How to Navigate to the Right Road
2 Timothy 2:14 to 15
It used to be the stars and the sun, then a compass. It grew into a Rand-McNally book of maps, AAA individual maps, then a TripTik. Finally, a TomTom or Garmin became the devices everyone wanted. Just as they showed up in every car, suddenly directions and maps appeared on phones through Google maps and Waze.
It is so helpful to have instant access to maps in order to find your way–especially when navigating through dangerous regions and unfriendly territory. Having spent extended time in Colombia, Siberia, India and Mexico, it is nice to know where to go.
Today, in our continuing study of 2 Timothy, Paul changes focus and will begin to give Timothy an accurate biblical map in order to navigate the right road in the midst of error. Paul is now supplying Timothy with his own theological Garmin. As Paul guides Timothy on the road of truth through the dangerous ground of error, our Lord will instruct us today how to remain on the path of sound doctrine.
And few truths are more important for you. You need a guide to navigate the right road–why? Because there are more roads of error today than ever before. Timothy is first battling with the external pressure of persecution. If Timothy is outspoken about God’s Word, the genuine Gospel, and the Apostle Paul himself, he might be arrested and horribly killed by being burned alive or being fed to savage animals.
Paul doesn’t instruct Timothy to be wise with his words at work. Nor does Paul exhort Timothy to back off until the heat dies down. No, Paul says, “Timothy, fire up, don’t be ashamed, be outspoken and willing to suffer for Christ who suffered and died for you.” Paul says, “Timothy, prove that to live is Christ and to die is to gain.”
But there is another pressure Timothy is experiencing in Ephesus. It is the internal pressure of error, heresy and false teachers. And this attack is savage and exhausting. You and I have a great enemy. He hates God’s truth and is a master of deception. Satan wants to keep the fallen world in spiritual darkness and to confuse God’s people.
Satan’s deceit lured Eve, then Adam to distrust God, which brought sin and death into His perfect creation and separated now-sinful mankind from the true holy God. Since that moment, humanity has existed in the muck of sin and delusion of deceit. And Satan’s lies never go away– they compound to the point believers in this world now have to swim through a cesspool of lies in order to drink from God’s spring of truth.
False teaching about God, about Christ, the Bible, the Church, and spiritual reality is epidemic. The father of lies is working relentlessly to corrupt the saving and sanctifying truth of God’s written Word, the Bible, and of the Living Word, His Son, Jesus Christ. Christian cults and false religions are everywhere and increasing.
Many solid denominations have abandoned God’s Word and salvation in Christ alone. They still call themselves Christian, but they have abandoned Hell, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, His substitutionary atonement, and salvation by grace alone. And they have embraced universalism, psychology, self-salvation, homosexuality, abortion, and a host of other sins.
And FBC friends, Satan’s attack on truth is a wildfire. You Californians know wildfire. When the air is hot and dry, the wind is fast, and the brush thick, you are in danger. Well, the hot dry air of weak teaching, the fast wind of the internet and thick brush of, “Let’s all get along and not make issues,” has made today ripe for burning.
Error is everywhere and the simple approach of interpreting the Bible through exegesis, drawing out the author’s intended meaning with a normal, historical, grammatical and contextual approach is as rare as finding buried treasure. And the confusion is so great, there are people who find accurate teaching, but have no idea the treasure they now possess.
FBC, each one of you need to grow discerning–for your own soul, for your children, for your precious family in Christ, and for those you are trying to reach for Christ. I don’t believe a genuine believer can be completely deceived with error forever, but many who are making steps toward Christ. The tares in our midst and our children who have not yet submitted to Christ, who are not yet born again, can be deceived.
You need to protect them from the deceptive danger of our day. This is a devious war. Cults do not call themselves cults–those previously solid denominations who have now embraced heresy don’t tell you they are no longer Christians. False teachers don’t announce they’re deceptively trying to convince you of error. Therefore, you must grow discerning and saturate your heart and home with God’s Word.
Listen, Christian–the warnings in God’s Word are everywhere. Are you going to listen to Peter in 2 Peter 2:1 to 2? “There will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned.”
Will you listen to Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28 to 30? “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.”
Timothy is most likely in his mid-thirties, and is ministering in the Berkeley of his day, Ephesus, in order to correct the lies which have already taken root in the church. John MacArthur says, “The ‘savage wolves’ had already begun their disruptive and destructive work, and the congregation was suffering serious spiritual and moral decline. As it always does, ungodly teaching led to ungodly living.”
No wonder Paul has already commanded Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1 to 8 to be the soldier, because Tim is in a spiritual battle. He needs to compete like an athlete and work hard like a farmer in order to fight the battle for truth and defeat the hold of lies. Paul warns against the error of false teaching beginning in verse 14, even warning Timothy of the terrible results of errant teaching in verses 14 to 19–false teaching.
Ruins the hearer in verse 14, shames the teacher in verse 15, leads to ungodly living in verse 16, spreads like cancer in verse 17, upsets the faith of some in verse 18, identifies those who are unsaved in verse 19. Paul will name some false teachers in Ephesus, then will continue through the end of chapter 2 to clearly instruct Timothy and you how to correct error and uphold truth with both his words and his life.
Paul tells Timothy in a unique way for all of God’s people to repeat the truth and reject the error. Read aloud with me how Paul begins his navigation through error to truth in verses 14 to 15. “Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”
How do we navigate the right road of truth and avoid the deadly bog of error? The right road is found by . . .
#1 REPEATING SOUND DOCTRINE Verse 14a
Look at the first phrase of verse 14, “Remind them of these things.” Paul’s purpose was to encourage Timothy to keep a firm grasp on apostolic truth. Look back at verse 2, also to pass on sound doctrine to others who would do likewise. Just like FBI agents are trained to recognize counterfeit bills by having an incredibly deep and accurate knowledge of genuine money, so the Christian today needs an extraordinarily deep and accurate knowledge of the Scripture to recognize error.
Only a thorough knowledge of God’s Word equips the believer to recognize, resist and oppose falsehood. For that reason, Paul introduces this passage about false teaching with the first phrase of verse 14, “Remind them of these things.” Okay, I will remind them. No, Paul commands Timothy to remember, make it a memory, recall it.
And Paul uses the present tense for remind, calling for persistence–tell them again and again and again. You and I need to hear the truth repeatedly–24/7. Paul says, “Remind them”–who is them? Definitely the men being trained in verse 2. But commentators agree, it includes the entire congregation of Ephesus and FBC too.
“Remind them of these things” definitely includes the immediate context of verses 11 to 13, but may also include the entire chapter–even chapter 1 and 2 up to this point. But interpreting the Bible in its context means “these things” refers to verses 11 to 13, calling for you to endure with the truth and not be faithless with the truth.
In the context of false teaching, the congregation must realize their need of persevering with the truth and the terrible consequences of rejecting the truth. Will you stick with apostolic truth, exposited in its context now for 2,000 years? Or are you enamored by new teaching, trendy ideas, or the latest book redefining salvation, or the Trinity, or Christ?
“But I like what this trendy guy says.” Or, “She makes a lotta sense. It really helps me.” Friends, they are wrong! It is a lie! “But Chris, it is mostly true.” Friends, would you eat a brownie made of 9/10ths brownie and 1/10th dog excrement? Part lie is all lie. It is bad for you–it will damage you.
If a guy from a cult wants to date you, just say, “No.” If a girl who embraces error is hot, forget it. If their book makes you feel good, so does cheesecake laced with arsenic. Timothy, parents, teachers, disciplers–keep repeating sound doctrine again and again. Also, navigate the right road of truth and avoid the dead end of error by . . .
#2 REFUSING to SQUABBLE over speculative options Verse 14b
“And solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.” This is a time of great danger for Christians in the Roman world, with persecution. And it is a time of intense jeopardy for Christians in the church in Ephesus with heresy. Satan was busy outside the Church and inside the church–and here is what is sad…ready?
Instead of the church family pulling together against the external persecution of Nero, they’re actually internally fighting over errant and unimportant issues. They should have been focusing on obvious truth, matters of life and death, Heaven and Hell, judgment and reward–those things Paul had just been writing about, instead of quarreling over little words.
What they were doing was useless and dangerous. Some believers were literally being plowed under as a result of squabbles over nonessentials. When Christians do this–when churches allow squabbling over words in their midst, they are doing serious harm to the health of that church and those Christians.
This is a grave issue. Students, seniors, singles–this is vital for you. Why do I say that? Look at verse 14, “solemnly charge them in the presence of God.” Reformer John Calvin said, “Solemn charging before the Lord is intended to strike terror; and from this severity, we learn how dangerous to the Church is that knowledge which leads to debates, … which disregards piety, and tends to ostentation… [because it is based upon] speculative theology.”
Timothy is to keep reminding them of sound doctrine, but Timothy is also to warn them before God against quarreling about words. To “solemnly charge” is a very strong verb which means to warn. In this context, this participle is connected to the imperative verb, to remind them. So the sober charge also carries the idea of a very stern warning.
Paul is bearing witness to Timothy–he is making a direct assertion, charging them. The “them” is Timothy, the elders, the Ephesus church and the men being trained in verse 2. And Paul is giving this serious warning to them “in the presence of God.” The text is literally before God, meaning in God’s sight or in God’s presence.
Sometimes “in the presence of God” is used to comfort believers. But in most cases, “the presence of God” has to do with God’s severity, often in judgment. When Christ returns in judgment, unbelievers (2 Thessalonians 1:9), “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
Paul used the phrase “in the presence of God” twice in 1 Timothy. And now Paul uses “in the presence of God” twice in 2 Timothy–why? Being in God’s presence was on his mind. Your God is always present and He is never unaware of what His children are doing. But because of the profound danger of false teaching, Paul wanted to make sure Timothy and those he admonished were consciously and continually aware of the presence of God.
Being especially aware of God’s presence adds a measure of healthy fear of the Lord and increases the readers’ determination to serve Christ faithfully. What should Timothy, Ephesian Christians, and FBC believers fear God about? What should strike terror in their hearts? Do not wrangle about words. Wrangle means to fight, quibble, dispute, even to war.
When you read this, it almost seems like there is shouting involved, but that is not the case. Word fights can actually appear intellectual. This kind of arguing can be filled with nuance, saturated with ego-puffing pride and laced with tangled subtleties. Word fights can foster a kind of discussion which is, in the end, purely verbal, having nothing to do with God’s Word or sound doctrine–and God hates it.
And that is why this type of intense discussion is first useless, “which is useless”–useless means nothing. It matters for nothing–it counts for nothing. Quarreling about words is of no value now, and no benefit for eternity—completely worthless.
Secondly, this type of quibbling over words also “leads to the ruin of the hearers” (verse 14). With this phrase, and in the verses which follow, Paul describes the obvious harm of false teaching. Many of us in this room need to feel the weight of Paul’s warnings. False teaching is extremely harmful and the first injury false teaching produces is to the ruin of the hearers. False teaching damages all those who hear it.
The Greek word for ruin is katastrophē–sound familiar? Catastrophe–false teaching has a catastrophic effect. The Greek word has the basic idea of being overturned or overthrown, and in this context, it carries a more explicit connotation of being spiritually ruined. Paul is talking about teaching that intentionally subverts the truth by replacing it with falsehood. Consequently, instead of building up the hearers, it tears them down. Instead of bringing enrichment, it brings disaster.
False teaching puts an obstacle in the way of unbelievers, who may be turned away from the true way of salvation. And false teaching also does harm to believers, by causing confusion, doubt, discouragement, or disobedience.
The only other use of the Greek word ruin in the New Testament is found in Peter’s second epistle, where its deadly seriousness is even more pointed. Second Peter 2:6, “[God] condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction”—catastrophe and ruin, by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter.
False teaching brings destruction in the life of a believer, so verse 14b says, “And solemnly charge them in the presence of God [what?] not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.”
Christian, picture yourself in the very physical presence of your Savior, standing in front of the glorified Christ and recognizing His passion for you not to participate in ego-driven discussions concerning errant issues which challenge sound doctrine and undermine apostolic teaching–why? Because those arguments are worthless and destroy His children spiritually.
Quarreling over words is a crucial matter. God Himself will call such “word-warriors” into account. Later Paul will say, “avoid worldly and empty chatter” (verse 16), and “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome” (verse 24). So how can you navigate the lifegiving road of truth and avoid the deadly cancer of error?
1 you keep repeating the truth,
2 you refuse to squabble, and you keep
#3 REJECTING SICK DOCTRINE through diligent STUDY Verse 15
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Sadly, this passage is most often taken out of context. Paul is actually motiving Timothy to be an example of study and dependence upon the sufficiency and authority of the Scriptures, which includes interpreting the Bible accurately so he will not be ashamed.
Being diligent is a general command to hurry up and exert yourself. Work at it, Tim. William Hendrickson says it this way, “Timothy must exert every effort so to conduct himself that even now before the bar of God’s judgment he stands approved, that is, as one who, after thorough examination by no one less than the Supreme Judge, has the satisfaction of knowing that the latter is well-pleased with him and commends him.”
Christians, if you are going to survive the erosion of truth and saturation of lies, you have to be diligent in learning the Word and interpreting the Word accurately. Are you diligent in the Word? Be “diligent to present yourself.” Diligent carries the idea of having zealous persistence to accomplish a particular objective. Just because you’ve heard a sermon or two, read a few blog articles, filled out a manual, or went to Christian college doesn’t mean you’re diligent in the Word.
Christians often see themselves as experts in the Bible, when their understanding is actually meager. It took my brother seven years to become a doctor and he has to constantly study to stay in tune with medical developments—but that’s merely the medical field. The mysteries of medicine are much less profound than the eternal themes woven into the fabric of the Word of God.
The Bible was written over a period of fifteen hundred years. It was written by some forty men from various backgrounds, cultures, and walks of life–men who were divinely inspired to write down its immortal truths. They wrote in places as far apart as Babylon in the east and Rome in the west. The geography, history, and languages alone supply enough subject matter for years of intensive study.
The interpretation of biblical truths, called hermeneutics, is a science with principles that cannot be violated with impunity. No wonder Paul called on Timothy to study. A person does not become a master car mechanic by reading one automobile manual. One does one not become a mathematician, biochemist, historian, or performing artist by taking a course at a junior college.
A person must study, if he is to become an authority on any subject. How much more should you study, since you actually live by the Bible. Diligent study requires time, commitment, and hard work. Why should you? Verse 15, to be “approved to God as a workman.” Approved includes both the idea of testing and commendation.
Approved means to be tested by some trial and found to have successfully stood the test–to be accepted after testing, to be one who can stand the test. Timothy is to submit his work to God for God’s approval. Timothy is to let God see he is a good workman. Timothy is to win God’s approval–how? By being a workman.
Grab hold of what I am about to say. Most of the preaching errors, poor exegesis, small heresies, sermonettes, practical but off-center interpretations and errant teaching coming from real Christian churches would be completely stopped and solved if the preachers embraced two realities Paul is describing here. First, if they were a workman who is seeking, second, God’s approval and not man’s.
The preacher must be characterized by 1) hard work, and must have a 2) motive of pleasing Christ over anyone. The problem is preachers who make us laugh, or entertain us, or move us emotionally. Christians today accept hermeneutical and homiletical sloth from men who are seeking to please their congregations over pleasing Christ.
And before you say, “Amen”–if believers themselves were studying the Scripture, they themselves would reject these lazy man-pleasers in a heartbeat. But they aren’t, so they don’t. FBC, you must be a studier of the Word. Timothy must not be a quibbler, but a hard worker who pleases Christ above all. That kind of believer does not need to be ashamed.
John Calvin says, not be ashamed means “doth not blush.” Work hard at study and ministry since that will produce fruit, which will then prevent you from blushing before Christ on the final day. Those who do surface study, whose goal is to entertain and whose desire is to please people over Christ, will blush on the final day. No fruit is produced when God’s Word is misinterpreted, misapplied or maligned in any manner.
That’s why Paul says to Timothy and you, “accurately handling the Word of Truth.” This phrase calls for a proper division of the Scriptures. What did Paul have in mind here? Accurately handling was used of a craftsman cutting a straight line, of a farmer plowing a straight furrow, of a mason setting a straight line of bricks, or of workmen building a straight road.
Metaphorically, it was used of carefully performing any task. We know from Acts 18, Paul was a tentmaker by trade. He may have had in mind the careful, straight cutting and sewing of the many pieces of leather or cloth necessary to make a tent. Doubtless, Paul meant for Timothy and you to handle God’s truth honestly, fully, and straightforwardly. You must plow a straight furrow in expounding the Scriptures.
Being one who correctly handles the Word requires getting it straight and giving it straight. Correctly handles is from the Greek word orthos (straight)–the same word from which we build words like orthopedic and orthodoxy. The exact charge to Timothy is to impart the Word of Truth without deviation–straight and undiluted.
Here it refers to the straight, precise, careful communication of the Word of Truth. This includes the entire Word of God and the message of salvation needed to know God, the Gospel. This apostolic command to get it and give it straight has become a 2,000-year-old charge to all of us who are called to preach the Gospel and grow mature.
Sadly, this flies directly in the face of what’s happening today in our churches, where instead of faithful exposition from exegesis, there is unfaithful instruction from eisegesis. The text is read–it is rich and promising. You settle back, Bible open for a good Sunday meal, only to find the text departed from, never to return. Unfaithful instruction from eisegesis leads to Sunday indigestion.
To divide the Word of Truth rightly, we must have a consistent hermeneutic. We must interpret the Bible not allegorically but literally–taking into account the Hebrew and Greek languages of its birth, with a strong pursuit of understanding the original cultural, historical, and geographical context of each passage. To find the path of truth in the midst of the weeds of lies, the healthy believer and sound church will diligently study the Word to discover only the author’s intended meaning.
TAKE HOME these additional applications:
A Be diligent to AVOID debating a false teacher
In this passage, Paul was not speaking about immature arguing over secondary matters—no, wrangle about words carries the idea of waging a war of words with false teachers. These are those who are described in 2 Timothy 3:7 as “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
These deceivers use human wisdom and human reasoning to undermine God’s Word, and God tells believers here not to debate them. It doesn’t matter if the false teaching comes from a college or seminary professor or respected author or popular preacher–don’t debate a false teacher.
B Be diligent to OPPOSE false teaching
Look at 2 Timothy 14 to 19. Paul tells us the harm that false teaching does to people.
Verse 14, false teaching ruins the hearer
Verse 15, false teaching shames the teacher
Verse 16, false teaching leads to ungodly living
Verse 17, false teaching spreads like cancer
Verse 18, false teaching upsets the faith of some
Verse 19, false teaching is characteristic of those who are unsaved
My precious brothers and sisters, stay away from false teaching–it is deadly.
C Be diligent to SATURATE your home and heart in the Word
In a couple of months, we will be impacted by Timothy’s mom and grandma, who saturated their parenting of Timothy and their home in the Scripture. Second Timothy 3:15, “And that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
Deuteronomy 6 taught you parents the Word is to saturate your heart and be the first thing on your mind in the morning and the last thing on your mind at night. It is to be what you talk to your children about throughout every day with every task.
D Be diligent to grow discerning over DOCTRINE
The necessity of understanding doctrine is no longer optional for Christians today. Second Timothy 4:3, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires.” Paul is speaking about church attenders.
You can’t endure sound doctrine unless you actually know sound doctrine. And you won’t know what you need if you don’t know healthy doctrine, but will want to have your ears tickled–feel good teachers. The expectation of God for you who attend church is to know sound doctrine–do you?
Can you defend the fact that the Bible is the Word of God?
Can you share with a charismatic why tongues is not for today?
Can you stand up for the truth that all Christians attend church?
Can you demonstrate biblically that Jesus is God to a Jehovah’s Witness?
Can you prove that salvation doesn’t require baptism for it to be legitimate?
Can you show from Scripture that God is sovereign in salvation?
Or God hates divorce?
Can you discuss the fact that Jesus must be Lord to be saved?
Be diligent to grow discerning over doctrine. Read MacArthur’s Bible Doctrine. Read Enns’ Moody Handbook of Theology. Join the training center. Take the next theology class. You need to be able to discern doctrine.
E Be diligent to RELY totally on Christ to follow truth and reject lies
The only way to embrace truth and live by truth is to know the Person who is Truth. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” You won’t know the truth unless you know its author. The lie will keep you from God, Heaven, inner peace, forgiveness, love and joy.
And the lie is this–you can be saved and grow as a Christian by your choice and in your own strength. The truth is, you need to turn from your sin which separates you from God and put your faith in Christ. You exchange all that you are for all that Christ is. Cry out to Christ to awaken your heart–and if He does, Christ will open your eyes to the truth and expose the lies that dominate this world. Let’s pray.