“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. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some. Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord abstain from wickedness.’”
The totality of 2 Timothy chapter two stems from the first two verses. In those introductory verses, Paul commands Timothy to be strengthened in the grace of Christ Jesus and to train men. This is Timothy’s singular duty; be strengthened and train men. All that follows puts flesh upon the skeleton of those commands. In vv. 3-13, Paul expounds upon the idea of being strengthened in the grace of Christ Jesus (adopt an attitude of suffering in like manner as a soldier, athlete, and farmer). Beginning here in v. 14, Paul will expound upon the command to train men or to entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
The text unfolds in a series of subsequent commands. Paul gives three additional commands with a concluding promise for the purpose of encouraging and exhorting Timothy as he continues his duty in training men for the ministry.
Warn Your Men (v. 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.”
The words these things certainly refer to everything that Paul has said thus far and would include “the things which you have heard from me” in v. 2. Most specifically they point to the synthesized gospel of the believer’s security in salvation, promise of perseverance, warning of apostasy, and encouragement of God’s faithfulness in vv. 11-13. Timothy is to remind them, or the faithful men of these things. The sense is not that Timothy had neglected to remind them, but here is a command to continue reminding them of the blessed and holistic gospel of grace.
A Holy Warning – This reminding is not just a classroom lecture or a sidelines chat. This is a repetitive and consistent reminder to the men who will proclaim God’s Word and it is a holy event. Paul does not keep this warning within the context of the men and Timothy but includes that this is in the very presence of the Almighty. Any failure to fulfill this command must be seen in the light that God stood as witness to the commission. This is a solemn and holy warning.
A Necessary Warning – The content of the reminder is rather simply put: not to wrangle about words. This verb (λογομαχέω) literally means word battles and appears to be a creation of Paul’s as he literally combined the terms words (λογος) and to fight (μαχέω). This is the only time the verb appears in the NT, though he did use a noun form (λογομαχία) in his first letter to Timothy.
The context of 1 Timothy 6:4 is similar to here. Paul warns against any man who teaches a different doctrine other than what Paul has already laid down is a conceited moron who has an appetite for nothing but argumentation (or word battles). The holy warning with which Timothy must give to his men is that they must not engage in word battles. But what does this mean?
There are some who suggest that this term indicates a splitting of hairs or that this is a prohibition against being too precise in exegesis, theology, or doctrine. But this interpretation is utterly preposterous for two main reasons. First, Paul has just commanded for Timothy to pass on all that Paul had taught him. Why would Paul then prohibit a careful articulation and distinction in these things just a few verses later? Second, Scripture is full of examples of the biblical authors making minute distinctions of words and even verb tenses to clearly prove a point. Jesus made much of the introductory verse to Psalm 110 to prove that Messiah, though he would come from David, was superior to David (Matt. 22:43-45). Jesus again proves the reality of a future bodily resurrection of God’s saints upon a single verb tense (Matt. 22:31-32). This cannot be a prohibition against a careful and precise study, articulation, and defense of the text of Scripture because if it were, our Lord would be guilty of doing just that.
This battling of words is a reference to the debate of the heathen. This battle is conducted on the field of philosophy or theory that has no desire for Scripture’s objective truth. Timothy is to forbid his men from engaging in such debates for two reasons. First, these debates are fruitless. Paul says that they are useless or without profit. Secondly, these debates never end well. They cause the ruin or destruction of those who hear. Any sort of public debate is not only useless but is also highly destructive. The noun ruin/destruction/catastrophe (καταστροφή) is used only in one other place in Scripture. Peter uses this term to describe the utter destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Pet. 2:6). What is at stake is the eternal souls of those who witness such pointless discussion.
There is a world of difference between men sharpening each other in their theological understanding and treating the Word of God as if it were a plaything. Scripture is not a philosophy to debated, it is the Word of God to be believed and obeyed. It is unwise or even foolish to engage in any discussion without the preconditioned understanding that the Bible is inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative. We do not quibble as ear-ticklers. We preach Christ and Him crucified.
Provide Yourself as an Example (v. 15)
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.”
The object of this imperative is quite clear. Paul turns from the men under Timothy’s care to Timothy himself. In short, Timothy is to lead his men by example.
A Holy Example – Just as his men are to be commissioned in the very presence of God, so too is Timothy to present himself approved to God. This word approved (δόκιμος) comes with the idea of testing. It is the idea of testing a coin to see if the metal is genuine. The command be diligent literally means to rush or to hasten and carries the implication of zeal. Timothy is to rush zealously to present himself before God as one who has been tested and found to be genuine in both doctrine and deed. He will be the holy example.
An Honorable Example – In what context has Timothy been tested and approved? As a workman who does not need to be ashamed. Once again we have stumbled upon that word ashamed. Is this not what Timothy was prohibited from (1:8)? Is this not what Paul said that he (1:12) and Onesiphorus (1:16) avoided? Timothy is to present himself as a workman, as a laborer who has no need to feel shame before his God. Why would a workman feel shame? Only if his work was shoddy or incomplete. Yet, as an honorable workman who has conducted and completed his labor with diligence, Timothy would have no need to feel shame. He will be the honorable example.
A Faithful Example – What is the work or labor of this unashamed workman? Accurately handling the word of truth. The Greek ὀρθοτομέω literally means to cut straight or to cut aright. There is much debate about what metaphor Paul is referring to. Some claim that the idea is of a mason who must accurately cut his stones. Some point to the farmer whose plough cuts straight furrows. Many even point to Paul as a tentmaker who must cut straight and accurate sections of leather. All of these however miss the point. The point is not to make us think of a particular trade, but that whatever the trade the craftsmen must handle his material with precision, void of carelessness and flippancy. Timothy’s trade is proclaiming the Word of the Almighty. His material is Holy writ. A poor workman indeed is one who makes a mess of his material. He is commanded to handle the Scriptures with accuracy and precision. He will be the faithful example.
Shun Error (vv. 16-18)
“But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some.”
The command here is fronted in the English text and is found in the word avoid. The idea is a bit stronger in the Greek (περιΐστασο). The idea is to completely circumvent or to travel around so as to completely avoid interaction. In practice this is active, not passive. Rather than hoping not to encounter someone/thing, it actively sets a course to ensure that no such encounter will occur. To translate this as shun is not at all too strong.
What should be shunned? (vv. 16-17) – The NKJV is a little more precise here because it is not a question of what should be shunned but who. This worldly and empty chatter literally means godless and pointless noise. Yet the verse is not looking at the noise but the men who make it. The NKJV reads “for they will increase to more ungodliness” as it points to the ones who utter such godless nonsense, and thus more accurately represents the Greek. Paul will make clear who these people are, but first he must make clear the danger of their work and words.
If their godless and pointless noise is not shunned, if Timothy is to give them the slightest attention or opportunity to speak, their ungodliness would only abound. Do not give them the chance. Their speech will only spread and eat away their souls like gangrene or a cancer. The more they speak it, the more they believe it, and the more they will be consumed by it. Avoid them. Shun them. Having nothing to do with them. Timothy, you know two of them – Hymenaeus and Philetus.
We met Hymenaeus back in 1 Timothy 1:20. He was one of two gentlemen that Paul personally excommunicated from the Ephesian church. It appears that he is still hanging around the fringes of the church hoping to pick up followers and appears to be marginally successful. This is the only time Philetus is mentioned, as an associate of the heretical Hymenaeus. His following grows.
Why should they be shunned? (v. 18) – These are strong words indeed for such men. The act of shunning is nothing to be taken lightly. What circumstances would warrant such a prescription? Why would Paul command such a thing for these two men? Because they have utterly departed from the faith. Heretics are not to be coddled but cast off.
Paul articulates the basic premise of their heresy: they say that the resurrection has already happened. It is difficult to tell exactly what Paul means by this. Most likely they denied literal and physical resurrection of the saints. Perhaps this was a result of word battles regarding Paul’s teaching about the Christian’s resurrected life in Christ (Rom. 6). As they desired debate and refused to submit to Paul’s clear intention, they slipped into heresy and refused to repent of it.
Is this teaching really so horrible? Can one still be a Christian and deny a future resurrection? NO! This is Paul’s entire argument in 1 Corinthians 15, but from the reverse. To the Corinthians he plead not to deny the bodily resurrection of Christ because to do so denies our very hope of future resurrection and eternal life. This comes at the same point but from the opposite direction. To deny our future resurrection, of which Christ was the first fruits, is to cast shade on Christ’s own resurrection and thus disembowel the gospel of any significance.
Warning: Pastor’s Rant: I have no idea why Christians today are ready to defend heretics. Why does the church love heresy? The questions always arise from a man-centered perspective: how much can one deny or reject and still be a “Christian”? Let’s ask the same question from a God-centered perspective: how much of God’s Word can you reject while still submitting to your King? Answer: NONE. Saints submit to their King. Reprobates rebel against His rule, will, and Word. If the shoe fits, wear it. If it stinks, then repent of it. But don’t you dare make excuses for those who revel in their rebellion. Run from them!
This heresy is not harmless – they upset the faith of some. It seems that Philetus is not the only follower that Hymenaeus has gathered. This word upset means to overthrow or to tear down. He has made a shipwreck of his own faith (1 Tim. 1:19) and seeks to do the same to others. Timothy, if you love the sheep under your care, you will have nothing whatsoever to do with these dangerous wolves.
An Encouraging Seal (v. 19)
“Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord abstain from wickedness.’”
These last words are an encouragement. With such bold heretics hanging around the edge of the flock and the wolves picking off the stragglers, it might be easy to become discouraged. Will all these sheep fall away? May it never be!
The introductory word nevertheless brings an opposing picture to the heretics and runs at the head of a wonderful statement: the firm foundation of God stands! Many hours and sweat has been poured in to understanding just what Paul is referring to by the firm foundation of God. Most commentators say that it is the church, the assembly of God’s elect that is this firm foundation, for the gates of hades will never overtake it (Matt. 16:18). It is most secure. Yet we are not looking for the building, but for the foundation upon which the building is set. The foundation is Christ Jesus.
Before Jesus promised that hell will never prevail against His church, He revealed that the rock upon which it is built is Himself, the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16). Not only that, but Paul appears to be alluding to Isaiah 28:16 here: “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.’” God the Son is the foundation and cornerstone upon which His church is fashioned, and this stone comes with a seal – a guarantee – or promise.
The Seal of Security – You may notice in your Bible that the phrase “The Lord knows those who are His” is placed within quotation marks. That is because Paul is quoting from Numbers 16:5. The context there is Korah’s rebellion. There was a debate (word battle) over the proper and acceptable way to worship Yhwh. God said that only the sons of Aaron could serve as priests. Korah disagreed. Moses’ response to Korah was flat, “Tomorrow morning the LORD will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to Himself; even the one whom He will choose, He will bring near to Himself” (Num. 16:5). The Scriptures are clear on what happened. Those who belonged to Yhwh were spared and those who rebelled against Him were swallowed up by the earth. In the face of apostasy and heresy, have no fear. The Lord knows who belongs to Him.
The Seal of Sanctification – The next line is a combination of various Old Testament texts to include Num. 16:26 and Joel 2:32. Paul combines the summary of Yhwh’s command to Moses and Israel to depart from the sons of Korah so that only the guilty will perish (Num. 16:26) and the promise that all who call upon the name of Yhwh will be saved (Joel. 2:32). But the way Paul does this is fantastic, solemn, convicting, and wonderful. The second seal or guarantee placed upon the foundation which is Christ Jesus is that those who are His will most certainly separate from unrighteousness.
This line is one of the most direct texts that make obedience a command and not an option. If you belong to Him, you must abstain (imperative) from wickedness. The encouragement to Timothy is simple: God knows those who are His, because He elected them from before the foundations of the earth. You may know them too, because they will abstain from wickedness. They will bear fruit in keeping with repentance. It is one thing to claim the name of Jesus, but does Jesus claim you?
There is so much int this beautiful text and the applications are many. It is pointless and even dangerous to engage in pointless debates about Scripture. If one is unwilling to submit to the Bible, then send them on their way. “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matt. 7:6). Our job is to handle the Word with accuracy and allow the Holy Sword of the Spirit to do all the cutting.
Allow me to conclude by paraphrasing an illustration used several times by Voddie Baucham. Two knights approached each other to enter into combat. The first knight instinctively drew his sword. The second knight responded by stating, “I do not believe in thine sword!” The first knight now is presented with two options. He could sheath his sword and enter into a discourse regarding metallurgy or physiology in order to explain why the second knight really should believe in his sword. Or, he could cut him!
Our task is clear. We must never become distracted. And we can rest upon Christ, our firm foundation, Who knows His own and sanctifies His own. Soli Deo Gloria!