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Danger does not come from censorship outside the church, but compromise inside the church. It is striking, isn't it, to realize that the Gospel's greatest threat will not come from confirmed pagans or hostile governments but from false religious teachers who resist God. The devil has always tried to beat the church by joining the church. He's a deceiver. He comes in the guise of an angel of light. He will prove indeed to be a threat to the church from within the church by using false teachers and teaching as spiritual saboteurs. We must be alert of the apostasy that will involve their creed, their conduct and their captives. We must avoid it at all costs. We must guard the deposit, repelling and expelling falsehood. This is something we must do and be willing to do.
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Philip De Courcy (00:00):
So, let’s take our Bibles and turn to 2 Timothy 3. If you’re joining us this morning, we’re in a series of studies in 2 Timothy, a series we have entitled Without Apology. As a body of man here at Kindred Community Church, we want to live a life without apology. One of the keywords in this letter is the word [foreign 00:00:20] or do not be ashamed. And Paul is writing to his young friend and fellow minister, Timothy, and he’s reminding him to live without apology. He’s going to have to fight his natural timidity. He’s going to have to swim upstream against a culture that indeed is marked by godlessness. Timothy is going to be left by himself with the departure of his old friend, Paul. And so, he writes to him to indeed shore up his faith and to indeed encourage him to take a stand for Jesus Christ.
And so, we’re coming this morning to look at chapter three, verses one through nine, a message I’ve entitled Danger Ahead. Let’s take some time to read the text together, follow along. “But know this, that in the last days, perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people, turn away. For this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sin, laid away by various lusts, always learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith, but they will progress no further for their folly will be manifest to all as theirs was also.”
So reads God’s word. Don’t you remember that TV series Lost in Space? It was the story of the Robinsons and how they survived the horrendous crash. They were working furiously to get back to work. There was the Robinson family, there was the pilot, there was this troublesome stowaway, and there was the robot, the robot that looked like a garbage can with a glass lump on its head. You remember that one of the little phrases of that TV series was, “Danger, danger, danger, Will Robinson, danger.” Well, as we come to 2 Timothy 3:1-9, the apostle Paul is saying, “Danger, Timothy. Danger.” Because there lies ahead of Timothy a time that indeed will pose as a threat to the welfare of the church and the purity of the Gospel. There was danger ahead for young Timothy, the church, and the Gospel.
And the striking thing is, as we’ll see in the passage we’re about to explain together, the danger does not come from censorship outside the church but compromise inside the church. The threat to the Gospel and the church and Timothy’s ministry is empty religion, liberal theology that will act like a cancer in the body of Christ. There is a form of godliness that will infect the church but it will deny the very power of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit behind that Gospel. It is striking, isn’t it, to realize that the Gospel’s greatest threat will not come from confirmed pagans or hostile governments but from false religious teachers who resist God. They have a form of godliness but they deny its power. According to verse eight, they are men of corrupt minds disapproved concerning the faith, having resisted the truth.
We need to be alert to the fact that the dark underworld has gone undercover in the church. I hope you know this, that the devil has always tried to beat the church by joining the church. He’s a deceiver. He comes in the guise of an angel of light. He will prove indeed to be a threat to the church from within the church by using false teachers and teaching as spiritual saboteurs. Listen to Vance Havner, the temple of truth has never suffered so much from woodpeckers on the outside as from termites on the inside. Listen to William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, said this, “The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.” That’s the danger that lies ahead, and we’re going to see it worked out before us here in 2 Timothy 3:1-9.
Now, let’s just get our bearings a little bit. Let’s put our text within the context. There’s a clear and present danger every day for the church, and this cancer of false teaching and teachers will quickly and clearly metastasize in the last days. And so Paul writes to Timothy and reminds him of his need to be brave and vigilant in the fierce of this ever-present threat of theological confusion and compromise. And that wasn’t going to be easy for him because his natural tendency was to timidity. That wasn’t going to be easy for him because he was about to lose the hand reel that was Paul himself, his father in the faith. This wasn’t going to be easy because he saw how Paul had been treated as a messenger of the Gospel, he’s now in chains, although the Word of God is not chained. It wasn’t going to be easy because perilous times were coming.
And so Paul writes in this last letter to encourage his little friend to be brave and to be vigilant and to know that the last days will be marked by religious deception and delusion. So, let’s come and look at this passage. There’s three things, the alert, the apostasy, the avoidance. Let’s look at the alert. Back to verse one. Notice the conjunction, which is a mild adversative in the Greek, “But know this.” “But” signals a turn in the text, a change of direction, having ended his last train of thought on an optimistic note that perhaps God will bring those who oppose the Gospel to repentance. At the end of chapter two, we read that. Paul now proceeds to add a dose of realism for Timothy’s sake. He wants Timothy to know what he’s about to face, to prepare himself for difficult days.
He alerts him to that fact, that the prevailing mood inside and outside the church will be one of opposition to the Gospel. Just as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so leaders within the church will resist the truth. If you scroll down to verse 13, “But evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” That will be the prevailing mood and Timothy must be alert and alive to that fact. “But know this…” It’s quite a dramatic little phrase. It’s a present active imperative. Timothy, you need to listen to what I’m about to say. We hold out hope that God in His mercy would grant repentance to those that don’t know the truth, that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, but you know what? I need to remind you that always won’t be the case. That might not materialize in the way and in the numbers that we would like.
Therefore, you need to be realistic. It’s going to be tough sledding in the ministry. The context in which you will preach the Word of God will be one where you’ll face resistance and refusal. Back in the good old days, back in the time when in school your headmaster could wallop you. I went to a high school in Belfast that the teacher could get away with almost anything. He would often come around, and if he felt you weren’t listening, he would grab you by the locks of your hair. I remember one day, I was mucking around in the classroom, wasn’t listening, and Mr. Houston comes along, grabs me by the locks of my hair, pulls me up and speaks into my ear, “Are you getting this, De Courcy?” Well, I wasn’t, but I can tell you, I started to get it from that moment forward. It’s old school stuff, but it worked.
That’s what Paul’s saying here to Timothy. Do you get this, Timothy? Perilous times will come. The minister and the message will be vehemently opposed. One of the commentators says this, “Paul does not want Timothy to be naive about the difficulty that the spirit of the age presents to his ministry.” There’s two things in terms of this alert. Number one, the times and number two, the threat. Having talked about false teachers and false teaching, Paul now sets it in a wider context of eschatological fulfillment. Remember how Jesus told us in all of that discourse speaking of the time of the tribulation leading up to His return in power and glory that, “Beware the false Christ will arise.”
We’re going to see in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 that there will be a great falling away and then that man of sin will be revealed. The ministry of the anti-Christ in the last days will be marked by signs and lying wonders. In the last days, religious deception and delusion will mark the tribulation period leading up to the coming of Jesus Christ. And Paul sets Timothy’s ministry into that kind of context because he wants them to know that the last days will be marked by false teachers and teaching culminating in the anti-Christ, the false prophet, and lying wonders. And Timothy was living an aspect of that future in the present because the times in which he lived were the last days. But know this, that in the last days, perilous times will come. The implication of the text is that Timothy was already living in the last days and this religious deception and resistance to the truth is a preview of things to come.
Now, you need to make a distinction. The last days are not only the days immediately preceding Jesus’ second coming. They are profoundly that, but they are not only that. Technically speaking, the last days stretch from the beginning of Jesus’ first coming to the beginning of His second coming. I’ll give you two verses that will reinforce that. Hebrews 1:1-2, “In former times, God spoke in various manner through the prophets and men of God, but in,” what, “these last days, He has spoken by His Son.” When Jesus was speaking, we were in the last days. 1 John 2:18, “Children, it is the last time, and many anti-Christs are to be found in the world.” The last days will intensify, nevertheless, like birth pains do before a delivery. So, men will indeed go from worse to worse being deceived and deceiving. So, the times are the last days. Timothy, do you understand where you are on the prophetic clock?
It’s the last days and perilous times will come. And it’s a good question to ask ourselves at any point. Where are we on the prophetic clock? Well, this was written almost 2,000 years ago. Maybe we would borrow the words of Paul in Romans 13:11-14, that our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. If it was the last days then, how much more is it the last days now? The countdown is getting closer every day. We used to sing a little chorus when I was a boy in Sunday school, “The countdown’s getting closer every day. Ten and nine, eight and seven, six and five and four, call upon the Savior while you may. Three and two, coming through the clouds with brighter array. The countdown’s getting lower every day.” It is. And therefore with Paul, we should wake up and put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh.
Look, let’s understand the time we’re in. It’s the last days, and we may very well be in the last of the last days. Wasn’t it said of the tribe of Issachar, they understood the times in which they were and what they had to do? So, that’s the times, the threat. According to the aged and about to be martyred Paul, the last days will be perilous. That’s the threat. Fraught with danger, marked by menace. In fact, it’s interesting, this word perilous is only to be found one other time. It’s used in Matthew 8:28. It describes the savage and violent nature of the demon possessed man. In extended Greek, the famous Greek writer Plutarch used this word to describe an ugly, infected, and dangerous wound. So, the last days will be marked by savagery, difficulty, peril, violence, Satanic activity.
Notice the phrase times, perilous times. It’s interesting to realize that the Greek word is [foreign 00:15:21], not [foreign 00:15:21]. Two Greek words for time in the New Testament, [foreign 00:15:25] carries the idea of linear time, one moment leading to another moment, minutes turning into hours, hours turning into days, days turning into weeks, in a linear fashion, one after another. But that’s the word Paul uses here. He uses [foreign 00:15:39], which carries the idea of times within time, seasons, epics. That’s the word he uses, not clock time or calendar time. He’s speaking about certain times within time. In this case, it’s of apostasy leading to great apostasy before the revealing of the anti-Christ. Dangerous and deceptive movements will accumulate throughout church history and crest towards the end time. Putting it all together, Paul is telling us that the last days won’t be uniformly evil but will be punctuated by repeated and repetitive cycles of ugly, dangerous, wild times. And Timothy needs to brace himself for those times.
In fact, one of those times was emerging during this time. There was a cycle of persecution that was about to unfold in the life of the church. Paul would lose his life, as would others. And so Paul is reminding Timothy, you’re living in the last days, Timothy. The last days were inaugurated at the coming of Jesus Christ. And between his first coming and his second coming, there will be repeated cycles of apostasy and anarchy and apathy, all leading to the manifestation of the man of sin, the greatest evidence of apostasy and anarchy in human history. And so Timothy was to brace himself for those challenging times. He was to be a good soldier who could endure hardship. Remember, he says that back in chapter two, verse three. Because truth will be salvaged, the Gospel will be attacked, and preachers will be persecuted.
That’s the point. So, that’s the alert. But before we leave it, let me just kind of wrap it up with a kind of illustration of what we’re talking about here. It comes from the life of Ignatius, one of the great leaders of the early church. He was a friend and a companion of the Apostle John. He was a bishop of Antioch. He led the church in Antioch, Syria for many years and was arrested by the Roman government. There’s no record of why they arrested him. No charges were indeed filed. His arrest remains a mystery. We do know that he was led away in chains from Antioch to Rome. He wrote a letter back to the church in Ephesus about his harsh treatment. Although God gave him much grace because he calls his chains “my spiritual jewels.” His trial was a mockery. His conviction, an injustice. He faced horrible tortures. Finally in AD 107, he was led to the coliseum and threw to wild beasts to be mauled to death.
In this letter to the Ephesians, listen to his words. Just before his death, he wrote this. “The last days are here. Let our lot be genuine life in Jesus Christ. Do not let anything catch your eye beside him.” It’s a good word to them. It’s a good word to us. So, that’s the alert. Secondly, we’ve got the apostacy. “But know this, that in the last days, perilous times will come.” And then it goes on to describe an apostasy. You see, according to the Apostle Paul, the menace is man and the peril is people. Know this, that in the last days, perilous times will come, for men will be lovers of themselves. For men will be lovers of money. For men will be lovers of pleasure rather than of God. The issue is what men will do. It is the actions and the attitudes of men that will bring about this era of peril and savagery in the earth and towards the church. Man is not the solution, never has been, never will be. Man is not the solution. The problem man has is himself.
The people in question here, interestingly, are of a religious flavor. One writer calls them theological creeps because they creep into houses and they find unstable women and they make them captives to their false teaching. So, we are dealing with theological creeps. That’s who’s being described here. We tend to look at this passage, and we tend to generalize it, and we tend to throw it in the direction of society at large, but the men that are being described here are theological creeps, religious imposters. This is apostasy inside the church. What’s being described here is the world inside the church.
My friend, Mark Hitchcock, explains this in his book, The Coming Apostasy. We need to recognize that the conditions are symptoms described in 2 Timothy 3:1-13 are conditions within the visible church. Obviously, the kinds of sins listed here have always been prevalent in society at large. That’s nothing new. The shocking thing here is that the sins of the culture become the sins of the church. It’s one thing for the boat to be in the water. It’s another thing for the water to be in the boat. It’s one thing for the church to be in the world. It’s another thing for the world to be in the church. Unregenerate society has always looked like this, but when the church starts to look like this, we’re in perilous times. Mark goes on to quote Don Carson. “This appearance of godliness can have many different shapes. It may be fine liturgy or it may be a lot of exuberant noise. It may bubble over into a lot of fluent God talk. What is missing; however, is the transforming power of the Gospel that actually changes the lives of people.”
There’s a form of godliness described here, but it denies the power of the Gospel. And so what we’re dealing with here is the apostacy that will take place in the church. There’s three things about this apostacy and the leaders that will bring it about. One, their conduct; two, their creed; three, their converts. We’ll move through this quite rapidly. Look at their conduct. This is verses two through four. What Paul’s describing here in these 19 characteristics are the false teachers who will make up the unregenerate church and they will spread their false teaching like a cancer, which we read about in chapter two.
In these 19 traits, we have men who profess godliness but their lives belie a lack of love for God. They are lovers of themselves. They’re lovers of money. They are lovers of pleasure. They are not lovers of God, but they’re in the ministry. They’re in the church. You’ll find them in clerical robes. They’ll carry bibles, they’ll sing hymns, but their life will belie the lie that they love God, and you’ll see it in their conduct. And this catalog of corrupting conduct is bracketed by the thought that they love themselves rather than God. Notice just those three phrases among the many phrases here, lovers of themselves, lovers of money, and lovers of pleasure. They’re lovers of self. They’re narcissists, which is a godless pursuit of being. They’re lovers of money. They’re materialists, which is a godless pursuit of having. They’re lovers of pleasure. They’re hedonists, which is a godless pursuit of feeling.
That’s what marks society. That’s what marks the culture. That’s what marks life in America today, a love of self, a love of money, a love of pleasure, a godless pursuit of being something apart from God, of having earthly riches without eternal reward, of pursuing feeling apart from truth and object reality. And you know what? This inverse and perverse love largely explains the rest of their behavior. The narcissist is pride, haughty, unforgiving, boastful, unthankful, disloyal, headstrong, and disobedient to parents. The hedonist is without self-control and a despiser of the good unless it’s good for him. The materialist is brutal, unloving, and unholy.
Guys, what you’ve got in this passage is misdirected love, which is at the heart of our trouble. Because, you see, love for God here has been replaced by love for self, love of money, a love of pleasure. Misdirected love is at the heart of the trouble here and it’s at the heart of our trouble. A love of self and others can only be found truly in the light of loving God. You cannot be your true self apart from the one who made you in His image. Pleasure and money and sex and things can never fill the hole that God alone can fill. That’s the point that’s being made here. Because of Adam’s sin, the human heart is now concave, turned inward. It is this godless self-centeredness, according to Paul, that creates chaos in the church, trouble in the home, and godless religion in the church.
Here’s the point, guys. Since we said that Paul’s putting this time in the context of the fulfillment of eschatology. The godless, self-love that Paul describes here, which we see in our day, will find its pinnacle in the man of sin who will declare himself to be God in a rebuilt temple in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4. Think about it. Human history begins with a man who fails to worship and obey God and will end with a man seeking to be worshiped and obeyed as God. Listen to this writer. “The real problem is Copernican in essence.” As you remember from high school science class, before the Polish astronomer, Nicholas Copernicus came along, Sandus believed in the geocentric model of the solar system. They thought everything revolved around the earth. Copernicus proposed a model of the solar system whereby the plants orbit around the sun.
What Paul is pointing out is that in the last days, there will be a wholesale fundamental shift in our perception of the nature of reality, a reverse Copernican revolution will take place. In the last days, the center of all existence will be self instead of God. Life centered on self creates a black hole of degradation. In the black hole of self-centeredness, all types of sin and rebellion will brew. When the Son of God is no longer the center and self becomes the center, then people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemous, disobedient to their parents, and you can add on to Paul’s list. The root of the problem is this inherent tendency in humanity to try and recreate reality so that we are the center.
That’s going to mark the last days. People will bow down before the trinity of me, my, and mine. You try and stop them and there will be hell to pay. That’s their conduct. Secondly, their creed. Remember, these men are inside the church. Hedonistic, materialistic, narcissist leaders who will lead people astray. They will have a form of godliness, verse five, that’s why this isn’t society at large. This is the world inside the church. This is apostasy. Timothy’s been alerted to that fact. These men are theological creeps, Ecclesial charlatans, a religious veneer deceptively covers their lives. Their lives are a sham and their religion is a shell. Their faith in God, their professed religiosity is like a cheap piece of furniture. We’ve all bought the furniture that’s just veneer, it’s pressed board. It’s particle board with a veneer of white laminate on top. When it gets pierced or broken, it is seen for what it is, a piece of junk.
So many people’s religion will be that in the last days, just the veneer that covers their self-love, the materialism, and their love of pleasure rather than God. In fact, John MacArthur tells us here, this word form comes from [foreign 00:29:32], which refers to outward shape and appearance, such as that of a silhouette, which is an undetailed outline or shadow of something. Masquerading as Christian leaders, these phony religionists are without real spiritual substance. Their religiosity, their professed faith is marked by meaningless form, empty talk, and superficial sacrifices. They put religion on like you and I put a suit on. It was on them, but it wasn’t in them. The heart had never been changed. They’d never been regenerated. Their religion was form without power, reputation without reality, faith without works. To borrow a Biblical image, they were clouds without rain, they were wells without water. That’s how false teachers are described in 2 Peter 2:17 and Jude 12. They were experts in the externals.
In fact, Jesus saw it in His day as he attacked the Pharisees and the hypocrites around the temple. In Matthew 23:25-30, He talks about them being whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones. We just saw it this past week when we were in Israel with 100 people from our church. The Jewish graves just across from the Golden Gate and the Kidron Valley on the other side of the Mount of Olives. These graves that were white and gleaming in the sun. Then Jesus stated they would be whitewashed so that no one would touch them or step on them because if a Jew did that, they would be indeed ceremonially unclean.
But you know what? When you get past the external look of a whitewashed tomb, inside, you’ve got rotting flesh and dead men’s bones. It’s a stinking thing. It’s a rotten thing. That’s a powerful illustration, isn’t it? Where Jesus says, “That’s like your religion. It’s all a show. It’s all pantomime.” These men were practitioners of dead religion. They knew nothing of the saving power of the Gospel, the unction of the Holy Spirit, the synergy and energy of a holy life. These are the kind of teachers that will mark the last days. In fact, you can read about them in chapter 4:2-3 when we get there. Preach the word, Timothy, be it in season and out of season. In your readiness to preach it, convince, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine but according to their own desires because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers that will turn their ears away from the truth.
That’s the teachers we read about in chapter three, who tickle the ear of a congregation rather than smite the conscience with a sense of sin and pierce the heart with a sense of God. No, people who love themselves and love money and love pleasure, they want preachers who will talk health and wealth, tickle the ear, massage the ego. That’s what’s going to happen as the last days unfold, apostasy in the church, and we need to be alert to that. It will be a religion divorced from morality, verses one to four, it will be a religion divorced from pneumatology in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, verse five, and it will be a religion divorced from theology, verse eight, as they resist the truth.
That amazing? A minister in the church, his life is divorced from morality, pneumatology, and theology. But it is a warning to us. By the way, before we move on, while there is a great and a grave difference between these empty and false professors of Christianity and the true born again, Spirit-indwelled believer, you and I do need to remind ourselves of the dangers of falling foul to showmanship in our spirituality, and playing the hypocrite in our Christianity. You know and I know that we can mask an empty prayer life, feign love for Christ, the lack of passion for the lost, a besetting sin, and everyday worldliness with Sunday suits, hymn singing, same theological talk, tithes and offerings, and condemnations of where the culture’s at. All the time, we grow cold for Jesus Christ.
We saw it in our study of the letters, right? The church at Sardus. I know you guys. I’m thankful for what you do in my name, but I must say this, can I pull the mask off? You have a reputation that you’re alive, but I know you’re dead. It’s a façade. It’s a masking. This church appeared to be fine, no serious problems, but outward appearances can be deceptive, can’t they? Look guys, we can grow cold. We need to indeed keep ourselves in the love of God continually. Pray in the Holy Spirit and look for the mercy of Jesus Christ. That’s what we read in the letter of Jude. That is something we’ve got to constantly do. Don’t be masking that. Don’t be hiding that. Confess that. Get along with brothers, get under the preaching of God’s Word, get to the prayer meeting, open your Bible, get on your knees, repent of your sin. But whatever you do, don’t mask it, don’t pretend to be something other than you are because if you play that role too long, you’ll start believing the lie yourself.
In a sermon on formality, the great J.C. Ryle said this. “Formal religion never took any man to heaven. Like cheap metal, it will not stand the fire. Continuing in your present state, you’re in imminent danger of being lost forever. I earnestly beseech you this day to be aware of your danger, to open your eyes and repent. Whether you go to a fancy big church or a plain small church in the country, if you are a Christian in name only and possess a form of godliness without the power, awake and repent, awake above all if you’re an evangelical formalist. ‘There is no devil,’ said the quaint puritan, like a white devil. There is no formalism so dangerous as evangelical formalism.”
In fact, I was interested, and we’ll move on here and try and wrap up the last few thoughts here. There’s a British company, actually, that’s developed a product called Spray-On Mud. I mean, that just doesn’t sound right. But it’s pitched toward city dwellers and those that have expensive four-by-four vehicles, who maybe can’t get out of town. They’ve been so busy all week, but what they can do on a Saturday night is go out and spray their vehicle with spray-on mud. This is mud that has indeed been filtered. All the rocks and the stones and the debris has been taken out so it doesn’t scratch your paint. But it looks like real mud, and your friends will think you got out Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon, did a bit of off-roading. It’s crazy, isn’t it? And the sales are going well. That’s nuts!
But it points to something, something within each of us, that we value what we look like on the outside more than we do on the inside. That’s what causes us to pad our resumes, embellish our stories, and live the lie of our love for Jesus Christ when we’re prayerless and empty, wordly. Let’s be careful that we have a reputation we’re alive but we’re dead. The converts, not going to spend a lot of time on this because time’s gone, but again, we’re given a profile of the kind of man that will corrupt the church in the last days. The converts are people they have deceived and preyed upon. In verses 6 through 7, “For of this sort are those that creep,” these are the theological creeps, “who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” These are men who are corrupt minds resisting the truth.
Paul describes these false teachers as theological creeps who worm their way into people’s homes and hearts with the intention of making them prisoners to their wants, their words, and their will. Notice the behavior of these apostates. It’s deceptive, cultish, enslaving and manipulative. Look at the target audience of these apostates, gullible and weak women, guilt-ridden women, desperate women, undiscerning persons. That’s what we’ve got going on here, and I’m not going to spend time to exposit that or expose that, other than it’s quite simple here. This is the modus operandi of the cultist and the religious apostate and the health and wealth preacher, preying on the gullible, the undiscerning, the needy, making them prisoners to their theology of riches and peace and tranquility. But it is no answer to their guilt and the smiting of their conscience, and they become prisoners to this.
Just a footnote, by the way, did you notice it? Truth makes a man free, but error makes a man a prisoner. It’s interesting. Paul uses a word here that means prisoner of war and we’re describing a battle for the truth here. These men resist the truth. Timothy is to study the truth and be a workman that’s not ashamed to preach it because it brings freedom. But you know what? Error brings bondage. The point is this. Freedom is not found in exercising your will for your pleasure but in doing God’s will for His pleasure. Freedom’s not a matter of autonomy, it’s a matter of obedience.
The prodigal son got all the freedom he wanted in the far country, but when it was all said and done, he would have settled for servitude in his father’s house where there was joy and intimacy and fulfillment. And when he gets back and he repents, that’s what he finds, freedom and forgiveness and peace that can never be found in the far country because freedom is not a matter of autonomy, it’s a matter of obedience. It’s not you doing your will for your pleasure. It’s doing God’s will for His pleasure, for we were created for His pleasure and our greatest pleasure is to please Him.
I have a friend back in Northern Ireland, Jim Smith, who famously preached a series of sermons on the prodigal son. He was rather long-winded like a lot of Irish preachers I know. It went on for weeks. In fact, he spoke several weeks on the far country. So much so that one of his deacons at the monthly meeting said, “Pastor, it’s time to bring the boy home.” You know what, isn’t it time for you to come home and find the freedom that alone is found in Jesus Christ? For the truth will set you free. Error will make a prisoner of you.
Here’s the last thought as we close, wrap it up. The avoidance, probably a sermon in itself, but I’ll just make a point and we’ll be done. We scroll back up to verse five. We’ve seen the alert. Verse one, we’ve seen the apostasy. Verses two through nine, their conduct, their creed, their captives. But here’s the avoidance, verse five. “These men will have a form of godliness but they’ll deny its power, and from such people, turn away.” Paul issues a standing order here. What is a believer’s response in the face of this apostasy? It’s one of separation. There is to be no acquiescence, there is to be avoidance. That’s the consistent chime, isn’t it, of the pastoral epistles?
In chapter six of the first letter, in verse five, Paul says this, “Useless ramblings of men of corrupt mind and destitute of truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gaining from, such withdraw yourself.” Same we read in verse 20. “Oh Timothy, guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babbler and those who contradict the truth, professing it, they stray from it.” You get into chapter two of our letter, verse 16. “But shun profane and idle babblings, for they increase to more ungodliness.” Verse 19, “Everyone that names the name of Christ departs from iniquity.” Verses 21 to 21, “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel of honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. Flee youthful lusts. Pursue righteousness.” Verse 23, “Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife.”
There’s a theme of avoidance here. There is a doctrine of separation, both personal and ecclesiastical. Turn away is in the middle voice here in the Greek, which means that you’re to meet yourself, turn away. You’re to grab yourself by the collar and drag yourself from the presence of false teachers and teaching. The implication would be if you’re in a church where the Gospel’s not preached and false teaching reigns, you should leave it. You should disassociate yourself from ministries that are marked by the conduct and the creed and the conversion stories that we read here. You should avoid reading books that contain heresy. You should avoid giving money to ministries that compromise the Gospel. You’re to make your judgment based on their conduct and their creed and their converts. There’s no basis for fellowship with false teachers in the same church. What fellowship is light with darkness?
As we close, I think we’ve forgot that a theology of separation is also a part of a theology of Christian oneness. We’re to join ourselves of those who have like faith, those who embrace the faith once delivered to the saints. And to do that, we need to separate from those who don’t, those who resist the truth, those of corrupt minds, those who draw disciples after themselves, those who play to self and pleasure and money. In this context, I’m sure for Timothy, it means finding out who those false teachers are and excommunicating them from the body because they’re a cancer, as mentioned earlier in chapter two, and cancers have to be cut out.
Listen, guys, as we close, in a day of squishy ecumenicalism, we need to have a theological nose that can detect the foul odor of false teaching and doctrinal compromise. The enemy is within our gates. There are false teachers with an evangelicalism. There are the pied pipes of a false peace. They resist the truth, they oppose the Gospel. They call us to join others that indeed have no Gospel. We are to guard the deposit. And guarding means repelling and expelling falsehood. That’s something we must do and be willing to do. I’m thankful for our pastors and our leaders here at Kindred. I think they’ve got that done. They understand that.
And maybe that came out a year or two ago in a story related to one of our pastors, Dave Doyle, who confronted a man who’d been visiting our church for some weeks. We deemed him disruptive and false. And one Sunday morning, Dave met him in the car lot. He had one foot out of the car and Dave said to him, “You and the devil get back into the car and get off our property.” Now to the average evangelical, that seems so unloving, so lacking in Christlikeness. No, you’re wrong. It’s fundamentally right. It’s what Jesus said, “Beware of false teachers.” Paul describes them and tells us to avoid them, and where necessary, expel them for the good health and witness of the church.
Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for our time in the Word this morning. Danger ahead. Danger, Timothy, danger. Lord, help us to be alert to the apostacy that will infect the church, theological compromise, worldliness, materialism, and pandering to self, a new kind of cross. Not the old cross where you die, but a new kind of cross where you prosper. Oh God, we fear the day when there’s more of the world in the church than there is of the church in the world. And that day has come. May we not be party to it.
May we repent of our own formalism. May we repent of our own resistance to the truth. May we repent of loving self and pleasure and money rather than God, so that we indeed might be a pure church and a powerful church. Not having a form of godliness that denies the part, but having godliness underwritten by the power of the Holy Spirit. God, make separatists of us, not mean spirited, not dividing over the minutia, but when the glory of Jesus Christ is at stake, when the authority of God’s Word is on the line, when the Gospel is being corrupted, may we stand up and walk out or expel from our midst those who promote such things. Help us to avoid such men as described in 2 Timothy 3. Help us to avoid being such men as described in 2 Timothy 3. For we ask and pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.