Holding on to the Word of Truth
A friend of yours comes to you and says something like this,
"Chris, you're a Christian…what does the Bible say about divorce?"
"Peter, you're a Christian…does the Bible really say that abortion is wrong?"
"Sarah you're a Christian…does God really think sex outside marriage is wrong?"
"Clare you're a Christian…does that mean you don't believe in evolution?"
"…what does the Bible say about homosexuality? Or euthanasia?"
Or perhaps it's not your friend who's asking those questions, it's you.
"What does the Bible say about divorce?"
"What do Christians believe about homosexuality?"
"What does God think about euthanasia?"
When you're faced with those sorts of questions, what do you do?
This week, I Googled 'What does the Bible say about divorce' And Google found 1,680,000 answers for me.
Which one should I read? And which one should I believe? I went to the website of a Christian bookshop and searched for books on divorce. They had 203 in stock. Of course you could always ask a Christian friend for their advice, or an older Christian in church. But it wouldn't be long before you realise that there are lots of different answers that Christians give to the same questions.
And that's the problem. Who or what are you supposed to believe? When 1.5 million websites and 200 books and countless people say different things. Who do you listen to? Who can you trust? Ask any question of the Bible and you will find different Christians who give different answers, and they all sound smarter than you! So how do we know right from wrong? How do we know what to think and who to listen to? It can all feel overwhelming. But there is good news. And the good news is that God wants us to know the truth. He's given us his word so that we can know the truth. And he's given us his Spirit to help us understand his word and know that truth. So let's pray that he would help us do just that this evening.
Paul wrote this letter from prison to his beloved friend Timothy, who was leading the church in Ephesus. And do you remember why Paul wrote to Timothy? "Never, never, never, never, never give up." That's been his message so far. 'Timothy I know you're faith is real, so now fan into flame the gift that God has given you,' that was chapter 1v1-7 'Keep on preaching the gospel of Jesus, even if it brings suffering, because it also brings life,' v7-12. 'Timothy you have put your life into God's hands, and he has put his gospel into your hands,' v 13-18, 'so guard it and keep it safe.' 'Pass it on to the next generation of teachers,' chapter 2v1-2, 'And keep going.' 'Be like a soldier, and an athlete and a farmer.' 'Keep going and work hard, because one day you will be rewarded for your labour,' vv 3-7. 'And be encouraged, because the gospel that you serve cannot be stopped,' v8-10.
That's what Paul has been teaching Timothy so far, and it's summed up in v11-13
"If you live your life for God, if you keep going, and endure, you will receive your reward. But if you give up on God, if you reject him, well then he will reject you."
That's what Paul has been reminding Timothy of so far. But now, in v14, there is a change. Look at v14, Paul says...
'Timothy, what I've been telling you is also what you need to be telling the rest of the church.'You need to keep going and not give up,
You also need to be teaching them to keep going and not give up. And that change in gears prompts Paul to remind Timothy what makes the difference between a good church leader and a bad church leader. What makes the difference between a faithful teacher of God's word and a false teacher of God's word. First of all then, let's look at what Paul says makes the faithful teacher, v15. We'll come back to the second half of v14 in a moment, but first look at v15.
Now, look at v15 on the screen. Imagine if we took out the word, "God" from v15 and left it blank.
To be a faithful teacher, Paul says,
"Do your best to present yourself to _____ as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth."
How would we fill in the blank? We'd be tempted, wouldn't we, to think that Paul would say, 'Timothy if you want to be a faithful teacher then...
"Do your best to present yourself to _The Church_ (the congregation, the people)as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth."
But that's not what he says. He says
"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."
The first characteristic of a faithful teacher is that his primary concern is not what people think about him.
His primary concern is what God thinks of him. The story goes of child prodigy who was a pianist. By the time he was a teenager this boy could not only play any piece of music on the piano he also composed his own pieces. Thousands would come to see him and listen to him play. And on one such night, in a packed theatre, he thrilled the audience with his dazzling skill. He finished the concert to rapturous applause, as he left the stage the crowd were on their feet. And as he went behind the curtain they started to call for an encore. But the young musician didn't return. The crowd clapped and cheered louder and louder, and soon the owner of the theatre found him and said, 'What are you doing? Why aren't you going out for an encore? Everyone loves you, Everyone is on their feet...' 'Not everyone,' the boy said. And he held out his arm and he pointed to an old man sitting near the back. And sure enough, whilst all the people around him were clapping and cheering there was one little old man who was still seated, with his hands folded in his lap. 'Do you see that man,' the boy said to the theatre owner, 'he's my piano teacher.'
A faithful Bible teacher doesn't care so much about what people may think of what he says. His first concern is that what he says is approved by God. And so the second characteristic of the faithful teacher, Paul says in v15, is that he does his best to correctly handle God's Word, the word of truth. The word that is translated 'correctly handles' there is the word that is used to describe making a straight path, or a straight road. On the one hand what the faithful teacher is doing is straightforward and simple. The Bible may be a big book with lots for us to learn but it is basically straightforward. It's not hard to read or understand. And a faithful teacher correctly handles the word of truth by being as simple and clear as the Bible itself. Their teaching is as simple and easy to follow as a straight road. But that also means that at times a faithful teacher must be unwavering. Building a straight road is not always easy. Sometimes it means you have to cut down a few trees, to keep the road straight you might even have to blast your way through the side of a mountain. In the same way the faithful teacher is simple and straightforward, but must also not be afraid to say hard things at times. And they are ready to say those hard things because their main concern is not to please the people they're speaking to, but to please God.
That's the faithful teacher, but what about the false teacher, v14 and 16-18
Well it should come as no surprise that the false teacher has the opposite characteristics. The false teacher cares more about what people think of them than what God thinks of them. So when the Bible says hard things that they know people don't want to hear, they twist what it says to suit their audience. They seek man's approval more than God's approval and so they don't correctly handle the word of truth. They take the plain teaching of the Bible and they make it sound complicated. They quarrel about words, as it says in v14. I think that's what it means when it says they indulge in godless chatter, in v15. They look for the way out and the way around those hard truths because ultimately they want to please people. Now when Paul put's it like that it sounds as if false teacher should be obvious doesn't it? It sounds like we should be able to spot false teachers a mile off.
But they're not always easy to identify, because very often we like what they say and we want to believe what they say is true. The Bible clearly says, for example, that sex is only for marriage, that homosexuality is wrong and that marriage should be for life. But we find that hard. We don't like that.
And so when we find a Bible teacher who says...
'Does it really say that?'
'Jesus didn't really mean that...'
We're tempted to listen.
False teaching is dangerous because it's subtle, look at v18, Paul describes the false teachers Hymenaeus and Philetus as having 'wandered away from the truth'. In other words t some points and in some ways their teaching sounds like the truth, but little by little they drift further and further from it. And Paul says that ultimately false teaching will lead to ungodliness, and eventually death. Look at v17.
Gangrene is infectious, it spreads, and if left untreated leads to death. And the same is true of false teaching.
False teaching destroys people's faith.
So what must we do?
There are faithful teachers and there are false teachers so what must we do? Well first of all we need to pray.
We need to pray for our teachers. Rod and Chris and Tom and I, we need your prayers.
The leaders of home groups and Women's Fellowship groups and the youth groups, need your prayers.
Please pray for those who teach, that we would not be false teachers, but faithful teachers. Pray that when we stand up to preach we wouldn't been seeking your approval, but God's approval. Pray that we would correctly handle the word of truth. Not twisting it, but being clear and simple, even when that involves saying hard things.
And secondly I think this passage should warn us to be on the lookout for false teachers. There are thousands of websites and millions of sermons and hundreds of books that you could look at and listen to and read. And not all of them are good. A lot of them are bad. So we need to pray for wisdom and be on the lookout for false teachers. Judge a Christian book or preacher not by whether you like their illustrations or you like their style or even by whether you like what they say, but judge them on whether or not what they are saying is what the Bible is saying. The fact is if they are faithful teachers then there will be times when you don't like what they say. But if what they are saying is clearly from God's word then they are faithful teachers.
We need to pray for faithful teachers and watch out for false teachers. And that brings Paul back to where he left off.
Do you remember? In v14 Paul had begun to say that Timothy needed to remind the church of what Paul had been reminding Timothy, that Christians need to keep going and not give up. Now look again at v16-18, Hymenaeus and Philetus were false teachers, but what they were teaching isn't immediately obvious. Paul tells us that they said that "the resurrection has already taken place." Now of course that is partly true. Obviously Jesus' resurrection had already taken place, and in some ways so has the resurrection of all Christians. Look at what it says in Colossians 3 for example
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above...For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God."
So perhaps Hymenaeus and Philetus were saying 'If you are a Christian then your soul has already been raised with Christ. You belong to God, your place in heaven is secure and nothing can change that. The Lord knows who are his.' And that's true.
But it seems that they then went further than that. We know from other books in the New Testament, like 1 John, that around that time false teachers were beginning to say something like this 'If your soul is safe, well then it doesn't really matter what you do with your body.' God doesn't care how you live now, you can sleep around, you can eat, drink and be merry. And that is a lie.
Now there were and are other false teachers who would say the opposite too. They focus on the parts of the Bible that says things like this, "Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness." 'If you're a Christian then you need to live a new life, you need to be different from the world around you, you need to be holy.' And of course, that's true as well. But then they go onto say, 'so you'll only be saved if you've lived a good enough life now.'
And that is a lie
Do you see what they've done?
In both cases the false teacher start with the truth, but then they wonder away from it, into a lie. So what does the Bible really say? What do faithful teachers who correctly handle the word of truth say? Well, look at v19.
As ever we can find the truth when we hold on to the word of truth. The Bible does say that 'The Lord knows those who are his.' That's what we saw last week. God knows his children by name. If you are a Christian then you can be confident that God will bring you safely into heaven because you didn't save yourself but god saved you. But the Bible also says that 'Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.' It is God who saves us. He brings us to know him. But the secret work that he does in our hearts can and will be seen in our lives and our actions. If God is our father then we will find ourselves wanting to turn away from wickedness and wanting to obey him more and more.
What do you do when you face tough questions? Where do we turn, and who should we believe? We need to pray, that our teachers would be faithful teachers. We need to be on our guard and pray that we would recognise false teachers. And we need to keep on turning back to God's word. We need to hold on to the word of truth.