Chapter 2 distills 6 keys for Christian workers: be strong in God’s grace (2:1), invest in and train teacher/leaders who will do the same with others (2:2), embrace the hardships involved in following Christ (2:3-13), handle the Word accurately (2:14-18), be committed to your own sanctification (2:19-23), and respond properly to opponents (2:24-26).
Study/reflection questions for this passage
Chapter 2 distills six keys for Christian workers. We covered the first two earlier; the last three are in this passage. You can discover these keys by looking for imperative statements.
- The third key is in 2:14-18. Put it in your own words. To what does Paul contrast it? Why does it require diligence? Why should you be ashamed if you cannot do this? How would you answer one of the people in your home group who asks you, “How can I develop this?”
- The fourth key is in 2:19-23. Try to summarize it in your own words. How does the story of the two “vessels” illustrate this key? What are the negative and positive verbs used to describe how to get this key? Give personal examples of your own current challenges in this area.
2 Kinds of Workmen (2:14-18)
The “these things” of 2:14 refer back to the trustworthy statement of 2:11-13, which presuppose the future resurrection that Hymenaeus and Alexander are denying. The antidote to destructive theological error and speculation is leaders/teachers who handle the Word accurately (2:15).
What is involved in handling the Word accurately?
Orthotomeo means “to cut straight.” It is used to describe cutting a road in a straight direction so the traveler can go straight to his destination. Contrasted to this are the false teachers (unapproved workmen) who go astray from (astocheo) the truth.
It involves sticking with the Bible as our source of authority (vs. speculation, etc.), and emphasizing what the Bible emphasizes (“sound doctrine” - grace, faith, and the healthy life they should produce--see 1 Tim. 1:5). It also involves using the Word to refute theological error and doctrinal tangents that pull your flock away from God’s priorities and into destructive lives. (See Titus 1:9 for these two responsibilities.) What errors/tangents have you had to refute?
EXAMPLES: charismania; tribalism; materialism; super-spiritual search theology; ministry under law; materialism & autonomy masked beneath superficial niceness & criticism of cussing, etc.; anti-leadership mentality; end-times speculation focus; anti-conferral sentiment; anti-enthusiasm coldness; worship-service emphasis; uncritical IT usage; therapeutic humanism & victimology; American Christians using Jesus to facilitate their agendas
Why does it take diligence to be able to do this?
This requires diligence to stay in the Word so that you stay exposed to its priorities, get fresh revelation, and maintain discernment. It also requires diligence to stay in touch with the flock so you can discern the errors and tangents. How do you do this?
EXAMPLES: Carson plan or equivalent; reading & recommending quality Christian books; teaching your way through whole books of the Bible (“whole counsel of God”); keeping a Bible emphasis with the people you disciple; conferring with one another and other home group leaders about what tangents they’re seeing; listening critically to the flock, popular Christian books
Why should we be ashamed if we can’t do this?
We should be ashamed if we can’t do/aren’t doing this because this is the heart of our responsibility as leaders--to give people God’s perspective, to lead people into the mind of Christ. Otherwise, we are passively letting the enemy deceive them, giving them our opinions, repackaging the world’s perspective, schmoozing or controlling, etc. Has anyone felt shame over/needed to repent from lack of diligence in the area?
2 Kinds of Vessels (2:19-23)
What is the contrast here? Explain the illustration. Wealthy homes had expensive vases that brought honor to the owner; they also had common jars, toilet bowls, etc. that brought no honor to the owner.
Paul is posing two alternatives for us as Christian workers. We will either become workers that bring honor to God and influence others for him--or we will become people who bring no honor to him (and have no influence for him on others).
Note once again the connection between personal sanctification and ministry effectiveness. Unlike inanimate vessels, we can choose what kind of vessel we will be. God can make every one of us vessels that bring honor to him. No past sins, unfortunate family upbringing, lack of certain spiritual gifts, etc. are insuperable obstacles. The one condition is our commitment to godly character--that we “abstain from wickedness,” that we “cleanse ourselves” from dishonorable uses, that we “flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness.”
On the other hand, no amount of biblical knowledge, spiritual or natural gifting, etc. can substitute for a lack of progress in godly character. We have seen leader after leader flame out or underachieve because they failed to take their sanctification seriously. EXAMPLES: marriage issues; hiding and tolerating secret sin (e.g., porn); material self-indulgence; denying or justifying or ignoring besetting sins
What is involved in becoming a vessel that brings honor to God? There is both a negative and a positive aspect to this.
Negatively, we must “abstain from wickedness,” “cleanse ourselves from these things,” and “flee youthful lusts.” We have to be sensitive to God’s moral guidance (“clear conscience”). We must not toe-dangle or make provision for the flesh (Rom. 13:14)--but flee temptation, nip sin in the bud, confess it, etc.
But the negative will never be sufficient. It must also be replaced with the positive: “pursue righteousness . . .” This is the issue of your affections--what you get excited about, what truly motivates you, your true joy and delight, etc. We all have an “affection vacuum” which must be filled by something. We must be willing to flee from youthful lusts (materialism, sensuality, self-promotion, etc.)--but unless we are cultivating a life that truly enjoys the things of God, we will be spiritually impotent and hypocritical or ultimately dragged back to worldly lusts. How do you cultivate affections for the things of God?
EXAMPLES: consistent investment in prayer, Word, fellowship; continued progress in love-output; doing it with others who truly want the same way of life (“with those . . .”); putting your heart in it vs. dabbling; continuing to take scary steps of faith in ministry; being honest with God when your heart is cold
Handling opponents properly (2:24-26)
Who are “those who are in opposition?” This refers to people within the flock who are into pretty serious sin (e.g., DIVISIVE; BAD DOCTRINE; SEXUAL IMMORALITY; etc.)--not lesser conflicts and sin-issues.
Note the mysterious connection between the way we handle opponents and their repentance. Four parties are named: us, them, God, and Satan. As we handle them properly, God works through us to convict them and expose Satan’s lies--thereby making it easier for them to choose to repent. We can’t make them repent, but we can make it easier for them to repent! (By the way, this is a great passage for parents of teenagers!)
What are Paul’s key guidelines for handling such people?
Move toward them vs. withdrawing from them, ignoring the issue, etc. Many leaders self-protectively look the other way and hope the problem will go away--but it usually doesn’t. Then, when the problem becomes impossible to ignore, they have to intervene strongly. This is “Leave alone-zap”--and it is poor work. In order to do this, we have to trust God’s sovereign protection.
Conduct yourself with kindness and patience and gentleness vs. getting dragged down in the mud with them by quarreling, blowing up, etc. (When you blow it here, be sure to apologize.) This may make it easier to hear God’s perspective and more difficult to discount God’s perspective as it comes through you (see below). In order to do this, we have to take our security from God rather than how they view/respond to us.
Focus vertically on what God says (teach; correct) vs. letting it be horizontal only. Their real issue is with God and what he says, even though they usually claim they are walking with God and that you/others are the problem. (When people are in sin, they must either repent or discredit the agents of God’s conviction.) What would it look like to “focus it vertically?”
Ask them what God says about this issue, what it looks like to trust God in this area, etc.
Try to remind them of what God says about the issue, their attitude, etc. Show them scripture wherever possible.
Ask them if they have asked God to reveal his will on this issue--with an advance commitment to do what he says.
Before you go and while you are talking with them, pray for them, for wisdom and guidance, and for protection because this is a spiritual battle.