The following exhortations are for Timothy's own guidance as a teacher, and consequently for the instruction of all who, divinely qualified, may seek to edify the people of God. "Of these things," the Apostle says, "put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers." v. 14. The "these things" will refer to verses 11-13, the divine truths which abide through all changes and all phases of the condition of the Church, inasmuch as they are bound up with the Lord's moral nature, and therefore with the very essence of Christianity. They can therefore never be forgotten without damage, and unless indeed there is an open departure from the faith. It is on this account that Timothy is urged to keep them continually before the minds of the saints; and at the same time he was to charge them to testify earnestly before the Lord that they should avoid all word contentions (logomachy), which, instead of edification, tended to the subversion of the hearers.
Jewish believers were under great temptation to this kind of discussion, for they had been accustomed to hear their rabbis exhibit their argumentative skill in reasonings upon the value even of the letters that composed the words of Scripture. And whenever spiritual life and energy decline, Christian teachers fall also into the snare of entertaining their hearers with ingenious and fanciful interpretations, drawn from historical details, or from types and figures, instead of ministering Christ. Let it then be observed that such discussions are not only "to no profit," but they also actually turn aside those that listen. Alas! when believers, like the Israelites, become weary of the heaven-sent manna, there are always those at hand who will seek to gratify the palate of nature.
It is in contrast to all this that Paul proceeds: "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." v. 15. There are two things in this exhortation. First, Timothy is to use diligence to commend himself, not to his hearers, but to God. This principle is the safeguard of all who are engaged in public service. As the Apostle says elsewhere, "If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Gal. 1: 10). And again, "As we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts." 1 Thess. 2: 4. Nothing else will keep the servants of God but to have Him before their souls, for then they will remember in all their service that it is His verdict of approval alone they have to seek. (Compare 2 Cor. 2: 17.)
Second, Timothy is to approve himself to God by being a good workman. It would be possible for a servant to really strive to commend himself to God, and yet, through ignorance of the truth, to be a bad workman. How many godly, devoted men, for example, have had their eyes opened to perceive (and with what sorrow has the discovery been made!) that they had been misleading souls for years! It is not only necessary therefore to be godly, to have a single eye, but there must be also that knowledge of the Lord's mind, as revealed in the Scriptures, which will enable those who are in the place of teachers to rightly divide, to cut in a straight line, the word of truth. Diligence is requisite for this -- diligence in the prayerful study of the Word -- and it is this which is really enjoined upon Timothy. Ability to teach is a divine gift; to be a good workman is the result of study, training, and practice, in dependence upon the power of the Holy Ghost.
He was to be occupied with the Word. "But" he is told to "shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymeneus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some." vv. 16-18. There is no more successful snare of Satan than the seduction of the Lord's servants into foolish controversies. To contend for the truth in a day of departure from it is one of their first responsibilities; but this is a very different thing from turning aside to verbal discussions and "doubtful disputations," or, as the Apostle here expresses it, "empty voices" -- words or sounds without significance for the believer. It can never indeed be too often asserted that the best way to refute error is by the statement of the truth; and controversy conducted in this way will edify both speaker and hearers, while profane and vain babblings will only tend to produce more impiety, because they harden both the heart and conscience.
Not only so, but their word -- that is, the word of those who fall into these babblings -- will eat as doth a canker, or, more exactly, spread as a gangrene. A gangrene is an eating sore which, gradually spreading, almost always ends in mortification. No more striking figure to set forth the danger of "vain babblings" could possibly be employed.
That Timothy might not be left in doubt as to his meaning, the Apostle cites the illustrative cases of Hymeneus and Philetus. These had, it would seem, the place of teachers, and had fallen into the grievous error, not of denying the resurrection, but of declaring that it was already past. It may be well to call special attention to this subtle form of false teaching, for there are many believers of the present day who are liable to be betrayed by the speciousness of a seeming super-spirituality. And the teaching of Hymeneus and Philetus had this pretentious character, for they made the resurrection a spiritual thing: * and it is quite possible that they based their contention on Ephesians 2, where we read that God has quickened us together with Christ, and raised us up together, etc. But "concerning the truth" they erred (literally, "missed the mark") and the effect was to overthrow the faith of some. "The faith" here is used for the thing believed; and thus these false teachers really turned souls aside from the truth, led them away from what they had previously professed to believe. It is not a question of salvation; but for the time, at least, these misguided ones surrendered the truth, becoming the prey of their deluded leaders. Can anything be more sad than to be used of Satan to lead the Lord's people astray? The Lord Himself said, "Whoso shall offend" (that is, "be a snare to") "one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." Matt. 18: 6. Hymeneus and Philetus -- and how many, alas! since their day! - were a snare to some of the Lord's little ones; and the fact is recorded for the admonition and warning of all who have, or take, the place of teachers in the Church of God.
*In Corinth the resurrection was altogether denied, and Paul met it by affirming the resurrection of Christ as carrying with it the resurrection of His people.
The Apostle turns from the sad effects of heretical doctrine, and finds consolation in that which is firm and indestructible: "Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." v. 19. In the form of this pregnant statement there is doubtless, as we have elsewhere shown, an allusion to Zechariah 3: 9; but in this place it is the meaning of it that must occupy our attention. And this is to be sought, first of all, in the contrast to what the Apostle had just written.
Hymeneus and Philetus had been instrumental in overturning the foundations of the faith in some of the saints; but, in spite of all that Satan had succeeded in doing by their means, the foundation of God stood, and was immovable. This is no small consolation in a day of confusion and ruin. The enemy may be permitted to wreck the public form of Christianity, and to turn its teachers into advocates of rationalistic or superstitious imaginations; but there still remains for faith this sure foundation of God on which souls may repose, whatever the fury of the storm, in perfect peace. It is not the question here what the foundation is -- though there be but one, namely, Christ -- but it is rather the fact that there is a foundation of God, which is absolutely beyond the reach and the power of all Satan's artifices.
The further significance of this statement is discovered in the twofold seal, or inscription, which the foundation bears. (Compare Zech. 3: 7; Rev. 22: 14.) First, "The Lord knoweth them that are His." Time was when men also knew who were the Lord's (see Acts 5: 12-14); and the Apostle himself had often sent letters -- as, for example, "To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse" -- assured that his epistle would reach the known company of believers in the place. But now all was changed. All they which were in Asia had turned away from the Apostle; and the profession of Christianity, so widespread, had become so merged in the world and worldly things that it was impossible for the outward eye to distinguish the true saints of God.
As in the days of Israel's apostasy under Ahab, Jehovah alone knew the seven thousand that had not bowed the knee to Baal, so now the Lord alone could with unerring certainty recognize His people amid the mass of professors that had crowded into the Church on earth. It is the same now in Christendom. Nations call themselves Christians, and their "temples" and "churches" are filled with so-called worshippers; but, while we may be certain that in the case of large numbers it is nothing but profession, it is a great consolation to remember that the Lord discerns in every place who are His, that not one real saint is unnoticed by His eye. I "know My sheep, and am known of Mine"; and this still holds true for the comfort of those who have heard His voice. There is, however, more: "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ" (it should be "the Lord") "depart from iniquity." The Lord, on His side, knew, and knows, who are His; and His people, on their side, in the ruin in which they are found, are under the responsibility of departing from iniquity. It belongs to them, if they name the name of the Lord, as being under His authority, to depart from every thing -- every association, every habit, and practice -- which could not be attached to His name.
How different is this teaching from that which is now current, to the effect that in a day of confusion like the present it is impossible to walk in the path of separation from evil! This word of the Apostle's is the answer to all such reasonings, and sets forth, at the same time, the abiding responsibility of every child of God to depart from evil; and we thus learn that any association whatever with iniquity is contrary to the Lord's mind.