“It’s not wisdom; it’s heresy.”
Developing people for leadership roles in congregations is always interesting. You really hear a range of responses. The response above was spoken to me by a zealous young man who seemed convinced the material I’d brought for us to study was the devil.
I talked with him a few times about it, but soon realized his rejection of the ideas was not about anything other than his fundamentalism run amok. I refused, however, to completely write off this young man because I didn’t believe he was too far gone.
Hopefully, the Apostle Paul would agree with me. Based on 2 Timothy 2:16-18 I think he just might…
16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.2 Timothy 2:16-18
New International Version
The broader section these verses reside in is addressing how Timothy is to handle false teachers. Judging from the content of 1 and 2 Timothy, false teachers were a real problem for the congregations of Ephesus.
Before we get to today’s passage, let’s take a quick aside to discover how false teachers were able to get such a foothold.
First, congregations scattered across the Roman city of Ephesus (which could have also included the smaller towns out in the country), were what we might term “house churches”. Twenty or so would meet in someone’s home and that was a congregation.
Also, they wouldn’t have owned personal copies of the Scriptures. We take this for granted in the Western world, but they didn’t have access to the Bible through print and digital means. Letters and passages of Scripture were read to them and circulated.
These two factors exposed the early Church to false teachers and heresy. Social Media is doing a similar thing to the Western Church today, by the way.
The seasoned Apostle instructs his protégé to “avoid godless chatter”. We might rightly wonder what was the content of this chatter but that has been lost to antiquity. Timothy knew what he meant specifically, but we can certainly understand generally what he’s referring to.
The debates the false teachers were having rested on godlessness and not godliness. The debates were ultimately pointless and always went the wrong way. When we debate in godless conversations, it’s not going to magically turn godly. Instead, we continually debate ourselves further from the godly speech we should have.
Verse 17 also provides warning here: by debating in the godlessness of the false teachers, Timothy would actually cause their heresy to spread like a disease that would lead to their spiritual death.
The listing of the two heretics in particular might be surprising, but these two must have really been causing trouble for the Ephesians—and Timothy! Their lies had destroyed the faith of some of the people and was not going to be squished through chatter.
Are we less prone to following false teaching today? I don’t believe we’ve changed all that much. How many times has a professed Christian defended an antibiblical idea with the defense of “I just don’t believe God would do that…”?
Are there some ideologies (and maybe even people!) needing to be called out by name? Undoubtedly.
But in the totality of the teaching of Paul, I believe he’d rather lose an argument than lose a soul. Maybe there are points where we must part ways with a destructive false teacher, but parting ways is a last resort. It’s not the first and only method we try.
Chris Hodges, founding and lead pastor of The Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama, has said, “We must be careful not to win the argument at the expense of losing someone’s heart.”
It seems Scripture would agree: the purpose of Christians is always as ministers of reconciliation. Yes, there are times when others won’t let that happen. And that’s on them.
But our job is to keep the (pure) faith and walk it out in front of those whose hearts we are called to win for Jesus.