2 Timothy 016 – Confronting Error2 Timothy 17b-18 • Dr. Andy Woods • January 3, 2016 • 2 Timothy - The Call to Persevere
1-3-16 2 Timothy 2:17b-18 Lesson 16
Well good morning everybody. Happy 2016. Most of us when we’re signing documents will put 2015 till around March, then we’ll finally get it. I’ve got a three month delay. If we could take our Bibles and open them to the book of 2 Timothy, chapter 2 and verse 17. I enjoyed very much participating in the Van Cleve wedding ceremony New Year’s day. I had the chance to give the message there, and all of the non-Sugar Land Bible Church people said why did he preach so long. And all the Sugar Land Bible Church people said why did he preach so shortly. So we had an interesting mixed audience there.
The title of our message this morning is kind of an uncomfortable one but as you know I don’t pick my topics, I go verse by verse through the Bible and so whatever verse we happen to be in happens to be the topic of the morning. So the topic we’re dealing with today is as follows, or you can entitle this as follows: Confronting Error.
We, as you know, have been in a series of studies through the book of 2 Timothy which is all about finishing the race, or the task, that God has given us. In particular this man Timothy, who is really not finishing well; he has the potential of not finishing well in the task that he has been given, which is to be the pastor over the church at Ephesus.
Chapter 1 you have sort of a generic call, as Paul writes this to young Timothy, to faithful endurance in the ministry. And then as we have been going fairly slowly through chapter 2 you have ten metaphors, which give you word pictures, if you will, of what endurance looks like. We’ve seen the metaphor of a teacher, a soldier, an athlete, a farmer, the example of Christ Himself, the example of Paul himself. We saw a very powerful trustworthy statement and where we have spent our time for the last couple of Sundays, and this will likely extend into next Sunday as well, we have the word picture of a workman given in verses 14-18.
In that word picture Paul has explained to Timothy what to avoid. Avoid fruitless discussions and wrangling about words, pontificating about things that the Bible is not clear on one way or the other. And instead Timothy is to focus his time on divine truth and divine revelation. In fact, he is to be a student of truth, a workman, if you will, of truth, so he can faithfully proclaim it.
So Timothy, Paul says, that’s where you’re to focus your time; stay away from “worldly and empty chatter.” Why? Because “worldly and empty chatter” will take you from bad to worse; it won’t take you to God and His truth, it will take you away from God and His truth. And to sort of solidify the point Paul gives to Timothy three illustrations. He says, number 1, it’s like gangrene, something that starts off in the body as a small disease or problem can contaminate everything. The King James Version translates that word “gangrene” as cancer. You think of the small area that the cancer can contaminate and if it’s not brought under control it contaminates an entire human beings. That’s what “worldly and empty chatter” leads to.
And then he gives a second illustration where we start to focus on this morning; the illustration of Hymenaeus and Philetus. Notice what he says there in verse 17, “their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,” and into verse 18, “men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place and they upset the faith of some.” In the prior verses Paul has warned Timothy about conversations that go from bad to worse; the more you get away from the Scripture and away from truth and into the endless philosophies and thinking of man the more things will proceed from bad to worse. In fact, they can develop into full-blown theological error.
And that’s what Paul is warning about here. And in fact, theological error, as Paul writes to Timothy back in the first century had already started, and he actually calls out, by name you’ll notice, two heretics; one is named Hymenaeus and the other is named Philetus.
Now this subject of naming the names of heretics publicly is such an abused and misunderstood subject that I’m going to offer, hopefully this morning (by God’s grace), some balance on the subject because I find that there are, when you get into this, basically two extremes. There are those that say you should never call out the name of a heretic publicly in church. There are others that are so aggressive in calling out names, they criticize people, not on the basis of theology but on the basis of their own preferences or their own style.
So let’s see if we can look at this and develop some balance in this, because I find that the church of Jesus Christ on this subject is terribly mistaught. We are either gravitating towards one extreme or the other. One of the things you have to understand about the Apostle Paul’s ministry is it was a ministry of two things, teaching and warning. You’ll find that balance in the book of Colossians, chapter 1 and verse 28 where Paul writes this: “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man….” Notice those two participles, number 1, “warning every man” and then number 2, “teaching every man.”
You say well, what is the difference between teaching and warning? Let’s take teaching first; teaching would be what I would call a positive presentation of truth. Teaching is communicating to people what you stand for. And I would say most pulpits today, by and large, focus on that aspect of it. A lot of time, including our time, is spent communicating to people what we believe, communicating to people what we stand for. But you’ll notice that when Paul describes his ministry philosophy in Colossians 1:28 he doesn’t just says “teaching every man,” he offers a second participle, “warning every man.”
Now what then is the difference between teaching and warning? If teaching is a positive presentation of truth communicating to people what you stand for, warning is a negative critique of a false teaching. It is, in essence, explaining to people what you stand against. So Paul not only communicated what he was for in a positive sense, he also communicated what he was against in a negative sense.
And what you’ll discover with the Apostle Paul is when he exercised this warning facet of his ministry is sometimes his critiques could be very severe, to the point where he actually named the names of heretical advocates who were teaching things contrary to what Paul communicated. In fact, as I’ve examined this prayerfully and carefully this week I’ve discovered there are four times in Paul’s writing where he does this, one of them we just read. And interestingly these all occur in the pastoral letters, 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy where Paul is communicating to Timothy how to be a pastor. So you might want to jot down 1 Timothy 1:20, this is the first time Paul names the names of heretics. He says there, “Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander,” see how he names the names of these people, “whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.”
You might want to jot down 2 Timothy 1:15, a verse that we’ve already covered in our series. It says this: “This you know that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.” Once again Paul names two people. And then, a verse that we haven’t gotten to yet in our series is found in 2 Timothy 4:14 where Paul says this, he names the name of a person, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; may the Lord will repay him according to his works.”
You say well, why does Paul have to do that; I mean, why can’t he just critique a belief system? Why does he have to call out a name of a person? I mean, why does he have to be so negative in that sense? And probably the simplest answer to that is remembering the Tylenol scare, perhaps some of you remember that, I believe this was in the 1980’s, where people were opening bottles, plastic bottles of pain controlled pills and people were dying as a result. Now what happened is the FDA made a public service announcement and they told people this was happening and the FDA went so far as to name the name of the brand where these deaths people were ingesting from were actually dying. And they called out the name “Tylenol.” They named the name.
Now why would they name a name? Well, what good does it do people to tell them that there’s medicine out there that can kill you if you never explain to them which brand it is you’re talking about? And so this is sort of the logic, if you will, of naming the name of a heretic. People won’t know to stay away from a person if you don’t tell them what person there is to stay away from. That makes sense, doesn’t it.
And so we’re sort of in this atmosphere today of political correctness where it’s almost looked at as the cardinal sin you could ever commit in ministry, which is naming the name of a particular heretic. It is such a symptom of the day. Most people understand that America today, as I speak, is at war. We have had multiple terrorist attacks, whether it be in New York, whether it be in Boston, whether it be what happened in San Bernardino recently, and so we’re allowed to say we’re under attack but we’re not allowed, because of political correctness to name the culprit of the attack. The fact of the matter is all of these terrorist attacks, the overwhelming majority of them in recent memory have been caused by fundamentalist Islam, consistent Islam; Islam logically applied and followed to its logical conclusions. But you see, because we have this view that everybody is right and we don’t want to get into the business of criticizing religious beliefs of people, we’re allowed to say we have a war on terror but we’re not allowed to diagnose the culprit of the situation.
This is the symptom of the times, and how in the world can you win a war against anyone unless you identify the enemy? And I just bring that up not to get into political issues, I’m just trying to show you the era of time that we’re living in, where naming the names of a culprit, naming the names of a system, actually naming the names of the people involved in promoting that system is disparaged and looked down on.
So what you’ll discover is in the evangelical world is most people, by and large, do a pretty good job of teaching. They explain what we are for but if you never explain what you are against then your ministry, by and large, is incomplete in God. It certainly is not the example here of the Apostle Paul. The exhortation of the day is to stay positive, to stay upbeat; don’t go negative. And yet if you never go negative you’re taking away from your arsenal a weapon that God has given to his church.
Could you imagine coaching some MBA players, one guy shoots the three-point jump shot really well, and you tell him you can do anything you want on the court but don’t shoot the three-pointer. Or you take Kareem Abdul-Jabbar one of my basketball heroes growing up, he was known for his skyhook, where he actually fired the ball downwards to the basket ten feet high. The man stood seven feet two inches and oftentimes he could shoot that skyhook as far out as fifteen feet. Sometimes he literally won games on the spot by shooting a skyhook, fifteen, sometimes twenty feet out. And you get Kareem as a coach and you say okay, Kareem, you can do anything you want on the court, you can rebound, you can follow up shots, you can pass the ball, but do not unleash the skyhook.
And that, in essence, is what we are telling pastors, teachers, theologians and ministers to do when we tell them never go negative, never name the name of a heretic. And we have today ministries which by and large are very, very lopsided. Paul, the apostle, went negative. Back to the world of politics just for a minute, I wasn’t a science major so I’ve got to unleash my knowledge on somebody and I’ve got a captive audience here this morning, but you’ll notice at the very end of a political campaign, whether it’s one political party or the next the political candidates stop telling us what they’re for and they start to expose what they think are weaknesses in their opponent. And anybody involved in politics will tell you that those negative attack ads, although they are very strongly criticized by people as being unloving, uncharitable, they actually work very effectively.
And in essence the Bible is giving us this kind of balance; it’s saying yes, stay positive at times; yes, explain to people what you are for at times, but there comes a time when you have to go negative. And that’s what you see the Apostle Paul doing here. Now when you begin to talk like this there are always three objections. It’s always the same objections, so let me sort of go through these objections one by one with you, if I can.
The first objection goes like this: Well, this is what Paul did? Are you Paul? No. Are you an apostle? No. Did you raise the dead? No. So how in the world can you take your playbook out of the ministry of the Apostle Paul? Wasn’t the Apostle Paul unique? Take your Bible, if you could, and hold your place in 2 Timothy; go over, if you could, to Acts 20:17-35. I find that that objection that people use is a gross misunderstanding of what Paul is doing in ministry. Of course, we’re not apostles; of course we don’t work miracles on equal par as the Apostle Paul! Of course there are things that we can’t take over from Paul’s ministry.
However, what you’ll discover with Paul is that there are a lot of things that he did as a role model for spiritual shepherds. And that is what is happening in Miletus, a port town, at the end of Paul’s third missionary journey he gathers the elders of the church at Ephesus together and he gives them a tremendous sermon. That sermon is recorded in Acts 20:17-35. Notice what these verses say:
“From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.  And when they had come to him, he said to them, ‘You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time,  serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews;  how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house,  solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  ‘And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there,  except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.  ‘But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”
 “‘And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face.  ‘Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.  ‘For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.  ‘Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.  ‘I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;  and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
 “‘Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.  ‘And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.  ‘I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes.  ‘You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.  ‘In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Certainly there are a lot of things in this passage that are not immediate takeaways for us. For example, he’s headed to Jerusalem. I’m not headed to Jerusalem; after service I’m headed to the lunch line. So that would not be a one to one parallel. However, there are things that he did, there are things that he said, there are things that he communicated to these elders in a deliberate way as a role model for them to follow, especially verse 32, look at what he says: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace,” he’s not simply explaining to them what he did in his ministry, he is deliberately highlighting things that he did among them as a role model for them. And what you have to understand is that this is the first church, this is the church of the Apostolic era. Most of the New Testament hasn’t even been written yet, although a lot of it had. Where would these elders at Ephesus go for information about how to govern a church other than through the teachings and the ministry philosophy of the Apostle Paul.
Paul drops many things out that are obvious things that he wants them to imitate. For example, notices verses 33-34, “‘I have coveted no one’s silver or gold” now is that just for Paul? No, that would be for all shepherds. Notice verse 27, “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.” Is that just for Paul? No, he’s obviously role modeling a teaching philosophy that he wants all shepherds to imitate.
Notice, if you will, verse 29, ‘I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;” verse 30, “and even from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” Verse 31, “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. You see what Paul is doing there is he’s warning. Now earlier, in the sermon he was teaching. He taught them house to house, he told them what he was for, but as you drop down to verses 29-31 he shifts gears and moves to a second weapon that God had given him, which is this ministry of warning of false teachers that would come, many of whom Paul says are coming right up from your own number.
And so we find Paul doing both. In fact, if you look at Acts 20:24 2-:24 he says, “But I did not consider my life of any account as dear to myself,” watch this, “so that I might finish my course.” That language is almost verbatim what he tells Timothy to do in 2 Timothy chapter 4.
My point is simply this: of course we are not little Paul’s running around; of course we are not apostles, but if you watch his ministry philosophy very carefully he is using it to communicate to them what they are to do. He taught, and he warned, and sometimes the warning that he gave was so strong and so severe that on four different occasions in his letter he actually named the names of heretics.
In fact, over in 1 Corinthians 11:1 watch what Paul says here. “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” There he gives us an open invitation to follow him in his philosophy and what he did, where it’s appropriate. He says follow me as I follow Christ. So this first argument that people give, well, we shouldn’t name names because that’s what Paul did and we’re not Paul, that boat won’t float, that horn won’t honk, it just doesn’t work.
Now let me move to a second criticism people give and this second criticism you’ll recognize if you have any background in the charismatic movement. I have a little bit of background in the charismatic movement, my wife has some background in the charismatic movement and when you get into the charismatic movement you hear this constantly, not that all charismatics believe this, but for some reason or another this particular argument has traction in the charismatic world and this is the second argument. They say, whenever you name the name of a heretic and it happens to be one of their own, they say don’t touch the Lord’s anointed. You hear this constantly, don’t touch the Lord’s anointed! You can’t criticize that popular television evangelist that is teaching blatant error because he, or in some cases she, is the Lord’s anointed and the Bible says do not touch the anointed.
Where does this whole idea come from, don’t touch the Lord’s anointed. Well, it really comes from, if you study it in context, the end of 1 Samuel. David, you’ll remember who was on the run while Saul was governing the nation, David had an opportunity to kill Saul two times. And both times David said I will not kill Saul because I will not touch the Lord’s anointed. So this phrase, “Do not touch the Lord’s anointed” has nothing to do with holding people doctrinally accountable. It has to do with killing somebody, and a decision to forego that.
Beyond that, David, you’ll discover did critique Saul. In fact, when David had face to face confrontations with Saul during that time period he verbally critiqued Saul, he said things like why are you doing this, why are you trying to kill me, and so forth. And beyond that David, during that time period was in rebellion against Saul. He was gathering for himself against Saul what we call David’s mighty men, a small group of rebels that would not go along with Saul’s leadership.
And so what you have to understand is when people say don’t critique this pastor, don’t critique that pastor, “don’t touch the Lord’s anointed” you have to understand that they are wrenching that phrase totally from its context. The phrase has nothing to do with what Paul is doing here or else Paul would be critiquing the Lord’s anointed, which Paul did.
The third argument that is constantly given when you begin to call out publicly the names of heretics is people like to retreat to Matthew 18:15-17, why don’t we just go over there for a minute, you all know these verses no doubt. Matthew 18:15-17, perhaps one of the most abused set of verses in the entire Bible, it’s almost like a catchall phrase, you apply it to every situation. You remember the Lord’s teaching here, Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more witnesses with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
And when you stand in front of people and you say so and so is teaching error and you call out their name publicly the first question people ask is well, did you go to that person privately, because after all, Matthew 18 says you have to go them privately first before you call them out publicly.
What I want you to understand what Matthew 18:15-17 is actually teaching; I believe the New King James Bible does a much better job translating these verses than the NASB. Notice Matthew 18:15 in the New King JamesVersion. “Moreover if your brothers sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” What is Matthew 18:15-17 communicating? It is communicating the steps of church discipline involving a private offense, an offense against me as an individual that nobody perhaps knows about. That is a scenario which is totally different than somebody who stands up on radio, television, pulpit, printed page and disseminates an error. That is no longer a private situation, that latter situation that I just described, that is a public situation. The error is out there; the error is damaging. And any shepherd worth his salt will publicly expose that error.
Matthew 18:15-17 does not govern that situation whatsoever because Matthew 18 is dealing with private offenses. We’re not dealing with that with openly taught heresy, we’re dealing with a public offense that is now contaminating a large group of people. Take a look, if you will, at Galatians 2:11-14, here we see Paul in action. Galatians 2:11-14, notice what it says: “Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I” that would be Paul, the author of Galatians, “I withstood him to his face,” that’s public, “because he was to be blamed.  For before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.  And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite so that even Barnabas was carried away with hypocrisy.  But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all,” see how he’s saying this before everybody, Paul is to Peter, “I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of the Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews.’”
What was happening here is the Apostle Peter, as a Jew, would fellowship openly with Gentiles in Antioch until the Pharisees came to town. When the Pharisees came to town Peter would withdraw from the Gentiles and he was sending a public message of theological confusion, if you will, concerning the necessity of submission to the law of Moses. That was Peter’s public theological error.
Now when this was occurring Paul didn’t say okay Peter, the two of us need to get together in private because we all remember what the Lord taught in Matthew 18; let’s have a private conversation about it. There is no private conversation about it. Why? Because this is a public error and a public error demands a public correction.
Paul is role modeling to us this great weapon that we have in our arsenal as spiritual leaders of not just teaching but warning. And any of the excuses people generation, well, you’re not the Apostle Paul, don’t touch the Lord’s anointed, have you gone to them privately first, when you actually analyze those arguments none of them hold up.
My fear for Christian ministry is this: we are becoming exactly like our politically correct culture. In our politically correct culture everybody is right as long as they are what? Sincere! As long as someone is sincere with their beliefs, whether it be Islam, Buddhism, New Age, atheism, humanism, you cannot come out and critique their belief system because it’s considered intolerant. That’s where our culture is. Sadly that mindset comes right into the church and people think that that same mindset is applicable to spiritual leaders and Paul is role modeling here it is not so.
There is a place for teaching, there is a place for warning and you cannot shoot your skyhook the way God wants you to shoot it unless you name a name; you will be ineffective at inoculating God’s people from theological error if somebody puts a gag over your mouth and says don’t name a name.
Now let me deal with the other side of the equation. How much time should you spend naming names versus actually teaching positive truth? That’s an interesting question. If my whole ministry was naming the names of heretics I would never retire because there are heretics everywhere. And in fact, the amount of false teaching that we are seeing is exploding; everywhere you look there is more and more false teaching. And so if your entire ministry is negative people basically know what you’re against but they really don’t know what you are for.
So I believe this, that the majority of our time should be spent proclaiming truth in a positive sense. In a minority of instances we are given permission so shoot that skyhook and go negative. However, there is a balance here. When you look at Paul’s ministry and you go through his writings most of the time it’s a positive proclamation of truth; occasionally, in a minority of instances he goes negative and yet that weapon of warning is to be exercised nonetheless.
And I also believe this, that when the Spirit of God prompts a spiritual leader to call out a heretic by name he needs to be on his knees; he needs to really be before the Lord asking the Lord, Lord is it You that wants me to do this or is it my flesh. Am I doing this because I’m angry about something? Am I doing this because I’m trying to get even? Is there some sort of false motive within me?
He ought to use this weapon, this skyhook, sparingly; he ought to do it with a great degree of humility. He ought to do it very, very carefully, and he ought to assess the level of theological error we are talking about because there are a lot of people out there I might disagree with them on an issue but it is not something that is unsettling; it is not something that is going to destroy someone’s faith. See, what Peter was doing by mixing publicly law and faith is a Heresy (capital H). Then there are false teachings (little t).
For example, in our pre-trib study group which I attend every December we have an ongoing debate in that group, does the Gog and Magog war of Ezekiel 38 and 39, does that happen before the tribulation starts or after the tribulation starts. Now I have strong opinions about that; I will go toe to toe with anybody that wants to challenge my view… see the humility I’m operating in here? But that is what you call an intramural squabble, whether you believe that the Gog Magog war happens before the tribulation or not is not something that will unsettle your faith. And on those type of situations I like to say well you guys can go your way and me and Jesus will go our way. [Laughter] But it’s meant tongue in cheek, it’s meant in fun, it’s meant in good humor. That type of thing really doesn’t rise to a level of heresy the way Paul was confronting heresy there in the book of Galatians, chapter 2.
There is an awful lot, particularly on Facebook, if you get on some of the Facebook pages I’m on they show these things on your news feed constantly, there’s an awful lot of things going on, on Facebook, that I would call tabloid journalism, where people are smearing ministers, pastors, evangelists over the most minute things. And oftentimes it comes down to somebody’s style, oh, she doesn’t wear enough makeup, oh, she wears too much makeup. Oh, he speaks with PowerPoint, oh, he doesn’t speak with PowerPoint. Oh, he belongs to this denomination, they belong to that denomination. I don’t like the color of the carpet, I don’t like the clothes they’re wearing, I don’t like the way they have their parking lot set up.
And people take their individual preferences in terms of style and raise them to a level of Heresy, capital H, and we’re shooting the skyhook when it’s unwarranted. And in the process we are doing what the book of Galatians condemns the Galatian churches of doing, of consuming and devouring each other.
We ought to do this carefully, we ought to do it with great humility, we ought to do it with great prayer, we ought to look into our hearts to see if God is wanting us to do it but at the end of the day the option needs to be and must be kept open. And any ministry that focuses on one or the other, one to the exclusion of the other, is like a one-handed man or woman. God has given both arms here; there’s teaching and there’s warning. And if you’re just doing one exclusively of the other it’s almost like you are operating with one hand.
I believe teaching needs to be foremost because that’s apparently the way Paul spent his time. Occasionally though he did go negative. He not only taught but he also warned; he shot that skyhook when it was appropriate. And that is the commitment of this pulpit. We want you to come to Sugar Land Bible Church and we want you to be edified positively in truth. That’s probably our foremost objective, but there are times where it is necessary to shoot the skyhook, there are times where it is necessary to call out error. And you have to understand that that option will be used here but it will be used with humility, it will be used with prayerfulness, it will be used with somebody that’s on their knees.
And think about this for a moment; if you never warn people where the danger is by pointing out an individual is that loving? If you know about the Tylenol scare but you never tell people it’s Tylenol that’s the problem, how loving is that?
You might remember that when Shahram was here he dealt with the different Greek words related to love. He dealt with agapē love, love which is selfless. Then he dealt with philéō love, that’s more a friendship or kinship. And many times we are so afraid to call out a heretic because we think it might cause division in the body of Christ and we are leaving the sheep unwarned but we are really not walking in agapē love. We are not really operating in what’s best for them. Rather, what we are operating is in philéō love, wanting to maintain unity when in fact unity in a given situation may not be the very best thing.
So having said all that I’m appreciative of this, what Paul is saying here in verse 17, “their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus.”
Now notice verse 18, “men who have gone astray from the truth,” this word translated “gone astray” is astocheō, it means to turn, to wander away from, to go astray by departing, to go astray by departing from a moral and spiritual standard. You’ll notice that in the writings of the Apostle Paul he uses this word astocheō three times; once is over in 1 Timothy 1:5-6 where he says, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.  For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion,” that’s the verb astocheō. 1 Timothy 6:21, “Which some have professed, and thus gone astray from the faith,” another example of it. The third use of that verb is in our passage here.
What is Paul worried about? He’s worried about departures, notice, the word truth alḗtheia, verse 18. Notice the definite article in front of the word “truth,” “men who have gone astray from the truth.” That’s what Paul was worried about. He wasn’t worried about people’s preferences being violated, he was not worried about people’s traditions being violated, what he is worried about is people departing from truth, capital T, the very Truth that Paul has told Timothy to focus on in this paragraph. He’s not talking about an opinion or a difference over style, what he is talking about is departures from truth.
And that, essentially, is what apostasy is. You may never have heard the word apostasy; apostasy is a departure from known truth. It’s a compound word that comes from the Greek preposition após which means away from, and the verb hístēmi, which means to stand. Apostasy therefore is standing away from truth; it is a departure from known truth and this is what the Apostle Paul is greatly fearful of. It’s interesting that when he issues this command or this critique it’s an in house issue that he’s dealing with because these men, Hymenaeus and Philetus have strayed from the truth. In other words, they were once within our circle, they were once within our camp. These are people that would be called Bible believers at one time, or even evangelicals. So he’s not critiquing Gnosticism here, some belief that’s way outside the mainstream of Christianity or totally outside the mainstream of Christianity, rather he is critiquing a problem within the evangelical Bible believing movement. And Paul was so concerned about this that sometimes he shot the skyhook, he gave the warning, and he actually named the names of the heretics.
Once we move into 2 Timothy 3:1 through chapter 4 verse 8, the third major section of the book, that will be Paul’s dominant subject. The apostasy of the church, a prediction given to him under the power of the Holy Spirit will be a subject that is first and foremost in his thinking. He will spend an entire chapter and a half dealing with that subject, warning of an apostasy that’s on the way and telling Timothy what he is to do or what he is to focus on in the midst of it. I’m looking forward to getting to that section eventually because it’s almost written for our times.
And here in chapter 2 he’s giving a glimpse of what this apostasy is like of these two individuals that were once in the truth but they have moved away, astocheō, from the truth. There was a dissertation in the 1950’s completed at Dallas Theological Seminary and in this dissertation, it’s a fascinating read, this individual was trying to figure out what is the most frequently mentioned subjects in the epistles. When you look at the epistles or the letters this individual was simply trying to figure out in this dissertation what subject is number one? What subject is dealt with most frequently? And it’s shocking to learn this, that the second most frequently mentioned subject in the epistles, or the letters, is this subject of apostasy.
In fact, if you really start to think about it, entire New Testament books were written as warnings of apostasy. The whole book of Galatians was written for this reason because the Galatians were moving away from known truth and moving back into legalism. The whole book of Hebrews was written as a warning against apostasy because Hebrew Christians were leaving the full revelation of Jesus Christ and drifting backwards into a partial revelation. In fact, if you study the book of Jude, it’s just one chapter, the whole book is about the subject of apostasy. If you get into the book of 2 Peter you’ll discover that the whole book is about this subject of apostasy.
So obviously this subject of apostasy or drifting away from known truth is a concept, not only foremost in the mind of the Apostle Paul but in the mind of the Holy Spirit that authored Scripture. And yet, most Christians today in America, in their local church, have never heard a single sermon on the subject of apostasy. How do I know that? Because I teach at a college and every semester I say raise your hand if in your memory as a Christian the pastor ever addressed in a sermon the subject of apostasy. In the seven years I’ve been teaching I don’t think I’ve ever had a single hand go up.
What are we talking about? Not bad things, but everybody is going positive, when the Bible, to a very large extent is going negative; it’s warning us over and over against this issue of apostasy and yet it’s a subject that really is not dealt with.
Verse 18, “men who have gone astray from the truth,” now Paul doesn’t just give us their names, he gives us their error, “saying that the resurrection has already taken place,” what in the world is that? In fact, that’s a subject so big I’m going to have to skip that clause. If you come back next week I’ll deal with that one clause in depth, because I think what Paul is critiquing here is a belief system that has plagued Christianity for the last 2,000 years, and is a belief system that is making a huge, huge comeback in the evangelical church today and we’ll be dealing with that next time.
So that just leaves one little part of the verse, right? Skipping through that clause and going back to the very end it says this, reading the whole verse, “men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place,” watch the end here, verse 18, “and they upset the faith of some.”
This verb “upset,” anatrepō. It means to ruin, to overturn, to jeopardize, to cause serious difficulty or trouble with respect to someone’s beliefs. As best I can tell this verb is used only two other times in the New Testament, one of them is Titus 1:11, which says of heretics, “they must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake or sordid gain.” The only other time it’s used, this is very interesting, is in John 2:15. Anybody remember what Jesus is doing in John 2? He is overturning, is He not, the tables of the money changers and this same verb is used to describe Christ’s actions in John 2:15. It says, “And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and” and here’s our word, He “overturned their tables.”
Now think of a table with all kinds of money and artifacts set on it so delicately and nicely and think of someone coming and just turning that table over, causing what’s on the table to be scattered far and wide. That is the word that the Apostle Paul uses to describe what false teaching does. False teaching literally takes your belief system and damages it. It takes your belief system and it overturns it. And you see, I’ve discovered this, we get this when it comes to physical harm, we’ve seen the movie Titanic, and we know what an iceberg can do to a ship if it’s undetected. We remember the Tylenol scandal and we remember what poisonous Tylenol can do to the physical body.
We are totally attuned to this in the physical world but for whatever reason we’re tone deaf when it comes to spiritual cyanide, and Paul’s use of this word is essentially telling us that spiritual apostasy, spiritual falsehood is just as lethal, perhaps even more lethal than physical poison or physical cyanide. Spiritual damage! Every moment you spend as a Christian with a false belief in your mind is a moment you are stagnated in your growth. That’s why the devil is so eager to push false teaching into the church, because he knows that that is perhaps the most effective way to neutralize God’s people and to keep them in a state of immaturity and infancy.
And in fact, if you are an unsaved person and you have false ideas in your mind that’s enough to send you to hell. That’s why he uses this example of overturning. You take, for example, the health and wealth gospel, blab it and grab it, God wants you rich and prosperous and healthy. There are many, many people that believe that, they believe it is their divine right that they should never get sick. Well, if that’s your belief and you get sick, what are you told? You don’t need to go to a doctor, there are actually legal cases where this has happened, you don’t need to go to a doctor, God wants you well, you just claim your blessing in faith and God will heal you, a doctor is unnecessary. And we all know how that situation typically ends; someone is deprived of the medicine or medical attention that they are need and they are pushed into an early grave.
Don’t tell me that false doctrine or false teaching does not destroy. There are many examples of this I could give. Why is it that Paul analogizes it to gangrene in the prior verses? Why is it that the New King James Version translates this as cancer? This is why Paul names the names of these heretics. This is a subject that’s not easy to preach on, it’s difficult, but at the same time it’s necessary for us to mature and to grow as a body.
So let’s absorb God’s truth as we move into the new year; let’s move off into the year 2016, not thinking what I want to think on a certain subject but thinking the way God thinks. Shall we pray.
Father, we are grateful for Your revelation today in Paul’s life and ministry and what he disclosed. I pray You’ll make us people of teachability as we look at these difficult subjects, not only today but also next Sunday. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus name, and God’s people said….