By John Macarthur
(2nd Timothy 2: 14-19)
Scripture clearly affirms that God is truth, that God speaks truth and that God cannot lie. God reveals Himself as truth and Satan therefore is revealed as the antithesis to God, lies. It was Satan’s evil intended and clever misrepresentation of truth to Eve that plunged the whole of the human race into sin. And the father of lies is working to destroy the saving sanctifying truth that God has given to us in His Word and in His Son.
The effects of false teaching have been devastating and damning. That is why the Bible calls them damnable, or destructive heresies which lead men to destruction. In Acts 20, the Apostle Paul for three years night and day with tears warned the believers in Ephesus and the leaders in Ephesus of those who would come from among them and from outside of them with lies. The church at Ephesus had a wonderful beginning but was the victim of false teaching, false prophets, false apostles and, if you will, false elders and pastors. They had bought into false doctrine and therefore were living-out an ungodly life style.
Today, it’s all around us; in the cults, in the isms, the false religions, the lying teachers that are abounding in our society and whose teaching abounds because of the media capability of making it more widespread than it ever could have been in any past generation. Denials of the trinity, denials of the deity of Jesus Christ, denials of the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, denials of the salvation by grace alone through faith which God has provided, counterfeit gospels, false ideas of true spirituality, misrepresentations of the character, nature and work of God, misrepresentations of the character, nature and work of Christ, misrepresentations of the character, nature and work of the Holy Spirit abound. There are a myriad of people espousing all kinds of myths and lies in the name of God’s truth.
Paul, called on Timothy to be a faithful servant of the Lord to the Ephesian church; to rise above the influence of ungodliness, to rise above the influence of evil teaching, to rise above the influence of evil people, to sacrificially give his life to set that church right. And one of the major issues in setting it right was to make sure believer’s minds were clear on the Word of God — on the truth of God. And, in so doing, turn away from the insidious impact of false teaching.
And so (in verse 14) Paul begins this section by saying, “Remind them of these things.” What things? Well, he’s looking back with that statement, the things he’s just said in verses 1 to 13. Remind them of the responsibility to be teachers who pass things on to others. Remind them that they are soldiers who are to endure hardness. Remind them that they are athletes who are to run to win and make the necessary sacrifices to compete at the maximum level. Remind them that they are to be hard working farmers who plant and enjoy the result of the crop. Remind them, he says, that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Remind them in that sense of the preeminence of the Lord they serve. Remind them of the power of the Word of God which cannot be bound. Remind them of the purpose of the work, verse 10, that those who are the elect may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. Remind them of the reward which is theirs, indicated in verses 11 through 13 of chapter 2; if we endure we’ll reign with Him. Remind them, Timothy, of the positive call to duty. Remind them of the preeminence of the Lord they serve. Remind them of the power of the Word and the purpose of the work and the promise of reward.
So, if you want to encourage your people, remind them of the nobility of the cause they serve. Remind them of the loftiness of the gospel ministry. That’s the positive.
But the transition then takes us to the negative. Look at verse 14 again. “And solemnly command them…” Now we turn a corner. Not just continually reminding, and that’s a present tense verb, be continually all the time reminding them of the noble cause which they serve. But further command them, solemnly command them, diamarturomai is an intense verb, solemnly command them. The positive says here’s what to do. The negative says here’s The positive says here’s what to immerse yourself in. The negative says here’s what to avoid. And from verse 14 to 19 he tells them to avoid false teaching and gives them a handful of reasons why…why. First of all, because it ruins the hearers, “Solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.”
The first thing you want to realize about false teaching is it ruins those who listen to it. Let me go back for a moment to the word “solemnly charged.” Again it has the idea of a constant reminder and a constant command. Constantly reminding them of their positive duty and constantly warning them to stay away from false teaching. The warning is serious because of the use of the verb “diamarturomai,” it has to do with a solemn command. But it’s made even more serious by the next phrase, “Solemnly charge them in the presence of God.”
In other words, call them to duty with a sense of the presence of God, that is to say a healthy fear. This is intended to put fear in the heart. That kind of command with the presence of God is also given in chapter 5 verse 21 of 1st Timothy, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels to maintain these principles without bias.” That, too, is a solemn charge. Chapter 6 verse 13, “I charge you in the presence of God who gives life to all things and of Christ Jesus who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach.” Second Timothy chapter 4 verse 1, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, preach the Word.”
So while there are times when the presence of the Lord is meant to increase our sense of comfort, there are more times when it is meant to increase our sense of accountability. I stand in the presence of God. We are always in the presence of God. And it carries accountability before the Holy One who keeps the record of everything and judges righteously.
It’s amazing, you might think he’s was going to name some really, really vile wicked gross evil that we are to command people to withdraw from in the presence of God, but look what he says:
“Solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words.” The word here “logomachia” means to wage a war of words. But it has a larger context which you want to understand. It has to do with the typical characteristic of false teachers who use words to argue against the Word of God.
The point is there’s no common ground for such a war of words. You stand on the Word of God, they stand on a demonic Satanically inspired religion, that’s not common ground. So you never subject the Bible to a debate with a non‑believer with some supposedly erudite philosopher theologian who rejects its authority. Under the guise of an intellectual and open forum false teachers provide a place to every aberration imaginable and allow the jargon and the words that tear down truth. Now it’s good for people to discuss the Bible, to debate a certain interpretation of a biblical text, to use varying passages of Scripture to discuss the essence of a biblical doctrine, to talk about how to apply the Word of God to life, but what is to be avoided is a word battle that is not centered on the revelation of God but rather places the Word of God alongside or subject to human philosophy which is supposed to refine and explain it.
In C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, the first letter is written to Junior Demon Wormwood and it goes like this, “Your man…that is the Christian you’re trying to influence…has been accustomed every since he was a boy to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily true or false, but as academic or practical. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the church,” end quote.
The demonic world is completely spiritual and knows that if you can just fill up a person’s head with a bunch of terminology, a bunch of words, human reason, philosophy and false narratives; you can keep them muddled in a meaningless worldview. It goes on in colleges, in seminaries, in false religious systems, it’s being espoused by evangelists and preachers on television who don’t speak the truth…the barrage of verbiage coming at the church today is absolutely unbelievable.
If you don’t think an anti-biblical worldview has had an effect, then ask yourself how the church ever got to the place where it advocates abortion which it does in many quarters? Ask yourself how the church ever got to the place where it accepted theistic evolution and starts to deny the creative work of God as recorded in Genesis. Ask yourself how it is that the church has allowed women pastors, homosexuality, divorce for any reason. Ask how the church has allowed unholy leaders to rise to leadership, and proudly demonstrate their unholiness in advocating the rejection of much of God’s Word. Ask yourself how the church has bought into mysticism, humanism, false-pride, self‑esteem and the psychology of contemporary human thought. If you don’t think the jargon of the world has invaded us, you’re not looking very close.
Every false doctrine from false religions has invaded the church so now we have sort of a hybrid mysticism that we know as the Charismatic movement. And all such things in the church are the words of men developing false doctrines and traditions of men. People have asked me, “What does binding Satan mean?” I said I don’t know it’s not in the Bible. And I have been asked, “What does it mean to be slain in the Spirit?” I said, I have no idea — it’s not in the Bible. And, I read a book that said if you’re not slain in the Spirit at least three times a week you can’t get on with your spiritual life. Jargon…confusing talk that ultimately mitigates against the Word of God.
There are varying levels of its extreme impact, but whatever it was that was attacking the church in Ephesus, it was very serious. And no doubt it was some sort of insipient gnostic philosophical heresy that took a lot of high‑sounding religious words that undermined the plain, simple teaching of the Apostles.
These false teachings are in the church because the church is willing to listen to the world. A world that is critical of, and hostile to the church. And the church is willing to set the Bible alongside the reason of man and let the reason of man pump its jargon into the life of the church, so that the Bible becomes confusing in the minds of those who look at it. But Paul says it’s useless, it’s of no profit, it has no spiritual benefit. And worse than that it’s demonic, (1 Timothy 4:1), it’s the doctrines of demons which are spawned by seducing spirits through hypocritical lying teachers. And what does it do? What is the result of it? Look what he says. “This kind of stuff leads to the ruin of the hearers.”
The word “ruin” is catastrophe, that’s the Greek word, katastrephe. It means to overturn, subvert, upset or overthrow. False teaching has the effect that is opposite of edification. It doesn’t build up, it tears down. It doesn’t strengthen, it weakens. The tragic effect, beloved, of people who listen to false teaching is it ruins them.
What does that mean? What kind of ruin is he talking about? Well, he’s talking here about the people who are those who are in those systems that espouse false teaching. And it ruins them. The word katastrephe is only used one other time in the New Testament. The other time is in 2 Peter 2:6 and it talks about God condemning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to katastrephe by reducing them to ashes. Katastrephe there means total devastation, the total destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was a katastrephe. And he’s using the word here in the same sense, totally destroys the hearers. This is talking about damning their eternal souls…total destruction, total holocaust, total devastation. That’s why 2 Peter 2:1 calls these destructive heresies that bring swift destruction.
In 2 Peter 3:16 it says, “The untaught and unstable distort the Word of God as they do the rest of the Scriptures to their own destruction.” So it’s that kind of destruction. It’s the ruination of an eternal soul in an eternal hell. And the opposite would be to hear the Word of God and be saved. And so, beloved, we are called to realize that we have to stay away from false teaching because that stuff damns the eternal soul of the people who are under its influence. Tragic…just tragic.
There’s a second danger, not only does it ruin the hearers but secondly it shames the teachers. The key word is “ashamed.” Anybody who teaches anything other than that which is accurately reflective of the Word of truth ought to be ashamed, that’s the idea. That’s the key word. The dictionary describes shame as the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of having done something dishonorably.
To put it simply. Anyone who misrepresents, who misinterprets, who ignores or distracts from God’s Word by giving false teaching or confusing people with useless human reason has cause to be ashamed no matter how many degrees you have, or how many PhD.s or how erudite you think you are; if you violate the Word of God or misrepresent its glorious truth, you have every reason to stand before God in shame. And you should feel painfully the consciousness of having done something dishonorably, and that is mishandling God’s precious Word. So the issue here is that it shames the one who teaches it. So he says in verse 15, “Be diligent…” That’s the first principle.
First of all, be diligent. I know the Authorized version says “study” but that’s really not the word, the word spoudazo means to give diligence, to give maximum effort, to give persistent zeal, to do your best, to be eager. Simply put…make a maximum effort.
Secondly he says, “Be diligent, or make your maximum effort in order to present yourself to God.” Oh, this is a wonderful word…paristemi, it means to stand alongside…para means to be alongside. We talk about parachurch or anything that has to do with something alongside being in that way…parallel. This means you want to come alongside God.
The heart of the Apostle Paul was that he might please God. He did what he did for that purpose and that purpose alone. First Thessalonians 2:4 says “Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak not as pleasing men but God who examines our hearts.” That’s the issue. The teacher who does stand before the Lord and hears, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” is one who made a maximum effort and whose focus of life was that some day he might stand along the side of God, be considered worthy because he was proven trustworthy.
The Apostle Paul says, “Look, you have a solemn command before a holy God in whose presence you are at all times to avoid any encroachment on Scripture that is useless from those whose teaching ruins the people they teach, and you also must realize that anyone who doesn’t handle the Word of truth with great accuracy has reason to stand before God and be…(what?)…ashamed.” That’s a serious thing. Better not trifle with God’s Word.
What is the Word of truth? It is used several other times in Scripture. In Ephesians 1:13 and James 1:18, it definitely refers to the gospel. It says there the gospel of…in Ephesians 1:13 it says, “The word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” So the word of truth has to do with the gospel. In James 1:18 it says, “He’s begotten us with the word of truth,” again referring to the gospel by which we’re born again. But it goes beyond that because the word of truth is all of God’s revelation, John 17:17, Jesus said, “Thy Word is truth.” So he’s saying handle it all right, the gospel and everything else. When you think about handling the gospel right, you’ve got to acknowledge, that there is an awful lot of preaching today that doesn’t handle the gospel properly.
Thirdly, it leads to ungodliness, verse 16, “Avoid worldly and empty chatter, it will lead to further ungodliness…further ungodliness.” The “but” there refers to contrast…in contrast to handling carefully God’s truth, handle that, but avoid the rest. Don’t handle it at all, it is what he’s saying. And what is it that we’re to avoid? The word means to walk around…walk around it, shun it, keep clear of it, shift yourself to avoid it.
What will you avoid? Chatter, talk, more words, jargon, the dribble of human philosophy, man‑made religion. He calls it worldly, that’s profane unholy unsacred, bebelos means common, not set apart. Just the common earthy profane unholy, unsacred talk of men. And then he calls it empty. And that means it has no benefit. It yields no return. But I want you to know something, empty words soon become evil words because empty words are like a vacuum. Useless talk on useless matters becomes wicked talk. Words not of God are soon unholy words. False teachers claim to be advancing our thinking, expanding our minds, leading us to new truth. “They lead us to further ungodliness. They’re ultimately ungodly and they pull the people who hear them into more and more ungodliness with them. False prophets bring in these destructive heresies, Peter says in 1 Peter 2, and many will follow their sensuality.
Fourthly, (verse 17) he says it spreads like gangrene. Or it is contagious…it is contagious. It not only ruins the people who listen, shames the people who teach, leads to ungodliness among them but it has the power to spread like gangrene. Look at verse 17, “Their talk will spread like gangrene,” it says. Do you know how fast gangrene spreads? Very fast. The Greek word gangraina has to do with a spreading consuming disease, an insidious fast moving disease. Do you realize that gangrene can start with a small pin hole in the human body and engulf the whole body in a few moments of time with its poison, that in curing gangrene people are put into a pressure system to retard the speed of the gangrene in order that a penicillin injection can take effect? That’s how fast it goes.
It’s like a prairie fire with its malignancy. That’s why in Jude 23 it says when you get near anybody in a false system, snatch them like a branch from the burning and watch out that you don’t get your garment spotted by that stuff. It’s a malignancy, it eats up the neighboring tissue and spreads its corrupting doctrine to infect other people rapidly. It runs rampant. The people of the world though, love false teaching as opposed to the truth because it’s all a part of the system, the paradigm, the narrative, to which they belong.
Fifthly, it overturns the faith of some. Verse 17, it says, “Among them…these false teachers…are Hymenaeus and Philetus.” He names names here. He doesn’t pull any punches. Hymenaeus, by the way, was named in 1 Timothy 1:20 as one of the ring leaders, probably one of the false teaching pastors in Ephesus, whom Paul himself put out of the church.
Paul put him out, but apparently when he was put out of the church he set up shop down the street and he was still espousing his lies. And then he got a guy to go along with him by the name of Philetus and the two of them were communicating this demonic doctrine. And so he names them just so Timothy will know exactly who they are and he can tell the church to avoid them…Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth. They’re like those in James 5:19 and 20 who have strayed from the truth.
They are apostates, dear friends, gone astray, deviated from, erred from, missed the mark of the truth. They’re like those who having once been enlightened and tasted the heavenly gift and seen the powers of the age to come and partaken of the power of the Holy Spirit have fallen away and it’s impossible for them to be renewed to repentance. They have apostatized. Hebrews 6.
They are those in Hebrews 10 who have trodden under foot the blood of the covenant, counted Christ’s blood an unholy thing, done despite to the Spirit of grace.
In other words, known the truth, rejected the truth, gone into terrible error, straying from the truth. And what was their particular aberration? It says in verse 17 that Hymenaeus and Philetus have gone astray from the truth, that is the revelation of God, by saying the resurrection has already taken place. Well then what in the world do they mean by that? Probably they had the idea that the resurrection was nothing more than some…some mystical experience that you experienced when you went from…from the unenlightened life to the enlightened life. They were probably buying into some kind of heresy, some kind of philosophical heresy that was pervasive in that time. We really don’t know the answer to that. Some think that they bought into the Greek philosophy which said the only after life is that a man should live in his children. In other words, there was only one continuing life and that is the life that continues in a child. Whether it was the philosophical sort of thing that says we live on in our children. Or, whether it was the gnostic kind of dualistic view that we’ll live on in spirit but not in body. But either way, they denied the resurrection.
Is that important? Yes it’s important, in 1 Corinthians 15 written seven or eight years before this, Paul says if there’s no resurrection then is Christ not risen? And if Christ is not risen, then we are not risen. And then we are miserable. And there’s no resurrection. In other words, you cut out the heart of the gospel. They were denying the gospel with their “resurrection is passed already” view. In denying the resurrection of the believer’s body to come, in denying the resurrection which was the hope of every believer, yet in the future they were denying the resurrection of Christ and its implications because he was the firstfruits of our resurrection, they were therefore denying the gospel, they were denying the hope of those who belonged to the Lord. This is a denial of the foundation of the Christian faith…denial of eternal life in a glorified body like Christ. They were denying Christianity at its heart.
The final thing I want to share with you, (number six), is that false teaching is dangerous because it characterizes those who don’t belong to the Lord. It has to be avoided because it characterizes the unsaved. And he backs into this issue in a wonderful way.
Notice verse 19…“Nevertheless…” oh, I love that word, it’s emphatic. “In spite of those ruined, in spite of those shamed, in spite of those ungodly, in spite of those corrupted by the gangrene of false doctrine, in spite of those whose immerging belief is upset because they have been trapped in false systems, in spite of that…that’s what it nevertheless means…in spite of that the firm foundation of God stands.” Boy, what a statement…what a statement.
What is the firm foundation of God? Beloved, it’s the church. It’s the redeemed. And the majority of commentators affirm this. It has to do with the redeemed. We are the true people of God who form the solid immovable foundation that false teachers can’t uproot. The false teachers will ruin some, they will shame some, they will lead some to ungodliness, they will corrupt some, they will overturn the faith of some, but not the elect of God. Do you see that? The firm foundation of God stands. We are a building not made with hands. We are the temple of the living God. We are the church which Christ will build and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. We are those who having had a good work begun in us, that work will be performed until the day of Jesus Christ, Philippians 16. We are those who can never be separated from the love of God in Christ. We are those of whom Jesus said, “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me and I have lost none of them but shall raise them up at the last day,” John 6. This is a tremendous truth. First John 2 says, “You are strong in the Word and you have overcome the wicked one.” God called out a people for salvation, chosen before the world began for eternal glory and that people are intact when eternal glory begins. And so we are the foundation of God, namely His church, has His seal, a stamp of ownership, authenticity. He knows who we are, He holds us in His sovereign power. We are His for eternity. We are His forever. He knows who we are by sovereign choice. The first seal we have is we are elect. This is a seal affixed to God’s foundation. It guarantees permanence, it makes dissolution impossible. God put the seal on us, this is Mine. He put it on us in eternity. And that settles the matter forever.
This article is a condensed and edited version of John Macarthur’s “The Danger of False Teaching.”