1-13)
Xenonware Footed Bowl, Greek, south Italy, ca. late 4th Century BC, 5.2 cm tall and 9.4 cm diameter, black glaze. Larger image.
In this passage, Paul is continuing his insistence that Christians must live godly lives. The previous verse concludes:
"Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness." (2:19b)
Now he continues this theme with an illustration from pots and vessels in a household.
"20 In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. 21 If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work." (2:20-21)
The word in verses 20-21 translated "articles/instrument" (NIV), "utensils" (NRSV), "vessels" (KJV) is skeuos, "a container of any kind, vessel, jar, dish."403 I've always pictured this as serving ware for a household -- a gold or silver bowl as contrasted with a plain, wood or unglazed pottery bowl. Yes, they are both useful, but the homeowner takes great pride in one, but only tolerates the other. The word translated "noble" (NIV), "special use" (NRSV), "honor" (KJV) is timē, "honor," which we've seen before. Here it refers to "the respect that one enjoys, honor as a possession."404
Of course, a crude pottery bowl can't transform itself into a beautiful gold vessel -- that's where the analogy breaks down. But men and women can!
"If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy,405 useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work." (2:21)
Here, Paul isn't talking about only the cleansing of forgiveness and holiness, but the cleansing we must do for ourselves, to flee from evil and shun the temptations that drag us down, so they no longer control our lives. Yes, God is at work. But here, Paul emphasizes our part: "If a person cleanses himself" (2:21a).
When we are cleansed, we are:
- "Useful" to the Lord (NIV, NRSV), "meet for use" (KJV). The word is euchrēstos, "pertaining to being helpful or beneficial, useful, serviceable."406 The KJV uses an archaic phrase, but a powerful one: "meet for the master's use." The English adjective "meet" (used also to describe Eve as a "help meet for him" in Genesis 2:18) means, "precisely adapted to a particular situation, need, or circumstance."407 Our usefulness to Christ isn't so limited by our crude, ignoble character, as it once was.
- "Ready" for the Lord (NIV, NRSV), "prepared" (KJV). Hetoimazō means "to cause to be ready, put/keep in readiness, prepare," here "ready, prepared for something."408
Flee the Desires of Youth, Pursue Righteousness (2:22)
How do we cleanse ourselves so we are both useful and ready? Verse 22 provides the answer, using a pair of verbs we saw in 1 Timothy 6:11.
"Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." (2 Timothy 2:22)
"But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness." (1 Timothy 6:11)
Both "flee" and "pursue" require vigorous, deliberate action, as well as fortitude for the long run.
In our passage, Timothy is told first to flee from "the evil desires of youth" (NIV), "youthful passions" (NRSV), "youthful lust" (KJV). The noun is epithymia, "desire," which can refer to either good or evil desires. Here Paul speaks of the negative: "a desire for something forbidden or simply inordinate, craving, lust."409 So often in adolescence our value system gets confused by peer pressure and inexperience, and embraces evil desires -- drugs, sex, indolence, partying. No doubt temptations existed in Timothy's time, too. So negatively, we are to flee these evil desires.
Positively, however, we are to pursue hard after the Christian virtues, "along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2:22). "Pure"(katharos, "clean, pure") comes from the same Greek root as the verb in the previous verse, "If a man cleanses himself...." (2:21) -- ekkathairō, "to rid of something unclean, cleanse."410
I remember watching a Christian film in the late 1960s, in which a newly converted woman says, "I didn't have to give up anything, I received so much more." That may be true for initial salvation, but it's not true for the disciple who continues to follow. Repentance means to change one's mind, to turn away from something -- to flee. It also requires us to turn to something new, and to pursue it -- the life of Christ and the virtues of a Spirit-led life.
|Q1. (2 Timothy 2:20-22) When do you put your good
plates and silverware on the table? When do you use your everyday
tableware? What point is Paul making with this example? In practical
terms, how do we "cleanse ourselves" so that we might be useful and
ready for the Lord's use?
Avoid Stupid Quarrels (2:23)
Now Paul warns Timothy to stay away from the argumentative spirit that characterizes the false teachers.
"23 Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful." (2:23-24)
I've seen this argumentative spirit in some believers -- a zeal to root out by vigorous dispute incorrect beliefs wherever they can be found, to set everyone straight. The purpose may be right, but the spirit of arguing411 and fighting412 pollutes the pure spirit of Christ. Some branches of the Christian faith always seem to be fighting. They take as their theme verse: "Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3, KJV). But "contend" in that verse doesn't mean to fight or quarrel, but "to exert intense effort on behalf of something, contend," an image from the athletic context of competing unrelentingly at the games.413
This mission for which Paul is preparing Timothy is difficult. He is to instruct these fighting, quarrelsome false teachers without becoming like them.
"24 And the Lord's servant must not quarrel;414 instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.... " (2:24-25)
Notice the words that describe this manner of instruction.
1. Kindness. "Kind/kindly" (NIV, NRSV), "gentle" (KJV) is ēpios, "kind, gentle."415 In classical Greek the word is used of a kind monarch, of kindly feelings towards a person, and of hot and cold as "mild, less intense."416 This word is also found in another of Paul's letters: "We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children" (1 Thessalonians 2:7). In other words, our teaching doesn't need to have an edge of anger or an attitude of trying to score points against the opposition.
2. Skill is the next characteristic. "Able to teach" (NIV), "an apt teacher" (NRSV), "apt to teach" (KJV) is didaktikos, "skillful in teaching."417 Teaching in the face of controversy requires skill and finesse. It is not the place for the bull-in-a-china-shop type of teacher.
3. Lacking resentfulness is difficult in the presence of the opposition. The word translated "not resentful" (NIV) "patient" (KJV, NRSV) is anexikakos, "pertaining to bearing evil without resentment, patient, tolerant."418 This is different than the usual word for "patient," makrothymia, literally, "long suffering." Rather our word is derived from anechomai, "bear, carry" + kakos, "evil." St. Peter instructs us:
"When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (1 Peter 2:23)
4. Humility. The phrase "gently instruct" (NIV), "correcting419 ... with gentleness" (NRSV), "in meekness instructing" (KJV) uses the adverb prautēs, "the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one's self-importance, gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, meekness" in the older favorable sense.420 So often when we correct opponents our ego is heavily involved so that we are anything but gentle or humble. It's us against them and we are out to win. Instead, we should set aside our egos in the knowledge that we're not verbally beating opponents into submission, but rather God is using us to soften hearts and change minds.
5. Trusting God to work is the final characteristic. Instead of doing this in our own strength, we teach and correct "in the hope421 that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth." Instead of believing that our teaching will accomplish this, we are firmly trusting that God will do this by His Spirit, through the agency of the Word we teach -- which contains the power in itself to bring about change:
"Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account." (Hebrews 4:12-13)
Our job is to teach the truth of God with a pure heart and with a clear spirit. It is God's job to change the heart of our opponents, not ours. We see the same kind of attitude that Paul is talking about in Peter's epistle:
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness (prautēs) and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." (1 Peter 3:15-16)
It is so easy to become like our opponents. We must resist this in the Spirit of God.
|Q2. (2 Timothy 2:24-25) In your own words, explain the
various characteristics that enable a Christian teacher to correct
opponents. How does the lack of any of these hinder the task?
What allows us to teach opponents in the right spirit is a right understanding of the One who must bring about the change.
"25b God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, 26 and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will." (2:25-26)
Repentance (metanoia) means literally, "a change of mind," with the nuance of "remorse." In the New Testament it refers to "repentance, turning about, conversion."422 God gives or grants423 repentance, according to this verse. You see this idea twice more in the New Testament:
"God exalted Christat his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins." (Acts 5:31)
"When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, 'Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.'" (Acts 11:18)
We are so used to a humanistic theology that centers around self-action and self-will, that we easily forget God's sovereignty. Everything we have is a gift -- not the product of our seeking and accepting God, but first of him seeking and accepting us.
"We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)
Just because God gives the ability to repent is no reason for us to stop teaching and let God do it all. He has chosen to include us in his plan. His Word is powerful. When we faithfully preach and teach the Word, it is the means God uses to open the heart and transform the soul.
The Captivity of the False Teachers (2:25-26)
Now, observe the captivity in which the false teachers may find themselves.
"Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope ... that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." (2:25-26)
The false teachers and their followers suffer from two conditions.
1. Intoxication. Paul uses a word (ananēphō,) that means literally, "to become sober again," a word that would have been applied to someone out on a drinking binge that has clouded his senses and lowered his inhibitions. Here it means "come to one's senses again."424 The Word, lovingly and ably taught, is able to correct error. Gradually when people begin to grasp the truth, they become progressively "sober" and are in "recovery." Re-learning truth is the cognitive element so important for recovery. These people don't have to be false teachers. Many a person who has gotten off the narrow path has been brought back to the Lord through loving teaching. James says:
"My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20)
2. Imprisonment. This is not just a cognitive problem, there is an actual spiritual force, "the devil," who has trapped and now holds the person. We considered the word "trap" (NIV), "snare" (NRSV, KJV) under 1 Timothy 6:9 above. Paul uses another word, "taken captive," zōgreō, "capture alive,"425 "take captive instead of killing."426 One of the reasons for the huge slave population in the Roman Empire was the Roman army's practice of taking conquered civilians as prisoners of war to sell back home. It made men extremely wealthy. Here, false teachers and other deluded people are taken captive as prisoners of war to do the devil's will, rather than God's.427 Spiritual captivity can only be fought by spiritual weapons, prayer and the Word of God.
Lest you think that faithful Christian teaching is dull and of little importance, think again. Prayerful teaching is God's power to set the captive free.
In the next section of the letter, Paul forecasts the decadence of the End Times, partially reflected in the lifestyles of the false teachers.
"3:1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves,428 lovers of money,429 boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love,430 unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control,431 brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure432 rather than lovers of God433 -- 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them." (3:1-5)
As I look at this list of vices, I am struck by how many of them are related to misplaced love -- lover of self, money, and pleasure, rather than of God.
I won't dwell on most of the words in this list of vices, but one stands out:
"... Having a form of godliness but denying its power." (3:5a)
The false teachers and their followers are play-acting, as hypocrites have done through the ages.
"These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men." (Isaiah 29:13)
"With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain." (Ezekiel 33:31b)
"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves." (Matthew 7:15)
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matthew 23:27-28)
I am frightened that many of our churches have become havens for these kinds of people. We know the jargon and the talk, but our inner lives can still be untransformed, filled with as much carefully disguised selfishness, greed, hedonism, and bitterness as a pagan. God, have mercy on us! So convict us that we will repent.
And then "Have nothing to do with them" (3:5b), that is, avoid436 that sham religion as one avoids the plague.
|Q3. (2 Timothy 3:5) Why is it so easy to become a
hypocrite? How can we prevent our faith from degenerating into "a form
of religion" without the power?
The godless false teachers were aggressive about spreading their empty religion, however. Probably part of Paul's absolute prohibition on women teachers at Ephesus stems from what the following passage hints at:
"6 They are the kind who worm their way437 into homes and gain control438 over weak-willed women,439 who are loaded down440 with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth." (3:6-7)
I've met some people "who are always being instructed and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth" (3:7). At the university they're known as "professional students," learning but never applying what they've learned to the practical world. They exist in religious circles, too. They study and learn, but move from one religion to another, and perhaps eventually to all religions. But they never commit to any belief system. Sad. It's a spiritual sickness that only God's grace can heal.
Now Paul looks for an example to illustrate the kind of adamant opposition of the false teachers to the truth.
"8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth -- men of depraved441 minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected.442 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly443 will be clear to everyone." (3:8-9)
The names Jannes and Jambres appear nowhere in Scripture. However, these are the names assigned by Jewish tradition to the two Egyptian sorcerers who opposed Moses before Pharaoh (Exodus 7-8). Moses would do one miracle, and "the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh's heart became hard" (Exodus 7:22).
Follow My Example in Enduring Persecution (3:10-12)
Paul now turns from describing how to understand and confront the false teachers to strengthening Timothy in another area -- enduring persecution.444
"10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings -- what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (3:10-12)
Timothy had personally witnessed Paul's persecutions in Timothy's hometown of Lystra where Jews had come from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowd, who then stoned Paul and left him for dead (Acts 14:19). That was about the time that Timothy had been converted to Christianity. The memory was fresh, though it had occurred years before.
Paul has two lessons to help strengthen Timothy to accept the hardships and suffering that come from serving the Lord.
1. God's presence during persecution. "Yet the Lord rescued445 me from all of them." (3:11b)
2. The inevitability of persecution. "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (3:12). If we aspire to live a godly, Christ-emulating life, we too will be persecuted. Don't expect to avoid it. Jesus told his disciples:
"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12)
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." (Luke 9:23-24)
"Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:27)
"If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me." (John 15:19-21)
Mural in the Chapel of the Third Station along the Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem,
Armenian Catholic Patriarchate. Unknown painter and date. Larger image.
These are hard sayings. In our day, people become silent about their faith in
order to avoid the very mild persecution and cultural rejection experienced in
most Western countries. Why? Because they haven't embraced the cross for
themselves. They aren't willing to take it up daily, whatever the consequences
And so Paul reminds Timothy: "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (3:12)
|Q4. (2 Timothy 3:10-12) How does a failure to accept
the inevitability of persecution hinder our witness? Just what does it
mean to "take up his cross daily" (Luke 9:23) and to "carry his cross"
(Luke 14:27)? Is Jesus talking about persecution -- or something else?
"13 ... While evil men and impostors446 will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.447 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of,448 because you know those from whom you learned it...." (3:10-14a)
The false teachers will get worse. But Timothy is called to "continue in what you have learned" (3:14a). No, it may not seem fair for impostors to go on with their deceptions, while the righteous are persecuted. But it is part of being a faithful disciple, a soldier in the army of the Lord. It is something we embrace as our Lord embraced the cross. We are called to continue in what we have learned and be faithful to the gospel with which we have been entrusted.
In Paul's inspiring call to spiritual warfare in his Letter to the Ephesians, he says something similar, familiar to any soldier in a tough spot.
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"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." (Ephesians 6:13)
Don't give ground no matter how hard the battle. Stand! Continue in what you have learned! (3:14)
Lord, sometimes the battle seems so overwhelming, the temptations so strong. Help us, like you helped Paul and Timothy, to continue in what we have been taught. Help us to purify ourselves from the pollutions of the world so that we may be golden vessels of which you can be proud. It hurts, sometimes, but use us, Lord, until your Kingdom comes and your will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Hasten that day, we pray. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
"In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work." (2 Timothy 2:20-21)
"Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." (2 Timothy 2:22)
"Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." (2 Timothy 2:25-26)
"... Having a form of godliness but denying its power." (2 Timothy 3:5a)
"... Always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth." (2 Timothy 3:7)
"In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12)
404. Timē, BDAG 1005, 2b). "Ignoble" (NIV), "ordinary" (NRSV), "dishonor" (KJV) is atimia, "a state of dishonor or disrespect, dishonor," here "ordinary (use)" (BDAG 149). Paul refers to this analogy in another manner in Romans 9:21.
414. "Quarrel" (NIV), "be quarrelsome" (NRSV), "strive" (KJV) is machomai, "engage in physical combat, fight," here "to engage in heated dispute, without use of weapons, fight, quarrel, dispute" (BDAG 622, 2).
419. "Instruct/instructing" (NIV, KJV), "correcting" (NRSV) is paideuō, "to assist in the development of a person's ability to make appropriate choices, practice discipline," here, "correct, give guidance (to) someone" (BDAG 749, 2a).
427. Some have argued that grammatically it would be God that does the capturing. But the closest antecedent is the devil, and this makes the most sense, in conjunction with the phrase "the snare of the devil," the capturing device.
444. "Will be persecuted" (NIV, NRSV), "will suffer persecution" (KJV) is diōkō, with the basic meaning of "hasten, run," here, "to harass someone, especially because of beliefs, persecute" (BDAG 254, 2).
445. "Rescued" (NIV, NRSV), "delivered" (KJV) is rhyomai, "to rescue from danger, save, rescue, deliver, preserve someone" (BDAG 907), also 2 Timothy 4:17 from the lion, 4:18 of the final deliverance.
447. "Deceiving/being deceived" is planaō (from which we get our word "planet," thought to be a wandering star). In the active sense, it means "to cause to go astray from a specific way," specifically, "mislead, deceive." In the passive sense it means, "to proceed without a sense of proper direction, go astray, be misled, wander about aimlessly" (BDAG 821, 1b and 2cδ).
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