Impacting others for truth, in an age of error
2 Timothy 3:10-12
Just when you think you have heard it all in Christianity, some new attack hits the market. When you want to share the Gospel with someone, you might share your conversion story–how the Lord awakened you from a life of sin and rebellion, made His Gospel obvious to you and converted you to be His true child. Your conversion to Christ.
Now today, there are a few who are sharing their de-conversion stories–a new error. How they were Christians, and in their words, saw the light and the oppressiveness of the Christian faith, were freed to walk away and live a new way—de-conversion stories. This type of tale has been told for over 2,000 years. Christianity has had no shortage of those who were once in the fold, then left. Jesus told us there would be wheat and tares. The phony believer walks away from true Christ and shuns following God’s Word–end of story.
But today, through social media, pod casts and blogs, now we are hearing victim stories and they’re finding a new audience. Their target is so-called Christians in the Church. Their purpose is to convince church-attending make-believers that their outdated, naïve beliefs are no longer worthy of their embrace. These people share a testimony of how they once thought like you did, but now have seen the light.
Today, they are written primarily by those who’ve embraced a homosexual lifestyle, an independent Christianity or a new errant theology. But their stories follow the same outline. They share how they were horribly treated by Christian leaders in a church, how they bravely fought the establishment, were crushed by the dogmatism of their old beliefs, discovered a new way to interpret the Bible and now they have found a new way of looking at the Bible and a new group who all agree with their approach. They have embraced a free, loving, independent form of non-biblical Christianity and you should too.
This is very similar to what was happening to Timothy in the church of Ephesus. There were false teachers instructing believers about a salvation which is based on working your way to Heaven by keeping the law, or accepting a gospel which allows you to live in continual sin and still be saved. And some make-believers were buying in.
Paul is writing Timothy in his final letter, 2 Timothy, now chapter 3 from a dark prison cell in Rome, teaching Timothy and the church of Ephesus how to identify these false teachers and make-believers. Paul exposes their character, their conduct, and today will show them how to correct the error in the midst of the church.
Remember–Paul instructs Timothy to identify the false by their character in verses 1 to 5. Paul instructs Timothy to recognize the false through their conduct in verses 6 to 9. And today, Paul instructs Timothy how to live among the false by correcting them through his active and passive example in verses 10 to 12. Read verse 10, “Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance.”
The first word, “now”, de or but, makes a contrast and change of emphasis. Paul will contrast the unfaithful ministry of the false leader and make-believer with the faithful character and ministry of the true leader and the real believer. Paul becomes the active example. This is more powerful than you can imagine.
Parents who are active examples of following Christ are strong examples to their kids of the reality of Christ and the necessity of the Gospel. Relatives who are active examples of genuine character are powerful examples of the truth of God’s Word. Friends who are active examples of obedience to Christ to their friends are weighty examples for His glory in this life and the life to come.
The false character and conduct of the errant, deceived, is now in contrast to the true character and conduct of the true disciples. Did you forget? You and I are in a spiritual war and much of it is fought by your character and through your conduct. Your life of truth is a weapon to reach those blinded by false.
Ephesians 6 tells us the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God lived out, applied, appropriately followed in your life. It is not merely the content you believe, but the character you manifest and conduct you live that proves Christ is alive and His Word is the only truth. There are three significant steps to become influential in these verses, found in Paul’s active example, passive example and godly example. This is how you influence for truth in an age of error– pursue being . . .
#1 An ACTIVE Example Verse 10
Notice how Paul is a living pattern to follow in verse 10, “Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance.” Paul meant for Timothy to pattern his beliefs, his thinking, and his lifestyle after him. Paul is telling his spiritual son exactly what he had told believers in Corinth some ten years earlier in 1 Corinthians 4:16, “Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.”
Paul continued in verse 17 with, “For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.” Paul had confidence in Timothy–just as he trusted Timothy to minister faithfully at Corinth ten years prior, Paul also trusts Timothy to minister faithfully in Ephesus.
Like all of you, Paul told you in this letter, Timothy had temptations, battles with timidity, and struggles with uncertainty. Still, the apostle was certain if Timothy relied upon the Spirit and the Word, he’d be able to honor Christ in this difficult assignment. So when Paul says, “You followed”–you is emphatic. Barnabas had come and gone. Demas had come and gone. Timothy remained. He’d been special, right from the beginning.
Timothy had the best training, spending several decades with Paul. Paul knew firsthand what it took to combat error and preserve the truth. This was no time to fail under the pressure of difficulty. Apart from the twelve, no Christian had a greater example and mentor than Timothy had in Paul. Plus, Paul loved Tim as a son, taught him, trained him. But soon, Paul would be gone. It would be up to “you”, Timothy—“you” emphasized, to hold the Gospel banner high.
Ephesus was a good place to do it–the church there was one of Paul’s best. Paul had written one of his greatest epistles to the Christians in Ephesus. Their God-appointed elders in Ephesus had been mightily challenged by Paul in Acts 20. The apostle John would later join the fellowship of the Ephesian church.
Satan, fully aware of the potential of that strategically located church, was attacking it. Timothy dare not waver. As the depository of all of Paul’s teaching, Timothy needed to uphold sound doctrine in defiance to impostors who wanted to establish errant doctrines. The apostle tells Timothy, unlike those heretics, verse 10, “you followed my teaching, conduct . . .”
You and I are powerfully influenced by those we live with, work with and serve with. Sometimes the influence is good, sometimes bad. Sometimes the impact is intentional and sometimes unintentional. For that reason, it’s crucial to take great care in choosing who you associate with–especially if they’re in positions to influence you spiritually.
So Paul reminds Timothy that he had followed Paul’s active example. The Greek verb “followed” literally means to accompany and was metaphorically used of conforming to something by conviction. In ancient Greece, philosophers used the word follow to describe the close relationship between a teacher and his disciple. Follow means to fully understand the meaning and the significance of what he says and to carry out his ideas, becoming the kind of person he wishes you to be.
In the Greek text, the definite article precedes each descriptive noun in verses 10 and 11, literally saying, the teaching, the conduct, the purpose, the trust, etc. By doing that, Paul is grammatically connecting each word to the possessive pronoun “my”–giving it a repeated emphasis. The idea is, you followed my teaching, my conduct, my purpose, etc.
Every church must be led by godly examples and every church must reproduce leaders who are not only sound in doctrine and moral in lifestyle, but also are courageous and committed defenders of the faith. They should be willing to follow the Lord and lead His Church in dangerous times–at any cost, steadfastly holding up the only correct author’s intended meaning of Scripture for all to hear. No matter what.
When Paul says, “Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance,” there are two categories here–an active pastoral example and an active personal example. In other words, the Christian of influence lives for Christ in private and in public–in front of others and when no one sees. Their family should observe no difference between their life at home and their life at church.
So, to impact others for truth in an age of error, Paul emphatically says to Timothy, a spiritual leader must offer . . .
First An active PASTORAL example Verse 10
“Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose.” Timothy was following Paul’s pastoral example in three different ways.
MY TEACHING This is in contrast to the teaching of the false teachers in verses 6 to 9. Teaching is a general term describing instruction or “doctrine”. The term is pointing to the specific, divinely-inspired, apostolic teaching Timothy had heard expounded so often and so carefully by Paul, his beloved mentor.
A few verses later, Paul reminds Timothy that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for [the same term] teaching.” My teaching is Paul’s doctrine or series of doctrines that Timothy heard and believed with hearing and heeding, oratory and obedience, listening and living. Tim followed Paul’s teaching. Since teaching never exists apart from the reality of the teacher’s life, Paul adds . . .
MY CONDUCT Unlike the false teachers, Paul’s way of life actually confirmed his teaching. This word “conduct” is used only here in the New Testament. A good translation can be my lifestyle. Paul modeled his teaching. What Paul preached was incarnate in what he practiced. Those who influence others practice what they preach. To impact others for Christ, you are to behave what you believe. Earlier, Paul warned Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching.”
MY PURPOSE Timothy knew Paul’s purpose. The Greek word “purpose” was already used in chapter 1:9 to describe God’s eternal purpose in saving us–a purpose rooted in the mind of God before the world began. A person’s inner purpose is not clearly evident the first time you meet him. His words may be fine, yet he may be a deceiver. Yet in the case of Paul, when his preaching and practice are in beautiful harmony over a long period of time, little doubt remains as to the purpose of his life.
You know Shawn Farrell’s purpose, Rod’s purpose, Robert’s purpose. There is little doubt why JP and Nigel serve the way they do–they have purpose. Paul did too and Timothy was encouraged to follow his active example. Remember doing something that required a lot of time and energy, that now looking back at the task, you realize it was a total and complete waste of time? Paul’s life gives little evidence of any waste of time. His life reflects God’s purpose as a way of life, 24/7–Timothy followed Paul’s purpose. To live is Christ. Paul also provided Timothy with . . .
Second An active PERSONAL example Verse 10b
“faith, patience, love, perseverance”
MY FAITH Paul’s faith was a godward example. Faith was Paul’s hope in the future, his dependent trust in God’s Word, his expectation for God to be at work now. And faith is resting in His loyal love focused on the person of Christ. Paul was dramatically saved on the Damascus road by Christ and after his conversion he discovered the Old Testament was filled with descriptions, prophecy and promises about Christ. So Paul lived his life by faith for Christ.
Christ is eternal, uncreated and self-existing–the second person of the godhead, the Alpha and Omega. Christ is the Jehovah of the Old Testament and the Jesus of the New Testament. Paul’s faith in Christ never faltered for a moment. And Timothy modeled Paul’s godward example of faith in Christ. Tim also followed Paul’s . . .
MY PATIENCE This Greek word is colorful–it comes from two words, long and temper. This is a self-ward quality describing forbearance, endurance, and longsuffering with people. Paul wasn’t hasty or revengeful–even when the church of Corinth was abusive, accusatory and some doctrine heretical. Paul put up with things.
As an apostle, Paul could strike a man blind, or hand them over to Satan–he did nothing of the kind. No, Paul repeatedly wrote the Corinthians, sent Timothy and Titus to the Corinthians, prayed for the Corinthians, pleaded with the Corinthians. Paul was long-tempered. Even Paul’s own circumstances saw his patience. Now in a dark cell, days numbered, no comforts, few visitors, he accepted his situation with quiet confidence in a sovereign God. Timothy followed Paul’s patience.
I know a man who took his grandchildren fishing. One of them was a very active three-year-old, Joshua. Grandpa gently reminded him, “Joshua, you have to sit and be patient.” Every few minutes Joshua would say, “I’m being patient, huh Grandpa?” When strangers walked by, Josh would tell them, “I’m being patient!”
It all came to an end–when his uncle dropped by, Joshua handed him his pole saying, “Here Uncle, you be patient!” Paul was patient, because he was fishing for much bigger game–the souls of men. Are you patient? Paul also modeled . . .
MY LOVE My faith is godward, my patience is selfward, my love is manward. Doctrinally tough, I can bring a rod to the church. Paul was an example of love. This is the same love Christ gave to us, and the same love God sheds abroad in our hearts. This is the same love described in 1 Corinthians 13 and the same love displayed in Paul’s life as he sought to reach lost people and plant churches.
Paul is the man who said, if it were possible, he’d willingly go to Hell if it meant his people Israel could be saved. Paul modeled love, Paul loved people, Paul desired people’s salvation and believers’ sanctification—meaning he wanted what was best for everyone and was willing to do anything he could to help them get it. And finally . . .
MY PERSEVERANCE It comes from two words, to remain under. In this context, it describes endurance—not so much with difficult people, but difficult circumstances. Timothy saw Paul display amazing endurance under grueling situations. Second Corinthians 6:4 and 5, “in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, 5 in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, and more.”
These four virtues–faith (toward God), love (toward all), patience (toward others), and endurance (to the end) were showcased in Paul’s life. They influenced Timothy and would make Timothy an authentic influence to others. Are you an active example? But Paul’s influence went beyond being an intentional example–he was also . . .
#2 A PASSIVE Example Verse 11
The passive example is even a stronger example. When children see their parents trust Christ through sorrow, when friends see you react with godliness to injustice, when unbelievers see you respond with joy over your hospitalization–they will be powerfully influenced for Christ, the Gospel and the power of God’s Word.
Paul now mentions his passive example, describing his trust in Christ when persecution and suffering happened upon him in verse 11. Read verse 11, “persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me.”
Your loving Savior promises you both persecutions and sufferings–two of your favorite verses. Philippians 1:29, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” And here in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
The noun, “persecutions”, is from a verb which has the meaning of putting to flight. Because of their refusal to compromise and their unwillingness to cease proclaiming the Gospel, both Paul and Timothy had often been put to flight as fugitives, with persecutions from both Jews and Gentiles. A passive example in suffering and persecution gives massive opportunities for influence.
When it happens to the false, the Bible says they show their true colors by fading away (the soils). Yet when persecution and suffering happen to the genuine, they powerfully display Christ. The world is shocked and pays attention to how authentic Christians react to painful suffering and unjust persecution when it is thrust upon them. So what does Paul do?
Paul reminds Timothy of their shared history. In verse 11, in order to motivate Timothy, Paul choses to describe the sufferings which occurred on Timothy’s turf. In verse 11, Paul lists “Antioch, at Iconium, and Lystra,” Those were the very places Paul visited on his first missionary journey, the trip when Timothy first met the apostle and was converted. Timothy heard Paul’s preaching at Lystra, probably witnessed the miraculous cure of the man born a cripple, and most likely saw the manner in which Paul and Barnabas restrained the multitude from worshipping them.
Paul was driven from Antioch by persecution in Acts 13, he had to flee from Iconium when a plot to lynch him was uncovered in Acts 14, and Timothy was in Lystra when Paul was stoned. Rocks crashed against Paul’s skull, blood gushed from his head and he fell beneath the rubble. They all thought Paul was dead, so his murderers departed, leaving his body. Everyone mourned–what would they do without Paul?
Then, to the shock of all, Paul popped an eye open, then the other. No funeral today. And he got up and went back into the city in Acts 14. What a memory for Timothy. How that must have replayed in Timothy’s heart. Remembrance of Paul’s suffering steeled him to continue to serve faithfully, regardless of difficulties. Timothy had the unparalleled privilege of living beside and working with this man of great courage, resolution, and character.
Paul reminds Timothy here in verse 11, what persecutions I endured. “Endured” is from the same root as patience in verse 10–to remain under. Paul physically remained under the stones and spiritually remained under the trial. Paul responded with courage. Now back in prison for the last time, Paul reviewed all of these troubles, summarizing them in a few words–not because he wanted to dwell on them, but because he wanted Timothy to take his own persecutions in stride as well.
At the end of verse 11, Paul assured Timothy, “and out of them all the Lord rescued me!” This is a near quotation of Psalm 34:19, where King David celebrated his deliverance. The only way Paul was going to get released from his dungeon was by his own death, and he was at peace with that. But God had rescued him time and time again, which meant God would do it for Timothy again and again, if God willed to do so.
God always rescues his people–either in life or by taking them home to Heaven. Paul’s living rescues didn’t result in happiness. Paul’s rescue didn’t remove the pain. Paul’s rescue does not mean these trials were somehow easy (being stoned is not easy), but those rescues from persecution and suffering did accomplish God’s purposes. And like Paul, Timothy should be made stronger and his preaching made more effective because of his persecutions and sufferings for the sake of Christ.
Even though Paul had been beaten, battered and his body bruised with scars, he was still alive, still preaching, and still planting churches. Paul (and every Christian) is invincible until his (or your) work is done. But with every word he writes in this letter, Paul was drawing closer to the end of his work and finally departing for home. In the way he responded to horrific circumstances, Paul was an influential example. And Paul was also . . .
#3 A GODLY Example Verse 12
Fittingly, Paul gives Timothy a spiritual axiom to remember. Verse 12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Jesus said the same thing in John 15:20, “‘A slave is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.’” Paul declares to Timothy that, his own experience of suffering and persecution in verse 11 is by no means peculiar. Calvin says, “Nothing has happened to Paul which does not await all the godly.”
If those without Christ are “God’s enemies” (Romans 5:10), then those who know Christ become the opponents of the devil. Timothy knew all this, but to hear it from Paul, again, just before his death, was powerfully influential. This was Paul’s reality, and the acceptance of it placed Timothy on solid ground for what was to come for him.
Interestingly, Paul says it’s “all who desire to live godly”—God-like, like Christ, who will be persecuted. Not the tare, not the lukewarm, not the unproductive soil—but those who seek to live like Christ will feel the heat. Those who do will have great influence. The false teachers urge people to learn the power of positive thinking and assure you that God doesn’t want you to be sick, poor, unhappy, have a difficult marriage, rebellious children, or a hard job.
Yet the voice of Jesus cuts through these honeyed errors in John 16:33b, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” So how do you Impact others for truth in an age of error?
1. The influential believer follows his MODELS
Paul’s calls Timothy to remember his teaching, his lifestyle, his passionate purpose. Paul tells Timothy to recall how he responded to persecution and suffering. Paul reminded Timothy that God’s Word promises persecution–trust God’s Word. Paul said it to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” Hebrews 13:7 adds, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” Remember those who modeled the faith to you and imitate their example.
2. The influential believer is godly and the GODLY will be persecuted
Persecution awaits all who seek to live Godly and the godly will feel its heat. That means they speak up for and stand firm against error in churches where it is denied. They refuse to compromise God’s Word in lesson or lifestyle. They boldly defend the faith against attack. They courageously proclaim the Gospel to the receptive and the rejecting, making them a target of hatred and attack.
Self-centered Christians who serve the Lord halfheartedly seldom have to pay a price for their faith. They are a small threat to Satan’s work because they are of little benefit to Christ’s. It is only those who desire to live godly in Christ who will be persecuted–those who seek to live like Christ will feel persecution’s heat.
3. The influential believer will suffer UNIQUELY
Not everyone will suffer the same. When this letter was written, Timothy was dealing with opposition and ridicule, the prelude of suffering. But as far as we know, Timothy did not suffer to the same degree as Paul. Not every godly believer will be imprisoned, tortured, or martyred for his faith.
Calvin trained hundreds of men to be pastors in France and most of them died as martyrs. He asked, “Must all men be martyrs? It is evident there have been many godly persons who have never suffered banishment, or imprisonment, or any kind of persecution. I reply, it is not always in one way that Satan persecutes the servants of Christ. Yet it is absolutely unavoidable that all of them shall have the world for their enemy in some form or other, and their faith will be tried.”
Right now, this year, 2018 in China, large non-state churches are literally being blown up, hundreds of churches closed, other churches raided mid-service and pastors led away in hand cuffs. It is, again, very intense persecution in China. Christians are promised suffering and persecution. Those who focus on their circumstances will be devastated–but those who depend on Christ will be influential.
4. Your response to difficulty will demonstrate your relationship to CHRIST
The Bible speaks often of those who experience trials for their faith and desert Christ. But those who suffer and are persecuted in Christ will remain faithful to Him. What do trials tell you about your walk with Christ? Have you been internally transformed in such a way that you will remain faithful to Christ? Are you so in love with Him, there are no idols which compete with Him for your first love?
Have you been born again, turning from your sin and depending on Christ by faith? Today, surrender your life to Christ–cry out for forgiveness. The perfect God-man took the punishment for your sins on the cross, then rose from the dead. If you put all your hope in Christ, He’ll bear your sin and He’ll give you his righteousness. He will change your heart and make you ready for Heaven.
The only way you can stand before God in heaven is to be perfect–and only Christ can give you His perfect righteousness. Surrender to Christ today. Why would you want to? Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Let’s pray.