Forewarned is Forearmed
On the fourth of August 101 years ago Britain declared war on Germany. The mood was buoyant. Everyone thought the war would be over by Christmas. Here are the words of one such conscript who thought it would be over in a flash.
"Well, I thought the same as everybody else. Everybody said 'It'll be over by Christmas and you've got to get out soon, otherwise you won't see anything'. But I don't know if it was my opinion, or if everybody was saying it. One certainly changed one's mind when we found how well-organised the enemy was compared with us for instance. And how thinly we were on the ground, of course."
We all know the war didn't finish by Christmas. The idea that it would soon be over didn't help anybody. As people say to be forewarned is to be forearmed. As we come to 2 Timothy tonight, Paul's message to his apprentice is very much the same. Timothy's battle against false teachers wouldn't be over by Christmas. False teaching was a fixture of his times.
So far in 2 Timothy, Paul has called on Timothy to never, never, never give up on Jesus. That's hard in Ephesus where Timothy is because there are so many teachers saying give up on Jesus. Instead, the false teachers were concerned with fables, controversies, prohibitions, restrictions and even saying the resurrection had taken place. Two weeks ago we heard how two false teachers, Hymenaeus and Philetus, have wandered from the truth. They had upset the faith of some by doing this. So in this part of the letter Paul tells Timothy what it looks like to be faithful in the face of false teachers. Last week we heard Paul say Timothy should gently instruct those who oppose him in the hope that they would turn back to Jesus. This week Paul takes Timothy to the very dark heart of false teaching. He forewarns him so he can be forewarned. Because the reality is that false teaching is a fixture of our times.
That sounds depressing doesn't it? It does. But as we listen in tonight we'll hear Paul forewarning and forearming Timothy. Let's pray that God would forewarn and forearm us too.
I've got three points to make: Understand false teaching; Avoid False Teaching and Don't fear false teaching.
Understand false teaching (v1-5).
Let me clarify I don't mean spend ages reading Mormon doctrine. I mean understand false teaching is not going away. I mean we need to understand root and fruit of it.
Look with me at verse 1:
"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days."
In other translations Paul says, "Understand this." It's serious. Paul's saying, "Get your highlighter out. You need to get this Timothy!" What is it Timothy needs to get? He needs to know, "There will be terrible times in the last days." The last days is the time between Jesus' ascension and his return. The difficult times are now. Why? What's going to cause this? Look at verse 2, "People will…" People will cause great difficulty for the church. But what kind of people? Grab your bibles. Cover up everything but verse 1. How might you expect Paul to complete that sentence?
Attack you? Steal your possessions? No, the people Paul describe cause times of great difficulty are false teachers. Firstly, Paul wants Timothy to be clear that false teaching is not going away. Because false teaching is a fixture of our times. Forearmed is forewarned. The first second aspect of false teaching Paul wants Timothy to understand is its roots. As we read verses 2-4, keep your eye out for the word love:
"People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God."
Six times Paul mentions the word love. Look at how Paul starts and ends those lines: People will be lovers of themselves…rather than lovers of God. False teaching arises from misdirected love. Jesus says, as we heard in our first reading, that we are to love God. These false teachers loved everything but God.
They are lovers of themselves, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure… You see if you don't love Jesus, you will love something else. There is no neutral ground.
What can we draw from Paul's words to Timothy? False teaching is a fixture of our times. It's not going away. Firstly, we mustn't be surprised when we see false teaching. We should be sad, but not surprised when we hear of prosperity teachers flying around in their personal jet planes paid for by their ministries. We mustn't be surprised when we turn on BBC breakfast and find a vicar promoting same sex marriage. We mustn't be surprised that churches that teach salvation by works never disappear.
With each of those forms of false teaching we see that self is at the heart. Prosperity teaching is all about me. It's all about how I can earn more money; how I can be more comfortable. A morally permissive form of Christianity also has self at the centre. Who defines what is right and wrong. Well it's me. And I will define my sex life thank you very much, not God's word. A legalistic form of Christianity is all about me. It says, "I'll save my self thanks. I'm good enough. I don't need Jesus to get me right with God." Do you see at the heart of three different forms of false teaching, self is ultimately at the heart?
What happens when we swap the love of God for ourselves? Disordered love creates disordered lives. The fruit of false teaching is ungodliness. Look with me again at verse 2:
"People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—"
When we replace God with ourselves and our money we become boastful. Look at how great I am! Look at how much money I have! We become proud thinking we are self-reliant. We look down on others becoming abusive, disobedient. We are ungrateful because what we have isn't given; it's what we've earned and deserve. When we replace God with pleasure we become conceited. Life is all about me first. And self control will go out the window as we seek to please ourselves. We'll be treacherous and even rash to please ourselves. Do you see how people suffer when love of self comes first? The fruit of false teaching is utterly damaging.
A Puritan preacher likened the selfish man to the hedgehog which, rolling itself into a ball, presents only sharp spines to those without, keeping at the same time all the soft and warm wool for itself within. God says we are to love him first, then our neighbour then our self. But if we reverse the order, placing our self first and God last, our neighbour in the middle is bound to suffer. Here's a warning. Living for anything but Jesus is destructive. Turn to Jesus for forgiveness and live for him. That is the way you were designed to live.
Paul wants Timothy to understand the root and fruit of false teaching. He needs to know false teaching is a fixture of our times. It is so offensive that there is only one command Paul can give Timothy: Avoid false teachers, and that's my second point.
Avoid false teaching (v1-5).
The picture Paul draws of the false teachers becomes even more shocking. Imagine for a second a false teacher in Ephesus. Sitting in his home he counts the money the he has taken from the vulnerable widows he preys on. As he counts the coins he feels safe, knowing his security is in his riches. As he looks in the mirror, he recalls with pride his ability to tell great Jewish myths and impress his audience. He heads out into the city. Where is he going? He's going to church. There he prays. Listens to the scriptures. Gets into a quarrel with the elder over his teaching. The shocking thing is he looks like a follower of Jesus. Or as Paul says in verse 5, they have:
"a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them."
False teachers looks like followers of Jesus. They have a form but no power. They looked Godly from the outside, but hated God from the inside. They professed faith, but never acted on it. They had empty religion.
What does this mean for us? We should expect to find false teachers in the church. Don't be surprised that a false teacher is ordained, wears a dog collar, and went to Bible College. Thomas Cranmer the architect of the reformation in the Anglican Church back in the 16th century wrote this in the foundation documents of the Anglican Church:
"Although in the visible church the evil are always mingled with the good and sometimes evil people possess the highest rank in the ministry of the Word and sacraments."
It was true in Paul's day, in Cranmer's day and our day too. So keep checking what you hear from the pulpit matches what it says in the bible. But it's easy to point the finger at faceless false teachers somewhere out there isn't it? We need to be on guard against empty religion in ourselves too. It's all too easy to turn up to church on a Sunday say the right things, pray the right prayers, have the right books on your bookshelf but deny the power of the gospel. It's all too easy to look like a follower of Jesus. We must keep our trust in Jesus to save us from sin, and by the Spirit's help make him our Lord.
So Paul has shown us the root and fruit of false teaching. It's incredibly disturbing. So it's no surprise that Paul says in verse 5, "Have nothing to do with them." What does that mean for Timothy to avoid false teachers? It doesn't seem that Timothy should have no contact with sinners. How could he instruct those who oppose him so that they may repent? It seems that Paul wants Timothy to avoid those who have the form of Godliness but deny its power. Timothy must avoid such religious sinners. He musn't submit to them, work with them or lend them any legitimacy. What does than mean for us?
We musn't submit to false teaching as individuals. If you look at the itunes podcast charts you will see a real mixed bag. Some podcast preaching is great. Some is frankly false teaching. Can you tell the difference? Be careful about what teaching you listen to. Just because it's popular doesn't make it good.
We musn't work with false teachers. Some of us may at some point move on from Gateshead for new work and opportunities. Make sure you find a church that teaches the Bible. Make sure you can work under a faithful gospel teacher. Remember just because the church building has a spire, is part of a certain denomination, it does not make it sound. Whenever you move for work, ask yourself, "Where could I go to church? Is there a bible teaching church I can attend?"
We musn't affirm false teachers and those under their influence. Often when you chat to Mormons or Jehovahs Witnessess' they'll often say, "Hey, you're a Christian, we believe the same thing right?" I always make the point that I'm trusting in Jesus for salvation; you are trusting in something else.
False teaching is a fixture of our times. That's why Paul says to Timothy understand it, and avoid it. Lastly we see good news in that battle. My final point is Don't fear false teaching (v6-9). When I say that I'm not saying we should chill out and do nothing, but I am saying we musn't be scared as if God is not in control. We'll come to that soon, but let's see what the false teachers of Ephesus were doing, look with me at verse 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, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth."
The false teachers are sneaky. They visited homes presumably when the men were away at work. They preyed on weak willed women. That's not a statement about women by Paul, rather he's pointing out that the women they targeted were vulnerable. They were burdened by sin, and easily swayed by fancy argument that never arrived at gospel truth. A few years ago in my previous church I was involved in running a café for international students. At the café some Jehovahs Witnesses had turned up, pretending to be Christians and under that guise taking students off for private bible studies. They were being deceptive and preying on those so new to the country. Things don't change.
The brutality of false teaching is covered up under this guise of godliness. In verse 8 Paul says the false teachers were like Jannes and Jambres. In Jewish tradition they were Pharaoh's magicians. When Moses threw down Aaron's staff and it became a snake, they performed the same miracle. Except that Aaron's staff (and snake) swallowed their snakes showing them up! Their staffs looked like Aaron's, but they opposed the truth. That's Paul's point in verse 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."
False teachers sound like followers of Jesus. They use the language of the gospel, but with different meanings. But instead of spreading truth that frees, they spread lies that enslave. These men are wolves in sheep's clothing. That's quite scary isn't it? So Paul wanted Timothy to understand false teaching and avoid false teaching. But he finishes this section with a word of encouragement for Timothy. Just as Moses exposed Jannes and Jambres as frauds so false teachers will be seen through too. If not now, then certainly at judgment. Look with me at verse 9:
"But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone."
False teachers won't get far because God won't let them. Here's how one commentator puts it: "though the spirit of error may let them loose for a time, God has it in chain." Think of walking past a house with a Rottweiler in the garden. It runs at you but it can't get out the gate because it's attached to a chain. It's stopped in its tracks. False teaching is brutal, but God has it in chain. God will preserve his truth.
So we've seen false teaching is a fixture of our times. Five hundred years ago Cranmer knew false teaching is a fixture of our times as he battled false teachers within his church. But praise God, he has preserved his truth in this land. By God's grace we are a testament to that. As we listen to Paul and read our newspapers we'll know false teaching is a fixture of our times too. Forewarned is forearmed. So let's understand false teaching. Let's avoid false teaching. And most of all let's not fear false teaching.