We’re in a confusing world. People pursuing good are often portrayed as evil, and increasingly so. People doing wrong with a convincing argument seem to succeed and grow a following sometimes. I have to constantly remind myself we’re in a battle we can’t even always physically see. I am growing more convinced there is more going on that is unseen than seen. When Paul writes about persecution, is he only talking about the physical? Surely he recognizes the evil spiritual influences behind some of it. But what of things like what Job experienced? IS that not spiritual warfare? Does that fall under persecution? Is my sister’s cancer a form of persecution from an unseen enemy? Is it a battle being waged that we’ll never know about that somehow has eternal significance? Or is it just the result of the fall that brought on sickness and decay? Whatever the answer, my task is to remain faithful by Holy Spirit enabling. Paul did. He faced worse. He taught truth purely, lived it, was clearly transformed by the Holy Spirit, never wavered from his mission, loved like God, and still faced persecution. And he endured faithfully through it. Timothy was an eye witness to all of that and walked through some of it with him. Timothy could expect the same, even from within his own congregation. I think that’s where it hurts the worst. Not so much when someone comes in to stir up trouble, but when it’s someone you’ve loved, cared for, and even trusted. The deceivers will only get worse. Their lies will grow more cunning and they’ll gain more of a following. Still we must endure. Their craftiness and power will never match the Holy Spirit. Lord, help my unbelief! Strengthen me in wearisome times. Help me to look to Jesus.2
Even though the world hates righteousness it maintains an appearance of religion. Today people are spiritual. There are loads of false religions out there. There are also loads of people calling themselves Christian yet having no real form of it, no obedience or transformation whatsoever. Some use grace as an excuse for license and others look very pious yet are steeped in legalism and they’ll tear people down with judgment and gossip. Timothy was to avoid such people. Paul said it would be like this in the end, but obviously saw present application for Timothy. Whether I sit toward the end or not, there is present application. I should steer clear of such people as well. They’ll tear a church apart. We often run after them, sometimes falling into their false teaching. We’re tempted to give into them because we hate losing members, but until they’re changed by the gospel they’ll only bring others down. False teachers prey on weak-minded people. In Ephesus it was a group of women who’d fall for any new heresy that came up. They said they wanted to grow and learn, but the only thing they wouldn’t grow in was the truth. It’s no different today. People are eager to learn something new for various reasons. They’ll fall for any new fad that comes along and gets popular. Paul was probably talking specifically about the rise of what would become Gnosticism at that time. Today it’s going back to OT law or diet, licentiousness, prosperity gospel, name-it-claim-it, and so on. It’s often the more rebellious and immoral spirits who fall for such things because they aren’t grounded in the truth. The example Paul used was not from the OT but is in the 10 Commandments movie. They were the magicians who competed with Moses and lost. Even though they deceived some, God rejected them. While it was a major issue in the church, in the long run they’d be found out and God would set it all straight. That’s encouraging to me as a minister when there are those who try to pull people to heresy or make false claims against me or what I preach. God will shine the truth forth. He is the One I answer to.
The exhortation, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols,” came to mind here. Dear children, keep yourselves from heretics, perhaps. The kind of people Paul talked about shouldn’t be tolerated or entertained. They are enemies and must be cleansed from the church. Of course plenty of people, all to some degree, need some cleansing of theology and practice, but we’re talking about those sewing the seed of heresy, leading others astray. Some apply this to people who won’t live to their standards in areas such as attire or Bible translation or music. That’s really not what Paul was talking about. If anything it’s more the opposite. It’s hard work for a church to rid itself of a popular person spreading false ideas. We’d hope they’d be teachable, and some will, but generally people are just looking to prove their point and draw others in instead of really seeking the truth. I’ve had calls from JWs trying to prove their point. They say their seeking answers when in fact they’ve made up their mind and won’t even begin to listen to reason. So don’t get into pointless debates. I’ve never argued anyone into faith. We can correct gently, but not get into hot debates. Some might even begin to listen that way, but others will remain captive to the devil. Are there areas where I’m too stubborn to see the truth? Am I too easily swayed by good arguments? Lord, continually ground me in Your Word and Truth! I prayed just before beginning to read today for a greater desire to spend time with God in His Word and prayer. Then this passage reminded me of the times I’ve heard some fancy argument only to think of or have the Lord very soon bring up the actual truth straight from the Bible to reassure me of whatever odd argument had been made. This daily diet is necessary for health.