“It’s far worse than we imagined”

This was the headline reflecting on a major denomination’s release of sexual abuse committed by pastors to those under their care.  It was a sad day for all of us who hold to the faith of Jesus. 

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We wonder how this could happen.  We struggle to wrap our heads around how congregation after congregation puts up with abusive behavior by their people in leadership.

Perhaps it was the same struggle in young Timothy that Paul was addressing in 2 Timothy 3:6-9.  We don’t know the extent to which the false teachers in Ephesus were hurting the congregations, but it was certainly enough to get the Apostle Paul’s and Pastor Timothy’s attention.

6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.  

2 Timothy 3:6-9
New International Version

The false teachers in the congregations of the Roman city of Ephesus were not misunderstood or misconstrued.  They were treacherous and sinister.  They were the type of people who would get into someone’s life under false pretenses.

With full knowledge of what they were doing, the false teachers would cheat their way into influence for the purpose of gaining control over others.

The implication of the women is not a generalized statement of all women.  Instead, Paul is referring to women of weak moral and spiritual character.  It’s not so much that they were weak in intellect, but weak in character and spirituality.  In all likelihood, he had specific women in mind.

The charlatans were able to gain control over the homes through unscrupulous methods.  Presumably, these were the same locations where the house churches were meeting.

Paul described them as men who had curiosity about theology and religion, but lacked the spiritual ability to separate the truth from error.  The false teachers were not even disciples of Jesus.  Their minds had not been illuminated by the truth of Jesus.  Paul knew that sooner or later, their actions would be revealed for all to see.

Sadly, we witness similar behavior today.  People in leadership positions within congregations can use their positions of influence and power to take advantage of the weak.

In some cases, today’s false teachers cheat people out of thousands of dollars.  In other cases, today’s false teachers sexually abuse children under their care.  In still other cases, today’s false teachers engage in various levels of inappropriate relationships with the adults in their care.

Just as in Paul’s day, we must be careful.  Sooner or later, the true character of the false teachers of our day will be revealed.  But far too often, the damage is already done: broken homes, lives, faith, and people. 

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There is a caution for us today.  We cannot turn a blind eye.  We cannot play ignorance and pretend “it can’t happen here.”  We as Christians must stay accountable to each other and hold each other accountable.

Perhaps the problem is worse than we thought.  I don’t offer as many solutions as I offer the same caution Timothy was given: protect the flock of Jesus.  Guard them with your life. 

Our world is fallen and so are we. 

Nevertheless, the faithful disciples of Jesus must guard the truth of Jesus and continue to defend those who are most at risk for exploitation at the hands of those they should be able to trust the most.